Dreams

Day 17

 Dreams

‘“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt.

But God was with him …’

Acts 7:9-10

 

‘Even though I walk

    through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

    for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.’

Psalm 23:4

 

Found In  Genesis 39-41

The footprints of history are deep, trailing lines in the dusty earth. Lines to live repeatedly without thinking by. 

But the footprints of history are not the only markers left in our dusty wake. There have always been other footprints trailing alongside ours, though we often miss them. Footprints striding beside us, next to us, keeping step. The footprints of YHWH Himself on His long walk to find us, to hold us, to carry us through. 

God with us.

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

The Lord was with Joseph…” Genesis 39:1-2a

We cannot pretend that Joseph’s life was easy just because God was with him, we should  not fairytale-airbrush the pain. The trauma of his family’s treachery was a horrific grief filled experience that Joseph would carry in his young heart for years. His experience of abandonment and betrayal was hard and dark and horrible. It was the valley of the shadow of death, the darkest valley. You know the one. The one where despair dwells and you just don’t know if the light is ever going to dawn. The one the Poet-King wrote about centuries after Joseph’s time. The one we all walk through in seasons of our lives.

‘Even though I walk

    through the darkest valley’

Psalm 23:4

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But this God with him, with Joseph wasn’t a fabled fantasy either, wasn’t a dream, wasn’t even a religion; it was his life and breath and one-step-after-the-other reason to live. It was all he had to hold onto when everything else, everyone else was stripped away.

God with him.

I will fear no evil,

    for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.’

Psalm 23:4

God is with the small the frail the weak, the refugee, the orphan, the stranger, the lost, the trafficked, the despairing. God leans towards them, walking close. Carrying. Just as He leant towards this motherless, abandoned, hated, eleventh-in-line son of Jacob. Son of Israel.

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Joseph’s life would continue to be full of challenge. God didn’t stop him being put in a pit, sold into slavery, falsely accused or thrown into prison. But with God, the very cords sent to strangle and bind, will become undone by God’s life-line chords of hope and grace.

“The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” Genesis 39:2-6

‘The Lord was with Joseph’, ‘the Lord gave him success’, ‘the Lord blessed’, ‘the blessing of the Lord was on everything’, God was actively present in Joseph’s life working for his healing and redemption, as tangibly active as any human being around him.

Even when things continue to go wrong, God’s active presence with Joseph and Joseph’s presence with God continues to carry him through.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” 

But he refused…“ Genesis 39:6b-8a

“… How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.” Genesis 39: 9b-10

“One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” Genesis 39:11-12

“…She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.” Genesis 39:16-20a

Injustice can look strong and appear to win, and darkness can look powerful, like it holds our future to ransom. Centuries after this moment in Josephs life, Jesus, a son of Israel will say…“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). What God is about to do in Joseph’s life will shine through history as a testimony to this truth. 

There will come a moment in Joseph’s life when he will see a gentle power at work bigger than his misfortunes, he will see a loving will stronger than the unjust actions of others. He will see God overcome the darkness in the world around him. And he will speak into the reality of human injustice, corruption and betrayal this one line, piercing the dark…

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” Genesis 50:15-21

In this world there will be trouble, and pain and dark threads knotting and tearing. But there will also always be God; God with us, re-weaving and redeeming. 

Even when Joseph walks through this dark valley of false accusation and unjust imprisonment, the presence, power and blessing of God follows him into prison, and flows for him and through him in the very midst of his ‘darkest valley’ experience.

God draws near when we suffer and struggle. If He does not save us from it, He’ll be right there with us in it, walking us through, carrying us, whispering hope, weaving healing, working restoration. There is no end of the road with Him. Only a pathway deeper into His loving purposes. 

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What looks like another hole in the ground situation for Joseph, when lived through with God, becomes an unimaginable opportunity. And the fulfilment of God’s plans.

“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” Genesis 39:20b-23

God was with Joseph in the darkest valleys. Throughout his story of anguish and pain this one line reprises again and again, a repeating refrain beating time, beating in time with God’s beating heart. ‘The Lord was with Joseph…’

The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.’ Genesis 39:2

‘When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did…’ Genesis 39:3

‘…the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden…’ Genesis 39:21

And just in case you missed it…

‘The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.’ Genesis 39:23

Joseph was learning the lessons early that his father had taken a lifetime to learn. True blessing is not land, inheritance, wealth or fertility. These are all symptoms, by-products of true blessing. True blessing is God’s presence with us. Whether we have any of these signs or ‘by-products’ of it in our life or not. God with us.

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God had been with Joseph from childhood, speaking to him in dreams and visions, though he did not understand them. Joseph had been listening, alert to the spiritual realm, alert to God’s voice. And it is this posture of listening to, and living with God that became the only asset in Joseph’s possession when everything else was stripped away. All he had was God and the gifts God had given him, and it was all he needed. Joseph’s God-fearing integrity earns him Potiphar’s and the prison warden’s trust, and Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams will get him out of prison and into Pharaohs court.

In prison Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaohs cup bearer and baker…

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams…” Genesis 40:8

And the cupbearer, after returning to Pharaohs service ‘just so happens’ to mention to Pharaoh Joseph’s singular gift for dream interpretation when Pharaoh is bewildered by a dream God had ‘just so happened’ to send him.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires…” Genesis 41:15-16

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do…’” Genesis 41:25

“’It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.’” Genesis 41:28-32

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And in everything he does, and every word he speaks, Joseph points to God because he knows who he is with, and he knows who is with him. The language lining Joseph’s lines, never languishes in self pity or lunges towards self reliance, the lines he speaks are more like Israel’s that Jacob’s. In all his tumultuous good fortune, despite so many heart hurting challenges, nowhere does Joseph say that he got there by his wits, his hard work or his talent. There is no self reliance or pride, just hard working humility and God revering integrity. Just under half of all Jospeh’s recorded speeches are in some way mentioning God, giving God credit for his gifts, his children, his blessing. Each time Joseph interprets a dream he makes it clear from the start that it is God, not himself, who provides the interpretation.

