Genesis 41 - God Has Given Us More Than Wisdom
January 20, 2013 Speaker: Series: Genesis
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Genesis 41:1–41:57
[Text: Gen. 41] “God Has Given Us More Than Wisdom”
[Read Genesis 41 and Pray]
Every once in a while, I put on Jenny’s glasses just to see what the world looks like. I have pretty good vision and Jenny, well, let’s just say that for the sake of our bank account I hope the boys have my eyesight. ‘Cause when I put on her glasses, things get fuzzy. Looking through her lenses make it so that I can’t see clearly and it actually wears me out as my eyes try to figure out what’s going on. If I wear them long enough I even begin to get a headache. It really isn’t any surprise though, that looking through the wrong lens can never help you see clearly.
The lens we often bring to a text like this is one that I’ll call the “Be like Joseph” lens. Let me explain. This story has a lot to say about wisdom and discernment. We could spend a lot of time considering how Pharaoh and the wise men of Egypt lacked wisdom and how God had given it to Joseph. This has led some to see this as a text telling us how to get wisdom. We, like Joseph, are supposed to run to God when we are confused and troubled.
Now, it’s true that you and I need wisdom because life is often bewildering and troubling and most of us would (at least sometimes) agree with Joseph (in v. 16) that “(i)t is not in me” to have the answers. Joseph looked to God for the answers and if we want wisdom, God is the only source, indeed. But I’m not convinced that’s the main point of this passage.
I’m not convinced because this isn’t a simple command to go to God with our questions. This is a story about a particular Pharaoh and his dreams in a particular time in the Story of Redemption. This is a story of a particular man, Joseph, to whom God gave wisdom and discernment to act within that particular situation. So, to simply say, “God gives us solutions to our problems,” as if that is the main lens through which we read this text, can leads us toward an application that sounds something like, “Joseph trusted God and looked to Him for wisdom. Go and do the same. Be like Joseph.”
But here’s the problem; I’m not like Joseph. So, how would a call to make myself like him – itself an impossible task – how could that be good news for someone like me whose natural inclination when trouble comes is to try to sort things out on my own, to take care of myself and rely on my own (rather pitiful) wisdom to solve my problems? Don’t we humans ordinarily try to first solve our problems through reason or philosophy before we go to God? How many times have we been more like Pharaoh than Joseph and run to the wise men of this world looking for answers about parenting, success at work, or even wisdom in how we use our money? The “be like Joseph” lens won’t work for me.
Besides, the Scripture never teaches that if we just reach a certain level of wisdom we’ll be able to figure everything out perfectly in this life. So, if my hope is in “being like Joseph,” then that’s not really good news for me. First, I can’t do it. And second, it can’t fix everything. Even though it is often my first impulse, using that lens doesn’t make anything clearer and it hurts my head.
So, if “being like Joseph” isn’t the right lens, what is?
What if our hope isn’t found in “being like Joseph,” but instead hope has been given to us because God provided a man who took care of people who could not take care of themselves?
Think about the story through that lens. Almost all of humanity, basically everyone except Joseph, is completely helpless and in the dark. And even Joseph can’t know or do anything apart from God. But when God acted through Joseph, a world of helpless people was carried through this famine.
Looking through that lens, this text is less about how you are supposed to get wisdom to solve your problems and more about the grace and wisdom of God breaking into this world to rescue it. Looking through that lens, this story begins to come into focus and actually fits with the Story of Redemption so far. Genesis has emphasized the utter helplessness of humanity after the Fall but has also emphasized the steadfast love of God – a love that kept the Story moving toward the redemption of God’s people and creation.
And here once again the steadfast love of God is shown as He gave Joseph – a man who came through suffering, a man to whom God gave incredible wisdom as well as the ability to take care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves – God gave Joseph so that the people of God, and even Egypt, could be rescued from starvation.
If that is the right lens, then this story becomes good news indeed for ancient Israel. Their God had once again acted to protect their family and keep them alive so that the promises of God made to them would not fail.
