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This week's Bible Study - November 2, 2014


Beyond Hard Times

Background Scripture: Genesis 41:28-36, 46-49 

Quotes of the Week:
No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse."
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Who do you know that is dealing with hard times today? We all know people that are suffering through all sorts of situations - and for some of us, those hard times are right now. During the Christmas holidays, you will often hear of the 100 neediest cases and the request for assistance in each of them. However, the truth is that there are thousands upon thousands more than 100, especially in larger cities. Some of them may have created their own situation and others are suffering through no fault of their own. There are many who have lost jobs, suffered diseases, lost loved ones or are in various different circumstances in life. People handle difficult situations in many different ways. On extremes, some will only focus on the situation, allowing it to define them. Others may focus on anything but that situation, putting it in the back recesses of their minds, acting as though nothing is wrong. Other people will handle difficult situations in just about every manner in between these extremes.

This lesson continues the story of Joseph. As you may recall, Joseph was sold into slavery to the Ishmaelites by his own brothers. Then he was sold into Egyptian slavery under Potiphar, where He thrived and was put in charge of everything that Potiphar owned, at least until he repeatedly turned down sexual advances of Potiphar's wife. Angry at his rejections, she accused Joseph of rape and Potiphar had Joseph put into prison. In prison, Joseph was given special responsibility, as he was put in charge of the other prisoners, which allowed him to interact with those he might not otherwise have been able too. Two of those prisoners were Pharaoh's servants (his baker and cupbearer) and while in prison, they both had dreams which bothered them. They shared these dreams with Joseph and he interpreted these dreams for them, as God allowed him this ability. In return, all he asked was that they remember him when they were released. Unfortunately, after they were released they conveniently forgot and Joseph and so he remained in prison.

In some ways, you could say that Joseph was successful, as he was a respected servant of Potiphar and once again the head of all prisoners. However, here he was in prison after being sold into slavery twice. If this was you, would you say that you were in hard times or that you felt blessed? The "church" answer may be to say that we are blessed, but if we were honest, most of us would consider this situation to be 'hard times', if we were Joseph.

( Background - Genesis 41:1-27 )

After the cupbearer and baker were released, Joseph sat in prison for another two years - how do you think he felt? How would you feel? Just like Joseph, our perspective is often key as to how God can use us in those times. Most of us would hope that God would pull us out of every difficult situation, but that doesn't always happen, and instead, we find ourselves smack dab in the midst of some very challenging trials.

Meanwhile, back at the palace, Pharaoh was dealing with his own troubling issues. He had a dream and became very troubled by it. He called for all his 'wise people' and told them the dream, but none of the king's men were able to decipher the meaning of Pharaoh's dream. Obviously Pharaoh was frustrated, and we know how things can go if the head of a house isn't happy - it has that trickle down effect. As word of the situation reached the other 'staff', the chief cupbearer had an 'aha' moment and finally came to his senses, remembering the dream he had in prison and that Joseph was the only one who could interpret it. He went to Pharaoh and said "Today I am reminded of my shortcomings." Finally, Joseph would be remembered. The cupbearer is like many of us that are solely focused on a problem until it is gone and then we forget all about it. How many times has God used somebody to help us in our time of need? When God has used others to help us, we need to thank them and we should be willing and able to help others in similar situations. Why do you think it took so long for the cupbearer to remember what had happened? Maybe this was part of God's timing, as Pharaoh's dream was very specific in what was going to take place at a point in time (the near future). It is as if Joseph is set in place, until that time arrived. Perhaps like Joseph, you are in a situation that seems bleak, but what if God has you in this place so that at His appointed time He can use you?

Pharaoh listened to the cupbearer and sent for Joseph. When Joseph arrived in his presence, Pharaoh said "I hear you can do this." Joseph's reputation had preceded him. Pharaoh didn't really know that it was God who gave Joseph the ability, but he believed that Joseph could interpret his dream. Joseph acknowledged his own limitations by saying that only God could perform this feat. I often think of people today that have been gifted by God. Sometimes, they seem to want to take the kudos for themselves, rather than giving them to God. We all appreciate being recognized, but we must remember that God uses our talents for Him. Are we ever guilty of taking credit when God acts in our lives?

