One morning at three o'clock in the morning a missionary came to a man's office because he had an appointment there to find out if he was capable to go out on the mission field. He arrived at three in the morning and he waited till eight o'clock in the morning when the examiner finally showed up. And the examiner said, "Let's begin. First of all, spell 'baker'." "Okay, B-A-K-E-R," the young man spelled. "Very good. Now let's see what you know about figures. What is two plus two?" "Four." "Very good," the examiner said. I'll recommend you to the board tomorrow. You've been appointed. You passed the test." At the board meeting, the examiner spoke highly of the applicant, and he said, "He has all of the qualifications of a missionary. Let me explain. First, I tested him on self-denial. I told him to be at my house at three o'clock in the morning. He left a warm bed and came out in the cold without a word of complaint. Second, I tested him on punctuality. He appeared on time. Third, I examined him on patience. I made him wait for five hours to see me after telling him to come at three. Fourth, I tested him on temper. He failed to show any sign of it. He didn't even question my delay. Fifth, I tested him on his humility. I asked him questions a small child could answer, and he showed no offense. He meets all the requirements and will make the missionary that we need."
I bet you that many of you have been tested by the Lord and you didn't even know you were going through a test. What seemed to be like normal life experiences- flat tires, unkind words by people, delays, disappointments- were really tests by the Lord and preparations by the Lord in your life. They seemed so normal. This morning in Chapter 41, Joseph is involved in two kinds of test. The test of adversity, while he's in prison, and the test of prosperity while he goes to the palace. Adversity, trials, test the depth of our stability. There is nothing like a good, old-fashioned tough trial to see if we are really strong or weak. Listen to what, uh, Solomon wrote in the book of Proverbs. "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small." What will it take to move you from a position of faithfulness to the Lord? What trial would it take before you finally say, "I've had enough. I give up. I'm not going to follow you anymore Lord." That's the test of your stability.
I once got a call from a guy. Called on the phone and he said, "Is this the Pastor of Calvary Chapel?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "I wanna give my Bible away. I'm quitting Christianity." I said, "That's tragic. Why would you wanna do that?" And he went on to explain about the trial he was having, and he had no relief and he was ready to cash it in, and he wanted me to distribute his Bible to someone who had a need, because he wanted to cash it in. There's nothing like adversity to test our stability. When most of us think of tests, that's what we think of- adversity and hardship. Like what Peter said, "Think it not a strange thing, brethren, when a fiery trial comes to test you." That's what we think of when we think of testing.
But there is another test that is much tougher than adversity, and most of us don't categorize this as a test. It is called "prosperity". And it is a tougher test. In fact, more people have fallen from the test of prosperity than ever from the test of adversity. Listen to what J. Oswald Sanders says. "Not every man can carry a full cup. Sudden elevation tends to lead to pride and therefore a fall. The most exacting test of all is to survive prosperity." Well, both of these tests were Joseph, but like that missionary, he didn't know they were tests, although he passed with flying colors.
The first scene that we come to is the prison. It says in verse 1, "It came to pass, at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river." To get the whole impact of this verse, to get the whole impact of what Joseph was feeling, you need to go back one verse into Chapter 40. Joseph has been in prison. He told the cupbearer and he told the baker the interpretation of their dream. And he says, "Hey, when you get sprung from prison, do me a favor. Put in a good word for me to the Pharaoh, so that I can get out of here. Because I'm here and it's not my fault." And verse 23 of Chapter 40, "Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. And it came to pass at the end of two full years..." I'm sure the day that that cupbearer left the prison, Joseph thought, "Alright, this is my day. God let this guy come into my life so that I could interpret his dream so that he would tell the Pharaoh, that Pharaoh will be awfully impressed and he'll want to know more and I'll be sprung. He got up the next morning, looked at his sundial (light laughter). Nobody had come. He figured, "Well, the palace is open by now. I wonder when the cupbearer will come and spring me." On that day, nothing happened. Just another boring day of bread and water. And that day turned into a week, and that week turned into a month, and that month turned into a year, and after two whole boring, uneventful years of sitting in a prison cell, he finally gets spring and he gets to stand before the Pharaoh. If adversity is the test of our stability, then Joseph passed with flying colors. Because that day, in Chapter 41, when he finally stood before the Pharaoh after suffering for two yeas more, he had not one word of resentment against Potiphar, Potiphar's wife, the cupbearer, nor the king. Put yourself for