Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
It was Joseph, son of Jacob, one of twelve children in the book of Genesis who uttered the words in Genesis 50:20. “You intended to harm me, BUT GOD (everyone say “but God”) intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
For many of the years prior to that statement, Joseph endured great adversity. He was just seventeen when we start this story. Most seventeen year olds are planning their lives out, thinking through the next step, making preparations to leave home and follow their dreams. Oh, Joseph had dreams. He had dreams about leadership; dreams of making it big. They happened to be God-given dreams. (Genesis 37)
He made the mistake of telling his brothers about the dreams which had to do with them bowing down to him at some point in the future. That didn’t go over well. You know, not everyone wants as big of things for us as God does. And his brothers sold him into slavery to Midianite merchants and told their father that Joseph had been eaten by ferocious animals.
What must have gone through Joseph’s mind? What about the dreams? What about his hopes for the future? What about what he had believed in his heart about his destiny? Joseph was sold not once, but twice. His brothers despised him to the point that they didn’t want him around. The slave traders sold him just to make money off of him. What does a person think about their worth and value under those circumstances?
He ended up a slave in Potiphar’s house, a powerful Egyptian leader. While people under those circumstances would have spent time planning a way to get back home or doing less than their very best for their master because they were in the position they were in not by their own choosing, we read that Joseph did an excellent job as a slave.
Genesis 39:2ff says, “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered,
Let me just stop and say that it doesn’t matter what your title or lack of title is, it doesn’t even matter if you are the lowest of the low, if the Lord is with you, you will prosper. Joseph was a slave, but the Scripture says he prospered.
“And Joseph lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household,”
Are you hearing this? Joseph, the slave, was put in charge! That’s what happens when “But God!” People who try to squelch your dream, people who try to minimize you, when the enemy wants to send you into obscurity and crush your dreams, you remember those two words, “But God!” When God is on the scene even slaves rise to the top!
“and he entrusted to Joseph’s care everything he owned.5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.”
Here’s another tip for free! When the Lord blesses you and elevates you, the people around you will be elevated and blessed as well!
“The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.”
Joseph, the slave, was large and in charge! Here was a glimpse of the dream. Joseph’s heart surged as he remembered the dreams about leadership and being elevated.
Now Scripture says that Joseph was a lot like my husband. He was very handsome. And Potiphar’s wife took notice. She not only took notice, but she served Joseph notice of her intentions. She intended to have an affair with him, and she wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. Now while Joseph had been put in charge of everything, he knew full well that didn’t include being in charge of Potiphar’s wife. On multiple occasions he refused her overtures, and I guess she had been rejected one too many times and decided to punish him. She lied about Joseph trying to take advantage of her and he went from in charge to being behind bars. He was thrown into prison for two years.
I can only guess what he thought. “Dejaz vous.” He had dreamed he’d be in leadership. His brothers threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery. The dream grew dim. Then, his dreams seemed to be coming to fruition as he was raised to the head of Potiphar’s house. Now, with his dreams dashed again, he sat in prison. Think of how hard it would be to keep the dream alive. Think of how hard it would be to believe anything could change. How would he lead anything behind prison bars?
And yet, we read in Genesis 39:20ff “But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 “The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” If there is anyone you want favor with when you are in prison it’s the warden!
“22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”
Do we see a theme here? The dream came rushing back to the forefront of Joseph’s mind. “Here we go again,” he thought. “The dream is alive.” Society says “You can’t keep a good man down,” but I’m here to tell you, you can’t keep God’s man down.
There is a parable about a farmer whose old dog fell into a dry well. After assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the dog but decided that neither the dog nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he planned to bury the old dog in the well and put him out of his misery. When the farmer began shoveling, initially the old dog panicked. But then it dawned on the mutt that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back he could shake it off and step up. This he did blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up!” he repeated to encourage himself. It wasn’t long before the dog, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly out of the well. What he thought would bury him actually benefitted him—all because of the way he handled adversity.
Have you heard the expression, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger?” You may feel as if life is trying to bury you, but listen, God is making a way for you, right now, even while I am talking. If you belong to Christ, hold on. He is making a way for you to be lifted out of the pit. He is making a way for you to be promoted in your prison. Shake it off with faith. Shake it off with perseverance. Shake it off with prayer. There is a way out! God will deliver you!
