Joseph: Gold From Garbage

Good morning!  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey and it’s a pleasure to worship with you this morning.  We started Journey Church 8 years ago, and from the start we said we wanted to be a church where people who were skeptical about the existence of God, or the goodness of God, would be welcomed.

There are many reasons – valid reasons, to not believe.  And we learned that if we would stop and listen, we had much to learn about how we talked about faith and God.

The reason I bring this up is because today we are starting a short, five week series on the life of Joseph.  And this Joseph is NOT the Mary’s husband – the one we read about in the Christmas Story, but rather, a guy we read about all the way back in the very first book of the Bible- the book of Genesis.

And what’s happening in Genesis?  We are getting to know God in Genesis.  What is he like?  And can he be trusted?  And my guess is that some in here are asking that same question this morning.  Can God be trusted to govern my life?

Have you ever thought to yourself that, if God is really in charge of things, then he must either be absent or incompetent?   Ever look around at the terrible things and wonder if God really cares?

Well this is not a new phenomena.  The Bible never shies away from answering the tough philosophical questions about life.

Like, what’s the meaning of life?  (Ecclesiastes addresses that question – and I’d say, the sermon on the mount does as well.)

What is love?  Song of Songs addresses that, as well as the gospel of John.

What is true wisdom?  Proverbs points us to God as the source of wisdom.

And one of the earliest questions that mankind had to deal with is – is the problem of pain.  Where is God when it hurts?

We ask, God, where are you when things seem to be falling apart?  And instead of a chapter on the providence of God, the bible answers that question with a story.

God invites us into the story of Joseph to answer our doubts.  The first book of the bible ends with a story to help us understand that God is always at work, even when we don’t know it.

And if we are willing, we can enter into the narrative of Joseph, and come out with a new perspective of God and maybe even a new perspective about seemingly unfair circumstances that occur in our own life.

Now, I don’t know what’s going on in most of your lives.  It might be that today – or even by the end of the day – You might find yourself asking, like Joseph must have – “Do you know what you are doing, God?  Can I trust you?”

The story of Joseph is intended to provide hope for you.  You can trust God.  He knows how to turn garbage into gold.

So we’ll start reading in Genesis 37.

2 This is the account of Jacob and his family. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.

3 Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe. 4 But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.

Let’s talk a bit about Joseph’s family.  And what I’d say is that if God can use someone from this family, then he can certainly use you, no matter what kind of family you come from.

God has a long history of rescuing hero’s from families of zeros.  Okay?  And yes, those are strong words and calling Jacob’s family of zero’s is probably too harsh. But it rhymes and it also makes the point.

The point is that if God can use someone from this family, then nothing in your family history disqualifies you from being a significant force for good in the Kingdom of God.  Nothing.

Because let’s be honest, Joseph’s family was a mess.  And you can go backwards and read it for yourself but let me give you the nutshell version.

If you begin to read the book of Genesis you will find God calling a man named Abraham to follow him.  Abraham has a son named Isaac.  Isaac has Jacob.  These three guys are talked about quite a bit – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

God himself – when he reveals himself to Moses – announces that I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And Jesus tells us in Matthew 8:11 that Gentiles – that means Anyone who is not Jewish – which includes most of us in here – will someday sit down and have a meal with Abraham Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now you might think that these giants of the faith were people of exceptional character, right?  But the truth is that if you read these stories you will find major league dysfunction from the beginning.  Okay?  Honestly.

For instance – Isaac actually had two sons. Jacob has a twin brother named Esau who was adored by his father, meanwhile Jacob was momma’s boy all the way – and in fact, with the help of his mother, Jacob deceives his elderly blind father into giving him the inheritance and blessing that his father had reserved for his favorite Esau.

Basically Jacob defrauds his blind father and robs his twin brother blind.  That’s Joseph’s father – so let’s learn more about him.  His name is eventually changed to Israel, by the way, so Israelites are descendants of these three…

Jacob runs for his life, and comes across a woman named Rachel who captures his heart.  He makes a deal with Rachel’s dad, Laban, to work for him for seven years and after seven years Laban would give Rachel to Jacob as Jacob’s wife.