a minute in Joseph's sandals. You have been suffering in prison for two years. You didn't do anything wrong. It is because of the unjust of an enraged woman, a false accusation that you are in prison, and it's because of the forgetfulness of the one of the king's emissary’s that you stayed there for two years. You finally now stand, like Joseph in Chapter 41, before the highest official in the kingdom. Many of you would voice your resentment at that point. It's your day in court. And you'd get down on Potiphar's wife for the accusation and Potiphar for listening to her, and she has no right and she has no right and the criminal justice system in this land is for the bird's king. And yet, as I read the entire book of Genesis, never once, ever, did Joseph have a complaint or a word of resentment against his brothers, who sold him into slavery, Potiphar's wife for the false accusation, Potiphar for listening, the cupbearer for forgetting him, or the king for running the government the way he did. Why? How can a man go through all of that stuff, adversity, and come out without any resentment? Let me answer that question by saying that there are two ways to look at adversity. You can look at it from the human standpoint, or you can look at it from the divine standpoint. Whatever you face in a trial, in the normal trials of everyday life, you can look at it from the mundane human viewpoint, and many of us do. We get overwhelmed by certain things that come our way in life. And you got to admit it. There are just certain days. You know the kind of day, you said, "Ah, my mother said there'd be days like this." One thing after another and it just tends to wear you down. One, uh, pessimist wrote a little quip saying how you can tell it's gonna be a rotted day. He says, "You see a 60 Minute news team in your office. You call the suicide prevention and they put you on hold (light laughter). You turn on the news and they're showing emergency routes of the city. Your twin sister forgot your birthday (light laughter). Your car horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell's Angels on the freeway (laughter)." I love that one. "Your boss tells you not to bother to take off your coat. Your income tax check bounces (light laughter) . And you put both contact lenses into the same eye (laughter)." There's some days like that. And from the human side, that's just what it feels like. From the human side, Joseph was in prison because of the injustice of a woman and the forgetfulness of one of the cupbearers of the king. And he could've just stayed looking at the human side of his trial. Or you can look at the divine side. And from the divine side, God was preparing Joseph through the prison experience for a work in the palace that he would someday do. It was part of God's preparation and Joseph was able to bring in God's will into a situation and believe that human circumstance is because of divine will, and that his situation was from God and he accepted it as being allowed or permitted by God. It is a classic example of Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose." And although Romans wasn't written, he knew the principle. "I will look at this circumstance from the divine side."
There's a couple of, uh, truths before we move on that we need to latch on to. Number one, you will get burned if you put too much confidence in man. Because man, at his best, will fail you sometime. And if you place too much stock in a human being, you're sunk. Had Joseph put too much confidence in that cupbearer, he would've ended up very bitter and disillusioned. Keep your finger here for a moment and turn over to Jeremiah, Chapter 17. I'd like us to be reminded of a truth spoken by that prophet. Jeremiah 17. Look down at verse 5, "Thus says the Lord: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. He shall be like a tree planted by the waters which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but when its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit." As you look back through your life, you know the truth of that statement as you have perhaps put too much of an expectation upon a teacher, a friend, a pastor, a spouse, that they would do something for you or be something for you, and they didn't produce and you are disillusioned because of it. "Cursed is the man who trusts in man." Man at his best will fail you. God, on the other hand, will not fail. And we can turn from the failure of man to the faithfulness of God, who will never forget. Look at one more scripture. Isaiah. Turn backwards, turn left. Isaiah, Chapter 49. In verse 14, "Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.'" I'm sure Joseph perhaps was tempted to think that. Listen to the response, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget," actually, it happens all the time. There are parents across this land who do forget their own children. "Surely the may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me." God will not forget you in your time of adversity, and if you trust Him and see it from the divine side, He is working out all things for your good. Even though, and admit it, even though many of those times, you believe that God is way off in His timing. Like Martha, we think, "Lord, He should have been here two days ago. My brother wouldnt've died." Joseph waited, or Jesus waited until Lazarus died, but he had something better in store. He is never late, He is always on time. Turn from the faithlessness of man to the faithfulness of God.
