(Dream Big was a series based on the ideas of Andy Stanley in The Legend of Joe Jacobson)
Some weeks ago we begin to ask this question as the lens through which we hoped to view all of life and life’s circumstances. The question is: what would someone who is you do, if they were fully confident that God was with them? What would someone with your gifts, your life experience, your situation, your resources, do, if they were fully confident that God was with them. And I challenged us to begin looking for God at work within our everyday situations. Some of you actually wrote down examples of situations where you have seen God working. But I want to take a quick survey. Who would say that they have noticed God working somewhere in your life or the lives of those around you in the last 30 days? Who would say that?
Yes, I agree. I’ve seen it, too. It’s amazing where God is at work. And all it takes is a little effort to begin seeing that, experiencing that on a daily basis. And when we see God at work, it gives us confidence and faith to let God work in OUR life and our situations. It can help us in those times we feel the need to control or manipulate things or people around us; or when we overreact out of fear or anger. Because if God can work in other people lives, maybe just maybe, God will work in my life, too. When we are confident of God’s presence with us it will indeed affect every area of life: our work, our family, our relationships, etcetera.
To get a great picture of this question and principle we have been studying the life of Joseph. Now Joseph’s life was like this: favorite son of his father’s wife, a little spoiled, given a special coat by dad, has some colorful dreams about the future which he shares with his family and they begin to hate him for it; brothers throw him in a well, sell him to slave traders, tells dad that he’s dead, he becomes a servant for an Egyptian official, serves faithfully but gets falsely accused of and imprisoned for rape, gets put in charge of the other prisoners, helps a few get out, is forgotten by the one he helped so much, but later, is remembered, brought before the Pharaoh, interprets Pharaoh’s dreams by the power of God and becomes second in command, the Prime Minister of Egypt. Not much to it!
We are at this point, in Genesis 41, where Joseph is the Prime Minister in charge of famine preparation. You see, the Pharaoh’s dreams warned of 7 great years of harvest but 7 following years of devastating famine. So Joseph did what anyone would do who was confident that God was with them, he did a great job. He organized the growing and gathering of crops, the storage and distribution of the same. All of Egypt was completely ready for the famine to come – and, seven years later, come it did.
54 Then the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had predicted. The famine also struck all the surrounding countries, but throughout Egypt there was plenty of food. 55 Eventually, however, the famine spread throughout the land of Egypt as well. And when the people cried out to Pharaoh for food, he told them, “Go to Joseph, and do whatever he tells you.” 56 So with severe famine everywhere, Joseph opened up the storehouses and distributed grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout the land of Egypt. 57 And people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world.
1 When Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you standing around looking at one another? 2 I have heard there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy enough grain to keep us alive. Otherwise we’ll die.” 3 So Joseph’s ten older brothers went down to Egypt to buy grain.
Joseph had been in Egypt a long time. He was about 40 years old at this point: sold at 17, worked for Potiphar for some years, imprisoned for a number of years, and having worked for Pharaoh for about 9 years now. And it seems that God is now setting up his brothers to get what they deserve.
6 Since Joseph was governor of all Egypt and in charge of selling grain to all the people, it was to him that his brothers came. When they arrived, they bowed before him with their faces to the ground. 7 Joseph recognized his brothers instantly, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them.
Here we go. The setup is clear. They don’t know who he is but he knows them. He has all the power and what they need. All he has to do is say, “No,” or “off with their heads.” That’s it. Maybe this is the time God has ordained for Joseph to get vengeance.
I want us to grab onto this. The way life seems to happen, because we reap what we sow, because what goes around comes around, often the people who hurt us the most end up needing us later. Why is it that we get hurt and abused or abandoned by someone, but then they come to ask us for something later in life?
I’ve seen this happen over and over again with parents and children. The parents are abusive or distant or too busy for their kids, then as they get older things don’t go so well. They don’t plan enough. They make some bad decisions. They are in need, but there is nowhere to turn except to those children they abused, neglected or ignored. Many of us will experience this principle of being needed by the very people who hurt us. And at that point we will all be in the same situation as Joseph – we will have the power to say, “No!”
And because we are all sinful, selfish people, most of us think about how we could avenge the wrong done to us. The thought of helping never really enters our minds. We just want to get back. You all know this, hurt people – HURT other people. People who are abused in whatever fashion, people who are mistreated or raged at, or people who are degraded and beaten down emotionally, all tend to do something similar to others. We want someone to pay for the wrong.
Sometimes it’s a simple as my boss or my teacher is a jerk, so when I get home I get to be the jerk, because I have the power then! Have you ever been there, on either side of that situation? Yep.
That’s where Joseph is at. But what is unique about this situation is that he can do anything he wants to his brothers with absolutely no, earthly consequences at all. Frankly, most of us wouldn’t even flinch to read that Joseph took revenge on them and lived out his life happily ever after. But that’s NOT what someone who is confident that God is with them does.
