Monday, March 2, 2009

Learning From Joseph in Genesis 37-50

Joseph is one of my favorite persons in the Bible. He provides an amazing example of someone who trusted God amidst some very difficult circumstances. Most of all, we learn from him how an absolute conviction regarding the sovereignty of God is essential for coming out BETTER instead of BITTER when people mistreat us.

During my times with the Lord of late, I have been in Genesis 37-50. Again, I have been challenged and encouraged by the life of Joseph. I admire the following characteristics in him:

1. He resisted sexual temptation. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar's wife in Gen. 39, he "fled and got out of the house" (v. 12). Many today will see how close to the edge they can get without sinning. Joseph, on the other hand, stayed as far from the edge as he could so as not to fall. "Put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust" (Ro. 13:14). Are you resisting any and all sexual tempatation? Josh McDowell once said the number one reason Christians "tub it spiritually" is sexual sin. Don't forget, if you do sin forgiveness and healing is possible through the blood of Jesus.

2. He served God even when falsely accused. After Joseph is falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and put in prison, he still served God by interpreting another prisoner's dream (Gen. 40). He could have become so upset with the Lord that he refused to be a vessel of God. Instead, Joseph faithfully served despite his unpleasant circumstances. When circumstances don't go your way, do you tend to blame God or remain obedient to Him despite what has happened to you? "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).

3. He kept a God-focus while in prison. In Gen. 40 Joseph interpret's the prisoner's dream, which gets this prisoner out of jail. Joseph asks the prisoner to assist his release, but the prisoner forgets about Joseph. The next thing we are told in Gen. 41 occurs two years later. In other words, two years go by before we hear any more from Joseph. In this incident, Pharaoh has a dream and calls upon Joseph. How do we know that Joseph maintained a God-focus during these two years in jail? Because when asked to interpret the dream, Joseph says, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer" (v. 16). This answer reveals a total dependence on the Lord to give Joseph the interpretation, and God did give Joseph the interpretation. Wow. I am so impressed that Joseph would have this humble attitude in the midst of all he had been through. When you go through difficult times, do you cling tightly to God?

4. He trusted in the sovereignty of God. Here lies the key to Joseph's success. He was totally convinced of God's sovereign control, even over the most unpleasant of situations. Gen. 50:20 reveals this when it says, "as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." Joseph could have become angry at God, bitter toward his brothers, and resentful at life. Instead, he trusted in the sovereignty of God. God's sovereignty can be easily remembered by breaking down the word: sovereignty = God so very reigns. God is in control even when the worst of situations enter our lives. Bad circumstances do not indicate that God has taken a nap. We simply must wait and trust to see the full plan of God unveiled, even if this takes a long time. "All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Ro. 8:28). Joseph had to wait almost 20 years before he saw the full plan of God come to fruition. He was 17 when sold into slavery; 30 when elevated in Pharaoh's court, and around 36 when he had a son and said, "God has made me forget all my hardship, and all my father's house ... God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (Gen. 41:51-52). After Joseph spoke these words, it was probably another year before he was reconnected with his family and saw firsthand how his position was able to save their lives. This whole situation amazes me. How would we respond if we had to go throgh 20 years of ups and downs before seeing the full blessing of God? The only way we would do well is if we are convinced that God is totally sovereign over all the affairs of our life - the good as well as the bad ones.

5. He was honest with his emotions. In the latter chapters, there are so many references to Joseph weeping over his family. I cannot imagine what this must have been like for him: hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and then finally being reunited with his family. This was a very emotional ordeal, and the Bible does not hide his pain. Over and over the Bible says "Joseph wept" (42:24; 43:30; 45:1, 14-15; 50:17). Often he would remove himself from public settings in order to privately weep. When we experience difficulty, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve. Feeling sad and distressed is part of walking with God. It is in such times that we need to pour out our heart to God, have trusted friends to talk to, and at the end of the day hold fast to God. Express your pain to God and allow Him to be your comforter!

6. He forgave those who hurt him. As the book of Genesis comes to an end, Joseph's brothers are fearful that he will retaliate for all the wrong they did to him. However, Joseph forgives them because he was a godly man and trusted in the sovereign will of God. Because he forgave his brothers, God blessed Joseph even more. This is similar to the ending of Job's life. Because Job forgave his "friends" for falsely accusing him, God restored to Job all that he had lost. I believe this principle applies to us: if we forgive those who hurt us, we will live under the freedom and blessing of God. But if we withhold forgiveness and choose bitterness toward those who sin against us, we are playing God and will forfeit His blessing. Are you forgiving those who sin against you? Rememember, forgive "as Christ has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32) It is only as we realize how much Christ has forgiven us that can we forgive others!

Because of Joseph's faithfulness to God, we benefit from his life today. May we live in such a way that others will benefit from our example!