Providential Preparation; Genesis 39
We are in Genesis chapter thirty-nine. There was a break in the action between Genesis 37 and 39. There was the interlude and the focus on Judah and His incest with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, and that provides a backdrop for what happens in chapter 39, because what the Holy Spirit is emphasizing to us is the contrast between the paganism that has influenced all of the other 10 brothers (not Benjamin) who are the sons of Jacob and Joseph whose focus is on the Lord. Rather than being sexually immoral as Judah was Joseph is going to be moral, faithful, and demonstrate integrity.
One of the things that is going on in Joseph's life that should be emphasized is that God is training Joseph to be a leader; but not just any leader. God's plan is for Joseph to be the number two leader in the Egyptian empire, and at this time in history Egypt was fabulously wealthy and the Pharaoh is incredibly powerful and viewed as the incarnation of God Himself. So to be the number two to Pharaoh is to be in a position of wealth and power and prestige that we can't even fathom. God had to prepare Joseph in a special way for this kind of leadership because it would be a position that would be open to incredible abuse, and Joseph could not do that. God had to take him through a number of training sessions in order to prepare him for that leadership.
One of the things that has to be realized as a leader is that it is not a popularity contest. It is not about polls, not about what people think about what you do, it is about doing the right things. To do the right things you have to know the right things. And to know the right things there has to be something built into the soul of the individual that produces character. If we look at the Scriptures that is what God is focusing on in believers. The emphasis on the concept of fruit in the Bible is not actions, it is not Christian service, it is not evangelism, it is character. It is changed character, it is not recognizing that there is grace and I can keep on sinning, it is a recognition that we are supposed to apply doctrine and there needs to be a transformational process that takes place. It is not legalism. Legalism comes along and tries to change things externally, and it emphasizes the cleaning up of sin to the exclusion of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But the focus that we see in the Bible is that we become so occupied with God in the Old Testament, with Christ in the New Testament (the church age), that that which is sinful becomes disdained and irrelevant, it is viewed as a distraction. It is not that our focus is on going out and trying to clean up all the sin in our life but to get so focused on who Christ is and our relationship with Him that that controls the decision-making and the priorities in our won life.
So Joseph has to go through this training process. When he gets to that point at the end of the tunnel when he is about 35 or 36 years old and the Egyptians have finished their seven years of prosperity and go into those seven years of famine the pressure that goes on him means that the person who handles it has to be a man of integrity, a man who is above reproach. It is not about being liked or favored but about doing what is right based on a clear set of standards. He first had to learn the lesson of humility. Humility is the key to being a good leader.
The doctrine of divine providence
1) God is sovereign, He rules the universe, and He is directing history according to His plan. He is the ultimate authority as the creator over everything that happens in human history. He guides and directs history towards His planned end.
2) God oversees the outworking of His plan and He provides protection for His people. So even though there is instability in the world because of evil, because of Satan, because of sin natures, because there are 6-1/2 billion people running around who all want to be god, God never loses His control, and in His omnipotence He oversees the progress in human history and brings about that which is for His glory.
3) Despite human failures and flaws, despite all the chaos of sin, God works all things together for good. Romans 8:28.
Throughout this section, especially in chapter 39, we see the action of God behind the scenes. Genesis 39:2, "And the Lord was with Joseph"; 39:3, as a result of the way He made Joseph successful his master Potiphar saw that the Lord was with him. It was evident to a pagan unbeliever that the Lord was blessing Joseph, and so he promoted him; 39:4, "And Joseph found grace in his sight"; 39:5, "the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph." What is a key word in that? The Lord blessed the Gentiles (Egyptians). That reminds us of three things: the Abrahamic covenant—land, seed, and blessing. Joseph is the great grandson of Abraham and God is going to bless all of Egypt and all of the Mediterranean world through Joseph. It is an outworking of the Abrahamic covenant.
Then, after he gets framed by Potiphar's wife and falsely accused of raping her he gets thrown in jail. We often get thrown these curves in life. Things come out completely different from the way we hoped for, the way we intended, and we go from the pit to the prison, and the Lord was with Joseph even in prison. The Lord is still guiding and directing; He is still in control. Joseph is thinking things are out of control. "But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison." The emphasis there is on grace. Then in verse 23, "…the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper." This is the behind-the-scenes work of God in the life of the believer to bring about that which is intended in the plan of God. So the doctrine of the providence of God runs behind all of these chapters, everything in the story of Joseph.