Finally after thirteen years of suffering, from the moment he was sold into slavery, went into Potiphar's house, went into prison, it was a total of thirteen years of suffering. A crazy pattern of life. Finally, he now emerges on the scene and is ready to stand before the Pharaoh and interpret the dream. I think if Joseph were alive in the days of Samuel Rutherford in the 1700's, he would agree with him. Samuel Rutherford said, "Why should I tremble at the plow of my Lord, that makes deep furrows on my soul? I know He is no idle husbandman, no, He purposes a crop." And Joseph believed that as he stood before Pharaoh. It said, "Pharaoh dreamed a dream," verse one, "behold he stood by a river. And suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking, fat cows. And so Pharaoh awoke." It bugged him, it troubled him. But as happens with many of us, he went back to sleep and the dream kept coming back. "He dreamed a second time; suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. Behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream. Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all of the magicians of Egypt, all of its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh. Then the chief butler spoke to the Pharaoh," that is that cupbearer, "saying: 'I remember my faults this day. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody of the house of the captain of the guard, both me and the chief baker, we each dreamed a dream in one night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. And there was a young Hebrew man with us there, a servant of the captain of the guard. And we told him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; to each man he interpreted according to his own dream. And it came to pass, just as he interpreted for us, it happened. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him.' And Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and brought him hastily out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothes, and came to Pharaoh." This, now, is the pivotal point of the entire career of Joseph and the entire history of the nation of Israel. Because of this one, little event. He was in the prison for two years. That was the test of adversity.
Now comes a series of verses that leads to a new test, the test of prosperity. He's in the palace, standing before the king. There was no advance notice for Joseph. Just one day, a guy comes in and goes, "Are you Jo?" "Yeah." "Pharaoh wants to see ya. Shave, here's your clothes and get in there." A normal day, but it changed the course of Joseph's life. Pharaoh had a dream. The dream was put there by God. Remember Proverbs 21 that says, "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, and he turns it like the water course, wherever he wishes." This is God's timing, this is God's dream, and the Pharaoh dreams it. And his dream was twofold. One, it was of the flocks of Egypt, the cows. The other was of the crops of Egypt. Both of those things together formed the lifeblood, the economic stability of Egypt. That's why Pharaoh gets up and he's troubled. Because those two items formed the stability of the nation. He brings Joseph in. Well, first of all, he brings all the big wigs in, all the government officials, the dream interpreters, the guys who's, who are getting the salary by the government. They get the paycheck. He goes, "Here's my dream. What does it mean?" "Well, I don't know." "You mean none of you jokers know what my dream is? You're getting paid for this." "I don't know." This is probably a process that took weeks until finally, the butler says, "Oh, yeah that's right. The guy in prison that interpreted my dreams. He was accurate. And he told me to put in a good word and I blew it. This guy can do it, king." And so Joseph comes before the Pharaoh. And it says, "Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I have dreamed a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.'" Stop here for just a moment and consider something. God uses the tr- most trivial things to get His purposes done. The largest doors swing on the smallest hinges. Just a little dream of the Pharaoh was a small hinge that opened up a door of opportunity for Joseph that changed his course of life. Something so small and insignificant and yet he's going to be so faithful in it. "Hey, uh, I hear that you can interpret dreams." And Joseph's response, "Joseph answered the Pharaoh, 'It's not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.'" Joseph, always faithful. That is his M.O. wherever he goes. He always told people, "It's not me, it's the Lord." When he stood before Potiphar, "It's not me, it's God." When he was in prison, he showed the glory of God. When he stood before Pharaoh, "It's not me, it's the Lord." "And Pharaoh said to Joseph," and he told him his dream, the dream that we just read. And then look over at verse 25. Joseph gives an instantaneous interpretation. No spiritual incantations, no weirdness, no hype. In verse 25, "Joseph said to Pharaoh, 'The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land. So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe. And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.'" And then Joseph gives him the advice that he should take. "'Now, therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, let him appoint officers over the land, to collect twenty percent, one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.'" So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants," hah, now, here's all these servants who just failed, and in their hearing, he says, "'Can we find such a one as this man, in whom is the Spirit of God?' And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.'" He got geographic power and authority.
