As preached by Timothy O'Day.
"Although they may feel forsaken, they are not abandoned."
God is with his servant in his...
1) trials and temptations
Forsaken for Us
January 21, 2024
During World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her family sheltered Jews and others that the Nazi regime sought to exterminate. Eventually, she and her family were caught doing this and they were sent to a concentration camp themselves. As she was separated from her family, she caught what would be the last glimpse of most of them. She did, however, end up in a camp with her sister. To say that the conditions they lived in were wretched would be an understatement. They were starved, lived in filth, and had to bunk up in close quarters in a room crawling with fleas.
If you said to Corrie on that day, “God orders all affairs in the world toward the end of his glory and the good of his people,” she would not have responded by saying, “Amen.”
If you make that statement in a theology class, everyone would nod their head in agreement. But suffering makes this statement harder to accept. Just because it is harder to accept, however, does not mean that it is not true.
As Christians, we profess that God orders the affairs of all the world toward the end of his glory and the good of his people, but we do not profess that we always know how he is going to do this. We may not know the how of God doing this, but we know that it is a fact that he does.
Turning to Genesis
Joseph shows us this reality. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, Joseph was introduced at the beginning of Jacob’s genealogy in 37:2, and, in the book of Genesis, figures introduced at the beginning of a new genealogy section figure prominently in how God is going to continue to provide and uphold his promise to send one born of a woman to crush the serpent that brought sin and death into the world. That Joseph will do this is supported by the dreams that God gives him in which his brothers are bowing down to him.
But how God brings about this position of authority to Joseph is surprising. His brothers sell him into slavery, lie to their father by saying that he was eaten by a wild animal, and then withhold the truth from him even though he is caught up in deep grief.
Now, we can see the big picture and know what will happen with Joseph. Joseph, however, does not know, at least, he does not know the details of how it will come about. But the reality is this: Joseph is forsaken by God so that Israel might be saved. For God is ordering affairs in such a way that he will lift Joseph up into a position of such prominence that he will provide for the needs of Israel and his growing family during a coming famine.
This is history, but it is also a picture pointing forward to God’s divine program of salvation. Joseph, as God’s servant, is used in order to save Israel from famine. Jesus, God’s servant, is used in order to save God’s people from their sin.
Yet, in this forsaken state, God’s servant is not abandoned. This is true in the picture, Joseph, and true of Jesus. And, if you are united to Christ, you can confidently say that what is true of Jesus is true of you. How these chapters help us this morning, then, is to show us that God has a purpose in the suffering of his servants. As he works for his glory, he is working for our good. How do we see this? We see it primarily in how God is with his servant Joseph.
God is with his servant in temptation.
Chapter 39 stresses to us that God is with Joseph. This point is stated in verses 2, 3, 21, and 23. Why stress this reality? When you go through adversity, you jump to the conclusion that God is not with you or that he is displeased with you. It is easy to imagine that Joseph could have made this conclusion. And while he remains in adverse conditions, God still prospers Joseph in his labor. This is the man reality of verses 1-6. Everything that Joseph puts his hand to as he works in Potiphar’s house succeeds and does well.
This was happening to such an extent that it was not only Joseph that noticed it. Verse 3 tells us that his master, Potiphar, also saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.
Do You See God’s Kindness?
Stop and take stock of that reality for a moment. Have you decided what prosperity looks like and defined God’s kindness in such a way that you miss the ways that he shows his favor toward you?
I remember years ago when, shortly after moving to Utah, our plan to have money in order to work toward planting this church died. Our family was faced with a choice: live on savings and find another job or leave. We decided to stay. I asked the Lord to provide for us and the next day I got a phone call out of the blue offering me a job. I was grateful for the Lord’s provision. But then months went by. And years went by. And I became resentful of the job because it was not what I wanted to do with my time. I wanted to leave the job, but instead of getting a way out I kept getting raises. Yet, I was frustrated and, in a way, forgotten by God.