Why is all this taking place? Why is the Holy Spirit having Moses record these events in chapter 39? Who is listening to this? Moses is writing to the Jews. They have just been brought out of Egypt as slaves and they are learning why they were slaves in Egypt and they are learning how in slavery they ought to perform, and that just as God was with Joseph God was with them during those 400 years of slavery. God's providential care blessed them incredibly so that they expanded to a tremendous nation to come out of the land.
Genesis 39:1, "And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmaelites, who had brought him down there." The name "Ishaelites" changes back and forth. In chapter 37 they are referred to as Midianite traders and Ishmaelites. This is because those who had descended from Ishmael intermarried with the descendants of Abraham through his second wife Keturah from whom came the Midianites. So both terms applied to these traders who were also engaged in the slave trade.
Now we learn about Joseph's new employer, a man named Potiphar. We are told three things about him: that he is an Egyptian, he's an officer of Pharaoh, and he is a captain of the guard. Why does the Holy Spirit emphasize these three things? His name, Potiphar, is an Egyptian name, and when it is broken down into a basic linguistic pattern the last syllable refers to a deity and the first part refers to belonging to or dedicated to a god, and in this case it was to the sun god. Then he is called the chief of the guard and this indicates that Potiphar is high up in the military chain of command. He would be in charge of all of the internal security around the Pharaoh. He was responsible for protecting the Pharaoh and for security over anyone who came and stayed in the presence of Pharaoh. He would have free access to anything in any of the palaces, any of the homes where the Pharaoh stood. So Joseph as a slave is not just of anybody of any family in Egypt. We see the hand of God here. He is going to put him with a particular individual and one who has a tremendous knowledge of the inner workings of the highest level of government. So as Joseph worked for Potiphar he would come to know the inner workings of the upper echelons of power and aristocracy in Egypt. He would be exposed to all kinds of important officials and individuals who would have business with Potiphar. He would know who these people were, he would learn how to behave as an Egyptian being in an aristocratic Egyptian home. He would learn all about their culture, would learn to speak Egyptian as the aristocracy spoke Egyptian, and if he had gone to some lower class home he would pick up a lower class language, he wouldn't get to know anything about the palace, he would not know how to live and operate within the environment of the upper echelons of power. God places him in a particular home so that he goes to school for the next ten years and is exposed to key people and places, he knows his way around, knows the culture, so that he is able to pass later on as an Egyptian.
Joseph is going to learn now not to focus on the problems in life but to focus on God. God takes everything away from him. We rely so much on the details of life to give us those moments of comfort and happiness. We have friends around us, family around us, we have homes that we have fixed up just the way we like them so that everything is comfortable, we have jobs, etc. We like stability, people don't like change, and we base our happiness and stability and peace of mind on having everything around us just the way we like it. All of a sudden all of that is ripped away from Joseph and there is nothing there—his environment, his friends, his family back home, his culture, his language. Everything that provides that zone of comfort for us is removed from Joseph, so he has to learn to focus on the grace of God to provide everything. And relying on the grace of God is crucial for developing humility, to have grace orientation. We have to learn that it is not about who we are, it is not about us, about our difficulties and problems, it is about the plan of God. So it would be very easy for Joseph to turn his focus inward and start focusing on how his brothers had betrayed him, how he has been sold as a slave, how they have maltreated him, and to give in to a sin nature that focuses on hatred and anger and resentment and bitterness and revenge, and to figure out some way to escape and get back home. But he is already beginning to understand what he says at the end of the book that they meant it for evil but God meant it for good. So he is orienting his thinking to the plan of God, and that is foundational to being a good leader. So we see the beginning of his spiritual growth here with grace orientation. He recognizes that all that we have is from God.
Job comes to understand this in Job 2:10 after the second level of testing that he went through. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. He understands that if we are going to accept what God gives us we have to accept with the same attitude of graciousness and gratitude when the Lord takes away. That is a mark of a mature believer. When Job's wife told him to curse God and die he said, "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" That is a tough principle to learn.