9 And he remembered the dreams he’d had about them many years before. He said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.”
10 “No, my lord!” they exclaimed. “Your servants have simply come to buy food. 11 We are all brothers—members of the same family. We are honest men, sir! We are not spies!”
12 “Yes, you are!” Joseph insisted. “You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.”13 “Sir,” they said, “there are actually twelve of us. We, your servants, are all brothers, sons of a man living in the land of Canaan. Our youngest brother is back there with our father right now, and one of our brothers is no longer with us.”
Joseph must have been thinking, “No kidding. I know where he went!” But he did not blow his cover. He throws them in prison for 3 days, probably to decide what to do. God was with him, but that doesn’t mean every decision was easy. After 3 days he agrees to let them go and get Benjamin, the youngest, to prove their story is true, but only if one of them stays. Simeon is, then kept in prison, while the others leave with their grain AND, unbeknownst to them, their silver in their bags.
When they stop for dinner after a day of traveling they open their bags to get some grain and discover their silver in one of the bags. They think God is getting them back. They get real nervous, but nothing comes of it. So they travel until they arrive home.
Jacob comes out to meet them and notices that one of them is missing. They explain the issue with the Prime Minister and how they cannot return to get more grain without taking Benjamin with them to prove they are not spies.
35 As they emptied out their sacks, there in each man’s sack was the bag of money he had paid for the grain! The brothers and their father were terrified when they saw the bags of money. 36 Jacob exclaimed, “You are robbing me of my children! Joseph is gone! Simeon is gone! And now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!”
37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may kill my two sons if I don’t bring Benjamin back to you. I’ll be responsible for him, and I promise to bring him back.”
38 But Jacob replied, “My son will not go down with you. His brother Joseph is dead, and he is all I have left. If anything should happen to him on your journey, you would send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave.”
So, they go on with their life. Simeon is still in prison. And he remains there. But then, the grain runs out again. We don’t know how long it lasted, but the situation is desperate and the brothers try again to convince Jacob to let them go, with Benjamin, to get more food. Judah promises on his life that he will return with Benjamin. And finally Jacob agrees, but tells them to take a ton of gifts to the Prime Minister. So that’s what they do.
16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the manager of his household, “These men will eat with me this noon. Take them inside the palace. Then go slaughter an animal, and prepare a big feast.” 17 So the man did as Joseph told him and took them into Joseph’s palace.
18 The brothers were terrified when they saw that they were being taken into Joseph’s house. “It’s because of the money someone put in our sacks last time we were here,” they said. “He plans to pretend that we stole it. Then he will seize us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys.”
One interesting thing during all the encounters with his brothers is that as Joseph’s memories seem to flood back to him, he leaves and cries. It happens time after time after time.
Read through these chapters sometime soon and see the turmoil he was going through. It’s the turmoil of memories, just like you and I have at times.
“I can’t believe they did that to me.”
“Why should I give them anything?”
“Really, you expect me to trust you?”
“God won’t care if I get back at them?”
Whatever old memories, old tapes, playback in your mind from those days of deception, abuse, neglect or control, I think we all have a sense of the emotional toll these things take. And Joseph must have been feeling and experiencing those over and over again. Those memories, coupled with his ability to forgive them or kill them, would almost be too overwhelming for most of us. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t easy for Joseph to do the righteous thing. Some of his actions indicate a struggle to know what to do. Here’s what Joseph did this time.
Joseph comes to the palace for dinner and seats his brothers in their birth order. That had to freak them out a bit. Then he gave Benjamin five times more food than any of the others. Finally he had a seat with the Egyptians, while the Hebrew commoners ate together. The next day, Joseph sends them on their way with grain. But he has a servant hide his silver cup in Benjamin’s bag.
After they were a couple miles out of Egypt, Joseph sends the soldiers after them. The brothers plead innocent to the charge of stealing the cup from the Prime Minister. But the cup is found in Benjamin’s bag. And the brothers begin to live out the dread and fear that Joseph must have felt when they threw him in the well, or when they sold him as a slave, or when he was falsely accused of rape and thrown into a dungeon.
The brothers tore their clothes in despair and the soldiers hauled them all back to Egypt and set them before Joseph.
14 Joseph was still in his palace when Judah and his brothers arrived and they fell to the ground before him. 15 “What have you done?” Joseph demanded. “Don’t you know that a man like me can predict the future?”
16 Judah answered, “Oh, my lord, what can we say to you? How can we explain this? How can we prove our innocence? God is punishing us for our sins. My lord, we have all returned to be your slaves—all of us, not just our brother who had your cup in his sack.”
17 “No,” Joseph said. “I would never do such a thing! Only the man who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go back to your father in peace.”
Finally, someone is coming clean with truthful information. Finally, someone is admitting something out loud for all to hear! Judah continues the plea:
18 Then Judah stepped forward and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant say just one word to you. Please, do not be angry with me, even though you are as powerful as Pharaoh himself.
