Topic: Character Passage: Genesis 40:1–40:23
Last week we considered three tests that God allowed Joseph to go through to prepare and prove his character: 1) the test of prosperity, 2) the test of sexual temptation, and 3) the test of a false accusation. As we go through chapter 40 this morning, I want us to consider one more significant test that is woven through all of Joseph’s story and comes to a climax in this chapter: the test of disappointment.
Disappointments come in all shapes and sizes so I want to narrow our focus a little. There are frivolous disappointments that just means we didn’t get what we wanted. For example, I will be disappointed if the Giants don’t beat the Patriots today, but I won’t need a week of meals delivered to my house for if they lose. And there are selfish and sinful desires that really should be disappointed – for our own good!
But there are deep and hard to understand disappointments that can knock us off balance and tempt us to doubt God’s heart for us. Things that we are trusting God for that don’t happen – at least not in the time frame or way we expect. Blessings that we believe are right around the corner but when we turn the corner, they’re not there. Deliverances from trouble that we long for so that we can testify of God’s faithfulness to us– but the 11th hour comes and goes and God doesn’t seem to come through
Prov. 13:12 –Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
We know this proverb isn’t talking about frivolous or sinful desires because when those desires are fulfilled it isn’t a tree of life. This proverb is talking about God-given hopes that are deferred – not destroyed but delayed –and the heart-wrenching, heart-sickening effect these disappointments can have on us. In those moments we can find strength and perspective for our faith from the story of God’s work in Joseph’s life.
As we come to chapter 40 Joseph has been in Egypt for 11 years and for those 11 years his life has been a roller coaster of disappointments: first he receives two dreams from God in which he is elevated to such a high position that even his family bows in homage to him. Joseph probably figured it’d be a fast track to greatness, but that hope is cruelly disappointed when his brothers sell him into slavery to an Ishmaelite caravan that carries him bound and chained into Egypt.
But God is with him in Egypt and he is sold to a powerful man named Potiphar and God gives him such success and favor that Potiphar exalts him over his entire house, and his star begins to rise. But once again his hopes – and seemingly the dreams God gave him – are crushed as he is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and Potiphar throws him into a prison to rot. Joseph probably thinks that he has finally hit bottom – can’t go any lower. But he’s wrong. As we read chapter 40 we’ll see that God has one more heart-sickening disappointment for Joseph to go through.
Gen. 40:1-5 (pray)
God uses disappointments to strengthen our faith in Him
I. Disappointments are often divine appointments in disguise (vv. 1-5)
We aren’t told what the cupbearer and baker did, but they each committed some offense against the Pharaoh and were imprisoned for it. But look at whose custody the Pharaoh puts them in: the captain of the guard – who, we are told in the previous chapter, is Potiphar! That is no accident! God’s hand is all over this – and as these two men who once held such prominent positions in the court of Pharaoh come under Potiphar’s jurisdiction, who does he think of to care for them? Joseph.
Here’s my suspicion: Potiphar didn’t really believe his wife’s charges against Joseph. He knew Joseph and he knew his wife. If he had really believed that Joseph attacked Mrs. Potiphar he probably would have had Joseph executed not imprisoned. So here he is saying, in essence, I can’t think of a more faithful man to care for these two powerful men (who might at any moment be returned to their positions) than my faithful servant Joseph. God is working through the disappointing circumstances.
And then these two men “happen” to have vivid dreams on the same night. And we’re beginning to see that the disappointing circumstances that landed Joseph in this place aren’t disappointing at all, they are directed by the loving, wise hand of God.
God is sovereign over all things and not a molecule in the universe can move without His permission, so nothing can happen in our lives by accident. That means our disappointments are filtered through His loving will and chosen for our good.
ILL: when I look back on my life I can see many times where what looked like disappointing situations were really divine appointments in disguise. In 1987 as I was getting ready to graduate Bible school and to marry Janice, I wanted to minister in music but I had no prospects, so I sent out a dozen letters with cassettes in them to a dozen churches offering my services. I heard back from one pastor: graciously said “no thanks”. I was working a job I hated and I remember the day it hit me that nothing was coming of my letters and I had no idea what else to do. At one point I resigned myself to God and prayed, whatever you have, I will trust You with it.
Not 10 minutes later I got a call from Janice all excited about how one of the churches I sent a cassette to was interviewing a friend of ours as a new pastor and he wanted us to consider coming out to work with him. That was eventually what the Lord had for us and three years later our friend asked me to be the senior pastor of Lamb’s Chapel – something I never considered– and the course of our lives was set. The response from those letters couldn’t be more disappointing and I am so glad it was!
Eight years later Janice and I knew the Lord was calling us to be a part of SGM and so I sought to lead the church in considering being adopted – looking back I don’t think I did a great job of leading, but I wanted to church so badly to catch the vision that the Lord had put in my heart. One by one people I hoped would catch it refused to even give it a chance – and I was so disappointed. But it was that disappointment that led us to leave Lamb’s Chapel and eventually to come here.
I share these not because they’re special stories but because they’re not. You have them too – and if you look back you might see more than you think. We all face disappointments and sometimes they will be hard to understand: You think that young lady will be your wife, you think that young man will be your husband – but she/he ends up marrying someone else. You think that the phone is going to ring with that job offer, but when the call does come, it’s to tell you that they gave the job to someone else. You get an encouraging call from your realtor: a couple really liked the house. Your realtor expects an offer in a day or two. But days and weeks go by and your hope turns to disappointed resignation: not yet.
