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Fall Quarter: Love for One Another
Unit 1: Struggles with Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 13, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: Genesis 41:14-57
Key Verse: Genesis 41:30-40
Describe how Joseph grew from an immature teen into a godly man. Describe how Joseph remained true to his faith in a powerful polytheistic culture. Describe the risk Joseph took in remaining true to his God.
As painful as Joseph’s tenure as a slave proved to be, it nevertheless stripped him of more than just his beautiful robe of status, it stripped him of his arrogant attitude and fashioned him into a godly man who dared to risk all for his Hebrew faith. He was left with the choice to assimilate into the Egyptian culture or do the righteous thing according to the faith he had learned as a Hebrew young man. We learn from his time in Egypt that in spite of his arrogant behavior toward his brothers, he truly possessed an authentic sense of charisma. He quickly rose from his belittled behavior as a slave to become a leader over Potiphar’s house. Potiphar was a well-respected leader in the Egyptian hierarchy. He was a captain in Pharaoh’s guard. The choice by Potiphar in choosing Joseph to run his household indicated Potiphar recognized the leadership gifts and graces present in Joseph. These productive gifts of Joseph had been present all his life, yet his pride hid them away, thus, all his brothers could see was his arrogant, self-centered behavior. Joseph rose from an ordinary slave purchased for 20 shekels to the master of a major official in Egypt.
Potiphar’s wife must have been attracted to this gifted, talented slave. I image she worried little about Joseph reporting her forward behavior toward him to her husband, for Potiphar would certainly choose the word of his wife over a Hebrew slave. Though a valued Hebrew slave, nevertheless, Joseph was still expendable. However, Potiphar’s wife did not understand the knowledge and depth of Joseph’s faith in his Hebrew God. Joseph was willing to risk severe punishment if accused, and yet he refused to back away from his truthful account. This behavior reveals a real growth of moral substance in Joseph’s life over his years in slavery.
Joseph’s strong faith is truly quite amazing when many would have blamed God for their painful circumstances. A strong faith accepts personal responsibility
for their own sinful behavior, and they seek grace over blame. First, we need to remember that Joseph was a young adult, unmarried man with the same biological drives and feelings of any young man his age. Yet, he resisted the temptation of Potiphar’s wife. Furthermore, the penalty for adultery was severe, especially when involving a slave. Men engaged in adultery were whipped, some emasculated, and some even put to death. Perhaps Joseph’s past integrity gained him some favor with Potiphar during his time of admirable behavior in prison. We are not given the rationale for his receiving time in prison over the harsher punishment. I like to think that our honest, moral integrity speaks in our life and is a witness for others. Though I have no statement in the text that supports this, experience has revealed my assertion in life as it may have in yours. Personal integrity is noticeable and a witness. Whatever the motivations, Joseph chose his risky faith in God over the mighty powers of Egypt. Furthermore, the depth and strength of Joseph’s faith in his God at the risk of severe punishment, even death, could have proved powerful witnesses.
Can you recall an experience when you or another was unjustly punished for being truthful and godly? Can you recall a time when your character was more believable than a false accusation? How do you believe you would have responded to be unjustly accused and inflicted with a painful price? Would you be forgiving? Would you be patient? Would you maintain your faith in God?
It is interesting that a robe once again plays a major role in the calamity inflicted upon Joseph. His brothers had stripped away his beautiful robe of status when selling him as a slave. Now, Potiphar’s wife rips Joseph’s robe away and uses it as false evidence of Joseph’s fabricated rape.
It is also interesting that dreams became the instruments Joseph used to display his arrogance to his brothers. Now, it is dreams that will open the door to his future freedom. The painful experiences in life, even unjust experiences, can still become redemptive in the will of God. Hope is the belief that God is present with us in every moment of life, good and bad, painful and joyful. God does not waste a single moment in shaping us into the men and women he desires we become. The arrogance and first robe, and the false accusation of the second robe opened the door for Joseph to save the people of Egypt from harsh drought and later provided a means for the Hebrew community to escape through God’s mighty act of the Exodus!
