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Gen 37-41: Suffering in the Life of Joseph Print E-mail
Monday, 06 February 2006

How exactly does the Old Testament point to Christ?  We have said over and over again that Christ is seen in the Old Testament, but what do we mean by that?  How is a person supposed to read the Old Testament in light of the New, in light of the revelation of the Word-who-became-flesh?

In fact, there are a number of ways in which the Old Testament points to Christ.  First, and most obvious, we see that prophecy points to Christ.  In other words, in the book of Isaiah, particularly chapter 53, we read of clear and obvious pointers to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  We are told where He will be born.  We are told about His life.  And we are even told about His death.  So, straight-forward prophecy is the clearest.  Of course, there are other types of prophecy that point to Christ that are not as clear, but even they foreshadow the coming of the Savior.  Second, we have also seen in the book of Genesis that God’s promises to His people point to the coming of Christ.  How will God fulfill all these promises that He makes to the patriarchs?  How will all the nations be blessed through Abraham’s seed?  We know that these questions lead us to Christ.

Yet, there is still another way that the Old Testament points to Christ and that is through types.  Weaved into the history of Israel are people, events, symbols, and structures that point to Christ.  In fact, Israel themselves are what we would call a type of Christ.  Israel is viewed as God’s son in the Old Testament, which points to Christ.  Israel’s exodus from Egypt is a type of God’s redemptive purposes pointing us to the greater redemption in Christ.  The sacrificial system teaches of substitutionary atonement and prepares us for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  All of these are types that point us to Christ.

One figure, among many, in the Old Testament who is a type of Christ is Joseph.  Joseph is not perfect, he is introduced as a tattle tail in chapter 37, yet, he points us to Christ in that he is a righteous sufferer that God exalts.  What I want to do this morning is look at some lessons on suffering that we learn from the life of Joseph and conclude by connecting this passage to Christ.  So then, what truths about suffering can we learn from the life of Joseph?

First, we see that suffering is providential (37:1-11, 41:25, 28, 32).

The story of the life of Joseph begins with a rocky introduction.  As we mentioned before, he is pictured as a tattle tail at the beginning of chapter 37.  He is also favored by his father, which leads his brothers to be more and more angry with him.  Yet, the kicker comes when he starts rattling off about these dreams that he has had.  When he tells his brothers that they will bow down to him, well, he breaks the camel’s back.  The response of the brothers will lead to much of the rest of the story of Genesis.

Yet, what about these dreams?  Do they come true?  Of course we know the answer because we know the story.  Our passage this morning begins with these dreams of Joseph ruling over his brothers and our passage ends with Joseph being raised to second in command over all of Egypt.  It seems clear that the dreams come true.

Also, these dreams in 37:5-11 are not the only dreams in our passage.  When Joseph is thrown in jail for the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, he meets up with the cupbearer and the baker.  These two men also have dreams.  This time, by God’s help, Joseph interprets the dreams and once again we see that they come true: the cupbearer is restored to his position while the baker is killed. 

One more set of dreams take place in our passage, namely the dreams of Pharaoh, King of Egypt.  Pharaoh dreams about 7 skinny eating 7 fat cows, and 7 skinny ears of corn eating 7 plump ears.  Then, Joseph is called in to give an interpretation.  Notice what he says in 41:16.  Look also at 41:25-32.  Joseph tells Pharaoh that God is telling him in the dreams what He is about to do.  Joseph goes on in 33-36 to give instruction on how Pharaoh should respond.

All of these dreams and interpretations in our passages point us to the truth that God is providentially guiding everything.  Nothing happens in this story that God did not plan.  From Joseph being sold, to being thrown in prison, to being given authority over all of Egypt, to the famine, to everything, God is sovereignly working in history to bring about His good purposes.

So, what does this have to do with suffering?  Well, it teaches us that God is sovereign even over suffering.  The suffering that Joseph is called to face is part of God’s greater plan for his life and for all of history.  Thus, when we are called to face suffering as Christians, which Paul says will be true of us, we can face these trials knowing that they are part of God’s sovereign plan.  No suffering comes to us without first passing through the sovereign hand of God.  I pray that will give us great hope and comfort even in the darkest of times.

Second, we see that suffering is not always just (37:12-36, 39:1-23, 40:15, 23, 41:1). 

As we noted above, the text is not trying to tell us that Joseph is perfect.  No, he is a sinner like the rest of us.  Yet, is his suffering just?  Does he suffer for doing wrong or doing right?  Consider the stories with me.

Although Joseph is not innocent in his relations with his brothers, it could be argued that if anybody is at fault it is Jacob.  Jacob favors Joseph and gives him the coat.  So, when we read of the brothers deciding to kill Joseph I doubt that our first thought is, ‘Well, he deserves it.  He was a tattle tail and bragging about his dreams.  He deserves to be sold into slavery.’  No, we are shocked by it.  It is not fair or just.  Yet, it happens.  The brothers grab him, throw him into a pit, and sell him into slavery when they get the chance.