Pharaoh told Joseph his dream and was desperate to hear Joseph's interpretation. Joseph had the answer that Pharaoh needed. Similarly, as believers, we have the 'answer' that others need today, although they often don't even realize that they have the need. Are we willing to be used to share our faith with those who do not yet know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? Also, Joseph could potentially stand to gain by interpreting this dream. He had the information that Pharaoh himself needed and was desperate for. Some people might take this opportunity to bargain, perhaps for their release. It is as if I will only do this thing, if I am going to get something out of it. That type of behavior often ends up costing us in the long run. Whenever we are looking to our own benefit as opposed to the opportunity to share God's glory, we are missing the purpose that God has intended in our lives.

Joseph listened as Pharaoh explained his dream - "In the first dream, he was standing on the bank of the Nile, when seven fat and sleek cows came up and grazed among the reeds. They were followed by seven scrawny, very ugly and lean cows that came up and ate the first seven cows." Then Pharaoh woke up. In the next dream, Pharaoh saw seven full and good heads of grain, growing on a single stalk. Then, seven other withered, thin and scorched by the wind heads sprouted and swallowed the seven good heads.

( Genesis 41:28-32 )

Joseph heard the dream and told the interpretation to Pharaoh and then to others. The seven good cows and the seven good heads of grain represented seven years of great abundance. These years would be followed by seven years of famine, represented by the seven lean, ugly cows and parched heads of grain. The abundance of the first seven years would be forgotten, because the famine would ravage the land. The famine would be very severe.

Joseph went on to say that the reason that Pharaoh's dream came twice was that it was firmly decided by God. This was a surety that what was revealed was going to happen. Graciously, God was giving Pharaoh some insight into what was coming - he was giving Pharaoh a choice to listen and act, or to ignore it and go along his merry way. Perhaps it wasn't in the form of a dream for you, but have you ever felt like God was trying to get your attention? Sometimes, it might be through a sermon, a bible study lesson, a song on the radio or even a conversation with a friend. There are times when you might find the same topic coming up over and over and you may sense that God is speaking to you in some manner. When you feel as if God is talking to you, do you listen and how do you respond?

( Genesis 41:33-36 )

Joseph continued and began to give Pharaoh some advice. Do you think Joseph was overstepping his bounds? If his term of incarceration has just ended and he started speaking to Pharaoh in that manner, then perhaps that would be true. But, Pharaoh had called for him specifically and wanted to hear what he had to say. Once the dream was interpreted, Joseph immediately gained some credence and God continued to speak to Pharaoh through him. The dream was intended to help Pharaoh see what was coming. And now Joseph was helping Pharaoh prepare his country, so that they could deal with the coming situation. In no way was Joseph doing this to better his own position, although I feel sure that he desperately wanted out of prison. However, God was placing him in a position in order to help fulfill God's purpose. It was more about what God wanted to do than about making Joseph's life easier. It was incumbent upon Joseph following where God was leading.

There is a principle that comes from this story. Joseph didn't just give the meaning of the dream, but he offered a solution. It was as if he said "Here's the dream and here's what to do". Sometimes, when we are trying to help others out, we tend to want to just tell them what to do. Or, perhaps there are others who would say what 'they' would do in a situation, as if they knew everything that was going on. There are not many people that want others to step into their lives, without understanding what is going on and tell them what they need to do. A wise person will seek to understand the situation to the best of their ability before they give any counsel. Otherwise, in telling somebody what they should do (without understanding the situation), we may offer counsel that makes a situation much worse.

( Genesis 41:37-40 )

Pharaoh listened to what Joseph said and it made sense to him. When people take the time to truly seek God today, they will find that His plans do make sense. Often, people discount Scripture or things of God because they won't invest the time in seeking truth. Although nobody knows the answer to every question that might be asked, there is an overwhelming mountain of truth that speaks to the validity of Scripture and the role of God in our lives.

