It was the summer of 1986 and Cindy and I were in Haiti with a traveling singing group, young people of diverse racial backgrounds who loved the Lord and wanted to serve him. We had also been traveling with a smaller ministry team, and it was during those two years I had found a passion for preaching. I saw a hunger for the Word in many churches we visited, and I also discovered that being a traveling evangelist was not what I ultimately wanted to do. I remember preaching in a church in Ohio where I was told the pastor, who did not attend the services we held in his church that week, mostly talked to the congregation on Sundays about his belief in things like the “power” of crystals. These folks were starved for biblical preaching. God began stirring in my heart a desire to be in one place with a community of believers where we could grow up together in our faith and love the watching world by proclaiming the truth of the Gospel in word and deed. Hmmm, where could I possibly do something like that? Of course, God was calling me again, as he had done when I was 15 and as he had done when I was running from him in college, to be a pastor. And the exciting thing for me in the summer of 1986 was that I had been told by my pastor that he wanted to bring me on as his associate when we returned from Haiti and our itinerant ministry was done. That didn’t work out as I had hoped, and I was hurt and not a little bit frustrated over what I believed at the time to be a broken promise. My thoughts were ten times more on what I perceived men were doing to me than on what God was doing. God had another plan for me, but all I could see and feel at the time was betrayal.
I have heard it said we live our life forward, but it only makes sense when we look back. But we must see and understand the providence of God in our lives! John Calvin wrote, “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.”
John Piper has written extensively about God’s providence and I will use some of his notes here. The word “providence” comes from the Latin word for “provide” which has two parts: “pro” (“forward or on behalf of”) and “vide” (“to see”). So you might think that “provide” would mean: “to see forward” or “to foresee.” But it doesn’t. It means “to supply what is needed; to give sustenance or support.” And so the noun “providence” has come to mean the act of “providing for or sustaining and governing the universe by God.” We say in English: “I’ll see to that,” meaning, “I will provide for that, or I will make sure that is taken care of.” We do that on a small scale when our wife mentions the trash being full and we say, “I’ll see to it. I’ll take care of it.” God does it on a much larger scale. He says, “The universe has needs. I’ll see to it.”
We see this in the book of Genesis. Remember the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac his son? Before they went up the mountain, Isaac said to his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And when God had shown Abraham a ram caught in the thorns, “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide.” Abraham saw the providence of God.
Remember when his brothers came to Egypt and Joseph revealed who he was? Joseph’s truth-telling in Genesis 45 exposed their past sins. He says twice to them that they sold him. “You sold me here.” He does not sugarcoat that or dismiss it. You did this. But look at what is most important. Joseph says, “God sent me here.” You sold me, but God sent me. You exercised agency in this, and you are responsible for what you did, but God is ultimately responsible. He says, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” Providence. God saw to it.
It is the same with Jesus’ death. Peter told the crowd on the day of Pentecost that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” God saw to it. But Peter also says to the Jews, “you crucified and killed (Jesus) by the hands of lawless men.” They were guilty of Jesus’ death, as are we all, but his death was the perfect plan and providence of God.
When you look back at the long and winding road you have traveled, what do you see of God’s providence in your journey? He has been there all along, carrying you, leading you, sometimes pushing you.
For your sake and for his glory.
Pharaoh has two dreams and in the first he was standing by the Nile and in the second he was standing next to a wheat field. Seven fat cows come out of the Nile, where they were probably standing for relief from the heat and the bugs. But right behind the seven fat cows come seven skinny and ugly cows and they eat the fat ones. But, as he would tell Joseph later, when they ate the fats cows, the skinny cows were still skinny. And ugly! In the second dream seven ears of grain are blowing in the breeze, fat and happy, when seven skinny ears, come along and they are nasty looking, blighted by the blistering desert wind. And they throw down on the seven plump ears, licking their glutenous chops and belching happily.
When the Pharaoh woke up, he was deeply troubled in his spirit and probably keeping one eye peeled for any maniacal cows coming through his bedroom door. He doesn’t know what in the world this dream could possibly mean, but to his credit he understands that it means something. God was not going to let him miss that. So the Pharaoh calls for the people he would consult on such matters: the magicians and the wise men. The word Moses used in Genesis 41 referred to people who were experts in Egypt in handling spells and using magic and, in this case, studying the volumes of literature available on dreams. It’s interesting to me that more than 400 years later, another Pharaoh would summon his magicians to the banks of the same Nile river that Moses and Aaron had just turned to blood.
