Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 6. Handling Expectations
Gen 37:5-7 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
Handling personal prophecy is a tricky thing. I mean, in the Christmas story that was what both Zechariah and Mary received by an angel. Zechariah didn’t handle it too well, but Mary did. Now, as we continue moving through Genesis we come to Joseph, the last of the big figures in the book and we see how not to handle expectations! How we handle personal prophecy reveals our state of mind, our state of spirituality and our faith level.
Joseph’s Background: To understand Joseph we need to see his family background. He is the youngest but one of the twelve brothers and we read, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” (Gen 37:3,4) So there we have a disturbed family background that has grown up. Not a good setting for what God is about to do – or is it?
Joseph’s Dreams: So Joseph has two dreams and gets hostile reactions (37:5-7 & 9): “His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (v.8) Even more, “When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” (v.10,11) Old man Israel doesn’t completely write it off but he is upset at the apparent way Joseph brought the dreams.
The trouble with prophecy, whether it comes in a dream or as a conscious word, is that it is about the future and not the present and what the vast majority of people – including Joseph – forget, is that to get from the present to the future, there is invariably change required and that comes about by process. So, in many ways the process is more important to remember, than the end product. So Joseph is going to end up as an important ruler, but he was not told how or why. For that we have to follow his story.
Joseph’s Downward Upward Climb: Because of their hatred for him – stoked by these dreams – the brothers take the opportunity to sell Joseph to slave traders (37:19-28) who take him to Egypt where he is sold on to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. (39:36) There he prospers under the hand of the Lord (39:2) and is given charge of all of his master’s household. He is learning responsibility with wisdom. A bad situation is made worse when his master’s wife tries to seduce him, but he flees her and ends up being put in prison (see 39:7-20). However, there again the Lord is with him and he prospers (39:20-23). He also finds he can interpret dreams (40:5-22). Subsequently when Pharaoh also starts getting prophetic dreams, it is Joseph who is called for and interprets for him (41:1-38) after which Pharaoh puts him in charge of the whole economy to oversee the coming years of prosperity followed by the years of famine.
Fulfilment & Understanding: It is a long and convoluted story but by the end of it, his brothers come and bow before him, not realizing who he is (at least a dozen years have passed), before he eventually reveals to them his identity. The original dreams have been fulfilled but to bring them about two things had to happen. First, circumstances had to come about that brought Joseph to the royal court in Egypt. Second, by the time he got there he had to be changed into a man of humility and wisdom who is open to the Lord and recognizes His presence which he does (see 40:8, 41:16,25,28,32). Moreover, by the end of the story Joseph makes that famous statement that reveals his understanding of the sovereign ways of God: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives,” (50:20) and does his best to put his brothers’ minds at rest and to care for them: “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? …. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (50:19,21)
Transformation: It is a remarkable story of how a man within Israel’s family is transformed and used by God, but his transformation comes about through harsh circumstances, circumstances brought about by the sinfulness of his brothers. God uses our sinfulness sometimes to achieve His end purposes. The greatest illustration of that must be that recognized by the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Spirit: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) Yes, the Cross was God’s plan, but it came about through the sinfulness of mankind. This so parallels what happened to Joseph, except the big difference is that it was the folly and pride of Joseph at the beginning of the story that opens the way for all else to follow.
The lesson? God will use our folly, our mistakes etc. to work through His purposes. And what are they ultimately for us? That we become more and morel like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). That will underline all that takes place in our lives, the good and the bad, because the more we are formed in the image of Jesus, the more open we will be to receive God’s blessing in our lives and be open to Him to be used to bless His world. Amazing! We may focus our expectations on success and achievement; He focuses on us being changed into the likeness of His Son.