The entire book of Genesis is about God establishing his covenant people and setting up the miraculous events related to the Exodus. What has the story of Joseph got to do with the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, and later the mightiest act in Hebrew history, the Exodus? The story of Joseph explains how the people of Israel (Jacob) migrated south into Egypt and settled there. Over the years they eventually became slaves to Egypt. By the time of the Exodus the tribe had greatly multiplied. This large group of slaves became those redeemed by the love and power of God through the parting of the water providing escape for the Hebrews in the Exodus. All events in Genesis, from Joseph’s slavery to the parted sea, fit together into a cohesive whole of God’s refusal to abandon his covenant people and reveal his commitment to save them from bondage.
If I were Joseph, the last experience I would desire would be a dream. The former two dreams in Canaan had created severe animosity between himself and his brothers and eventually led to his captivity in Egypt. Psychologists tell us that dreams are a vehicle through which our joys, fears and longings can be enacted in the subconscious without fear of moral penalty. However, there is another form of dream that is a spiritual gift. They are not given to everyone and the emphasis is almost always upon the working of God in human affairs. These dreams usually consist of warning for the overall good of God’s people, and they are given to individuals as spiritual gifts for the enacting of God’s purposes. Wikipedia defines dreams as evidence for the importance of “a spiritual world.” Dreams can provide the primary experiential evidence for the reality and importance of “an unseen spiritual world.” It is through this spiritual world that God speaks through chosen vessels for the sole purpose of proclaiming his will for his people and the world in which they live.
The spiritual dreams with which God had blessed Joseph revealed not only the coming devastation of God, but also severed the familial relationships between Joseph and his brothers and later even caused his father concern. Now the dreams occurred while Joseph was in prison in Egypt on a false charge. Joseph, in his humanity, had every reason to say nothing, and in angry retribution simply let the painful events unfold. We could perhaps even understand Joseph keeping quiet as he witnessed the prisoner who revealed the first painful dream was executed. After all, revealing dreams had merited Joseph little but prison time. Joseph still remained quiet when the second dream was revealed. It was the second prisoner that felt a moral debt to Joseph for his ability to interpret dreams and either for his own sake, or Joseph’s, or both, he informed Pharaoh of a prisoner he met named Joseph that could reveal its meaning. This revelation by the prisoner was risky. Telling the truth is often risky and after the first prisoner was executed the second prisoner had no assurance things would work out well for him. Still, he told the truth about Joseph. He must have considered sharing the truth about Joseph was worth the risk. After all, he could face his own execution, death, or a long prison sentence.
Can you recall a specific time when telling the truth was risky to your position, status, etc.? Do you remember reading in the news when individuals risked their lives for speaking the truth, and especially for speaking of their faith?
Theological and personal reflection on the text
The dreams of the prisoners were identical in content. But, by this time, Joseph was no longer the center of attention in delivering the dream. Slavery and prison had greatly humbled him, and Joseph made certain it was known that God was the author of the dream. Even giving glory to his God was risky, for the Egyptians were a polytheistic culture. Remaining true to our faith, our Lord, and the truth are not always beneficial. As a matter of fact, there are moments when loyalty to the truth can be dangerous. The Old and New Testaments consist of many who lost their lives or were imprisoned for their belief in the God of Israel, and later in Jesus as Lord.
We can hear the newly developed humility in Joseph in verse 41:28. “Once more Joseph emphasized God’s work in granting Pharaoh the dreams and God giving Joseph their interpretation. Instead of taking credit for his own wisdom and insight, thus promoting his own interests, Joseph continued to point to God’s work and speaking through him.”
Joseph would not have made such a statement in his youth while speaking to his brothers. This text also revealed that God never gave up on Joseph
, nor revoked his spiritual gift.
Can you recall a time when it was obvious to you that you had grown in grace and that God had never given up on you though your pride obviously was at work?
Pharaoh was amazed that the dreams of a Hebrew prisoner came true. Even Pharaohs and kings recognized the value of those especially gifted. Though he was willing to recognize that Joseph and his God interpreted the dream to save Egypt, he was not willing to give his praise and honor to the Hebrew God of Joseph. The Egyptians believed in many gods, and Pharaoh was not certain which god was responsible for the fulfillment of the dream. He was uncertain which of their gods endowed Joseph with his spiritual ability, thus he believed Joseph himself was to receive credit for the dream coming true. Unwilling to recognize Joseph’s Hebrew God, Pharaoh changed Joseph’s name to an Egyptian name as an honor to Joseph. This would ensure none of his people would give Joseph’s God honor for the fulfillment of the dream, nor ascribe him power. Pharaoh was determined to keep the Egyptian deities foremost in the minds in the praise of the Egyptian people. Pharaoh was willing to acknowledge that a deity had given Joseph the ability and wisdom he possessed and elevated him once again to a position of discernment and wisdom for the pharaoh himself. He actually elevated Joseph to a position of the second greatest power in Egypt. For a Hebrew to occupy such a position was astounding and unbelievable to some, I’m sure.
