Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Joseph- Refined By Hardship.

GBM Gateway – 28 Feb 2010 – by David Bong

Scripture Passage: Genesis 37 – 50

Intro: Gen 50:19, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good”.

1. The Forming of Godly character – a servant heart.
Joseph was a favorite to his father Jacob. And he because of that he develops this boastful pride in his early life. He has this bossy type of character. He likes to show off. And because he is Jacob’s favorite, Jacob would give in to Joseph’s demands. That is why we read in Gen 37: 11 that Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him. They were angry at him, hated him and could not speak any kind words to him.

God has a plan for Jacob and family. And God wants to use Joseph in His Mighty plan. But at the age of 17 and with his boastful character, Joseph is not yet suitable for the job. God has to refine Joseph to be the suitable vessel/instrument for His plan.

I believe that God has already set a plan for Joseph to be a ruler. But to be a ruler, Joseph must be able to serve. Jesus said it in Matthew 20: 20-28 that to be a ruler, one must serve. So we see here that God’s plan for Joseph is to be a ruler. But a ruler in God’s definition is one that serves, not one that is proud and boastful and orders people around. God has to refine Joseph to be a ruler. Unfortunately for people who are boastful, God will allow them to go through humbling experiences. Joseph was given a dream, one that the people would understand its meaning. Joseph was destined to be a ruler, and rule over his brothers, and even his parents have to bow down to him.

God allows Joseph to be sold as slave of Potiphar to teach Joseph to be humble. It is also an opportunity for Joseph to learn to be a true leader that is by serving others. It is there in Potiphar’s house that Joseph learned to serve others. At first, it might have been difficult for Joseph to serve others. Imagine a spoiled brat trying to serve others. But Joseph did learn and when he put his best in serving, God was with him and in due time he was promoted. But Potiphar’s house is only the first purifying stage for Joseph.

Serving in Potiphar’s house is not so difficult. Good food, beautiful house, nice bedroom, and everything is taken care of. One thing about God’s trial is that He knows our character and He moulds us bit by bit. He knows how much hardship we can take for any given time. Although most of the time we feel that it is too much but God knows better. God knows that Joseph’s character is not perfectly moulded and the hardship in Potiphar’s house is not enough to fully refined Joseph. Joseph needs to be tested and refined in a tougher and harsher condition.

What better place to further refine Joseph’s character than to let him be in prison. It is one of the worst places to be and that is what needed to test/refine Joseph. If Joseph can succeed in serving in a prison, then he is ready for God’s plan. Indeed we read that Joseph was tested in prison for more than 2 years before God says that Joseph is ready to serve. It took about 12 years for God to transform Joseph to be ready to serve and be appointed a ruler.
* What situation are you in right now? Is it a difficult situation? Could it that God is preparing you for greater things in your life. Could it be that God want to build a better you and the only way to get you to cooperate is by letting you be in hardship. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

We may feel inadequate, unworthy, unprepared, but God will never call someone to do something that he won’t enable them to accomplish. He doesn’t call the equipped, He equips those He calls.

2. God’s Timing, Not our Timing
Joseph was given the “dream” that he would become a ruler of his brother and his parents when he was still a young man. Knowing that he is boastful and arrogant in his character, it is most likely that he tried to be rash and act as though he is the ruler, telling the brothers and parents to do everything he wants. I believe that Joseph might have tried to do it. He may have boasted about it to his friends. He may have wondered when that “dream” would come to pass. Maybe Joseph have been imagining on how the dreams would come to fulfillment. He may even plan on how to make the dream come to fulfillment faster. I would not be surprised if Joseph had followed in his great grandmother Sarah thinking. Abraham was promised by God that he would have children through Sarah. Sarah believed it but she could not wait. So, in her rashness to make the prophecy come to pass, she offered her servant girl Hagar to Abraham. But that is not God’s plan, not His timing.

Joseph might felt his biggest surprise/disillusionment while he is in the dry cistern. He thought he would rule over his brothers but it is him who was ruled over by his brothers. Caught and thrown down in the cistern, left to die. There in the cistern Joseph experience the death of his vision/dream. In his desperation, Joseph might have cried out to God to save him. Joseph might have bargained with God. That, we are not told.

Then God provides salvation to him. Instead of being left to die in the cistern, he was sold as a slave to a caravan trader. Later, in Egypt, Joseph was again sold as a slave to one of Pharaoh’s official, a captain of the guard name Potiphar. Joseph is now a slave. A prophesied ruler has now become a slave. Again, here we may imagine how Joseph may have felt. When Joseph was with his father Jacob, Joseph is the master of all the slaves, the menservants and maidservants. Instead of ordering others to do the work, he now has to do the work.

By now, we can see the changes in Joseph’s attitude. He became diligent and with God’s favor upon him, he was successful in all the tasks given to him. Soon he was promoted to take charge of Potiphar’s household. He is now the second in command. It seems that maybe, maybe the dream is alive again. Joseph is now in command again.
Now that Joseph is in command again, he might have thought that the dream is now fulfilled. He may have reason out that the dream is about him being a ruler or being in command, which he is now. Sometimes we are like Joseph, having a small plan and we tell God, “Ok Lord. Thank you for your plan that is fulfilled in my life.” Yet that is not God’s final plan for us. Many times we can’t grasp or imagine how great/big God’s plan is for us. Joseph may have thought that God’s timing have come and he may be contented with what he is now, being in command of Potiphar’s household. The problem is though he is in command, he is still a slave.