Do you see my error? I had decided what God’s kindness should look like and I had defined prosperity in a way that did not take into account what God was actually doing. So even though he answered my prayer, gave me a job that allowed me to provide for my family, and still allowed me time to do the work of ministry, I could not see his kindness and his obvious presence.
Joseph didn’t make that error; I did; and now I exhort you, don’t make that same mistake. Open your eyes to see how God is with you in his kindness even if you are in a time of adversity as well.
Deliver Us from Evil
But God is not merely with Joseph in his labor; he is with him in his temptation as well. As time goes on, Potiphar’s wife notices Joseph, but unlike Potiphar, her attention is on his appearance and not on his success in work. So she entices him to come and lay with her, yet he refuses, and don’t miss the reasons he gives in verses 8-9.
First, he remembers who he is. While he has prospered and been raised up by Potiphar to have whatever he wants in the house, that does not give him the right to his master’s wife. In other words, Joseph is not arrogant. His success does not make him feel entitled. Why? How has success not led him to a place of entitlement? After all, she is asking him! He isn’t seeking this out.
The second, and primary, reason Joseph gives clues us into why he doesn't feel entitled: he remembers God. He looks at his position and knows it has only come to him because of God’s kindness and mercy. Not only this, but he lives his life before God. You know, sin comes by forgetting God—either suppressing our thoughts about him or obscuring his truth in our hearts and minds. Joseph is able to resist this temptation because God has so worked on his heart that he knows that all sin is ultimately against God, not merely man. Sin is not acceptable if you have two consenting partners, because God does not consent.
And this refusal wasn’t mere willpower. She entices him again and again, but he refuses again and again.
What is the secret to this resisting of temptation? Simply this: God is with Joseph.
How Do You Resist?
Resisting temptation is not first and foremost about strategy. It is primarily about the Lord being with us. It is not primarily about our actions, but mostly about our hearts. Namely, who has your heart?
Satan and sin are constantly alluring us to follow the gleam of unthinking and blind desire, so it is vital that we counter such enticement the same way that Joseph does here: we remember God—how he is with us by his Spirit; how he is with us only by the blood of Christ; what he has kept us from in taking on the punishment of hell for us; what he has given in order to be with us—the Father giving his Son and the Son giving his blood and life.
When faced with temptation, strategy is secondary; communion with God that is accomplished by Jesus Christ is primary. You cannot keep yourself from sin any more than you can save yourself from sin, so you need him. So run to him—in your thinking, in your speaking, in your acting. Know that he is with you and he will deliver you from temptation.
What Does Holiness Get You?
But what does this holiness get Joseph? One day, she grabs him when he is alone in the house. In order to get away, he leaves off his garment to which she clings. Spurned again, she now devises a plan to punish him. She screams and tells the other servants and her husband that Joseph had come into her chamber, striped in order to mock her and lie with her. In an understandable rage, Potiphar throws Joseph in prison.
For the second time in his life, Joseph has had his own garment used to tell a lie about him.
Yet, we should not interpret this adversity as God abandoning Joseph. To make sure that we do not make this mistake, Moses writes in verses 21 and 23 that the LORD was with Joseph and he found favor with the keeper of the prison and, just like in Potiphar’s house, whatever Joseph did the Lord caused it to succeed. In short, while his location and circumstances have changed, God and his favor on Joseph have not, which leads us to our second point.
God is with his servant in his forsakenness.
If we just had to answer the question, “Is it good to be sold into slavery?” We should say, “No.” If we had to answer next, “Is it good to be wrongfully imprisoned?” I think we would again answer, “No.” Yet, that is what has happened to Joseph. So, how is God with him?
The short answer is this: His forsakenness accomplishes what is needed to show God’s goodness and meet the needs of his people.
Joseph did not know it, but going to prison brought him one step closer to freedom and to the royal palace. If you know the story of Genesis, then you can see that coming. But there are clues in this passage already.