Disappointments are often divine appointments in disguise. Recognizing them takes faith– and that brings me to my second point:
II. Disappointments are used by God to strengthen our faith because they press on our faith in a unique way (vv. 6-8)
Remember that the last time Joseph interpreted a dream, it was a dream of him being exalted and it had been downhill ever since! After 11 years, it would seem so easy for Joseph to be cynical – “yeah, I tried interpreting a dream once, and God didn’t come through for me. My brothers tried to kill me, I was falsely accused of molesting my boss’ wife, and I’ve spent the last who knows how many years here in this pit of a prison. My days of interpreting dreams are over. They don’t come true anyway. Forget them!”
But look at Joseph’s immediate response: Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” This tells us much more than that he thought he could interpret their dreams – it tells us that he still believed God would fulfill the dreams he had had 11 years ago. His confidence in God was still strong.
And this confidence in God was a clear witness to these two men. They believed that it took special Egyptian mystics to interpret dreams and there were none in the prison. But Joseph declares that there is one true God, my God, and He is the One who interprets dreams. Tell me and He will give me the interpretation. His witness for God was loud and clear.
If we don’t root our faith in the word of God and its promises, instead of disappointments strengthening our confidence in God, they may result in our becoming cynical: I tried believing God, and it didn’t work. I believed God would do such and such and it didn’t happen. Cynicism is a kind of jaded mistrust and it is often the product of disappointment – when people let us down we can become cynical towards people in general. When God allows disappointment into our lives, if the roots of our faith don’t go deep in God’s word, we can become cynical towards God. May come out in reluctance to trust Him again.
Here’s the order: our trust in God affects how we interpret everything that happens in our lives, NOT, everything that happens in our lives affects how we interpret trust in God. So when we come to disappointments – even deep disappointments – and God doesn’t do what we hoped He would do, we don’t jettison our faith, we simply realign our understanding of what God is doing and how He’s doing it and continue trusting God.
Joseph was hit and hit hard over and over again by disappointment, but there was an inconquerable buoyancy to his character – he’s not downcast, he’s not walking around consumed with his own troubles. When he asks these two men why they are downcast, they don’t say, “hey, bud, ever look in the mirror?” Joseph had an excellent spirit – and it was because his faith was strong, even when pressed on by disappointment. God wants to help us have the same kind of faith.
III. When God doesn’t seem to deliver you in the 11th hour, trust God for a new 11th hour (vv. 9-23)
The two men get very different interpretations. Both men had prominent roles in Pharaoh’s court and the chief cupbearer is told that his dream means that his head will be lifted up (in honor) and he will be serving the wine to the Pharaoh again in three days. The baker, encouraged by such a positive interpretation, tells Joseph his dream. And Joseph tells him that his head will be lifted up in three days too – right off his shoulders! The ominous image of birds eating the breads that should have gone to Pharaoh are a picture of the birds eating his flesh. Not a happy interpretation.
Joseph asks the cupbearer to simply mention his case to Pharaoh, for he is unjustly imprisoned. But the last verse tells us simply: Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Joseph must have been so sure this was God’s way of delivering him that he started rolling up his sleeping bag every time there was a step in the prison hall. At the end of the first day he realized the cupbearer was probably busy – certainly he’ll get to it the next day. But the next day came and went, and Joseph waited the third day. How long did it take for him to realize the cupbearer forgot him? A week? A month? This must have been a crushing disappointment, but Joseph continues to serve God faithfully where God has him.
God is a Deliverer. He delivers His people from bondage, from sin, from trouble, from evil, from judgment, from enemies. Often that deliverance comes at the 11th hour, but God promises it will come. But sometimes God moves the 11th hour beyond what seems possible so that we trust God for a new 11th hour.
There was a widow in Nain, when she lost her husband, she lost her means of livelihood and her respected status in her town, but she still had one consolation: a son. Then one day he died too. Now she had nothing -her 11th hour had come and gone and she had no hope left in the world. But as the funeral procession was heading out of town with the dead boy carried on a mat, Jesus was coming into town, and he stopped the funeral procession and he raised the little boy and gave him back to his mother. She had a new 11th hour.
The disciples saw things going sour as Jesus was arrested and prayed for God to deliver Jesus from their grip. As they followed Jesus who, beaten and whipped and stripped naked was forced to carry his own cross, all their hopes were in him, and they were watching those hopes die. If God was going to deliver Jesus, now was the 11th hour. But God didn’t intervene and they watched Jesus hang on the cross and die. The 11th hour had passed and it was too late. They went back to their homes dejected and hopeless.
But on the third day, Jesus rose triumphantly from the grave – God had moved the 11th hour beyond the grave. And that is true for us today – for some of us our 11th hour will come after the grave. Faith in Jesus means hope that even death can’t kill. In the words of Job: though he slay me, yet will I trust Him!
Joseph thought the perfect time to free him was immediately, but if that had happened he would just have been released – might even have gone home to his father. But God had a better plan and a better 11th hour. And at just the right time, as we will see next week, God delivered Joseph and gave the fulfillment of his dreams.
As we close, what disappointments are you facing this morning? We want to lift those up in a time of prayer.