In verse 41, financial authority, "Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I have set you over all the land of Egypt.'" Verse 42, "Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain on his neck." In other words, he had the stamp of approval. He could approve any invoice, any expenditure that needed to be done. He had complete authority over the finances. "And he had made him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, 'Bow the knee!' So he set him over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.'" He was second in command. It's like a presidential limousine that he had. Little license plate that said, "Number Two" on it. He had his own body guards around him, wherever he went. "Bow the knee." After being in prison, he is now lifted up to that place of authority and prominence.
Now there's an observation we need to make at this point. In looking at all of the things that have transpired in Joseph's life up to this point in his faithfulness, it leads us to observe something about God's plan in adversity and prosperity. As we look backwards from the place of prosperity, looking back through all of the adversity that Joseph had, all of a sudden, this crazy pattern of events, this bizarre set of circumstances, of going from Canaan, to a pit, to Egypt, to Potiphar's house, to a prison and to a palace begins to make sense. Those thirteen weird years start coming into focus and we start seeing the principle of "all things work together for good". First of all, it's the issue of timing. Timing. God's perfect timing in your life. Would you look back at verse 8 for just a moment? "It came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all of the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh." Verse 15, "Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I have dreamed a dream and there is no one who can interpret it, but I've heard it said that you can interpret it." Look at verse 37, "The advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, 'Can we find such a one as this in whom is the Spirit of God?'" Now, Joseph is seen in the backdrop of the magician's failure. Had Joseph stood before Pharaoh two years before and skipped the prison sentence, had he been able to stand before Pharaoh, this event would not have taken place. Pharaoh had no need, there was no sense of urgency in his heart, thus he never would've called for the wise men and the interpreters of his kingdom, thus there would have been no opportunity for Joseph to succeed in the midst of their failures. Two years before if Joseph would've skipped the sentence, nothing of this would've happened. But it was because of the urgency and because of their failures that Joseph stands head and shoulders above all of the failed dream interpreters of the land of Egypt. This is perfect timing. In verse 39, "Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one discerning and wise as you.'" Those times of adversity and trial that you face, and you think, "Now why have I waited this long? Why is this horrible thing continued this long? Why the anguish?" It is that time that God is setting you up to show His glory at just the right time. He is never late. This was the perfect time and it was during this backdrop of their failure because of the Pharaoh's urgency that Joseph was seen as the wisest in all the land of Egypt.
The idea of preparation. We don't like that word. We don't like the idea that God prepares us before He uses us. Or let me get more graphic- breaks us, grinds us, afflicts us, before He can powerfully use us. A time of preparation. Think about it. There are very few people who have been given such elevated authority at such a young age, who haven't fallen to pride and arrogance. Sudden elevation to a high position tends to make people pretty prideful and pride causes a person to harden his heart. Causes a person to be insensitive. And causes a person to forget the friends of his humble youth and, more importantly, forget God. It happened with Solomon. It was because of the years of preparation in adversity that caused him to past the test of prosperity. Had he not been faithful in the times of suffering, that sudden elevation would have made him had such a swollen, huge head. He'd be no good to anybody and God couldn't have used him. It was a matter of preparation. Remember Proverbs 16, that says, "Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." That would've been the case. And think that Joseph was a prime candidate for pride. He was the favored son of all of the sons of Jacob. Even though he was the little kid, he was the manager. He wore the royal robe. The scripture also tells us that he was handsome and well-built. He was obviously very intelligent- you see it all the way through his history. Favored, pampered, good-looking, and intelligent tend to ruin a person's life through pride. It didn't ruin Joseph. He succeeded. Why? Because he was broken. It was the preparation of adversity that brought him to that point. Listen to what Samuel Rutherford again once wrote. He said, "Praise God for the hammer, the file, and the furnace." And then he said, "The hammer molds us, the file shapes us, and the fire tempers us." Years later, a man by the name of A.W. Tozer, commenting on what Rutherford said, wrote, "The devil, things and people, being what they are, it is necessary to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in the holy work of preparing the saint for sainthood. It is doubtful," he said, "Whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply." From the prison to the palace. Being tested by adversity, the depth of his stability, to being tested as to the depth of his integrity. How could he pass? He passed because he was faithful in the time of adversity.