First, while in prison, two palace officials come to Joseph as fellow prisoners. The cupbearer and the baker have in each their own way offended Pharaoh, so they wound up in prison. So before Joseph goes to the palace, the palace comes to him this way.
Second, each of these men has a dream, totaling two dreams that only Joseph is able to interpret. In Genesis 41, Pharaoh will have two dreams that only Joseph is able to interpret.
In other words, the prison is preparing and paving Joseph’s way to the palace. All of this shows us that God is at work even when it looks like Joseph is at a total dead-end. Humanly speaking, there is no way out of this situation, but God is at work to bring about his desired ends. And Joseph still has faith that this may be the case and we see this faith in how he interacts with the two imprisoned palace officials.
After these men each have their dreams, they look troubled because no one is around to interpret their dreams for them. Upon seeing this sadness, Joseph asks them what is wrong. Upon hearing the reason for their distress, he says in verse 8, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me?”
Do you see what this reveals about Joseph? It shows us that he still trusts the Lord and sees him as in control of all things. He isn’t bitter and cursing God. He is trusting and offering himself up as God’s servant to these men.
The Interpretation of the Dreams
After hearing the dreams, Joseph is empowered by God to understand these dreams and give the proper interpretation. While not all dreams are given by God, some are; likewise, he gives another the ability to interpret. In interpreting the cupbearer’s dream, he tells him that in 3 days he will be restored to his position with Pharaoh. So certain is Joseph that this interpretation is from God and that it is correct, he requests that the cupbearer make his case known to Pharaoh in verses 14-15. In short, he tries to get the cupbearer to be his attorney and offers his appeal to the Supreme Court, Pharaoh himself.
Such confidence shows us that he really does not think that the Lord has left him in this forsaken state.
We see Joseph’s confidence and commitment to the Lord again in how he speaks to the baker. In verse 16, the baker tells Joseph his dream when he “saw that the interpretation was favorable.” This suggests that he was not really keen to hear what a prisoner had to say about his dream until it appeared that it would be news that he liked. But it isn’t good news. Unlike the cupbearer, in three days the baker would lose his head at the hand of pharaoh instead of being restored by him.
How does this show us Joseph’s confidence and commitment to the Lord? He spoke the interpretation, because it was from God, even though it was bad news.
Do You Like Giving Bad News?
God gave Joseph an interpretation that was hard for the baker to hear, but since it wasn't Joseph’s word he didn’t have the right to keep it to himself. That shows he believes God’s word is true and that he should continue to entrust himself to him even though he is in prison.
We all like to deliver good news, but we shy away from sharing bad news. We all want to say the message, “God loves you,” but we don’t want to say, “The wages of sin is death and all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But until you share the latter message, the former doesn’t seem amazing.
The fact of the matter is that the gospel requires us to speak of human sin. The message is “repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.” And this isn’t our message. It is from God, so we do not have the right to hold it back.
Joseph is Forgotten
Three days later, the baker is executed and the cupbearer is restored. Then 40:23 delivers crushing news: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”
What seemed like a certain thing, the cupbearer being blessed by Joseph so that he would make an appeal on his behalf does not come to pass. I simply cannot imagine how difficult this would be: wrongfully imprisoned, hopeful that this man would plead your case to the one man who could free you, but then you are forgotten. 41:1 tells us that two years go by. Can you imagine?
When we are in trials and hardships, and our plans fail and the men that we trust in to help us do not come through, we can despair. Yet we must be careful not to demand of God that he fit our time frame of deliverance.
When we experience trials, we are so prone to forget what God says about them. We are told in James 1:2-4 to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In other words, you should know that trials are always producing in you, Christian, what you need in order to be complete. God is meeting your lack with your trial—and giving us what we lack is kindness.