Joseph is learning the same lesson: that God has provided so much for him. He has obviously learned discipline and responsibility from his parents. He has been taught about the Abrahamic covenant. He has been taught about how that Abrahamic covenant was restated with his grandfather Isaac and how it was reconfirmed to his father Jacob. He has heard the stories about what happened at Bethel and what happened at Peniel, and he knows that God has a special blessing for him. Now all of a sudden he is in this place as a slave in Egypt and he knows therefore that God must have a plan for him. So he is showing orientation to the plan of God which is all part of developing grace orientation. He has to learn that God may give one day an take away another, and our response has to be the same. That is where spiritual maturity takes place. We also have to learn to rely on God who promises to provide all that we need. Paul recognized this in Philippians 4:12, 13, "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." The "all things" in context comes out of verse 12: I can handle any situation, whether it is having an abundance or not having anything, because I have a sufficient savior who can get me through any set of circumstances, and as long as I am focused on Him I'm going to have stability in an unstable world. Then in Philippians 4:19 he says, "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." What are the riches that we have in Christ Jesus? They are infinite, so the checking account that God is writing the check on to supply our need is a bottomless account. You can't exhaust the grace of God, you can't get in a situation in your life that is too great or too much for the grace of God to handle.
Joseph has to learn this. He has to learn to rely upon the grace of God, and relying upon the grace of God means true humility. Humility puts you in a position where you have to accept someone else taking care of you and giving things to you, and you have to do it with graciousness, humility and without fuss. That is what grace orientation is. A key word is generosity, it's undeserved, unmerited favor, and we have to learn to exploit the grace of God; not to abuse it but to exploit it, because God says He will give us everything. Joseph is in the position where he is having to learn to exploit the grace of God. We have to recognize that we may never know why God allows certain things to happen to us, why we go through certain problems. Job never knew what was going on in Job 1 and 2. He didn't have a clue other than just general principle. God never answered his question why it happened to him. God threw over seventy rhetorical questions at Job all to emphasize that Job and his finite little mind just couldn't comprehend all that is involved in testing. He has to do one thing: just relax and trust in the omnipotence and omniscience of God. So grace orientation means that God is in charge—He is the creator and we are the creature—and that He has provided everything for us and we have to learn to live on the basis of what he has given us. So when things happen that aren't in our plan, things that are difficult, painful, harsh, then we can't cave in to self-pity, to bitterness towards man and towards God, but we have to recognize that this is under the providential direction of God and we have to use it in order to develop maturity.
So God then moves Joseph to the next stage of character training, from grace orientation to doctrinal orientation. In doctrinal orientation we need to learn two things. First of all, we have to learn the truth of God's Word. It is the Word of God that is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. God says, "My word will not go forth without accomplishing that which I have intended." So we have to learn the truth of God's Word. Jesus says that we are sanctified by truth, "Thy Word is truth." It is the truth of God's Word that is powerful in our life. It is not just powerful because it is sort of academic truth, it has to be applied truth. That is what we see in the next verse.
Genesis 39:2, "And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous [successful] man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian." "Successful" is the Hebrew word which means to be prosperous or to be successful. He had the Midas touch. Everything he did worked. Everything he planned came to a proper fruition and this became a testimony to the pagan Potiphar for whom he worked. What this tells us is that this one word reveals to us Joseph's attitude to God's Word because this is a word that is used over in the first psalm: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful." See the progression there: walk, stand, sit—in sin. "But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." It is a passion to know the Word of God; it is something that you enjoy, something that thrills your soul. In His law he meditates day and night. That doesn't mean he doesn't have time to think about what he is doing at his job. This is a figure of speech where you talk about two opposites and it illustrates the entirety. This is talking about the fact that throughout the day this is the focus of this person's thinking; it is on the Word of God. Meditation isn't just trying to figure out difficult doctrines, it is chewing on the promises of God's Word, thinking in terms of how one faces certain problems and challenges and difficulties in life. It is thinking, How do I take the promises of the Word of God and apply it to this situation? That is what meditation is. It is thoughtful reflection about the principles and the promises of God's Word and how they apply to specific situations in life. "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper."
Proverbs 28:13 uses this same word, prosper. "He that covers his sins will not prosper." That is the person who is using grace as a license to sin, the person who is just camouflaging the sin in his life will not prosper. "… but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy." Notice it is not just a matter of confessing. The goal is to walk, to abide in Christ, and that means to forsake the sin. That is, the idea of just staying in fellowship. There is the contrast who rationalizes and justifies sin. The Bible says he won't prosper. What do we have to do to prosper? We have to go back to the application of doctrine in Psalm 1:2. His delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night. When your focus is on the Scripture there is not room to get involved in a whole lot of other activities.
Along with this, as Joseph is learning grace orientation and doctrinal orientation, he is learning how to focus on work. He has a work ethic that comes out of the Scripture, and this is laid down for us in the New Testament in Colossians 3:22-24, "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ."