“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called…that no flesh should glory in His presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:26, 29
If we faced a life-or-death mission, most of us would choose the most gifted and equipped to accomplish that mission, but amazingly God didn’t. No, He seems to enjoy confounding the wisest of this world. When the mighty nation of Egypt faced an unavoidable famine, as no man had ever encountered before, God didn’t call the Pharaoh or his wise men to save the world. He raised up Joseph from the Egyptian dungeons.
Generations later, when His children became enslaved, God didn’t send an army to deliver them; He sent a single man who faced down the most powerful kingdom on Earth. God is not looking at our wealth, social status, or education; He’s watching to see if our hearts are submitted and our lives are available; if they are, He will cause His Kingdom to explode within us. But there is a process involved in submission and availability.
God has a specific purpose and destiny (or destination) for each of us, so He brings us through seasons of building and testing to prepare us to accomplish it. Such was the life of Joseph, whose God-given gift of dreams separated him from his brothers from his earliest years, and none of them could understand him, so he became the object of their envy and hatred.
Perhaps it was ill-advised to share his dreams of the sun, moon, and stars all bowing down to him and then explain to his family that it meant they would bow to him. And perhaps there was more to those dreams than a teen could understand. Not surprisingly, when given a chance, his brothers threw him into a pit, intending to kill him but later sold him into slavery in Egypt instead.
Still, their treachery didn’t go unnoticed or escape justice. God sent those same brothers to Egypt, where their descendants would live in the pit of slavery. Joseph was destined for a much nobler lot than his brothers; they would feed their flocks, but he would feed the world; they would rule over their families, but Joseph would govern one of history’s greatest empires.
Has God been preparing you for significant tasks in His Kingdom? Perhaps you are recovering from a painful betrayal – there’s nothing like wounds from a friend. Maybe your life plans have fallen to pieces, or you’re in a dungeon with seemingly no prospects.
Before Joseph built storehouses in Egypt, God built them deep within him. His life and story are probably the most incredible pictures of the Messiah in all scripture. The prophetic gifts and the storehouses they would one day bring about provide profound insight into our walk with Christ.
“He sent a man before them – Joseph – who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of Yehovah tested him. The king sent and released him, the ruler of the people let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions.” Psalm 105:17-21
Notice that it was “the word of Yehovah” that tested or tried him so severely. He was alone in darkness and silence, his legs in chains, condemned as guilty of the worst treachery, the object of hatred and ridicule. As William Cowper wrote, “The path of sorrow, and that path alone, leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.”
The word “tested” in Hebrew is [ṣārap̄]. It’s the same word used for a founder or goldsmith; it means to refine or purge with fire (to examine in the sense of proving its purity). Trials for Christians are God’s foundry, and it’s always ablaze to separate the precious from the vile.
Charles Spurgeon wrote of this process, “No Christian man is all that he thinks he is; our purest gold is alloyed. We have none of us so much faith as we impute to ourselves, nor so much patience, or humility, or meekness, or love to God, or love to men. Spurious coin swells our apparent wealth. It is amazing how rich and increased in goods we are till the Lord deals with us by a trial, and then full often we discover that we are naked, poor, and miserable in the very respects we boasted ourselves.”
Perhaps when Joseph was a teen with fresh, vivid dreams, he anticipated that blessing would arrive as quickly as the promise. The misunderstanding is reasonable. The dreams showed him and his brothers as sheaves when they were still just green sprouts – their harvest was far off.
Perhaps being set apart as his father’s most cherished son and adorned with a treasured coat bolstered that unreal expectation. Maybe he thought that being sent to report on his older brothers meant that the dreams were being realized. In reality, visions tarry, and we must let the grain grow, be reaped, and then turned into sheaves, just as we must face obstacles and suffering to grow with God.
