Topical Scripture: Genesis 37:3-11
William Ernest Henley was born in Gloucester, England, in 1849, and was crippled since childhood. His most famous poem captures the spirit which drove him past his challenges:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
Henley captures the spirit of our age. We can do anything if we try harder, get up earlier, stay up later, work longer hours, pay the price. God helps those who help themselves; fortune smiles on hard work; luck is the residue of design; and so on.
Has that been your experience? Have you found no obstacle insurmountable, no problem impossible? Or are you like the rest of us—discouraged by struggles which won’t go away, weighted down with burdens you can’t unload, followed into worship today by worries which tug at your soul all morning long?
“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:3). Do you have a dream today?
Do you have a dream?
We live in a world which is hard on dreams. 2,000 dead in Iraq, and the number is climbing. Another hurricane in Florida, the earthquake in Pakistan, spreading bird flu, the AIDS epidemic. A Supreme Court nominee withdrawn as political tensions escalate. We live in a state that has to vote whether or not a marriage is a man and a woman. Others have already decided that it’s not.
The pessimist Martin Heidegger seems right most days: you’re an actor on a stage, with no script, director, or audience. Courage is to face life as it is. I don’t look around and see much purpose to our world. Wars and rumors of war; nations rise and fall; we cure polio and face AIDS; we get the Internet and internet pornography. Nothing seems to change much. When Joseph has a dream, you can count on his brothers to quash it. Some of us don’t believe much in dreams.
Others of us used to have a dream for our lives, but now we’re not so sure. Maybe you thought you had a great vision or empowering purpose for your life, but things haven’t worked out the way you thought they would. Life has discouraged you, thrown you into a cistern and sold you to the Ishmaelites. People you thought would understand, don’t. Things you thought would have happened by now, haven’t.
So you’ve pretty well given up on such idealism, and you’ve settled for making the best of life as you’ve found it. You’re getting along from day to day, task to task. Your life has ups and downs, joys and sorrows. But there’s no overarching vision or inspiring purpose. You wouldn’t say you have a dream this morning. Or that life really offers such. Dreams are for 17-year-old shepherd boys. But you’re past all that now.
If you don’t have a dream for your life, or have given up on one, I have a word from God for you today.
Where did Joseph get his dream?
“Joseph had a dream,” the Bible says. Not, he “discovered” a dream or he “defined” a dream, but he “had” a dream. Passive. Something he received. Something given to him from somewhere else.
What was his dream? “Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf” (v. 7).
In the ancient world, people didn’t bow to acknowledge applause or indicate passing respect. “Bowing down” was a sign of great veneration and submission. Standing before the Lord, “Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence” (Josh. 5:14). The Psalmist calls, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). Joseph dreamed that his brothers would do that before him one day.
Then he had a second dream: “Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (Genesis 37:9). In Joseph’s world, the heavenly bodies represented rulers. In this case, the sun was his father; the moon, his mother; the eleven stars, his other brothers. And all of them would bow down in submission before him.
What audacity! What egotism and pride! In the ancient world it just wasn’t done, the parents and older brothers bowing down before the younger. Except that everything Joseph dreamed came to pass:
“Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground” (Genesis 42:6).
“They bowed low to pay him honor” (Genesis 43:28).
After his father’s death, “His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said” (Genesis 50:18).
Joseph must have developed a remarkable strategic plan to bring his dreams to pass. Listen to it:
He was thrown in a cistern, a dry hole dug to catch rainwater, by his brothers. He was then sold as a slave to a passing band of Ishmaelites from the east. They in turn took him to Egypt, where they sold him as a slave to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard (Genesis 37:36).
Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. When he refused, she accused him of assaulting her and he was thrown into prison. There he met two men who had their own dreams. God gave him the ability to interpret their dreams; one was restored to his position as Pharaoh’s cupbearer, and the other executed, both as Joseph had predicted. The cupbearer promptly forgot about Joseph.
Two years later, Pharaoh had his own dreams, which none of his advisers could understand. The cupbearer finally remembered Joseph and recommended him to Pharaoh, who had him freed from his prison cell and brought to the palace. Joseph interpreted the dreams to predict seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. He was put in charge of the entire land, to prepare for the famine to come.
And so his brothers and his father made their way to Egypt, to get food he had stored. And so his brothers bowed before him. 20 years passed from the time “Joseph had a dream” to the time when it was fulfilled. And none of it by him.
Where do you suppose Joseph got his dream? Does God have a dream for you?
Does God have a dream for you?
The Jews were enslaved in Babylon, 900 miles from their homeland. Their temple was destroyed, their cities in ruins. Yet God could say, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord; plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). At the time, no one could see an end to the Babylonian Empire. But in just a few years, Cyrus and his Persians destroyed Babylon and fulfilled the dream of God.
Paul and his shipmates were lost at sea; “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20). Then, “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said…‘I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you”’” (vs. 21, 22-24). At the time, no one could see an end to the storm or hope for their lives. But the next morning they found Malta and fulfilled the dream of God.
John was exiled on the ancient Alcatraz called Patmos. He had no hope of seeing his beloved church again. But then “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day; and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (Revelation 1:10). At the time, he could see no way of continuing his ministry for his Lord. But then Jesus appeared to him, and gave him the Revelation.
God has a dream for your life. He has a purpose, a vision, a direction which will give you significance and hope. He has a dream which he will bless. You may be enslaved in Egypt, or shipwrecked on Malta, or imprisoned on Patmos. You may see nothing in your life and world which causes you to have a dream.
But that’s just the point. God’s dream is not defined by how your brothers view you or your culture defines you. It’s not dependent on anything you can see or understand in human terms, or it’s not God’s dream. It’s God restoring a little bit of Eden. It’s a dream of ruling the world when you’re about to be thrown into a cistern. It’s a dream which God alone can give and God alone can fulfill. My friend John Haggai insists that we “attempt something for God so great that it is doomed to fail unless God be in it.” That’s God’s dream.
As we continue to walk with Joseph, we’ll learn how to make that dream a reality. This is a five-part sermon. In coming weeks we’ll discover how to have the faith, courage, discernment, and plan to fulfill the dream God blesses. For now, let me encourage you to believe that Joseph’s story includes you. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how healthy or prosperous you are or aren’t. If God gave you another day of life, there’s a reason. There’s a purpose. He has a dream for you, “plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
This week, would you ask God to help you know his dream for you? Would you make time to let him answer that question? Would you start right now?
Here’s our key verse for the Joseph series: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). He’s looking for someone to bless, someone to whom he can give his dream. He’s looking at you right now. Are you looking at him?