II Cor. 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph.”
Joseph dealt with dreams in prison, but they weren’t his own. He had a God-given gift to interpret dreams and interpreted dreams for two other prisoners. One person, the king’s cupbearer, promised to remember Joseph when he got out of prison just three days later. But, he forgot.
When Joseph realized he had been forgotten, maybe he was tempted to make some adjustments to his dreams. Maybe what started out as a grand idea about leadership and God using him in a powerful way, maybe he started to minimize that dream. Maybe he resigned himself to the idea that leadership in the prison was it. That was as good as it was going to get.
Perhaps we do the same thing. Rather than continue to believe God for the big things He has promised, we become content and complacent. We put a ceiling on what God can and will do for us and through us. We limit our potential. We limit God’s power. We can’t see beyond the prison and we often quit dreaming.
After two years passed, the Pharaoh had some dreams. They troubled him. None of his magicians or wise men could interpret the dreams. It was then that the cupbearer remembered Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams. He told Pharaoh and Pharaoh summoned Joseph from prison.
I don’t think I would ever imagine that a person could be in the right place at the right time and that place would be in prison, but that’s just how big our God is. You see, if Joseph hadn’t served the cupbearer and baker in prison, he would have never heard and interpreted their dreams. If he hadn’t interpreted their dreams, he would have never interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. And interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams was his ticket out of prison and was the vehicle through which God made his dreams come true. Joseph not only got out of prison, but he became like the Czar of Egypt.
Genesis 41:55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.” Joseph went from taking orders to giving orders. He was put in charge of the whole land!
Deuteronomy 28:13ff says, “The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.”
We went to a corn maze a week ago Saturday. We were told to follow the “Yellow Brick Road,” but there was one problem. The “Yellow Brick Road” ended about 100 feet in. There were two little girls and their grandma following on us, counting on us to get them out of the maze alive. After walking for twenty minutes and realizing we had just gone in circles, Thom said, “Let’s turn around.” All of the sudden, the little elementary girls who were in the back were now in the front. The tail became the head in an instant. They went from following to leading just like Joseph who was following orders and suddenly started giving them.
Somebody needs to hear this word this morning. Listen, things can change in an instant. In a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, at a moment’s notice, your while life can change when “But God” is in the picture! God came in the person of Jesus Christ to reverse everything that was upside down. He came to make every wrong right. He came to undo the effects of the curse. And He can turn your life right side up in one breath. Joseph went from being incarcerated to being in command in one breath! I’m telling you it can happen that fast!
Pharaoh’s dreams had been about years of plenty and years of famine. Joseph was put in charge of storing food up so that there would be plenty during the famine. What responsibility! What a privilege. To be elevated to the Pharaoh’s right-hand man when you are a foreigner in Egypt. Amazing! That’s just what happens when “But God” is part of the equation. That’s pretty amazing, but remember, Joseph’s dreams were pretty detailed. They involved his brothers bowing down before him.
Well, during the years of the famine, things were so intense that Joseph’s family had to travel to Egypt to purchase food. Genesis 45:6 tells us, “6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.”
Not only was the dream alive, but it was bigger than Joseph even dreamed himself.
Now that the introduction is out of the way, allow me to give you some “But God” principles to help you keep the dream alive.
-God never forgets you or the dreams He gives you. The cupbearer may have forgotten about Joseph while He was in prison, but God never forgot about him. Isaiah 49:15b and 16 “I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” God has not forgotten about you!
Genesis 41:50-52 is packed with insight for us. “50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph . . . 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”
Do you see what has happened here? Joseph chose to look for God. He allowed God to work in and through him to the point where he was already over it when his brothers came to him for food. He wasn’t bitter and angry about being sold as a slave. He said God had made him forget all of his trouble. He chose to see God at work in his life even though there were parts of it he didn’t sign up for. He said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering!” Talk about blooming where you are planted!
He believed God was with him through all of that to the point that he never wanted to forget about God’s faithfulness, so he named his two sons names that would always remind him. Whenever he called for “Manasseh” he would remember God got him through. Whenever he hollered, “Ephraim, time for supper,” he would remember how God caused him to prosper in places where people aren’t supposed to prosper. No! God hadn’t forgotten him, and He won’t forget you! He has you on the palm of His hand.