For Joseph, the embrace of a doting father was replaced by the arms of God in the form of fetters. A tent of love was replaced by a dark dungeon cell, a colorful coat was turned into a bloody lie, and every rising hope would soon crash into the dust. And his trials didn’t pass quickly – thirteen years would slowly shuffle past as his teens turned into his twenties, and on it went. The furnace of affliction burned on.
But he would come to understand the lessons – even if we are sold for the price of a slave, our true value remains. And when great leaders esteem us, ignoble ones are never far away with slanderous venom. Every lesson became one resounding truth – “God meant it for good”. In slavery and esteem, in adversity and favor, in the dungeon and prosperity, He came to know Emmanuel – the God who was with him in all things at all times.
Notice in Psalm 105 that there are two different concepts of “word” in Hebrew that are used here: (his word and Yehovah’s word). The first “word” is [dāḇār], his “word [which] came to pass” – these are “prophetic words or revelations” that we receive from God. The second use of “word” is [‘imrâ], “The word of Yehovah [which] tested him” – these words are ordinary words which we communicate with.
What’s interesting to me is that the two different “words” and their definitions seem backward. The prophetic word, which God gives, is referred to as “his” or Joseph’s word and isn’t the type that tests us. Instead, it’s just the opposite – it’s the ordinary word, which is called “The word of Yehovah,” that tests us. There is a critical truth hidden here in plain sight.
Joseph first received a [dabar word] – a prophetic picture of who he was (in terms of understanding dreams) when he was just a teenager. But then God tested Joseph using [imra] words (simple, constant encouragement and reminders of His presence) for the next 13 years of trials and testing to purge and propel him into the destiny God desired for him.
It’s perhaps ironic that we long to receive a [dabar] word from God. Yet, it’s the [imra] words and whispers that press us to reach deep through seasons of sadness, disappointment, suffering, and loneliness until the hidden promises slowly break through the soil into the promised harvest.
This truth is revealed rather plainly in Joseph’s life. After eleven years in prison, Joseph used his [dabar] gift to interpret a dream God had given to a fellow prisoner, which restored him to his former station as chief cupbearer of Pharaoh. Still, Joseph was forgotten, left to listen to God’s [imra] words.
Two years passed, and then Pharaoh had two dreams: “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before.
Then I woke up. “In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.” Genesis 41
There are some essential things hidden within the story. The Egyptians worshipped just about everything as a “god”: Khnum was the guardian of the Nile sources; Hapi was the spirit of the Nile; Neper and Nepit were the gods of grain; Min was the god of the harvest; Osiris was the god of agriculture and the underworld of death (the river Nile was considered his bloodstream).
Hathor was the cow goddess of love, beauty, and joy; Ptah and Nevis were sacred bulls. Pharaoh was considered the chief sun-god Ra and believed the other gods spoke to him using dreams, which probably troubled Pharaoh because they dealt with their most sacred animal and grain, their chief source of wealth.
We know these connections because the Egyptians wrote extensively about their gods. So, what’s masked in the story is that Pharaoh and the magicians understood the dreams, which was the chief problem. Pharaoh was the chief god but had no idea what to do, and the wise men of Egypt had no suggestions. They understood the [dabar] word but didn’t know the Living God who spoke in [imra] words in the night and directed the course of our lives for His purposes.
From his words and actions, it seems evident that Joseph understood that his life was not his own – that his life, gifts, blessings, and suffering were all part of a much bigger design. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his son of promise, and the prophet Hosea could obey God’s command to “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from Yehovah” (Hosea 1:2), God had revealed to Joseph that his life was partially a shadow and type of the promised Messiah.
The officials could all discern that Pharaoh’s dreams predicted excellent and bad years ahead, but Joseph alone, whose day-to-day life had been lived as a type and shadow of Christ, had already lived those dreams for thirty long years. To Joseph, the dreams weren’t about the sudden catastrophic destruction of livestock and grain. He saw his own ragged life’s traumas playing out in the pictures, so their meaning and purpose were as clear as their solution.