Before we close this morning, I wanna give you in, in wrapping up this chapter, four things, four little principles that I'd like you to stick in your heart and remember. First of all, God has a purpose for every single life. Yours included. Just like he had a plan for Joseph, God has a purpose and a plan for your life. Don't forget that. We have a problem in America. We tend to view certain ministries as important, and we elevate certain ministers or ministries and we put 'em on a pedestal, and it causes us and other people, when we push them up on the pedestal, to look at themselves and say, "Boy, I'm not very important. I don't have much to offer." That's just not the truth. God has a plan and an purpose for you in His body. And second of all, because God has a plan and a purpose, that purpose calls for discipline and preparation. Part of your basic training is being prepared by God to be used in effective service for Him. God does not want you to waste your life on you. And so He will tailor make adversity and He'll give it to you to prepare you for the time when he'll lift you up and use you. It's part of your basic training. How do you handle it? Look at the long range, not just the short range. Have your eyes fixed on eternity and what this will yield you. Third, your duty, whether in adversity or prosperity, is faithfulness. Nothing more. Never seek success. Just be faithful. That's what Joseph did. Joseph said, "Set up a wise man over the kingdom." And he never said, "And, uh, by the way Pharaoh, I'll put in my application." He never pushed for advancement. He waited on the Lord. He was faithful as a prisoner, he was faithful as a servant, and he was faithful as the prime minister. And Jesus said, "You be faithful in the small things, and I'll advance you into the greater things. Your duty is faithfulness." You know, the world has a principle, and you've often heard this saying. They say, "Well, you know, it's not what you know, it's who you know that gets you your advancements, your promotions." Well, that's not true in God's kingdom. It's not what you know or who you know, it's what you are in your character. And Joseph was faithful. And fourth, what God has started in your life, God's gonna finish it. Paul said to the Philippians that he was persuaded that what God has begun, He was able and faithful to perform in your life. If God has begun a good work in you, and you are in adversity right now, you tend to believe that God is finished with you, your life has no meaning, everything is in shambles, it's not the truth. And I got to admit to you- waiting on the Lord when all the walls are broken down, when all the plans are shattered, and when all the doors seem closed, is the toughest place to be. Two full years. God is able, through trivial hinges, to open up a door wide for you an opportunity.
If you are prospering today, thank the Lord. Praise Him for your prosperity. Praise Him for being lifted out of the pit you've been in. But be faithful in that prosperity. Don't let that turn your heart away from God. Pass the test. If you are in adversity today, which, for some reason, tends to fit a lot of us, if you're in adversity, be encouraged. God does not let you pass through that valley unless He has first prepared that valley for you. There's an old story of a little tree, little tiny tree, that was planted next to a huge towering oak tree. And the little tree daily was rejoicing because of the shade that that large friend afforded. Strength was in the oak tree, and that little plant was so happy that it was protected from the elements. Till one day an axeman came by and started chopping down the oak tree. And that little tree starting crying out, he said, "Oh no! Now the winds will seek to destroy me and every storm that passes through will seek to uproot me." And the axeman said, "No. Now, because I am taking away that large oak tree, the sun will be able to get to you in more abundance. And because that oak is taken away, you will be strengthened and you will grow and you will flower and people will be able to come by, because the rain is getting to you now, and the sun is getting to you now, and you're growing into such a beautiful tree, they'll say, "Look at the glory of that tree because the stability he thought he once had has been now taken away, and now he is grown up. He's mature, he's large." God takes us through tests. Like the missionary, we don't always know it's a test. Be encouraged.
Take us from trusting in the arm of flesh to believing in Your providence and in Your sovereignty that, although we don't see You, You are in total control because we've asked You to be. And that You won't let anything pass through our lives without Your providential care. Lord, I pray that we would submit to Your timing, and that we would submit to the hammer, the file, the fire. Break us that You might use us. I pray for every person in this congregation, that they would pass the test of adversity and be faithful to you and be able to embrace the trial. And as they move on to being prospered, that they would pass the test of integrity. Thank you, Lord, for taking away all of those false securities that we hide underneath. You take it away so that Your goodness might pour forth upon us, that we might be strengthened and fruitful. We bless you, Lord, for those prisons. For those hard blows. In Jesus' name, Amen.