But this story becomes good news for us as well because we are the inheritors of the Story of Redemption. This is our Story, too. And in it God establishes a pattern that leads us toward the greater Good News, the Gospel, because it establishes the pattern of redemption that will ultimately be followed and fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Jesus is our man from God who came through suffering with the wisdom of God and possesses the ability to take care of us because we can’t take care of ourselves. God gave us Jesus so that the people of God, even we Gentiles, could be rescued from the curse of sin and death.
So, let’s look at this text through that Gospel lens. As we look at the way God was at work through Joseph is chapter 41, it’s important to remember the context of this story. Joseph at this time is 30 years old (as v. 46 tells us) but when Joseph’s story began back in chapter 37, he was only 17 years old. That means he had endured a great deal of suffering over the 13 years since his story began. Over the course of those 13 years he had been sold into slavery by his brothers, torn away from his father and the Promised Land, served as a slave in Potipher’s house, falsely accused of unfaithfulness by Potipher’s wife, unjustly thrown into prison and forgotten there by men for years.
And it seems that Joseph’s suffering, combined with the presence and steadfast love of God, had changed Joseph. In the beginning, he had, at best, been an unwise little brother who bragged about the promises of God toward him to his brothers. But as Joseph had the transformative presence of God with him throughout those 13 years and had recognized the steadfast love of God had never once forsaken him, Joseph is different than he used to be. He is humble before Pharaoh in v. 16 as he says God is the one who will give Pharaoh an answer. He is the epitome of a wise man as he not only interprets the dreams, but in vv. 33-36 goes on to provide a plan of action that will help Egypt and the whole world to survive the coming famine. The years of suffering have matured Joseph.
So as the wisdom of Egypt fails and the cupbearer remembers Joseph, telling Pharaoh of this Hebrew who interprets dreams, Joseph is transformed. He is taken from prison, shaved and cleaned up to enter into Pharaoh’s presence. And though he stands there as a slave and convicted criminal, Pharaoh is looking at the rescuer God had provided. The work of God is mysterious here as He shows that true wisdom in this situation is for Pharaoh to listen to a foreigner, a slave and prisoner if he wants to live.
Through Joseph, God reveals what He was about to do. There would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. And the famine would be so severe that the seven years of plenty would be forgotten altogether. We don’t know why, but Joseph says in v. 32 that this “thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.”
We don’t know why God ordained that this should happen. But we do know two things. First, just because God has ordained something, it does not mean that humans are released from responsible action. Joseph tells Pharaoh the word of God and then in v. 33 calls Pharaoh to action.
Second, we know that even as God ordained this time of plenty followed by famine, He also provided for His people and for the world a rescuer through whom God would sustain life. This world needed such a man because, as the text later shows, as well as the people might try to take care of themselves in the coming famine, ordinary people can never really take care of themselves when such extraordinary need comes. In vv. 53-55, we see that even those who had heard of the coming famine soon ran out of bread and had to come to Joseph and do what he said. Then Joseph opened the storehouses and provided for Egypt and the whole earth to take care of them during this time of famine. And in the next chapter, we’ll see how Joseph even provided for and rescued his own family from perishing.
So, looking back at the first half of chapter 41, we see God carrying Joseph through his suffering and giving him the wisdom he needs to answer Pharaoh. This is Joseph as God’s spokesman – a prophet – through whom God spoke to Egypt and through this story to his own people, Israel, telling them about how God would take care of them and keep the promises He’d made.
Then, in the second half of chapter 41, we see God placing Joseph in a position of power, giving him favor in the eyes of Pharaoh who recognized the Spirit of God at work in Joseph in a way that the Spirit wasn’t in the people of Egypt. In v. 38, Pharaoh asks, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” As Joseph is given power and authority in Egypt, such that the people must bow before this former slave and prisoner and must do what he said if they wanted to live, we see Joseph as God’s ruler – almost a king – who did the work of a king as he took care of people who could not take care of themselves.