After the brief interruption of the story with the account of Judah and Tamar, we are told in chapter 39 that Joseph is now a servant at Potiphar’s house.  We are told that the Lord prospers him and Potiphar raises him up to second in command.  Then, we have the introduction of Potiphar’s wife.  She, attracted by Joseph’s good looks (see 39:6b), comes to him and tries to get him to sleep with her.  When he refuses, she persists.  Joseph, in great contrast to his brother Judah in chapter 38, labors to remain sexually pure so as to honor Potiphar and not sin against the Lord (see 39:8-9).  Yet, she gets fed up with his refusals and when she gets the perfect opportunity, she lies to her husband and accuses Joseph of trying to sleep with her!  So, Potiphar has Joseph thrown into prison for something he did not do.

What injustice?  What cruelty?  Why would the innocent be punished and the righteous suffer?  These are the questions that Job wrestles with.  So, how do we respond?

Well, we cannot answer in full here (I am not sure that a full answer will be known this side of heaven).  Yet, allow me to make a couple of comments.  First, this is life under the Fall.  We cannot forget Genesis 3.  There will be times when the righteous will suffer.  Second, as sinners born into the Fall, we must realize that none of us really suffer innocently, because none of us are innocent, save One, which leads to my third point.  Just about the time we are fed up with injustice and fed up with the righteous suffering, we must remember the cross.  In light of the suffering of the Son of God, we simply do not have much ground to stand on to complain about what little we actually have to suffer.  For the most part, we deserve what little we face, while He deserved none of the horrible burden that He had to bear.

Third, we see that even in suffering, the Lord will provide (39:1-23, 40:1-23, 41:37-57).

Notice with me in each of these instances of suffering in Joseph’s life how the Lord provides.

When he is sold into slavery, he is taken to Potiphar’s house and the Lord prospers him.  Look at 39:1-5.  God provides for him and takes care of him in the midst of his difficulty.  So much so, that even Potiphar recognized that the Lord was with him.

Immediately after we are told of Potiphar putting Joseph in prison, we read of the Lord providing for him there.  Look at 39:19-23.  Again, we see the Lord providing for Joseph in the midst of his suffering.

Even after the cupbearer forgets Joseph, the Lord provides by giving Pharaoh the dreams about the cows and the ears of corn.  Through this, Joseph goes from being a prisoner to being second in command over all of Egypt.  We read of his great prosperity in 41:37-57.  Look at verses 37-39.  It is God who has prospered Joseph by giving him the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams.

Thus, over and over again we see the Lord prospering Joseph even in the midst of his suffering.  The same is true for us as believers.  In fact, it is often through suffering in our lives that the Lord draws us near to Himself.  I think of Stephen and his vision of heaven while being stoned.  I think of Paul and Silas in prison for preaching the gospel singing hymns to God.  I think of the thousands of missionaries who gave their lives for the gospel and found such joy in doing it.  Yes, we will suffer while we wait for the Lord to call us home, but we do not suffer alone and we do not suffer without the blessing of our God.  For we know that even in the midst of our suffering, our Lord will provide.

Fourth, we see that even in suffering, we should be obedient; or suffering is not excuse for disobedience (39:9, 40:8, 41:16).

Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘I have earned the right to be disobedient in this area of my life.’  Or when you are facing difficult times, ‘Since things are so difficult, the Lord will not care if I sin in this way.’  If we are honest with ourselves, it is as if we get to the point where we think we have received so much hardship from the Lord, that we deserve to be able to indulge in our sin.

Yet, not Joseph.  After being sold into slavery by his brothers, when the wife of his master comes to him and begs for him to sleep with her, he only responds with obedience.  Look at 39:9.  He recognizes the Lord’s favor and refuses to be disobedient.  Then, when down in the prison for something he did not do, he faithfully acknowledges that it is God who gives interpretations, when it may have been easy to stroke his own pride.  Look at 40:8.  And as we read a moment ago, when Joseph is called to stand before the most powerful man in Egypt, he makes it clear that it is not by his power or might or wisdom that he will interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but only by the gift of God.  Look at 41:16. 

All of this demonstrates Joseph’s obedience even in difficult times.  We, like Joseph, should do the same as we face suffering.  Suffering is not an excuse to be disobedient, rather, it is an opportunity for us to demonstrate our utter commitment to God and His Word.

What then do we learn of Christ from these chapters?  First, Moses continues the story of the line of Christ by telling us the unflattering story of Judah and Tamar.  God will send His Son through the line of Perez, who was born to Tamar by Judah, again, another example of God’s amazing grace.

Second, we learn of the sufferings of Christ from the life of Joseph.  We know that the suffering of Christ was part of the plan of God.  Isaiah tells us that God’s will was to crush His Son (see Isaiah 53:10).  Thus, Christ’s suffering was providential.  As we noted before, we also know that Christ’s suffering was undeserved.  In the 1 Peter passage that we began our service with, Peter says, He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  Christ is the righteous sufferer.  Yet, we know that the Lord provided for Christ, even angels to minister to him in the garden, while at the same time, although given every opportunity, Christ did not stray from His Father’s will.  ‘Not my will, by thine,’ he prayed.  Peter tells us that He is our example.  Yes, we learn of suffering from the life of Joseph, but his suffering only serves to push us recognize the suffering of our Lord.  In light of such suffering on our behalf, may we, as Peter calls us to, die to sin and live to righteousness, while entrusting ourselves to him who judges justly.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 February 2006 )

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