There are several singular aspects in the life of Joseph. We all know of his father Jacob’s special love for him, of Joseph’s unchanging love for his brethren, of the strong passions of Joseph, illustrated by the sevenfold repetition that “Joseph wept”. So in the dramatic, compelling story of Joseph we have several remarkable features.
Another of these amazing aspects is the emphasis upon dreams of prophecy. Joseph’s life had its springboard in the prophecies that came to him. Strangely there are those who rather thoughtlessly criticise Joseph for telling his brothers of this first dream. The brothers already envied him for the special favour he held with their father for which he received a public confirmation when Jacob gave him the “coat of many colours”!
The Ascending Sheaf
When Joseph told his brothers of the superior sheaf to which the other sheaves made obeisance and that the former sheaf was his and the subservient sheaves were theirs, it was hardly surprising that his brothers reacted with seething rage, “Shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” (Gen 37:8) Well, says the critic, what lack of discretion by Joseph, to throw this dream into an already inflamed domestic circumstance.
Yet there is no criticism of Joseph by God, nowhere in all the Bible! Do we imagine that this brilliant and faithful son of Jacob wasn’t perfectly aware of what reaction would arise from his brothers? Then why did he give account of the dream? And the same line of thought arises from the second dream. No wonder even his devoted father objected to the obvious significance of the second dream: “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” (v10). Again we can hear the critics’ complaint against Joseph, for his indiscretion, his arrogance, his lack of respect toward his parents. Yet there is not one incident in all Joseph’s life that illustrates these supposed character faults: in fact, the rest of his life portrays a son of great wisdom, humility and profound respect.
Why Did Joseph ‘Go Public’?
Then why did he publicly announce these companion dreams? The answer surely must be that Yahweh gave the two dreams and their information was essential to his brothers and his parents. These dreams are like an arching bridge over the life of Joseph: the first pylon is founded at the time of their reporting and the second is established at the fulfilment of the dreams, and all the in-between years have the vision of these two dreams as the basis of Joseph’s inspiration. For fifteen years these dreams become the revealed word of God to him, the reason to come above life’s trials and sufferings and injustices, for he knew that despite everything it would be well with the righteous at the end of the story!
Then could not Joseph have kept the dreams to himself, as an inspiration to himself but without causing offence to other family members? Consider the benefit of the dreams to his brothers. When upon bended knee they discovered that this governor of Egypt was none other than their very own brother, what came rushing back into their minds?! It is clear from Genesis 42:21 that the first thing that came into their minds when bound in Joseph’s prison was what they had done to their brother… “We are very guilty concerning our brother.” That era, that event had never escaped their awareness. Nor would the dreams that he had told them. They were the first thing that Joseph thought of when he spotted his brothers among the buyers of corn coming to his office. “And Joseph knew his brethren… And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them” (Gen 42:8,9).
God Had Spoken, God Had Performed
If Joseph alone knew the message of these dreams the great value of their prophecies would have been lost to his brothers and his parents. Through the amazing vicissitudes of Joseph’s life the hand of the Almighty is wonderfully evident. Tragically sold by his brothers, he goes into slavery, rises to administer the lordly domain of Potiphar, falls back again, into prison and his feet in fetters of iron and after years of frustrating delay, made Prime Minister of Egypt and second only to Pharaoh! What a story! What courage and brilliance! But it was more than these, for the hand of God was in all of these happenings. “God did send me before you to preserve life… God did send me before you to preserve you a posterity… God hath made me a father to Pharaoh” (Gen 45:5,7,8). Did his brothers accept that God had indeed worked in this miraculous way to elevate their younger brother they had before despised ? They had no option, for the prophecy of the dreams presented any faltering from such a conclusion. God had spoken, God had performed.
