1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. 9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.” 14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile.18 Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, 21 but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. 22 I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 24 and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.” 25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the landof Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
“I’ve hit bottom.”
“I’m at the end of the rope.”
“The wheels have come off.”
Human beings have powerfully descriptive ways of communicating when life has not gone as they planned, when the worst thing that could happen has happened. There is in these statements an implicit protest and possibly even an indictment. It is not that we do not know these misfortunes happen, it is just that we somehow are shocked that they should happen to me!
And yet, they happen. We hit bottom. We find ourselves at the end of our ropes. The wheels come off.
Consider Joseph: the favored son of his father who was given dreams of exaltation above his family. Yet troubles come: he is sold off into slavery and then pronounced dead by his plotting brothers. After finding a position of authority he is then imprisoned on trumped-up charges after the scorned and rebuffed wife of Potiphar falsely accuses him. Then he is given a place of prominence in the prison and demonstrates the presence of God in his life by correctly interpreting the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer. However, just when things are looking hopeful, the cupbearer forgets poor Joseph so he languishes in prison.
Let us consider Joseph’s time in the pit. Let us watch closely what God does.
God’s timing is not our timing: Do not despair in the pit!
The first truth we see is that Joseph did not despair in the pit and he did not waste his time in the pit. He easily could have. To understand what is happening here, let us consider one verse from the last chapter and then the first verse of our chapter. Both of these verses occur after Joseph asked the chief cupbearer to remember him once he got out of prison, to remember him and to get him out of there. But watch what happens:
40:23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him…41:1 After two whole years…
The chief cupbearer forgot Joseph…for two years! Moses seems to want to emphasize the shocking nature of this time period by inserting the word “whole”: “two whole years.”
God allowed Joseph to wait in that prison, in that pit, for two years…and Joseph was God’s man!
It is said that Teresa of Avila once asked God to take her out of a particularly difficult situation in which she had been suffering for some time. God replied, “No. This is how I treat my friends.” To which Teresa of Avila replied, “Maybe that is why you have so few of them.”
Who knows whether or not that exchange actually happened…and I am not generally inclined to appreciate cute retorts to God! I mention it because it does memorably illustrate the disconnect we sometimes feel between what God allows us to go through and the fact that God loves us.
It can be hard languishing in the pit!
So much of our problem comes from our concept of time. We count our sufferings by the second and we understandably wonder why God lets us go through so very much. “How could He allow me to go through this for six months…for a year…for two years…etc.?”
But God’s timing is, of course, not our timing. In 2 Peter 3 we read:
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9a-b The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness…
God is eternal. We are bound by time. We see such a very small snippet of reality. God sees everything! God allowed Joseph to stay in that pit for two years because God, in His infinite wisdom, knows how the whole story is playing out.
Think of the coming of Jesus. Some might ask, “Why did it take so long for God the Father to send His Son, Jesus, into the world? Why did He wait so long?” But notice Paul’s terminology in Galatians 4.
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
“The fullness of time.” That is God’s timing. That is God’s perfect grasp of the perfect time. And, in fact, it was the perfect time! On April 4, 2009, Christian apologist William Lane Craig debated the late Christopher Hitchens, an atheist. In the debate, Hitchens pressed Craig on this point and asked why God would wait so long to send Jesus. Craig’s response (taken here from the transcript) was intriguing:
Now Mr. Hitchens says, “But why did God wait so long, all that waste during this time?” Well, that sort of concern with efficiency is only of importance to someone with either limited time or limited resources or both, but in the case of God, He has both unlimited resources and unlimited time and therefore it’s simply not important to do this in a quick way. Well now Mr. Hitchens says, “But why did God wait so long before he sent Christ? Human beings have existed for thousands of years on this planet before Christ’s coming.” Well, what’s really crucial here is not the time involved rather it’s the population of the world. The population reference bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever lived on this planet is about 105 billion people. Only 2% of them were born prior to the advent of Christ. Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research says, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Christ showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population.” The Bible says in the fullness of time God sent forth His son and when Christ came the nation of Israel had been prepared; the Roman peace dominated the Mediterranean world; it was an age of literacy and learning; the stage was set for the advent of God’s son into the world and think that in God’s providential plan for human history we see the wisdom of God in orchestrating the development of human life and then in bringing Christ into the world in the fullness of time.
Do not despair in the pit! God is not slow. God is not tardy. God’s timing is not “off.” His time is always perfect!
