Yesterday I had the privileged of speaking to my friend’s youth Sunday School class, and I spoke on the story of Joseph and the fact that at every stage of Joseph’s life (Genesis 37-50), no matter how bad it seemed like things got for him, it is clearly stated that God was with Joseph or that Joseph is following as God led him. But the more I thought about the story of Joseph throughout the day, I began to see an even deeper storyline in Joseph and his interaction with God that I feel worth pointing out.
Now, before I go into the details, I am assuming you know the life story of Joseph. For sake of clarification, I am specifically talking about the son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac, and great-grandson of Abraham in the Old Testament. If you are not familiar with his story, it begins in Genesis 37:2 and goes through the end of that book. It is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament, and would be worth your time to read before reading the rest of this post.
To keep it brief, here is what God has shown me. While, as I have already stated, God’s presence is represented clearly to the reader at every stage in Joseph’s life, that reality and his reaction to God’s presence is shaped and strengthened continually throughout the story as well.
Here are the highlights:
- Genesis 37:1-11 — Joseph has dreams that, although he recognizes them to be prophetic in nature, he never says that they are from God. The reader understands this as part of the story, but Joseph doesn’t say if he knows this or not. At best, he knows it but is more concerned with what the dreams mean for his status in his family and society and less about the fact that God is at work.
- Genesis 37:12-36 — Joseph’s brothers, angered by his arrogance, throw him in a pit, conspire to kill him, and then sell him into slavery instead.
- Genesis 39:1-20 — Joseph is placed in the service of Potiphar. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man. (vs.2)” At some level, we have to believe that although slavery was not what Joseph imagined would be involved in the fulfillment of his dreams, he does recognize God as his authority and someone to be obeyed because when Potiphar’s wife makes advances on him, he flees saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (vs.9)” This ultimately leads to his imprisonment.
- Genesis 39:20-40:23 — Joseph lives in prison for a few years, but “the Lord was with Joseph…and the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge… (39:21-22)” One day as he finds that a couple of prisoners are down due to troubling dreams, Joseph offers to give them the answers to the dreams’ mysteries, saying, “Do not interpretations belong to God? (40:8)” Although up to this point the reader, and possibly even Joseph has understood that it is God’ working in Joseph’s story, this is the first time Joseph directly recognizes and responds to God’s work and giving Him all the credit. Where the dreams seemed to puff Joseph up, now he knows that if God gives him the answers here, it should be God, not himself, who gets the recognition.
- Genesis 41-50 — The Pharaoh of Egypt has a troubling dream and Joseph is brought out of prison to interpret the dream. Joseph again gives God the credit for the interpretation, but also goes on to give what we have to assume is a God-provided answer to how Pharaoh should deal with it. Pharaoh responds by saying to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” And for the first time, God is no longer recognized as an outside influence on what would happen in Joseph’s life or the one leading Joseph’s actions. It is now clear that it is the Holy Spirit Himself working directly through Joseph. This recognition ends up fulfilling the prophetic dreams from Genesis 37, and many people are saved from death by famine because of it.
So what’s the takeaway?
The biggest reason this stuck out to me is that all Christians fall somewhere on this same pattern of recognizing God’s work in their lives.
For most new believers, their faith becomes something that is directly linked to themselves and their destiny – often a simple matter of not going to hell. They don’t seem to care much what else God may have in store.
As believers begin to grow and begin the discipleship process, God’s working and leading in their lives become evident, and they begin to serve others, although their own status and well-being tend to be major factors in how much they respond and how much credit God is given.
By the time believers reach a mature level, God breaks through most of their self-serving attitudes and actions, making it clear that it is His Spirit at work in the life of this person and ends up impacting the lives and eternal destinies of many people through it.
The problem I see though is that too often Christians don’t pay attention to what God is doing at all – never looking for Him to move or giving Him credit when good things come – and they blind themselves to how God is revealing Himself in their life. This blindness stunts the growth of the believer, and they never move on to become a mature follower of Christ.
So the question is, where are you on this timeline right now? How do you see God moving and leading in your life? And how are you responding to His direction? Are you following, seeking to grow; or are you looking the other way and stunting your spiritual growth by default?