This great truth was there for the dear and aged father Jacob. He had kept all these things in his heart—“his father observed the saying” (37: 11). So, when the brothers returned and re-iterated Joseph’s beautiful words, “Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt; come down, tarry not”, then his heart would have warmed with the fact that not only was Joseph his beloved son alive, but the hand of the living God was there in all that had happened. The dreams were true, the word of prophecy was there in their very lives. The God they served and trusted was true to His Word. His faith greatly confirmed, why would he not now go down into Egypt and see his son! When he arrived in Goshen, Joseph came out to meet him, “to meet Israel his father” and “fell on his father’s neck and wept on his neck a good while”. What makes the scene so compelling? What moves in the minds of these two wonderful people as the son lay his head upon the neck of his father and poured out his emotions a good while? Was it nostalgia, the remembrance of earlier family happiness, the familiar scent of his father whom he loved and respected? No doubt it was all these and something higher again. The whole scene is graced by the presence of God in their daily walk. Their minds are full of wonder and thanksgiving. The “observed saying” was now a demonstrable fact. Jacob was dependent upon Joseph as the dream had foretold. Joseph was alive, master of Egypt! Jacob was in Egypt and Pharaoh had conceded him security in Goshen. Father and son were together again as God had said they would be. The awe of His presence and activity and loving kindness drew upon their emotions, as it does our own as we read this grand story.
The Encouragement of Prophecy
These beautiful matters are made so by the power of prophecy. It confirms faith and brings the activity of the living God into the daily experience of His people. In Joseph’s case the terms of the dreams became his daily trust, his expectation, his encouragement, his strength to refuse evil, to do good in spite of adversity, to maintain the fight of faith. In the midst of his years of lowly exile, the two dreams of the butler and baker were further instalments of encouragement. Yet two more years of imprisonment followed before Pharaoh called for him and told him yet another two dreams, of the seven good years and seven lean years! These three pairs of dreams were progressive steps in the stimulation of his faith. Surely here is an example, a classic example, of how God wants us to use His prophets and to follow the developing sense of His revelations that we may see and know His hand in our lives. Joseph’s life was built around personal prophecies which gave him great encouragement. It has been well said that prophecy is an expression of the loving kindness of God! Joseph could see God’s hand in his life as that which was spoken came to pass. It was the same for his brothers. As evil and bitter as they may have been in the past, the awareness of God working in their world touched their hearts and they all came down into Egypt at the invitation of the brother they had so deeply hated. Abraham their grandfather had also been given a prophecy of his children being a “stranger in a land that was not theirs” (Gen 15:13), and when the different prophecies were put together the more complete vision could be seen.
Our earlier brethren did the same thing, especially brother Thomas, seeking to put the picture together. In his day he was not alone in this pursuit, yet thankfully his comprehension and detail has given us a wonderful heritage of understanding. There was a time when the Anglican Church was emphatically anti-Papal and that position was taken because of Daniel and Revelation; they could see what God thought of this Papal system and therefore had comfort to stand independently and courage to name the Apostasy in the terms of the prophets. Today their witness of these things is silent. The protest is gone and their assimilation goes on apace.
A Great Lesson
We cannot help but feel the compulsion of these facts. Neglect the word of prophecy and the courage to stand defiantly for the Truth will diminish. The progress of God’s purpose in the earth, among the nations and in our lives, with their special responsibilities and stewardship, will surely lose their distinction and clarity… and gradually but surely the Truth will be lost.
Amidst a world of violence and licence we can feel overwhelmed in our holy calling, like the mariner tossed in every direction by the winds and waves of the sea. The voice of God calls over and above the wind and His voice is that of the prophets of old, whose arch of reason and stability and confirmation tells us powerfully of the presence and life of the living God. Its message has come from the Spirit of truth to guide us unto all truth and shew us things to come (John 16:13). There can be no doubt as to the purpose of prophecy. There can be no doubt that prophecy is an essential part of truth, given by the Spirit of truth.
Joseph’s life, bound in prophecy, is there for our learning and inspiration.