We are continuing our conversations through some stories in Scripture where we see God’s partnership with people. There is something to marvel at, appreciate, be encouraged by, and feel the challenge of, when you think about God’s ability and His continual empowering and entrusting of people. After all, God can do anything and everything, as Paul says:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
God’s power is something to talk about, something to trust in, but I will be the first in line to say that I don’t always see it. It is easy for me to not recognize it, to be oblivious. In a moment of need, where is your power God–where is your help?
I love this narrative in 2 Kings 6:
Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.” The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:8-17)
This is a prayer that I need: Open my eyes to see that You are powerful, God. Open my eyes to see that those that are for me are more than those that are against me. Open my eyes to see that God is on my side. Open my eyes.
God is all-powerful, but that does not lead to moment of Him telling us to stand back while He does it all. Instead, the repetitive theme we see in biblical narrative is God’s partnership with people–PARTNERSHIP WITH US.
Jesus gives the ultimate declaration of this partnership as He commissions His disciples (us) after His death and resurrection, at the moment of His ascension:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
What a huge declaration: all authority on heaven and earth has been given to Me. What next? Therefore you go–partnership.
Last week we looked at the narrative of Jesus feeding the 5000. The miracle done by Jesus is a huge part of this story. But there was also the partnership, the entrusting, the empowering. He used what the boy had–the fish and bread. And the disciples distributed the food and collected the leftovers. Partnership.
What does it tell us about God that He empowers and entrusts us rather than doing everything for us?
Today we are going to walk around the Joseph narrative from Genesis 37 to Exodus 1. It was a life with incredible highs and incredible lows. The story culminates in a moment where a family line could end because of famine. But the result of Joseph’s experiences is a moment of partnership with God and opportunity to be a part of provision for his family.
Before we jump into that narrative, let’s build some shared foundation in order to help us process. It is often said, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. What do you think? What has life shown you?
What are the truths and deviations to believing “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”?
There is truth about struggle shaping us, teaching us, refining us, empowering us, directing us. Seasons of life that have been the hardest, the most challenging, the most painful, have also been great moments of refining and learning. The moments that I have wanted to miss or avoid more than ever are also moments that were the most valuable. Moments that I would never want anyone else to experience are moments that I would be negatively impacted if they had never happened to me.
The paradox is that while I see the value, I don’t necessarily want these moments. I am not aiming for them, and I don’t love them.
What are some things that you have learned in the darkest, hardest, most painful moments in life that you may have never learned apart from the hardship?
We’re going to jump into Genesis 37 today, focusing on the story of Joseph. Joseph was this naive 17-year-old kid who was a bit oblivious to the impact he had on his brothers. And he had some really HIGH highs, and reealllly looooowww lows.
Happy: Joseph was his dad’s favorite. He was the second-to-youngest son but the oldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife (this is complex).
Less happy: His brothers knew he was Jacob’s favorite. I imagine they knew that Joseph’s mom was Jacob’s favorite. And his brothers hated him.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. (Genesis 37:4)
Happy again: Naive Joseph started having these dreams about how not only his brothers but also the moon, the sun and the stars were going to bow down to him.
Not happy: His brothers hated him even more.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” (Genesis 37:5-7)
Joseph’s brothers were tired of their teenage brother’s big head, so they decided it was time to get rid of him. The focus of this story is not how terrible the brothers were but how over the top Joseph was. They plotted to kill him, but the oldest brother, Reuben, stopped that, and they just threw him down into a big pit. Shrug, no big deal. But then the Ishmaelites, another result of family dysfunction, came, and brother Judah said, “Let’s make some money off this deal.”
So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. (Genesis 37:28)
And now Joseph, who had been living the good life as his dad’s favorite, with his fancy coat and his dreams about his brothers bowing down to him, began this downward spiral. He was exiled from his home, separated from his father, and betrayed by his brothers.
I’d say this is a low point for him.
But wait! The highs and lows are just beginning. He was sold to Potiphar, one of the Pharaoh’s officials.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. (Genesis 37:36)
And he was actually doing pretty well. He was successful, he was put in charge of the whole house. Things were going great. But then Potiphar’s wife started pursuing Joseph. Day after day she tried to get him to sleep with her. And he refused. So she lied and got him thrown into prison.
One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (Genesis 39:11-12)
And somehow in prison, Joseph was quickly running the place. This time the prison guard put him in charge of the prisoners. Two of the prisoners Joseph was in charge of were servants to the king and had some strange dreams that needed interpretting. Joseph interpreted their dreams for them, and asked that they’d remember him when they came true and they were back working for the king.
They did come true, but they forgot about Joseph and left him in prison. For 2 full years–TWO YEARS. Until finally Pharaoh had a dream of his own, a dream that needed interpretation, and the old prisoner finally remembered Joseph and how he interpreted his own dreams.
