Sunday Sermon: ‘Joseph – Is God Really in Control?’

(audio version)

This morning we begin a brand new series of studies of the life of Joseph. Like many of you, Joseph is one of my favorite Bible characters.  Someone has said, “Joseph’s life proves to us that God is always at work in our lives, even in the insignificant, obscure, sometimes difficult details of day-to-day living.”  The story of Joseph teaches us that God really is in control.

I.  Who Was Joseph?

There is more than one Joseph mentioned in the Bible so perhaps we need to begin by determining which one we’re talking about.

In order to help us get a grasp on who we’re talking about and when he lived, I have prepared some slides:

The dates are approximate dates. As you can see, Joseph lived about 2000 years before Christ and he was the great-grandson of Abraham. He was also the 11th of Jacob’s twelve sons.

 II. What Happened in Joseph’s Life?

What happened in Joseph’s life that is so significant? If you have read about him you know that it takes a large portion of the book of Genesis to explain the many details.It will take us many messages and studies. Since today is an introductory study, I thought that it would be a good idea if we did a quick survey of his life.

1) He Was His Father’s Favorite Son

Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

Jacob loved Joseph more than his brothers, not only because Joseph was born in Jacob’s old age, but because Joseph was born of Rachel, the woman Jacob really loved.

2) He Had the Supernatural Ability to Interpret God-given Dreams  (Genesis 37:5-1     

Genesis 37:5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

We will discuss this in greater detail in the days ahead, but for today let me say that we should be careful in trying to say that our dreams are supernatural or that God has given us the ability to interpret them. Scripture teaches us that God has used dreams, but only on rare occasions.

Note something very important that Joseph said about dreams and his ability to interpret them –

Genesis 41:15 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it. 16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

3) He Was Envied and Hated by His Brothers

Genesis 37:4 And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

It is easy to be critical of Joseph’s brothers and their actions; however as we will see in a later study – much of how they acted can be linked to their poor relationship with their father, Jacob.

4) He Was Sold into Slavery by His Brothers

Genesis 37:23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him; 24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. 25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked , and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. 28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

5) He Was Falsely Accused and Spent Time in Prison  (Genesis 39:1-23)

Genesis 39:1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.

When Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelite traders, he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian officer.  Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Some have said that Potiphar was the captain of Pharaoh’s personal body guards. Other resources say that he was the ‘chief of the executioners.’

The Bible also tells us that the LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.  We learn also that young Joseph was very handsome and had an athletic physique and soon Potiphar’s wife began to look at him lustfully.

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. 8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.

“Come and sleep with me,” she demanded. But Joseph refused. This angered Potiphar’s wife and so she told her husband that Joseph tried to rape her.

19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

6) God Was With Him in Every Circumstance of His Life

Again Joseph is mistreated and abused. Not only is he in a foreign land, now he is in a foreign jail. Yet here is one of the many great lessons we are going to learn as we study his life. Even though Joseph faced many difficult situations, the Lord was always with him.

Genesis 39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. 23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.

7) He Was Promoted to 2nd in Command Over All of Egypt

Joseph spent several years in jail. Once he thought that he might have the opportunity to be delivered, yet even then he had to remain in prison for another two years. “Why?” is the question we would ask if we were faced with a similar situation. “Why does God allow these kinds of things to happen to us?” We read from the book of Ecclesiastes –

Ecclesiastes 3:1 To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

Joseph had to spend two more years in prison because it was not yet time for him to be delivered. Little did he know that God was also working in the lives of others.

Genesis 41:1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed…

At His divinely appointed time, God was going to move in the life of Pharaoh and He was going to do so through a dream.

Genesis 41:14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it: and I have heard say of thee, that thou canst understand a dream to interpret it. 16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

God gave Joseph the ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and through that interpretation Joseph was escorted into the next phase of his life.

38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? 39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: 40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled : only in the throne will I be greater than thou.

8 ) He Forgave His Brothers

As we will see in our studies, this famine was not only in Egypt but across that part of the world. Again we see the hand of God moving.