He had helped tend his father’s grazing herds, but in a moment, they were gone from his life, replaced by a pit and a long wilderness march to a slave auction. He had helped harvest grain for his family’s flocks and oversaw Potiphar’s house until a scorching wind blew hot against his character and slammed the prison doors on his blessings and cast fetters on his ankles.
He was forgotten by those he blessed and suffered injustice year after year, so he knew that wisdom must intervene if suffering was to be prevented. He had come through the fire. No longer a favored son or trustworthy servant, he knew God alone was the solution to every dilemma. The dungeon had become a storehouse of God’s presence where Joseph found rest.
His words to the Pharaoh revealed his understanding of the actual struggle that Pharaoh and his wise men faced – what were the gods of man to do when facing unprecedented destruction? Joseph knew the real God, and he had already spent a lifetime listening to the whispers of heaven, “I cannot do it, but Elohim will give Pharaoh the answer he desires… Elohim has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Genesis 41
What a courageous answer to give in front of the throne of Pharaoh in the presence of all of his officials. Essentially, Joseph said, “The real God has given you two dreams to reveal what He is about to do in Egypt, and He desires to tell you what to do.” Joseph was speaking out of the overflow of his storehouse. And he proceeded to pour out the wisdom gained through thirty years of yielding to God.
He explained that God was about to bring seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine the likes no one had ever seen, and it was coming quickly. The solution? It was brilliant. Pharaoh was to find a man to gather double the grain taxes from all of Egypt during the abundant years and store them up to provide for the years of famine.
His words rang with great wisdom and understanding. The next seven years promised not only to be good – but fat. To double people’s taxes to save for the years of certain famine would be considered reasonable in a time of plenty. It was truly wise, and storehouses were the only answer.
The response from Pharaoh was equally decisive. “The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of Elohim?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you…I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command and people shouted before him, “Bow down! …Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife.” Genesis 41
Pharaoh unknowingly captured Joseph’s Messianic shadow with his response. His words describing Joseph as having the “spirit of Elohim” would be closer to “is of the gods” or, by Egyptian standards, a god or at least godlike. Similarly, his match with the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of [On], sent a parallel message. It was a city dedicated to the sun god Ra – Pharaoh.
The signet ring gave Joseph the delegated power of the sovereign. The robes of fine linen gave him standing as a priest, and gold chains designated him as judge and prime minister. And if there was any doubt of the Messianic shadow and type that Joseph cast, his new Egyptian name even meant “savior of the world”.
But the Messianic shadow and the savior theme connected to Joseph were just beginning. “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
One hundred years after the death of Joseph, God raised Moses up to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. On their journey out, we meet Joshua serving at the right hand of Moses. Later, when the twelve spies are chosen from the tribes, we learn that Joshua’s name was actually Hoshea, which means salvation. Before the twelve were sent on their mission Hoshea received a name change, “Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Yehoshua.” Numbers 13:16
Yehoshua means Yehovah is Salvation. But this was much more than a name change. Yehoshua was the first person to bear the name of Yehovah within his name. It was Yehoshua (Joshua in your bible) from the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, who led the Israelites into the promised land. Around 538 B.C., a shortened version of the Yehoshua became the standard form: Yeshua (Jesus).
One final thought, there is a thread running throughout the Bible – God is sovereign, but we are responsible. Meaning we can depend on God to faithfully do “His part”, but we have to do “our part”. If we live for today and hope that tomorrow will work itself out, it is just misguided hope: both poor strategies and the lack of strategy equal shipwrecks.
Life requires a reasonable margin – a reserve for emergencies, ministry, and rest. We should learn from Joseph’s God-given wisdom. We must discipline ourselves to use good times to prepare for bad ones. And we need to consider the needs of others. Do you have a storehouse? It’s part of God’s principles for receiving God’s blessing!
“Yehovah will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which Yehovah your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 28:8