Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect [mature]: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:6-8).
I wonder that they did not know. Did they not know the story of Joseph?
In the honour roll of faith the writer of Hebrews, while he does not make specific mention of Joseph’s ordeal of faith, he does make note of those who “had trial… of bonds and imprisonment” and “were tempted.” Certainly that includes Joseph. What he records specifically of Joseph is that it was by faith that he commanded the Israelites to be sure to take his bones with them to the land of promise when God delivered them from Egypt. They did this, after long delay finally laying those bones to rest “in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor…” (Josh. 24:32).
That’s quite something when you think of it. The many times they murmured and complained and doubted God in the wilderness—especially when they concluded in unbelief that entering and taking the land was impossible, utterly beyond their ability—they needed only to take a walk to wherever Joseph’s bones were being kept to remind themselves of the faithfulness of God. It was He who had brought them out. It was He who would bring them in.
When Joseph gave this commandment he knew by personal experience the faithfulness of the God in whom he had trusted when year after long year his own circumstances were more a testimony to the failure of the promises of God than of His faithfulness.
I never tire of reading the story. God had given Joseph two dreams, the first in which his brothers’ sheaves were bowing down to his sheaf. What a dream! How could he not help but share something so glorious with his brethren? They got the interpretation immediately. “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? Or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” They already hated him because of their father’s special love for him, but now they hated him all the more “for his dreams and for his words.” Then he had a second dream which along with his brothers he told his father. “The sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.” His father rebuked him. “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” Nevertheless, “his father observed the saying.” But now his brothers added something more to their hatred. They’d begun to feel there could be something to this. So now they “envied him.”
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt… (Acts 7:9).
Their motive was, “and we shall see what will become of his dreams” (Gen. 37:20).
We know what became of his dreams, we who have read the story, and it’s impossible to read the story without tears in your eyes. The hour came when all his brethren were bowing before him—the very thing they had conspired to prevent—just as the faithful God had shown him in the dreams.
God was with him
Let me quote more fully that verse from Acts.
And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; but God was with him…
In Potiphar’s house, God was with him. Later in prison, God was with him. In what sense? It doesn’t appear that God ever sent someone to give Joseph a word of prophecy, or ever whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry Joseph, you’re going to end up on the throne of Egypt some day and those dreams will come true.” No, in this God was silent. Yet God was with him. As Joseph went about his daily routine as a faithful slave he was aware that a familiar Presence was still with him. What did it all mean, then? What was it all about? What about those dreams, Lord? In low times they were more a torment to him than a fond hope. But he would go to prayer, and the Presence would be with him, and with it an awareness, then, that somehow, in spite of all this that has happened—it’s all so unjust, Lord—yet, You are with me still. I don’t understand… but please help me to be faithful to You.
The psalmist gives us insight into what God did not disclose to Joseph—that one day God would send Joseph’s brethren to Egypt as well—an ordeal that for them would be utterly devastating, as it had been for Joseph—and that He was preparing Joseph in advance for that very thing:
He [God] sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant [a bondslave];
Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
Until the time that his word came, the word of the LORD tried him (Ps. 105:17,18).
The iron fetters entered into his very soul, as the original implies. But what I find so moving is that God wanted to include in Scripture that Joseph’s feet were hurt with fetters. The tender-hearted God took note of that. How could He not? He “was with him.” As if He were saying, “I know all that you’re going through, beloved Joseph—even to the point of feeling the hurt of your feet in the fetters.”
And so through it all, the word God had given Joseph in dreams tried him, purified him. Come on, Joseph, give it all up, God has forgotten you and your dreams, and life is too short. Enjoy yourself. Instead he turned and fled. There was something more important to him than those dreams of glory. That “something” kept him when he was sorely tempted. If the dreams had vanished like a mirage in the desert, his God was still with him, and his love for his God kept him. He would not sin against his God. He remained faithful. It cost him dearly, he was framed for his faithfulness, ended up in prison. Yet even in prison he continued to serve faithfully without bitterness toward God, without resentment toward those near and far who had treated him so unjustly, and without nursing his hurt with thoughts of self pity… or of revenge. He came forth from his trials with a certain something which made God’s heart swell. Proven character. Joseph may have been laid in iron but he came forth as gold.
And the dreams?
Somewhere along the way Joseph had given them back to God for His safekeeping, and had forgotten about them. The day came when the faithful God gave the dreams back to Joseph again—fulfilled.
…And Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth…. And Joseph remembered the dreams… (Gen. 42:6,9).
Who remembered? God had never forgotten those long-ago dreams, but Joseph apparently had.
It is beautiful to see the way God with sovereign genius unfolded His faithfulness to Joseph. It is also, oh, so beautiful, that all along the way Joseph had remained faithful to God when, as far as he knew, there was nothing in it for him. He did so out of love for God. Even so with our Lord Jesus Christ. For those with eyes to see, it was in the cross that the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ shone forth—His love for the Father, His commitment to do His will come what may, a devotion that meant the cross for Him. It is a beauty beyond compare, to God a “fragrance of rest.” It is Jesus’ reflection, the beauty of the Lord, we see in Joseph’s life in the days of his captivity. Joseph sought to do God’s will, to obey Him, in all things to please Him, though it mean what those in a distant day would call taking up his cross.
Where did that lead him?
Where did it lead our Lord?
Where shall it lead you and me? May we ever remember in our own trials that whatever promises may linger unfulfilled, the faithful God is involving us in an unfolding mystery which His enemies do not understand, but which all too often we ourselves do not understand. In such times let us abide faithful. While the mystery unfolds, God is seeking to cultivate unto Himself the beauty of the Lord in our lives—trusting obedience to His will, endurance, patience, meekness, faith, all the while learning from the lowly Jesus the yoke of His rest… God has not forgotten the promises, nor ever will. And so, however contrary to the promises of God our circumstances may seem to be, let us seek to please Him in all things, and take up our own cross, whatever that may involve for you or for me. It is by that very cross that the faithful God means to fulfill the promises He has given, and prepare us for the glory that is to come.
It was by way of the prison in Egypt that the unjustly treated and falsely accused slave Joseph came to the throne. It was by way of the cross of Golgotha that the unjustly treated and falsely accused bondslave Jesus came to the throne, the very thing the princes of this world had conspired to prevent.
May we ever be mindful of this mystery of the cross—which God has ordained, yes, unto our glory—and continue faithful to Him who is faithful. We may safely commit to Him the “dreams” He has given us. He will not forget them. Meanwhile He is lovingly working in our lives, and anticipates something precious coming forth.