In one of the most romantic verses in the bible, Genesis 29:20,  says Jacob worked those seven years for Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.  Sniff Sniff!

And they lived happily ever after, right?  HA! No, because they have a big party and Jacob goes into the wedding chambers and it’s completely dark in there and they consummate their wedding and then in the morning light, Jacob opens his eyes and it’s not Rachel!  It’s her older sister Leah!

Rachel’s father was like, “Did I do that?”  Oh well, it’s not our custom that the younger sister marries first.

Are you getting the picture here of what a jacked up family Joseph is coming from?  It only gets worse.  One week later Jacob marries Rachel with the agreement that he would work another seven years for Rachel and Leah’s scheming father.

Well, it turns out that Jacob has difficulty conceiving children with Rachel, but her sister Leah has no problem getting pregnant and soon has 6 sons and a daughter with Jacob.

Of course, this caused great jealousy issues between the sisters.  Rachel asks Jacob to have a baby with her servant, and then Leah says, well if that’s the case have a baby with my servant too.  And pretty soon Jacob has 11 children with three different women.  Miraculously, in their old age, Rachel becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Joseph.

So now Jacob has 12 sons and a daughter by four different momma’s.  But of the four there is only one woman he really loved and that was Rachel.  So when Rachel finally has a baby, well, guess who is Daddy’s favorite son?  Joseph, of course.  (Red Arrow)

Joseph is growing up with eleven older half brothers, and a father, Jacob, who has no qualms about spoiling his favorite son.  You need a robe?  Here’s a richly ornamented robe, nothings too good for my favorite son!

Oh, don’t go out to the fields to work son, stay with me, and I’ll send you out to get reports from your eleven older larger hairier, mean and violent half-brothers who hate you because of the way I’m treating you.  There are eleven older brothers, and they are united by their hatred of you, so go get a report – try to keep your robe clean.  Hurry back.

Now I’ll say it again.  If God can use this family, then nothing in your family history could possibly disqualify you from being a significant force for good and for the Kingdom of God.  Nothing.

Sometimes people get it in their head that the bible is filled with righteous people that God chose because they were special – that’s actually pretty rare.  Most are called – not because they are especially godly or righteous, but because God always works through imperfect lives, like your life and mine.

I heard someone say that God doesn’t call the qualified he qualifies the called.  If God calls you to do something, you better believe he will make all the arrangements necessary for you to pull it off.  He qualifies the people he calls to follow Him.

Jesus did the same thing – Follow Me! Said Jesus.  Those guys weren’t anything special – they were just willing.  God takes people as they are and transforms them from the inside out and then releases us to change the world.

It’s how he’s always worked – as we will see with Joseph.

And as we turn back to the story, we will see just how much these brothers have grown to hate Joseph.

And, by the way, we’ll soon see that Joseph doesn’t do himself any favors here.  He comes back with a bad report.  Oh Father!  You won’t believe how naughty my brothers are behaving!  Snitches get stitches Joseph!

It’s hard to tell exactly what to think about Joseph.  I think we can at the very least say that he is immature.  He cannot be blind to the storm that is brewing, right?  He cannot be clueless enough to be oblivious to the hate storm brewing with the brothers, and yet, it doesn’t stop Joseph from piling on when the circumstances arise.

One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. “Listen to this dream,” he said. “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”

His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them.

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?”

We get a picture here, don’t we – that at the very least, Joseph is immature. Maybe uncaring, and if we kept sliding up the scale, maybe arrogant, and maybe even cruel.  I’ll settle on the word arrogant for now.  That will be our summary statement –

He is arrogant enough, that even Jacob has to scold him.  His own father – who adores him – rebukes him  for his haughty posture.

Well, there’s a storm brewing here.  You can feel it, right?

12 Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph…

14 “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.”

15 When he arrived at Shechem, a man from the area noticed him wandering around the countryside. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

16 “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph replied. “Do you know where they are pasturing their sheep?”

17 “Yes,” the man told him. “They have moved on from here, but I heard them say, ‘Let’s go on to Dothan.’” So Joseph followed his brothers to Dothan and found them there.