Joseph (or his God) had interpreted his dream, causing Pharaoh to have huge respect for him. Pharaoh certainly wanted 'them' (Joseph and his God) involved in the preparation for the coming events. Pharaoh asked his officials if they could find anyone like Joseph. He knew that he wanted someone who had the spirit of God in them. Can you imagine the officials looking at one another, knowing that they had no clue as to what to say? They didn't know the dream's interpretation, and they wouldn't know how to seek God's direction. In earlier passages, Pharaoh's chief baker was impaled. Perhaps he cooked a meal with something Pharaoh didn't like. If he would impale the baker, how much more upset would he be with someone who took the nation in the wrong direction? Since Joseph understood the dream, Pharaoh turned to him and acknowledged that God had made all this known to him. He said that there is no one so discerning and wise as Joseph and he declared that Joseph should be in charge of his palace and all of Egypt was to submit to his orders. Only Pharaoh would be greater than him.

Isn't it amazing that Potiphar placed Joseph over all his possessions, and the prison warden placed Joseph over all the prisoners and now Pharaoh placed Joseph over all of Egypt? In each of these cases, he was elevated in position, but there was always one greater than him. He had gone from slave to forgotten prisoner to the governor. This had the makings of a "rags to riches" story. Sometimes, this kind of story has a bad ending. People rise to power, with the best of intentions and then when they get there, they seem to change. We often see this in politicians. The temptations and the other forces in their new positions can cause problems. However, God's hand was upon Joseph for a purpose and it seemed that it was lining up with his own dreams from the past.

Pharaoh ended up putting Joseph in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Can you imagine? One day, you are a prisoner in a cell, having been there for over two years and then a short time later, you are the second in command of Egypt.

( Genesis 41:46-49 )

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh. He traveled throughout Egypt and oversaw the collection of food produced in the years of abundance so that it would be stored in the cities. He stored up massive quantities of grain, to the point of beyond being able to measure quantities. There had to be much faith put in Joseph by Pharaoh. He was certainly seeing the years of abundance, but had only been told about what was coming. Surely there were detractors who derided Joseph for storing up these massive quantities. Yet, Joseph (and Pharaoh) were preparing for what was to come.

Closing

If you were someone that was around Joseph, would you just say that he got a lucky break? Sometimes, we look at others who find success and we may think they just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I am sure that may happen for some today, but the sequence of events and the ability that God gave to Joseph to interpret dreams showed that God's hand was truly on him.

It is interesting to think of two of God's leaders that were associated with Egypt. One was Joseph, who came from obscurity and rose to be a tremendous leader in Egypt. The other was Moses who was connected with the royalty in Egypt and through the events in Exodus, led God's people out of Egypt. Both of these men were mightily used by God. It isn't based upon your position as to whether God can use you, but upon His desire to use each of us. Don't think that God won't use you because you aren't somebody else or that you don't have prestige that others might. Joseph wasn't a priest or a prophet. God can use people in all kinds of positions.

Why do you think Pharaoh chose Joseph? God worked in Joseph's life by allowing him to interpret Pharaoh's dream and showing that he could get the job done. It took some desire by Joseph to follow where God led, as opposed to just letting God do all the work. It also took being willing to wait for God to work, as opposed to trying to push an agenda. I wonder what would be different in each of our lives if we began today, as it states in Proverbs 16:3, "Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established." God does want to work in our lives. Are we willing to allow Him to work in our lives wherever we go?

I think of the terms feast or famine. We have all experienced ups and downs, but seven years of one makes one wonder if there can be any thought of the other. If you are in a prosperous time over a number of years, it may be hard to believe that things wouldn't always be that way. Similarly, if you are dealing with issues that seem to negatively impact you in many ways for a number of years, it is easy to find yourself in stages of depression, thinking there is no end in sight.

Sometimes, we may think that we would like to see our future. I don't believe that we would be prepared to see that, without living the days that it takes to get there. In some cases, it may help us to live our lives more fully today, as in knowing that a loved one would be gone. In that case, we may choose to let past differences go to the wayside and spend more time with that individual. There are many people that have lost relationships with loved ones that will one day regret not working to put them back. In other cases, it may cause dread and heartache to know that an event is coming. As believers, we need to know that God is with us each day of our lives, whether we are experiencing feast or famine. In the midst of good times or hard times, we can know that God goes with us.




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