Genesis 42:1 Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? 2 And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die. 3 And Joseph’s ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.

By the providential hand of God, Joseph is going to be reunited with his brothers. This part of the story is going to be very meaningful as we will see how the relationship between them was restored.

Genesis 45:1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. 2 And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. 3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence. 4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. 5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

9)  He Was Used by God to Provide For His Family

Genesis 45:9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not:

Joseph is going to send for his father, Jacob, and all of his family. As you will remember, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Therefore it might be said that Israel went down into Egypt and there they will spend the next several hundred years.

10)  He Was the Reason the Children of Israel Became Slaves in Egypt

Israel’s time in Egypt is a mix-blessing. During their time in Egypt they are going to grow into a mighty nation. Yet also, they are going to eventually be enslaved and require a deliverer named Moses.

Exodus 1:6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. 8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.

It will take us more than ten messages to cover the life of Joseph. Within those ten events is an unbelievable amount of good stuff for us to study.

III. Why Should We Study Joseph’s Life?

The question some might ask is – ‘Why should we go so far back into the Old Testament and study Joseph’s life? Isn’t this ancient history? It is ancient history, yet the lessons we can learn are numerous and still relevant for today. The Bible tells us that the lives of the Old Testament characters are given to us for examples and admonition. There is much we can learn from their successes and sins. They put flesh on many biblical principles found in the New Testament.

One of the primary principles we will learn from the life of Joseph is that God is really in control. We read from the book of Romans –

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

It doesn’t say that everything is good or that everything is pleasant at the time. A large part of Joseph’s life involves tragedy. From many of the events surrounding his life we’re going to see pride, jealousy, anger, and lust. We’re also going to see humility, forgiveness and the grace of God.

Many consider Genesis 50:20 to be the key verse concerning Joseph’s life –

Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Joseph is going to speak that verse to his brothers, many years after they had sold him into slavery. Rather than holding on to bitterness and anger, Joseph is going to choose to forgive. The reason he can forgive is because he realizes that God’s providential hand was in it all.

The word ‘providential’ means to ‘foresee’ and therefore give ‘forethought.’ It means that God is one step ahead of us. Actually, God is a lot farther than just one step ahead of us.

Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand , and I will do all my pleasure:

That is not to say that God dictates everything that happens. The Bible says that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33), nor does He tempt men to sin (Jas 1:13-14); yet we know that men do sin and that there is a lot of confusion in this world. Sin and confusion are part of the results of men disobeying the will of God, rather than fulfilling it.

Yet the Bible also teaches us that every part of God’s plan will succeed. What God wills to happen – will happen and we call that His sovereignty. Sovereignty means that supreme authority. God is the Creator and sustainer of this universe and therefore He has supreme authority over what happens.

Joseph’s brothers meant evil in their selling him into slavery. They sinned against their brother, against their father, and against God. Yet God was with Joseph. If Genesis 50:20 is the key verse, Genesis 39:2 has to come in at a close second –

Genesis 39:2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man…

At least four times in the life of Joseph we will read that phrase, and two of those four times occurs while Joseph is in prison. God is with us even in the midst of our difficulty and He can cause us to prosper, even in the midst of our suffering.

Conclusion –

Perhaps there are parts of your life that you wished that you could change; however, the details that you think you could do without may well be some of the details that God is using the most to help form and develop you into who He wants you to be.  It has been said that difficulty can make us ‘bitter’ or ‘better’; it all depends upon how we respond.  Joseph is a perfect example of how to properly respond to difficulty so that God can use it to make us better.

When Joseph said to his brothers that God used their evil for good, he had the luxury of looking back and seeing how the hand of God had been in it all. Many of us do not have that luxury when we are going through our difficulties. We can only see the trouble before us and therefore we are tempted to wonder if God has abandoned us. As I said earlier, the Bible tells us that the men and women of the Old Testament are given to us for examples. Their lives show us that we can trust God. As someone has said – “When you can’t trace God’s hand, you can trust His heart.” That is faith my friend.