A coat for all seasons

Joseph and the Coming of his Time:

Part 1 of a 4-part series.

The proof of being sent by God is demonstrated by Joseph who persevered by God’s presence, prophetic gift, and timing.

One of the most ancient and intimate ways that God speaks to us is through dreams. This is largely ignored in these days where we idolize technology, but it wasn’t so in biblical times. The Word has much to say about this subject, so let’s turn now to Gen. 37-50 to observe an overview of Joseph.

I. The Sufferings of Joseph

          The things Joseph had to endure fitted him for the very important responsibility ahead of him: becoming prime minister of Egypt. But first God would do a deep work in Joseph’s soul. For the next thirteen years Joseph would be a slave in the super-power next door: he would look like Egypt, talk like Egypt, and serve like Egypt, but Egypt would not be in him. Though he seemed abandoned in a foreign land, the foremost thing Joseph had going for him was that ‘God was with him’, repeated four times in these chapters (cf. Gen. 39:2, 21, 23; & 41:38). Joseph would set a new standard of hearing from God in the impossible circumstances of slavery and incarceration in a pagan land, yet flowing in the prophetic stream of God. Hearing the voice of God through dreams became the focal point for why he suffered. Once I heard a memorable message from a radio preacher who summarized Joseph’s story into four separate stations of his life, matching them with the four different coats he wore in each period. Let’s use these to aid our understanding as we watch a progression of maturing that had to be wrought in his life. All this would have a great bearing, not only upon his own family, but also upon the entire nation of Egypt.

          1. The Coat of many colors – Gen. 37:3. This coat represents his identity as a favorite son and the privilege it would bring in a coming inheritance. It is the coat he wore as a dreamer of ‘God-dreams’. Even in his immature state at the age of seventeen the prophetic is at work in him. In this beginning stage, God was revealing an amazing future for Joseph nobody saw coming, especially not the sufferings which would accompany it.  As long as Joseph was enthralled with his coat, he would be of no good to the kingdom of God. His very brothers betray him by stripping off his coat, ruining itto deceive Jacob as if an animal got him, while Joseph is sold into slavery. Little did they know how much he would factor into their lives in the days to come. ‘But God was with Joseph.’

          2. The Coat of a Wealth Manager – Gen. 39:12. This coat represents the God-given ability to manage and increase wealth. Joseph is something of a stock broker and is learning investments. It will be used in the future but is not the end of the process. This coat stands for only partial authority in God’s plan and he would not be allowed to get comfortable with it. Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him many times. He could have felt sorry for himself, been bitter at God, and justified adultery – but instead, he reasoned, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9) and ran from her.  And for fleeing the temptation he is rewarded with false accusation and betrayal. Again, his coat is ripped off him by the seductress and Joseph is thrown in jail. ‘But God was with him.’

          3. The Coat of a Prisoner – Gen. 39:20. While being bound in prison, Joseph realizes his loss of identity again, not only as Jacob’s special son, but now as an incarcerated slave of the esteemed captain of the guard, Potiphar. He is in deep trouble, again not of his making, and has no one to represent him or make an appeal to. He is a prisoner and if there had been a moment of hope for a good life in Egypt, that hope was dashed. But Joseph soon gains favor here and becomes superintendent of the place, even though he’s a prisoner, and the prisoners are well treated with Joseph in charge.  He is learning personnel management skills. If you can govern prisoners, you can govern anyone. And a couple amazing things have become evident at this time: 1) Joseph is somehow not consumed with his own existential situation but is caring for others; how is it that he’s at his best? and 2) He has moved on from dreaming dreams and has discovered a gift to interpret dreams. The Royal Butler and Baker learned first-hand of this as Joseph interprets their dreams, which the Butler promptly forgets about after his restoration. Think of it: even after this mighty work of God which Joseph brought, the Butler forgot about Joseph for two . . .  long . . . years. This is almost like a betrayal. What a hard thing for Joseph! Yet ‘God was with him.’

          As we consider Joseph’s sufferings, we should understand that these have a connection to the sufferings of Christ. Eight Centuries before the fact, Isaiah prophesied of Jesus and said,

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:3). The Apostle John put it this way: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (Jn. 1:10-11)                 

          Like Joseph, Jesus was thoroughly misunderstood and rejected by his brethren, Israel. But to take it a step further, Isaiah also pointed out: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:5). Jesus identified with our griefs and sorrows while on the Cross. He took Joseph’s sorrows and ours, carrying them for us and made them his own! This is exactly why the Apostle Paul wrote, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” (Phil. 3:10) When we are rejected, he lifts us and we find a real ‘God with us’ kind of fellowship with him. This was at work in Joseph so he could bear his rejections and betrayals: “God was with him” and that fellowship carried him. Now let’s skip ahead in the story for a moment to Joseph, who after thirteen years is reunited with his brothers.

          The way ‘God was with him’ taught Joseph a compassion he could not have known any other way. His brothers were touched by this compassion, which is spot-lighted as Joseph revealed himself to them (Gen. 45:2-3). Joseph’s whole assessment of his brothers’ betrayal of him had changed. He said to them, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (Gen. 45:8), and “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.” (Gen. 50:20) At this same point we read, “And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we are thy servants” (50:18), which was in direct fulfillment of the prophetic dreams about the bowing sheaves, and the bowing sun, moon, and eleven stars to Joseph at age seventeen (Gen. 37:7-9).  Joseph’s perspective changed so much that in effect he is saying to us: ‘your persecutor is God-sent!’ God uses your persecutor to propel you into His will where you would not have gone otherwise. Compare how God used Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus, which in turn put him on the Cross, which was all prophesied in Psalm 109. Notice again, Joseph said to his brothers, ‘God sent me here, not you!’ (Gen. 45:8). If you dare to believe that it will deliver you from every bitterness. As we consider the cross, we discover that this is Jesus’ very perspective about it: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). It was God who sent Jesus to the cross, not the world, not even Pilate and Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin.

Look for the next installment of this magnificent story, coming soon.

Tim Halverson

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