God’s delay can be exasperating but His movement can be exhilarating: Be ready!
In our text, God let’s Joseph wait…but then God moves! And when God moves, He moves quickly! Consider:
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.
After two whole years, suddenly, boom! God moves! And see how quickly He moves. Joseph is “quickly brought…out of the pit.” He is hurriedly shaved and dressed and then all of a sudden he is standing in the presence of one of the world’s great powers!
That is how it happens. You may have to wait in the pit for two years but then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, you have to speak the word of God to Pharaoh. Amazing! This is why the scriptures are so often speaking of readiness, of being ready, of being prepared. For instance, in Titus 3 we read:
1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work
The church, Paul writes, was “to be ready.” Again, in 2 Timothy 4, Paul says this to Timothy:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season
“Be ready in season and out of season.” Be ready when you think something is about to happen and when you do not think anything will! Be ready! God can move at any time! In Ephesians 6 we read:
14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
That is most interesting! The gospel gives us shoes of readiness! We are always ready to move and to proclaim. Perhaps the classic readiness text is found in 1 Peter 3:
15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect
That “always” is important: “always being prepared.” Always! You must be ready!
I ask you, what would have happened if Joseph had allowed his time in the pit to mire him in bitterness and anger and sloth? What if, after two years when the cupbearer remembered him, they had found him curled up in the fetal position muttering oaths against God’s forgetfulness? What if, in other words, they had found Joseph not ready, unprepared? Then it would have been back to the pit for Joseph…or worse!
Do not waste your time in the pit! God can call you up at any moment and you must be ready!
Trust in the pit breeds boldness in the palace: Speak the same word to the lowly and the mighty!
But Joseph was ready! He was prepared! See Joseph’s boldness before mighty Pharaoh:
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one.27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
First, notice the courage of Joseph. He does not waver or falter. He is strong in his interpretation! He does not appear to tremble at all.
Second, notice the clarity of Joseph. He does not stammer or obfuscate. One wonders about the official dream interpreters of Egypt. How tempted they must have been to shade their interpretations in such a way as to conceal anything unpleasant. It is a tricky thing interpreting the dreams of a man like Pharaoh! But Joseph knew One mightier than Pharaoh. He spoke with crystal clear clarity.
But notice also the boldness of Joseph! He is standing before Pharaoh, the mighty and strong ruler who could have him killed like the baker with a snap of his fingers. Even so, Joseph speaks Gods’ word to Pharaoh. The theological content of Joseph’s interpretation actually constituted a challenge to the worldview of the Egyptians, to the worldview of Pharaoh himself! As such, Joseph was boldly challenging Pharaoh himself. In the midst of interpreting the dreams, Joseph asserted:
- That there is one God. (v.25)
- That this God is above Pharaoh, having knowledge that Pharaoh does not have. (v.25)
- That this God is in relationship with a young Hebrew man over against mighty Pharaoh and, indeed, is speaking through Joseph to Pharaoh. (v.28)
- That this God can act as He will in Pharaoh’s Egypt regardless of Pharaoh’s own wishes. (v.28)
- That this God has all power and can “fix” in place what is going to happen. (v.32)
There is a powerful challenge in these words, and Joseph is bold in his execution of it. He speaks God’s word to power without flinching and without compromise!
We have already seen how Joseph is a type or foreshadowing of Jesus. We have seen that, in Joseph, we find markers and signposts pointing to and preparing us for the arrival of Jesus, the great Joseph, the greater Savior. Here is another: the unflinching and bold proclamation of truth before the earthly powers!
In the trial of Jesus, He will show the same courage and the same boldness. Thus, in Matthew 26, we find Jesus speaking to the powers:
59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”
Jesus did not waste His time in the pit either! Jesus was ready for the cross. It is why He came! And Jesus likewise did not mince words. He spoke the truth without faltering or stammering.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus too went to the pit. He went to the cross and bore the pain. He was buried and descended to the dead. And there He accomplished His greatest work.
As Joseph was raised out of the pit, so too was Joseph. Joseph spoke truth to Pharaoh. Jesus achieved victory over sin, death, and hell! The greater Joseph does the greater work.
Are you languishing in the pit? Are you questioning and doubting? Are your frightened? Take heart! We have a God who knows His way into the pit! His coming means that He is there in the pit with you. You are not alone! His death and resurrection means He knows the way out, and He will raise you up.
Take heart! Be encouraged! Be ready! Do not waste your time in the pit!