Just like that, they pulled Joseph out of prison, they gave him a clean shave and a new set of clothes, and he came before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” (Genesis 41:15)
Joseph told Pharaoh that his dream meant there would be 7 years of abundance, followed by 7 years of famine, and the famine would be so severe that they would forget all about the abundance they once had.
“It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon. And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:28-33)
Pharaoh looked at Joseph, who had been a prisoner like 5 minutes ago, and put him in charge of handling this crisis. He gave him his signet ring with Pharaoh’s special seal, he put a robe on him, and he made him almost as powerful as Pharaoh.
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.” (Genesis 41:44)
And the 7 years of abundance came, and Joseph got married, and he had a family. He forgot about his troubles, and he was living abundantly in Egypt, the place where he had suffered.
He’d moved forward. Finally, he let go of the pain he experienced from his brothers. He stopped missing his dad. (Or at least he thought he had.) He made a new life for himself in Egypt.
Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Genesis 41:50-52)
While Joseph was in Egypt, his family back in Canaan had to come to terms with losing Joseph. Isaac was broken-hearted. He said he’d mourn until he joined Joseph in the grave. Judah, the one who had the idea to sell Joseph into slavery, left his family while Isaac was suffering. He got married and he lost his own sons. Benjamin became Isaac’s new favorite son.
More than 20 years had passed since Joseph was sold into slavery when the famine came to Egypt. But it didn’t just hit Egypt. It hit all the land around Egypt, including Canaan, where Joseph’s family was.
More than 20 years had passed, when the brothers came to Egypt to find grain to feed their family. 20 years of deception. 20 years of children being born. 20 years of separation and exile. 20 years of pretending that what happened didn’t actually happen. 20 years of regret.
How have the highs and lows of the previous 20 years shaped Joseph and his family?
Let’s pause in this story for a moment and imagine that you had the ability to rewind time.
What if you could rewind time? Maybe you had a really great idea, but someone else got to it first. You could get your idea back from someone else. It’s yours. You can create it. Or maybe you made this mistake that still makes you sick to your stomach to think about. Maybe you’d change some decisions you made to have a different outcome.
If you could edit your past, if you could make sure you didn’t miss the mark, if you could delete the painful… if you made all the changes–the real question would be, not what would you change, but what would you miss?
As we walk out of Joseph’s story, we can see that if he deleted all the pain and failings and challenges and the people that hurt him, he would have not been in a place to provide for his family when the famine came.
There are some pains, hurts, and struggles for which there is no redeeming reality. I do not want to diminish the cost of that pain. But let’s process:
If you could travel back in time and you changed every negative thing, what would you be missing out on now?
Let’s jump back to Joseph and his brothers. These brothers that threw out Joseph like he was nothing came to Egypt, face to face with Joseph, looking for food. And they didn’t even recognize him.
Joseph knew them of course. Do you forget the face of the people that sold you into slavery?
And here we see this beautiful restoration of a family. Joseph wept at the sight of them. This man living in exile, separated from his family for twenty years, finally reconciled. And Judah, the brother that had the idea to sell Joseph into slavery, became the protector of the youngest brother Benjamin. He was willing to exchange his own life to protect his brother.
And as Joseph revealed who he was to his brothers, he told them not to regret what they did, that God sent him to Egypt to go before them. To provide for and protect their family. To bring them to a place of blessing.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:4-7)
I go back to that prayer of Elisha in this moment: Open my eyes to see that You are powerful, God. Open my eyes to see that those that are for me are more than those that are against me. Open my eyes to see that God is on my side. Open my eyes to see how God is using me through difficult circumstances.
Joseph gave 22 years of his life to Egypt before the famine. He didn’t know what God had planned for him to do in Egypt. He didn’t know he’d build a family in Egypt, invest his whole life in Egypt. He didn’t know how God was going to partner with him to save his people and the people of Egypt and the surrounding areas. He was supposed to be a forgotten, imprisoned slave. But he didn’t know the work he was doing.
Today we are going to end with a moment of processing back and a moment of processing forward, a moment where we will be leaning into the prayer of Elisha.
How have the highs and lows of the past 20 years prepared you for today?
What does Joseph's story invite you to process as you go into the next 20 years?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read Genesis 45
- Are you a cryer or not? Why?
- What brings tears to your eyes every time?
- What comes to mind when you think of God’s provision?
- How was Joseph partnered with God in provision for his family in the famine?
- What was the cost to Joseph, through his life, to have this opportunity to partner with God in providing for his family?
- What is the cost to partnership with God for you?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Samuel 22
- 2 Samuel 23
- 2 Samuel 24
- 1 Kings 1
- 1 Kings 2