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Feb 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 9, 2014 – Genesis 41

The Land of Affliction

Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile. Genesis 41:1

Intro: In the last exciting episode, we left Joseph stuck in prison

He asked Pharaoh’s cupbearer to remember him and mention him
– both remember and mention translate same Hebrew word
• Strong’s definition: “to mark (so as to be recognized)”
– I’m pointing this out, because it comes up again in today’s story
• the story swings on the themes of remembering and forgetting

It had been “two full years” since the cupbearer had forgotten Joseph
– the Hebrew reads, “two years of days”
• when waiting anxiously for something to happen for us, each passing day seems long
• Joseph was aware of every day that filled those two years

The introductory “behold” transports us into Pharaoh’s dream — we are now seeing through his eyes
– there are two more “beholds” in his first dream
• we might remember that Joseph used three “beholds” when he told his first dream to brothers
– in Pharaoh’s second dream there are two more “beholds” and then a final “behold” in verse 7

Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

• the “beholds” at the beginning and end of his dream sequence creates a verbal enclosure for it

Pharaoh’s dreams launched him into terrifying world
– it looked like his Egypt–he stood by the Nile–, but its animals and events were surreal
• as he watched, seven healthy and well-fed cows emerged from the Nile River, climbed the banks and began grazing
• they were followed by seven sickly and scrawny cows that did not commence grazing, but for one dreadful moment, they just stood by first seven cows–and then they “ate up” the seven healthy cows
○ we need to let ourselves feel the horror of his dream
○ seven zombie-looking, cannibal cows
– Pharaoh most likely woke up with a start and was greatly disturbed
• then fell asleep and dreamed a second time
○ this dream repeated the plot of the first, only in images of “ears of grain”
○ the dream symbols–livestock and agriculture–are linked to a society’s essential food sources
– waking up is usually a relief, but not this time — the next morning, “his spirit was troubled”
• as if he felt his spirit shivering
• the terrifying effect prepared him for the interpretation
○ he knew it would be equally terrifying
○ but none of Pharaoh’s viziers were able to give him a satisfactory interpretation
— so he was left with his intense anxiety

Suddenly the  cupbearer’s memory returned, “I remember (mention) my faults today!”
– he then related story of encounter with Joseph, the “Hebrew youth” who was with him in prison
• both he and Pharaoh’s chief baker had dreams and no “professional” to interpret them
• Joseph, however, interpreted their dreams and things turned out exactly as he said they would

Joseph was rushed from the jail house to Pharaoh’s court, with one brief stop on the way
– he first had to be made presentable (Egyptian-looking)
• again we find clothing playing a significant role in Joseph’s story

Pharaoh began the interview with, “I hear you can interpret dreams”
– this is one of those scenes where Joseph’s beauty shines through
• immediately he denied having the ability or skill in himself
• immediately brings God into Pharaoh’s court
– at the same time, Joseph presents himself as God’s agent
• he is realistic and at peace with what he is unable to do
• yet he is also confident in what God will do

So now Pharaoh retells his dreams not only as he saw them, but also experienced them
– that is to say, he elaborates on his dreams (as depicted by the storyteller) by adding his emotional reaction
• so the sickly cows were worse than any he had ever seen
• and after devouring the healthy cows, there was no sign that the sickly cows benefited from eating them
– there are two other interesting facets of Pharaoh’s story of his dreams:

  1. He said he had never seen such horrid cows “in all the land of Egypt”
    • he sensed that the dreams are not just about him, but that whatever was coming would effect the whole nation
  2. He includes all the “beholds” of his dreams, except last one
    • this creates the effect of an unsolved riddle, an unresolved turmoil
    • in fact, he concludes not with a behold, but with “there is no one who could explain it to me” (cf. Gen. 40:8)

With no hesitation, Joseph launched into the interpretation
– but he begins with God
• in fact, the same way Pharaohs dreams were verbally enclosed with “behold,” Joseph’s interpretation of them began and ended with God (25-32)
– Joseph confirmed Pharaoh’s fear, that “all the land of Egypt” would be affected by the calamity revealed in his dreams (v. 30)
– but on the upside, Joseph’s interpretation provided the final “behold” Pharaoh had lacked
• in verse 29, Joseph’s “behold” moves from the dream to its meaning
• he supplies the resolve for Pharaoh’s dilemma

But with one smooth step, Joseph adroitly slid from interpreter to adviser
– we want to notice specific key words he used: “look for” – “discerning and wise” – “set him over”
– when Pharaoh responded to Joseph’s advice, he responded to those key words: “Can we find” – “discerning and wise” “I have set you over all the land of Egypt”
• Pharaoh also included an acknowledgement that God was obviously working through Joseph

For a moment, Joseph stood in stunned silence
– not that this turn of events had never occurred to him, but because it was actually happening
• while trying to think of a response, Pharaoh spoke again, only now as a command
• because now he made his words reality, by removing his signet ring and giving it to Joseph — along with “garments of fine linen” and a golden necklace
– once again, clothing plays an important role in Joseph’s story
– all the way through, a garment has marked the major turning points in his life
• but this new garment brings the climactic moment – there will be no more downhill changes for Joseph

The story concludes with five postscripts:

  1. Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name, “God speaks; he lives” (v. 45)
  2. Pharaoh gave Joseph a wife (v. 45)
    – the daughter of priest, from Heliopolis (a famous religious center)
    • Pharaoh recognized the spiritual quality of Joseph’s life
    • that is why he placed him in this religious setting
  3. Joseph collected supplies in the good years (vv. 46-49)
  4. Joseph had two sons (vv. 50-52)
    – to him, they symbolized the new life God had given him
    – “fruitful in the land of my affliction”
    • I ask God to intervene in my afflictions, not realizing that sometimes my affliction at times is God’s intervention
  5. The famine hit – and it spread further than Egypt (vv. 53-57)

Conc: We do not get to make all major decisions of our lives

But we can learn something from Joseph about being “fruitful” wherever we land
– it has to do with “forgetting”
• this is not a “loss of memory” – but like Paul’s forgetting his past, in which he set it aside

. . . forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Php. 3:13-14)

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things (1 Cor. 13:11)

• we release the past and wrestle ourselves free from its grip

Some things we have to first remember and then forget
– “implicit memory” refers to our brains’ systems that learn and remember things without our awareness that it has happened
• who remembers learning to walk? How it felt for our body to learn to balance itself and learn the feeling of  balance?
○ even now, we are unaware that we have a distinctive gait that is recognizable to our friends even from a distance
– it is pretty obvious to us that negative thoughts produce negative moods
• but less obvious that negative moods also produce negative thoughts
○ negative moods also cause our memory to become selective, filtering out the positive

In Anatomy of the Soul, Curt Thompson relates a conversation he had with his wife after a few years into their marriage. It had to do with the way he behaved every time he got around his family. “You know, Curt,” she said, “every time we go there, this guy shows up. He looks like you, and even has your name. But I’m not really sure who he is, because he doesn’t behave like the man I married.” Until she pointed this out to him, he had never realized how he reverted to being the childish person his family expected him to be.

– a past that is forgotten is a past that no longer haunts or controls us

“Doesn’t forgetting his family destabilize Joseph? Cause him to lose his values, orientation, and sense of purpose?”
No, because his feet were securely planted elsewhere
His life had dragged him to Egypt, away from his family–he had no control over that
Uprooted from his family, he rooted himself in God
It was in forgetting his family that he discovered who he was
But Joseph never forgot the God who made him forget everything else

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