But for this Pharaoh, the magicians and the wise men had no answer to him about his dreams. I love the last part of verse 8: “But there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.” Now, dear readers, don’t miss this. The Pharaohs of Egypt were considered the mediator between the people and the gods when they were alive. When the Pharaohs died, they were worshiped as gods themselves who had now become divine and had passed on their sacred powers to the new Pharaoh, their son. So? Well, here is this Pharaoh who supposedly has a direct line to the gods of Egypt, but he cannot understand his dream, and neither can his dream experts. Only one can interpret it, the one who has, as the Pharaoh will proclaim later, the “Spirit of God” in him. Kings and rulers and governors and congresses and houses of Parliament cannot understand the sovereignty of God over all the affairs of his creation. Only those who have the Spirit of God and to whom he reveals his plans and purposes.
The Pharaoh greets this young Hebrew stranger, fresh out of prison, with high praise, and three times he says “you.” “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph’s response was not to shrug and say, “Well, you know, some guys got it, and some don’t.” No. He corrects the Pharaoh, a dangerous thing to do. “It is not in me,” he says, and that phrase is a single word in Hebrew! NO! It is not I who can interpret dreams. We see the humility of Joseph here, and that humility rests upon his great faith in Almighty God and produces courage. Joseph is not afraid to speak the truth to a man who has authority, but not ultimate authority, over his life. I am reminded of Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
In the final analysis of Genesis 41, the Pharaoh seems to understand that he and his nation are not his at all. No matter how powerful and how prosperous a nation or kingdom on the earth becomes, that nation and that kingdom is absolutely and totally under the control of the sovereign God, the one who created the universe. And we as believers can and should rejoice in that.
Joseph found himself in prison one day with two important officers of the king, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. What do you think of when you hear “cupbearer to a king?” Right, Nehemiah! He had a huge influence the king he served. The cupbearer to a king had many responsibilities, not the least of which was opening and tasting the king’s wine before it was served to the monarch. He was responsible for the quality of all that was presented to the king. He put his life on the line as poisoning of kings was not uncommon. The chief baker was the head chef and responsible for the food that was served to the king. This meant that the quality of the food and the gastronomical results from the food were on him. These men had done something to deeply offend Pharaoh and incur his wrath. Perhaps he had a bad reaction to a meal and suspected these two for plotting to take him out. Whatever the case, these two men are in chains and they both have dreams they don’t understand. Joseph tells them he knows the one who can interpret dreams, and with knowledge only God could give, he interprets them. The cupbearer will live and be restored to service of Pharaoh, and the baker will be hanged. Joseph asks the cupbearer, “Only remember me…and mention me to the Pharaoh.”
Three days later, everything plays out exactly the way Joseph described it. Every detail of the dream, as Joseph had told these two men. God had given him the meaning and through this, God gave Joseph hope and courage that his days in this prison were numbered. But not like Joseph imagined it, I’m sure. Because read in the last verse in Genesis 40, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” Hard to understand, isn’t it? There is no human explanation for it. Don’t you think one of the first things you would have told everybody, the Pharaoh, the officers of the court, your family, your friends, and perfect strangers is that you had this dream in prison and a man interpreted it to meant you would be released and your life spared!? And that the man was exactly right about you and about the poor baker? If this happened today, there would be a book written in 30 days and a documentary about it in 6 months. “Dream Whisperer! On sale at bookstores everywhere.” But no. The cupbearer went on happily with his life and forgot the man who had helped him in prison.
Do you know who did NOT forget Joseph? The God who created the universe and holds everything in his hands. The Son of God of whom Paul wrote, “And he is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.” The Psalmist wrote, “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.”
George Mueller used to say, “the stops of a man are also established by the Lord.” Joseph was walking toward the prison door for an early exit, but God stopped him. We don’t know anything about those two years while his feet were hurt with fetters and his neck was rubbed raw by a collar of iron. But God was faithful. And Joseph did not lose hope. He still believed that the dreams he had as a young man would come true.
He is about to see how God, the One who does not forget, will unfold that for him.