18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Why should we shed any blood? (Thanks Reuben!  At least I have ONE brother who will do the right thing.)

Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.  27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.

So what are our take-aways from this story?

  1. God is always at work, even when we don’t notice him.

Isn’t it interesting that God is not mentioned at all in this entire chapter?  Despite the fact that God is mentioned hundreds of times in Genesis – the narrator purposely leaves God out of the picture.  He appears to be completely absent.

Have you ever felt that way?  That – life has thrown you into a proverbial pit and it feels like God is nowhere to be seen?

Ah, but is he?  God is always at work, even when we don’t notice him.

I would say though that even here in Joseph’s darkest moment- we find traces of God at work. But if we take care to notice, we will be able to see clues of God at work, especially in the small ‘coincidences’ that begin to fall into place in the story.

It just so happened that the brothers decided to head to a different Dothan.  It just so happened that a stranger was walking by at the exact time one of the brothers shouted to another – “Let’s go over to Dothan and give that a try.”

It just so happens that Joseph runs into that guy who just so happened to overhear the brothers say, let’s move to Dothan.

It just so happens that there is a dry well near the brothers there is Dothan.  It just so happened that a group of traders were travelling past at that very moment.  It just so happened that Reuben, who was planning to rescue Joseph, was temporarily away when the traders came by.

It just so happened that the traders where heading to Egypt, where, it just happened, that a man named Potiphar was waiting to buy a slave for his household.

Now one might say, if any one of those things didn’t happen, Joseph never would have been sold as a slave.  If even one of those long list of coincidences failed to materialize Joseph, Joseph would have been rescued by his brother Reuben and he would have never had to endure the trials he endured in Egypt.

True.  And it’s also true that if any one of those coincidences failed to materialize, everybody would have died.

Everybody.  A famine was coming.  Egypt, Israel, all of Josephs brothers, his father, his younger brother Benjamin.  Everyone would have died, had not everything “just so happen” to happen.

God is always at work.  Sometimes He seems to be silent.  We wish we were able to flip a few pages ahead in our life to see how this chapter ends.  That’s not a luxury often afforded to us.

  1. God’s plans for us sometimes require a rocky pit.

That might not be exactly the kind of news we want to hear.  We’d much rather hear that sometimes, we need a week in Hawaii, right?

But what was accomplished in that pit?  Well, besides saving millions of people’s lives, as if that’s not enough, I think it’s fair to surmise that there was something in Joseph’s character that needed to be transformed, and in God’s wisdom, he knew it required that well.

Although the text doesn’t come out and say this, there appears to be some kind of transformation in Joseph’s life.  It shows up most clearly at the end of the story.  The kid who lorded his dreams over his brothers is presented with the chance to exact revenge on his brothers, but instead chooses to love them.

And that brings us to the third takeaway.  Our life has many chapters yet to be written.

Ultimately, when it feels that God is an incompetent governor of your life, this story stands as a reminder that we don’t know how our story ends.  We don’t know what the next chapter is titled.

You might find yourself in a chapter in your life that you wish would soon end.  And you might want the next chapter to be called, “And now everything makes sense.”  Right?  But Joseph’s story doesn’t make sense for quite a while.

All we can do, like Joseph, is faithfully do our job.  Faithfully live our life.  Faithfully wait on God.  Faithfully worship Him.  Don’t lose heart.  Don’t give up.  God is the author of your life and he can be trusted to see you through this chapter.

The story of Joseph is a vivid illustration of Paul’s declaration in Romans 8:28, And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Now if someone had leaned over the well and shouted that verse to Joseph, my guess is Joseph would have shouted back, if I ever get out of this well I will kill you.

And maybe you want to stand up and say the same thing because you are just going through it right now and the last thing you want to hear is some preacher casually tossing that verse at you.

But we simply must admit, we don’t know nothing.  We don’t know how our story turns out.  We don’t have the freedom to be able to fan ahead a few pages in the book to see how things will turn out.

But what can we do?  We can trust the author who is writing out the pages of our life one day at a time.   We can rest – knowing that we serve a God who just so happens to know what needs to happen.

 

 

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