Joseph mentions God five times throughout his discussion with Pharaoh, making sure everyone knows it is God, not him who is at work here…

“Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams…” Genesis 40:8

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires…” Genesis 41:16

“Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.”Genesis 41:25

“It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.’ Genesis 41:32

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God was with Joseph, His blessing was on him and at work through him. The invisible presence of God was visibly with Joseph. God is so clearly with him that people who don’t know God personally can see it and name it themselves. Because it’s not what you know, but Who you know. Joseph knew God and knew God was with him. 

Pharaoh knows this too.

“So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” 

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.’” Genesis 41:38-40

It’s not normal for a slave to end up ruling the nation they were enslaved to. That was all God. God with Joseph.

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Joseph finds himself second in charge over all Egypt. But all the success in the world cannot change the pain in a heart. It can be a welcome distraction from it, but underneath all the clamour of fame and wealth and success remains the one small hole in a heart, the pit of family abandonment and neglect, the pain of all the re-lived re-felt moments of despair.

You can’t out-live, outsmart or out-run the feeling of things. You need to be released from it. Wealth, success and distraction cannot release our souls from the chains of our past. Only one thing can.

Joseph names his sons names which name God’s hand with him in the midst of his suffering, but he and God both know the pain is not dealt with yet. 

“Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’” Genesis 41:50-52

God has made me forget all my trouble’ he said, and I’m sure Joseph wanted to believe this, but God would no more allow him to forget as He would allow him to fall into despair. Because forgetting is not the same as healing, not the same as releasing, not the same as forgiving. Forgetting is shoving our pain down into a hole in our souls and pretending we’re all okay. Forgetting numbs the human heart hardening it to stone. Human hearts must feel, must name, must beat in time with God’s. Whole. Alive. 

Attempting to forget the pain we experience does not help us heal. It leaves us lost, languishing at the bottom of a pit, a hole in the ground that goes on forever.

Joseph had been abandoned but he wasn’t lost. He had a sensitive human heart, sensitive to God and sensitive to his pain. He weeps because he has experienced hardship, but the hardship hasn’t broken him, embittered him or numbed his beating heart. He weeps because God is with him, keeping his heart whole. Sensitive. Alive. Expressing sorrow is not the absence of strength, but the presence of sensitivity.

When he eventually does meet his family again, his response will not be to dismiss them as ‘forgotten’, but to weep. A lot. Scripture records Joseph weeping on seven different occasions. No other person is recorded as weeping so many times until the poet-King David, hundreds of years later.

Interestingly enough, the other thing both Joseph and King David have in common is the phrase spoken of them ‘The lord was with Him..’.

Of David it is written…

‘In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.’ 1 Samuel 18:14

And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.’ 2 Samuel 5:10

One of King David’s most beloved songs is psalm twenty three… a song speaking of a heart stilled, settled and refreshed in the presence of God with him.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:1-6

 

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The closer we are to God, the more we are with Him and He with us, the more our hearts stay human and beat wholly. God’s presence with us refreshes and releases into our souls the Imago Dei wholeness we were born to live. 

A new robe is given to Joseph, replacing the one that was taken from him by his brothers.

“So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”  Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt…” Genesis 41:41-43

Human hearts can strip us bare unravelling our lives to dust, but God’s hand not only restores every once torn thread, but reweaves the story with the most beautiful golds and vermilions, turquoise and azure. All the colours of God’s redemptive work in a life.

There’s a secret in this story, a deep truth that Joseph was daily learning, moment by moment beginning to grasp as he continually experienced God’s unfolding grace in the story of his life.

This broken world and Joseph’s broken family had a story for him to live in. His scarred history full of pain had a story for him to live out. 

But God had a story he was born to live.

With Him. 

God’s presence in Joseph’s life was reweaving the dark and painful threads of his story into the plans and purposes He’d had for him all along. Plans to prosper him and give him a hope and a future. Joseph learned to make himself at home in the strengthening story God was writing for him, even though he didn’t always know where that story would take him.

It’s not just what happens to us that either traps us in a hole or help us find our way out to wholeness, but the story we believe about what happens, the story we lean into and live out of.

Joseph experienced terrible trauma at the hands of his brothers, but he had a rock on which to ground every experience he had, he knew there was always a bigger story he was held by, a bigger story holding him. He was not a boat tossed in an eternally empty sea, he was anchored in all his storms by the life-line chords of grace. God was with him. This was the story-line life-line which held him in the deepest dark. This tiqvâ hope, he held onto, holding onto him. When all other lines unravelled this one line held him fast. 

It was all he had.

God with him. 

And it was all he found he needed.

 

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Journey Further

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.’ 

Psalm 23:1-6

How different would your life be if you made yourself at home in every word of psalm 23?

Reflect on the story the world and your own family history has constructed for you to live out. How might this be different and even at odds with the story God has for you to live?

 

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References, Notes and Credits

1 The Blue Letter Bible: Referencing Strongs Defintions:  תִּקְוָה tiqvâh, tik-vaw’; from H6960;  literally a cord (as an attachment); figuratively, expectancy:—expectation(-ted), hope, live, thing that I long for.

 

All Biblical quotations are from the NIV Bible UK version (NIVUK) unless otherwise stated. Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

All photos taken by Liz Campbell, most of which were taken in the Scottish highlands, Skomer Island, Wales; Iona island and the Kintyre Peninsula, Scotland.

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