What hardship are you going through right now? What trial? It isn’t busy work! Don’t view your existence through the limited perspective of your present life, Christian. Remember that you are destined for glory that you can’t yet fathom. God’s goal is to grow you in holiness in such a way that your joy in heaven will be all the greater. If that is his aim, then wouldn't whatever it takes to accomplish that be worth it?
But you can only endure trials because of the joy set before you. What are you holding before you as joy?
In the end, there is a reason for the delay in Joseph’s release, which means that there is a reason for the delay of your trial, too, Christian. It is this: God’s plans are always greater than our own, which is what we see next.
God is with his servant in his exaltation
Genesis 41 shows us clearly what God has been intending and working toward all along for Joseph: his exaltation. In Genesis 37, Joseph has dreams of becoming preeminent before his brothers, but since then he has only been betrayed, shamed, falsely convicted, and forgotten.
Genesis 41 shows the end to which God had been working all along. So what does this chapter show us?
Dreams Come True
After two years of being forgotten, Pharaoh has a dream that deeply troubles him. None of his magicians or wise men can give him the interpretation of it. At this point, the cupbearer finally remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh of this man who was able to interpret his dream.
Pharaoh calls Joseph and gives him and chance to exalt himself by saying, in verse 15, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” But Joseph, in verse 16, continues to give credit and glory to God, saying that answers are not in Joseph but come from God alone.
Pharaoh then shares his dreams with him, having had two dreams back to back. In the first, he sees 7 beautiful and plump cows, but then 7 ugly cows come up and eat the seven plump, yet they remain ugly and malnourished. After waking from this dream, Pharaoh fell asleep again and dreamed a second time. In this dream, Pharaoh sees 7 full and good ears growing on a stalk, but then 7 blighted and ugly ears devour those.
Joseph again knows the meaning of the dreams immediately by the power of God. The dreams mean that God is going to give 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. In verse 32, Joseph also notes why the dream is doubled: this is not a warning from God to repent so that he will relent. This matter is fixed and it is what God is going to do. It is as Joseph says in verse 28, “God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.” And the reason he has shown this to Pharaoh is so that he can plan and act in accord with what God is going to do, which is what Joseph turns to in verses 33-36. In these verses, Joseph advises Pharaoh to select a man who can supervise the collection of food during the years of plenty so that there will be food during the years of famine.
God is with Joseph
It is now Pharaoh’s turn to recognize what everyone else has seen in these chapters: God is with Joseph. After hearing the proposal from Joseph, Pharaoh says in verse 38, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Since God had shown all of this to Joseph, the choice was obvious: Joseph must be the man entrusted with this task.
Joseph was then exalted to have command over all of Egypt, being second only to Pharaoh. All authority was given to him (41:41):
Pharaoh puts his signet ring on his hand, making him his official spokesman and investing him with Pharaoh’s authority (41:42)
Pharaoh makes this investment of power and authority clear by declaring, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent, no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt” (41:44).
In this exalted position, the rest of the chapters lay out how Joseph stored up food (46-49) and oversaw the distribution of the sale of food once the famine began (53-57). The famine was widespread, and people from all over were coming to him to find food.
God’s Servant Forsaken for Us
In Genesis 40, Joseph merely sought freedom from jail but he was denied for 2 years. Now, he is exalted to second in command in Egypt. How much greater is God’s plan than Joseph’s?
How much greater is God’s plan than your plan?
And God’s plan for Joseph was just a picture of his ultimate plan to save his people. Joseph did all things well but was falsely accused. He was forsaken only to be exalted so that he would save Israel and people from all over the world from famine.
Jesus did all things well but was falsely accused. He was forsaken, died, thrown into the prison of death, and forgotten by men. Then, he rose from the dead and was exalted to the right hand of the Father. In this role, he provides himself as the bread of life to save the world from sin.
In Whom Are You Trusting?
When you are in Christ, you are one with him. That does not mean you become him; that is, you are not the same thing, but you travel together as an inseparable pair. What is true of him is true of you, and that means no matter what your condition now, you will be like him. He guarantees it by his very own life.