Joseph could never have known that it was for this moment that God had been preparing him. But now the long years of God’s presence and love combined with his suffering had given Joseph wisdom. And now God had moved to take him out of prison and into power. But that wisdom and power wasn’t a reward for Joseph’s suffering. In fact, this wasn’t really about Joseph at all. He was given wisdom and power for the sake of the whole world. This was about God’s intent to take care of the world through him and preserve the family through which God had promised redemption.
Long ago, God had promised to Abraham that from his family would come one who would bless all the nations of the earth. Here, Joseph is becoming a blessing to the nations. Not only is his own family rescued, but it is likely that tens of thousands of Gentiles are rescued from starvation by Joseph’s work. But still, we know that that kind of rescue – as good and beautiful as it is – isn’t the fullness of the redemption God intended after the Fall. We can never fix this world or ourselves through food banks or social reform or malaria vaccines or the alleviation of poverty. Those things, too, are good and beautiful, but if we confuse them with true redemption, then we’ve missed how full the Gospel actually is.
The Gospel says that the fullest expression of redemption is foreshadowed here in Joseph as God gives a man to take care of His people, but it only truly came in Jesus, our Prophet and True King. Where Joseph’s rescue was earthly and temporary, Jesus’ rescue is heavenly and eternal.
Look how Jesus came. Like Joseph, Jesus was wronged by his brothers and sold into the hands of Gentiles. He was treated as a criminal although he had done no wrong. And he suffered more than any man ever had in his life and in his death. Jesus suffered the shameful death on the cross and because he did that, we have hope.
We have hope because once again, God acted to save His people, Israel. And once again that salvation extended beyond the family of Jacob and reached even into the world of the Gentiles to rescue us, too, from death. Once again, God had provided a man full of wisdom and power who, then and now, takes care of us because we can’t take care of ourselves.
We could do nothing to remove the guilt of our running after the wisdom of this world. But Jesus removes it fully when we look to him in faith. Like the earth listened to Joseph and was saved from the famine. We must listen, God says, to Jesus. We must listen and believe that God sent him to rescue us and he has done that through his death and resurrection.
And that is foolishness to the world.
According to human wisdom, Pharaoh was a fool to listen to some prisoner-slave over his own wise men. But in God’s eyes, that was true wisdom. So for you and I, the wisdom of this world tells us to trust the experts, even to trust ourselves and our ability to live this life trusting in philosophy or education or relationships or grand experiences or old traditions to take care of us. But Jesus tells us that the wisdom of God is not in them. Our hope is only found as we believe that, in Jesus, God provided a man who took care of us who cannot take care of ourselves.
Listen again to the Word of God we heard in the call to worship:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV)
Could the people of Joseph’s day have boasted that their own wisdom or power (or even that their own righteousness) had rescued them? Of course not. Their rescue had come through Joseph and it was God who had given Joseph to them.
In the same way, you and I can never think that if we just get enough wisdom or live well enough or plan ahead to cover every possible “famine” of our day – be it financial or relational or any other kind of lack - that we’ll be able to take care of ourselves. It is not mere wisdom that we need to be saved. God had to give us much more than just wisdom. And He gave us much more than wisdom in Jesus because he gave us in Him a King to take care of us. He took care of our sin on the cross through his death and takes care of us now giving us righteousness and eternal life in Him.
When you and I look in faith to this Jesus whom God has given to us, we are doing exactly what God through His Word is calling us to do. We repent and believe the Gospel that in Jesus God has once again acted to take care of His people and we embrace that reality.
But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have work to do. For the writers of the New Testament, the Good News of a suffering Jesus who takes care of us leads us to follow him into suffering for the sake of others, that through our words and deeds of love and mercy they might meet this Jesus who is powerful and loving enough to take care of them, too. This Gospel leads us into worship, obedience to Christ and obedience to the Great Commission. We go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” because we know that our King Jesus has the authority over heaven and earth. And he is with us by his Spirit to strengthen us, to equip us – and to take care of us – through this age and through the eternal age to come.
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether…the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-23)
More in Genesis
March 3, 2013Genesis 50 - How to Die. How to Live.
February 24, 2013Gen. 48-49 - Crossed Hands and Undeserved Blessings
February 10, 2013Genesis 46-47 - How God Supports His People