We read here that the will of God had been working all along. The spiritual gifts bestowed upon Joseph were not just to display power in Egypt, but to elevate Joseph to a position of power and authority in the land from which the Exodus would occur years later. All events were falling into place under the sovereign hand of God to make possible the most important historical, redemptive event in Old Testament history. Joseph, Pharaoh, and all the authorities of Egypt were working under the grace and will of almighty Hebrew God whether aware or not. Often, we mistakenly understand our own contributions to the mighty redemptive working of God, when in reality God has used the big and small events, the natural and supernatural, the common and uncommon events to place us in positions for his use.
Can you remember a moment or moments when you were aware that God was indeed at work to accomplish an act of love and redemption? Can you think of a time when you realized in retrospect that you took the credit for something that God had been very instrumental in accomplishing?
Growth of the family, even with non-Hebrew children
Joseph’s willingness to marry non-Hebrew wives says less about marrying outside the clan; it most likely is actually is a demonstration of faith. He knows a famine is coming. Whereas others would avoid adding to their household, Joseph increases his. Why? He believes in the provisional care of God promised in the dreams. His marriage of the daughter of Asenath, daughter of priest of Poterphera, priest of On, most likely says less about his disregard for Egyptian pagan gods that it does that he believes his God is greater. In marriage, the wife was expected to adopt the god of the husband. Thus, Asenath would then accept Joseph’s Hebrew God. This fact had far more power than Joseph marrying a pagan priest’s daughter. Their children would also be raised in the God of Joseph.
In this text we are introduced to the two half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. These two half tribes will play a major role in diving up the promised land. Though Joseph was given an Egyptian name by Pharaoh, he gives Ephraim and Manasseh Hebrew names. Though known as half tribes, Joseph ensured they were rooted in the Hebrew faith.
Most importantly, Jacob made Ephraim and Manasseh two equal sons. Yes, there were 12 sons of Jacob, and the accepting of these two made them equal brothers with equal shares of inheritance. They were to be treated as equals. Though Joseph had been sold into slavery, his sons born in Egypt would in no wise pay further penalty for the painful years Joseph had experienced.
This lesson is comprised of many lessons. Still, one of the major lessons is that the sovereign will cannot be thwarted by the selfishness and jealousy of human sin. It reveals just how far jealousy will go in inflicting pain, even upon the ones we love. As stated earlier, jealousy can make us stand in places and do things we would never otherwise do. Joseph’s arrogance cannot be omitted from the sins of this narrative. His sense of self-importance birthed and nurtured the seething jealousy and ager of his brothers. Joseph’s anger had pushed them far enough to sell their own brother into slavery. His arrogance had pushed them over the line of their ability to tolerate the proud sin of their brother. Nor can Jacob’s poor parenting be exempt from the family disarray and ill will inflicted upon the family. He made no attempt to hade his favoritism toward Joseph. And he seems to simply ignore the increasing pain afire in his family. We are not given the affect of the mothers, but the jealousy and eventually hatred had to break their heart, yet they could do little to stop it.
Still, the will of God worked through the worst of human behavior
. No human power or sin would hinder or stop the will of God from being done. The journey to Egypt and eventual Exodus were going to happen and forever change the corporate life of Israel. No human selfishness, arrogance, or favoritism could stop the will of God.
Almighty God, we are humbled and thankful that your loving grace is greater than the worst of our sin. We thank you that we are never abandoned, and the gifts and graces with which we have been endowed are never revoked. You allow us to exercise those gifts for your glory even when our behavior is anything but glory. In Joseph’s story you used jealousy, pride, anger, severe punishment, lying and the grief of a father to provide the backdrop of the mighty Exodus. There are many moments in our lives when we are delivered regardless of our sinful rebellion. Forgive us we pray, and teach us humility and gratitude for your unfailing love and use of us in your mighty eternal works. In Jesus name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.