by Pastor Cherie Johnson
We’re in the middle of our sermon series The Story of Joseph: The Life of a Dreamer. Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel. He was Jacob’s favorite son, and when he was around 17, Jacob gave Joseph a very special coat. You may know it as the “coat of many colors” or the “Technicolor Dreamcoat.” What it did was prove to Joseph’s many brothers that he was the favorite, and Joseph love wearing his coat. At that time Joseph was also doing the dreaming, and he dreamed that all the people in his family would bow down to him, despite the fact that he was one of the youngest son’s, and it was very unlikely that anything like that would happen.
After taunting his brothers, whether intentionally or due to self-centered thoughtlessness, his brothers plotted to kill him but decided to sell them into slavery instead.
As a slave in the household of the Captain of the Guard, he got in trouble with the captain’s wife, despite that he tried to do what was right, and got put in prison. He obviously, hadn’t fully developed the skill of tact, yet. Last week, while in prison, he accurately interpreted the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s staff. The Cupbearer promised to help Joseph get out of prison, but once he was restored to his place, the Cupbearer forgot.
And that’s where our story picks up today in Genesis 40: 1 through 41.
Genesis 41:1-41 NIV
1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
8 In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.”
14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 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.”
16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 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. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 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.
<em”> 22 “In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 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.”
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.
28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 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.
33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”
It’s interesting and almost strange that not only are there two dreams, but we are told the dreams twice. First when Pharaoh has the dreams, and later when he describes them to Joseph. In Scripture, if you ever see something repeated, it is like a neon flashing light saying, “This is important.” In an oral story telling culture, repetition was a way of bolding the type, so to speak. It would give extra emphasis like we might do by bolding something, using italics or underlining it. So what that means for us is that we really need to pay attention to these dreams. They’re very important to the story.
Our Scripture today says that Pharaoh’s advisers could not interpret his dreams, but Jewish tradition says that Pharaohs adviser’s did try to provide an interpretation of his dreams, but they couldn’t convince him that they were true. But Joseph’s interpretation did, perhaps because God used the language and symbols that Pharaoh could understand.
In this case it means these images of cows. Cows would be very important to Egyptians related to the fertility of the land. One of the Egyptian goddesses was Hathor, who was pictured with the head of a cow. She was the one they thought caused the flooding of the Nile, which allowed them to grow their food. Egypt was considered the breadbasket of the Mediterranean World.*
Without relinquishing any of his authority, God sent this dream message using images that would persuade or convince Pharaoh to take the warning of feast and famine seriously. Because God used that particular imagery, Pharaoh was willing to consider Joseph’s interpretation when he possibly ignored his own advisers and dream experts.
That is one of the things I love so much about God, that God will communicate with us in the way that we need to hear, the method that will make an impression on us because God knows us so well.
God did it with Pharaoh. God does it with us. God also did it with Joseph.
We look at Joseph. He’s about 30 years old, and he is very different from that 17 year old kid who was full of himself and taunted his brothers, whether he intended to or not. Now, if he is humble.
But is he now somehow more worthy for this unique gift of interpreting dreams, revealing the messages of God to people? No, it’s not about worthiness.
This is a point in the story where the direction of Joseph’s life changes again, and when we see the truth of what he dreamed when he was 17. No one would have called him worthy at that time, with the possible exception of his father. Yet, he has matured. He learned the hard way. He has been humbled. He no longer claims anything in or for himself.
Joseph may have prospered during his time in Egypt, but he has done it as a prisoner and a slave. He says to Pharaoh, “I cannot do it… But God will.” (41: 16)
When he was able to put his ego aside, effectively getting out of the way, God was able to work through him. Then God was able to use him to save Egypt and the Mediterranean world. And of course, from their perspective, what they thought of as the whole world. Some Scholars suggest that this is one way that God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to all the families of the Earth, was fulfilled. (NIB Commentary, pg 19) (cf Gen 12:36b)
When we use our gifts for God’s glory, we are becoming the person God created us to be.
Joseph is not more worthy than before. He’s not less worthy. He is now using the gift that God gave him for the purpose God gave it to him. In this case to warn Egypt of the famine to come.
We all have spiritual gifts from God. They are varied from one person to the next and can change over time, based on what God needs us to do. For example, in his youth, Joseph was the dreamer. His brothers and father were the interpreters. Now, he, or rather through him, comes the interpretation of other people’s dreams.
Though in this sermon series, we are focusing on dreams and interpretation, but all gifts are important. Your gifts are important. Whether you think they are flashy or more… Something… Or not.
It’s like when the Apostle Paul equates the distribution of spiritual gifts in the church with the parts of a human body in his first letter to the church at Corinth, starting at chapter 12 verse 18.
“But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, these parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special on her period and the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable Parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other if one part suffers, every part suffers with it, if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
One is not more or less worthy because they are given a particular gift. Nor does having a particular gift make someone more or less worthy. It’s natural to see something we admire in someone else and say, “I wish I could do that!” And we have our own special things that God has given us. The important thing is that we use it for the glory of God. In effect God actually does it through us.
Just as Joseph replies when Pharaoh asks him to interpret dreams, “I cannot do it … But God will.” (41: 16)When we do that, when we get out of the way, and it stops being about us, God does it through us. We literally became the hands and feet of God. We became the conduit.
That’s one of the reasons is so important that we use our own unique gifts that God gave us rather than being a contortionist trying to manipulate ourselves to have the gift we seeing others or wish we had. We can try to bend ourselves and force ourselves into place that we normally wouldn’t do.Some people think that the pain and suffering this causes somehow makes them or this gift that they are presenting to God more worthy. I have been just as guilty of this as anyone.
But when we do that instead of using our own gifts, we are in effect robbing God. There is potentially all kinds of things that we are uniquely qualified and gifted to do as a potential way for God’s work to be done through us, ways that bring joy and fulfillment. In that way we spread the good news of the Gospel without even trying. We are filled with joy, and people see us and say, “I want some of that!” As we continue down that path, and use our gifts for God’s glory, we continue to become the person God created us to be.
What is one thing you can do this week? Something you’re good at and like to do. It can be big or small, but something where you effectively say, “It’s not that is really me doing this, it is God doing it through me.” something large or small or spectacular or every day, but it is done for the glory of God.
So, what is something that you can do this week?
I know that when you do that, like Joseph, you are one step closer to becoming the person God created you to be.
So now in our story, Joseph has become the second most powerful man in Egypt. He gets married. He has children and he organizes Egypt’s food supply just as he advised Pharaoh. The food stores are built up and brimming to overflowing. When the famine time comes, not only do the
Egyptian people come, but people from all over the Mediterranean world and the Near East.
Next week, Joseph is in his official capacity of grand vizier, and he is going to receive some very special visitors, so you don’t want to miss next week.
Stephen Newman. “Pharaoh’s Dreams: An Extended Interpretation.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 40.4 (2012): 253-254. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web 5 June 2016.