God also remembers any God-given dreams you are holding in your heart. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11) He hasn’t lost any blueprints. He is working at all times on your behalf and for His glory to bring about everything He has promised to you. Dreams could be lost. You could be lost. BUT GOD!
– Continue to do the right things in spite of the “wrong things” that are done to you. Joseph could have tried to capitalize on the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He could have tried to use his position as head of the prison to buy himself favors and a ticket to freedom. Even though the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were thrown into prison, they still got special treatment. Joseph didn’t get special treatment, but he was the personal servant of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker while they were in prison. He still possessed a servant attitude. I know so because he wouldn’t have prospered in his prison position if he hadn’t. He could have become a hardened criminal and tried to make it bad for others on the inside, but he didn’t. You see, Joseph never compromised doing what was right. He never wavered. He submitted to the authority over him. He worked hard which leads me to my next point.
-Choose to glorify God wherever you are. When Pharaoh summoned Joseph from prison, he had a great opportunity to promote himself to the Pharaoh. Knowing God had given him a gift to interpret dreams and that he had a track record for being right, he could have tried to impress the Pharaoh by interpreting the dream and taking the credit. Instead, even though he could see potential for this dream interpreting gig to get him out of prison, he risked promoting his God to the Pharaoh! Remember, the Pharaoh thought he was God! Genesis 41:6 16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Joseph flat out told him, “I can’t, but God can!” Joseph could have been tempted to keep God out of the whole thing so as not to upset the Pharaoh or sabotage his chances of winning the Pharaoh’s favor, but no, he chose to glorify God instead.
-Don’t stress out over how long your ordeal is lasting. Give God time to work. Joseph worked as a slave for more than ten years in Potiphar’s house. He was in prison for at least two years, but probably for more. He was pushing 40 before his dream was realized. Don’t they say “Life beings at 40?!” Don’t you think he looked back on it all after becoming Czar and not only thought it was worth it, but was grateful for the journey because it took him to the place he longed to be. If what you are enduring is getting long, trust God that it simply takes that long to see the dream come to pass. God’s timing is perfect!
-If you didn’t choose your current situation, consider that God has placed you there on purpose for His purpose. Joseph said in Genesis 40:15-“I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” When we haven’t done anything to create a negative circumstance, we need to think that perhaps God is up to something. There are things we can learn in the pit that we can’t learn in the palace. There are transformational changes that can happen in a prison that don’t happen in a palace. We have to trust that God will place us wherever we need to be when we are surrendered to His purposes.
I doubt Joseph ever thought that one day he would become an expert in food storage, and distribution, yet that’s where he ended up. Remember, God knows the plan in detail. He sees the future. Don’t think that where you are, even if it is an uncomfortable place to be, isn’t somehow a detailed part of His plan. The dream may look dead, “But God!”
-God can take you from a dreamer to a doer if you will let God’s dreams for you shape your thoughts, attitudes and actions. If you give up, the dream will die. If you try to take over, the dream will die. If you get angry and bitter, the dream will die. If you let your circumstances whether they be a pit or a prison define you, the dream will die. I believe Joseph’s success was related to the fact that he lived his life wherever he was based on the dreams God had for him. He didn’t get hung up on what people did to him. He didn’t get stuck in what his circumstances said about him. His life was shaped by those God-given dreams. He also lived to please God. When things look bleak, let God’s dream for you encourage you to do the right thing and to follow Him in all things.
-Decide today to live by promises not by explanations. We don’t read anywhere in Joseph’s story that God explained what He was doing with all of the pit time and prison time. Scripture isn’t overly concerned with an explanation of why we have to go through suffering; only that it is necessary to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives. We get something out of the pit and prison that we can’t get in the palace. Rather than look for the “why,” rather than seek the explanation, just stand on the promises. Rest on things like, “My grace is sufficient for you.” God’s grace is enough for you, right now, wherever you are.
We say that hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes, looking back, we see how it all made sense or at least how God was working behind the scenes to create the bigger picture. Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 45:8, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Looking at the big picture, it’s obvious to us that Joseph lived a life of eternal destiny. Without God, he wouldn’t have made it. “But God” made all the difference. If God isn’t walking with you the pit will be the pits. If God isn’t walking with you, the prison will confine and define you. “But God” can cause all things to work for your good if you will let Him in, right here, right now.