I believe that Joseph may have felt complacent and resigned to the fact that where he is now is the best he can get in his life, being in command of Potiphar’s household. He might even be happy with where he is now. Potiphar, being captain of the guard, one of Pharaoh’s official, is rich and have tremendous power, the elite in Egyptian society. It is said that a person like Potiphar lives in a big mansion, maybe 3 storey’s mansion. He uses gold utensils and bowls in his daily routine. There are big beautiful vases decorated in his mansion. He sleeps in big beautifully decorated rooms with nice pillows, mattress and comforters.
Joseph might have compared his life as a shepherd, a nomad when he was with his father Jacob, being in command of Potiphar’s household seems to be better. No need to be under the hot sun or shiver in the cold nights, sleeping on hard rocks with insects or snakes all around, smelling like sheep or goats.

*Many times it is when we are contented with what we are that God allows trials/hardships to happen. It is not that God is bad/evil but it is that we have not reached our fullest potential. God want us to go higher in faith. That is what happens to Joseph. He was accuses of doing something bad when he did not do it. And Joseph finds himself in prison, being treated like a criminal though he is not. Life is so unfair, really unfair. How would you react if you are in Joseph’s situation now? Would you be disappointed, frustrated, and angry with God? Would you be questioning God’s wisdom and do you want to curse God (like Job’s wife).

Now Joseph’s dream suffers another blow, a second death of a vision. However, God spared Joseph’s life. Potiphar has the right to kill Joseph there and then. Remember that Joseph is a slave. And a slave does not have any right. So it is quite surprising that we read that instead of killing Joseph straight away, Potiphar put Joseph into the prison. I would assume that Potiphar knew that Joseph is innocent. Potiphar may have investigated the matter with his other menservants and maidservants and found out the truth. And probably Potiphar also know his wife’s character.

We can say that Joseph is in deeper “shit” than before. Previously he is only a slave. Now he is not only a slave but also a prisoner. God was with him and even in prison he was promoted. He was to be in charge of all the prisoners.

Joseph’s dream is to be a ruler. Instead of things turning out good, things went from bad to worse. In a way, Joseph is being demoted from being in charge of a big rich household to being in charge of dirty, grim, depressing prison. It is like you are being transferred from the HQ in KL to some remote places in Sarawak/Sabah. And from living in a beautiful luxurious condominium/bungalow to living in a prison.

It is only when the time is right, when God has placed everything in position that God made the fulfillment of the dream/vision. We read the story of how Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and hew was appointed to be the second in command to Pharaoh. I don’t think Joseph would have imagined that he would be second most powerful man on earth at that time. When he received the dream, he would at the most imagined that he be the head/ruler of his family. But God’s plan is much bigger. God planned that Joseph be the second most powerful man on earth.

What is the vision/dream that you received? Are you still running with the vision? Have is suffered death? Always remember that it is God’s timing, not our timing.

3. Having The Fear of the Lord Always.

Joseph realized that it is always wise to fear/revere the Lord. He has internalized this wisdom and it is shown in his response to temptation. In Gen 39:9b, we read, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” We all are accountable to God first for all our action.

One near death experience can bring one near to God. It is likely that Joseph came to realize that life and death is in God’s hand. He may have realized that is it best to follow God’s ways than to depend on his own abilities. Joseph’s character was changed from one that is proud and boastful to one who give all the credit to God. He is constantly aware of God’s hand working in his life.

Day by day Joseph’s heart becomes committed to God. He may have realized that it is all because of God’s favour that he was successful in all his tasks. This realization made his commitment to God stronger day by day. We have heard the principle that God strengthened those whose hearts are fully committed to God. This commitment to God was made manifested when temptation comes. He knows that he would be sinning against God if he sleeps with his master’s wife. I wonder how many of us guys would already have that kind of commitment. Not many I guess, for even people like Samson, King David and Solomon failed in this area.

When given the opportunity to take revenge on his brothers, he is able to see through God’s eyes. Instead of focusing from his own point of view, he focused on God’s view. And because he focused on God’s view, he is able to see that what his brothers did to him is also part of God’s plan. What would your response be to those who have hurt you? Are you still angry with them, never forgiven them even though its been years since it happened? Are you still blaming God for the sickness, the hardship, the misfortune that you experienced? Or will you try like Joseph to be so in tune with God that he is able to see God’s hand working in his life, even through the difficult part of his life. (being thrown into the cistern by his own brothers, being sold as a slave to the Ishmaelite traders, being sold to Potiphar, being unfairly and unjustly accused of having an affair with his master’s wife, being thrown into prison, helping others but was forgotten and stayed in prison for more than 2 years.

Being in tune with God made a lot of difference. Having the fear of the Lord made a lot of difference. Joseph was able to say that all the hardship is necessary so that he can be God’s instrument, God’s vessel to fulfill God’s plan, not only for Joseph’s life but also for the family members of Jacob. It is also to fulfill God’s prophecy given to Abraham. Being in tune with God frees us from being enslaved with hatred, vengeance, anger, bitterness, jealousy, lust, covetousness and many other evil thoughts. Instead being in tune with God will repulse all these evil thoughts away from our mind. But being in tune with God does not mean all the troubles will go away. It does not repulse hardship, trials or troubles.


I truly believe that God has a GREAT Plan for each one of us. And I also believe that God is interested in building man and woman of Godly character. When God made us in His image, He wants us to display His character. That is why the Bible says that God is in the process of conforming us to be more like Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 3:18). May we too be refined like Joseph through hardships and will come out as pure gold, an acceptable offering to God.

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