So Judah tells the story once again of how important this young boy, the son of his old age, the favorite son from his favorite wife, is. He adds the story of the other brother that has gone missing, whom his father believes is dead, and how his father grieves even now for him. And it would be a terrible day, a heart-rending day, if they did not return with this last, young son.
33 “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!”
Judah has struck a chord that even Joseph, in the malaise of haunting memories and the internal wrestling with revenge, can’t dismiss. First is the thought of his father whom he has not seen for 23 years. And second, the lie that was told of his own demise and the feelings that were recreated as he listened as if from the bottom of that well. Something has got to give. Something has to change in this family.
So Joseph, filled with the thought of putting his dad through that by keeping Benjamin, wells up with emotion. We read:
1 Joseph could stand it no longer. There were many people in the room, and he said to his attendants, “Out, all of you!” So he was alone with his brothers….2 Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace.
Then it happened. Anger, resentment, disillusionment, perhaps hatred and even loneliness all collapsed under the weight of love and compassion for his aging father.
3 “I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers.
“Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! (NIV says terrified)
They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them.
I bet they were!
4 “Please, come closer,” he said to them.
Who wants to bet they were thinking?
So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. 5 But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.
I’m pretty sure the brothers, like us, wondered how this could be? Does God really let people go through circumstances like this to accomplish His will? Yes. Bad things happen to good people, too? Yes.
But Joseph holds the key for us, the understanding we need to get through it all, the truth that while God might have been “silent” during some of Joseph’s trials, God was not absent – ever. God was “with” Joseph his entire life. And even when Joseph said that God had not “done much for me lately,” Joseph did not give up. Joseph keep on trusting God. Joseph kept on doing his best.
For many of us there are seasons of life, perhaps you are in one right now, when God is very, very silent. It’s not like we have totally lost our faith or our way, but circumstances sure make it hard to see a good end coming. Trust the experience and story of Joseph – God is with you. He may be silent, but He is never, never, never absent. Your life is not surprise to God. Your circumstance has not caught God off guard. We just can’t see the epic ending – yet.
6 This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.
9 “Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately! 10 You can live in the region of Goshen, where you can be near me with all your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and everything you own. 11 I will take care of you there….”
Why? Why would Joseph take care of them and their families? They took his life as he knew it away from him. They deprived him of his father and his little brother. Why would he help them and not just his father? Because – that’s what people in power do, when they are fully confident that God…is…with…them.
So the brothers return to Israel and get Jacob and all their families and move to the land of Egypt. And Joseph takes good care of all of them. The Pharaoh is even pleased to have them there with Joseph…. Some years later Jacob dies – and the brother’s paranoia returns.
15 But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.
16 So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us 17 to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. 18 Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.
19 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. 21 No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
Wow. How many lessons can we learn from this story? As an aside let me just say this about the brothers. When we do things that are incredibly wrong, and we do not deal with them completely in admitting our guilt and asking forgiveness from those we have wronged, our life will never be completely secure. We will always be looking over our shoulder for the consequences to grab us, for “that” person to find us or to leave us. We’ll cover that more next week. But I think that’s important here as well.
The real lesson for today, though is this – forgiveness is not for weak people – it’s given by people who have come to grips with the reality of their own junk, their own abuses, their own imperfection and their own sin. It requires extraordinary strength to rely on God when we have been wronged. It requires extraordinary character and faith to look up, to God, rather than look out for revenge.
It is most difficult when you have the power to exact revenge, especially without consequences, but make the decision to forgive anyway.
This is not making the decision to be used, or walked on, or beaten down. This is the decision to forgive and to move beyond the issue. That’s what people do who are fully confident that God is with them.
This type of person, like Joseph, decides, “I’m going to be like my loving, forgiving, grace filled Father in heaven. I’m going to let God leverage my situation and circumstance to accomplish a good purpose in my life. I may seek legal recourse and wise counsel, but I am not going to extract my own revenge because God forgave me, and he gave me what I didn’t deserve – mercy & grace and forgiveness. While I was still a less than perfect person, while I was still acting out of selfishness and stubbornness, while I was still a “sinner,” God sent Jesus to die on a cross and rise from the dead to give me the eternal gift of forgiveness. I will forgive because God first, forgave me. Now that’s what people do, who are fully confident that God is with them – because He is.
God, I stand here today as a person that has held grudges, wished ill on those who have hurt me, and even tried to get vengeance my way at times. But I also stand here as a person who has forgiven others because of your love and forgiveness for me. Would you help us to lean confidently on your presence with us for strength to forgive? Will you move in our hearts and soften them to the point that we don’t write off anyone as unlovable or unforgivable? Would you wrap us in the love of your Holy Spirit while we wrestle and cry through this process? We are confident in You. Father help us. Amen