Surprised By God.


This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. – Genesis 41:37-49 ESV

The events recorded in these verses, while serendipitous in appearance, are anything but that. They are the evidence of God’s sovereign work in the life of Joseph and in the affairs of God’s people, the children of Abraham. God had sovereignly ordained the circumstances of Joseph’s life to culminate in this very moment and with this specific outcome. Of all people, Joseph was probably the most surprised by the sequence of events that took place and the rapidity with which it all happened. One day Joseph is a prisoner, the next he is being handed the signet ring of Pharaoh and awarded the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. His was truly a rags-to-riches story. He was given an Egyptian name, fine clothes to wear, expensive jewelry, unprecedented power, and a wife from one of the most prestigious families in Egypt.

There is an interesting phrase in these verses that probably struck a chord with Joseph and brought back a wave of memories. As Joseph was paraded around the city in a chariot, he was preceded by servants who called out to all those along the way, “Bow the knee!” This was not an invitation, but a command. It was directed at anyone and everyone, regardless of their social standing or net worth. Everyone had to bow before Joseph. As these words rang out over and over again, Joseph could not have helped thinking about the dreams he had had all those years ago.

Listen to this dream I had: There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the middle of the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose up and stood upright and your sheaves surrounded my sheaf and bowed down to it! – Genesis 37:6-7 ESV

“I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me. – Genesis 37:9 ESV

Was this his dreams coming true? What did all this mean? Joseph’s head had to have been swimming with questions of all kinds. Everything was moving so fast. Before he could catch his breath, he found himself overseeing the well-being of the entire kingdom of Egypt, answering directly to Pharaoh himself. He had gone from his father’s favorite son wearing a coat of many colors to Pharoah’s right-hand man, wearing fine linens and gold chains around his neck. His new position came with heavy responsibilities. He was tasked with putting into action the very advice he had given to Pharaoh after having interpreted his dream.

Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land. – Genesis 41:33-36 NLT

And Joseph did just as he had advised. The first seven years were agriculturally abundant, producing a record yield and allowing him to store away plenty of produce in an emergency reserve. The seven years of plenty were a literal God-send, providing more than was needed and creating a surplus that would meet needs when the seven years of drought and famine came. This was all part of God’s sovereign plan. Like Noah building an ark before the floods came, God was providing Joseph with a plan to preserve life and prepare the way for His redemptive plan for mankind. This was about more than Joseph getting rewarded a cushy job and well-deserved reward for his endurance and patience with God. God was using Joseph to accomplish His greater will and to bring about a much grander outcome than his personal promotion.

It is doubtful that Joseph knew the full import of what was going on. He was not yet privy to God’s greater plan. He had no way of knowing what God was intending to do and how it would involve the very brothers who had sold Joseph into slavery all those years ago. Joseph had been estranged from his father and brothers for years. He was, in effect, an Egyptian. He had an Egyptian name, an Egyptian wife, and a job serving in the court of the Egyptian Pharaoh. And yet, he never let go of his Hebrew heritage. He never forgot that he was a descendant of Abraham and one of God’s chosen people. He may not have known exactly what God was doing, but he knew God was up to something.

Joseph had been surprised by God. But he shouldn’t have been. As those who claim to believe in God and who profess to have a saving relationship with His Son, we should never be surprised by what God does. We should live with a confidant awareness that He is at work and an eager anticipation that His providential power is going to be revealed at any minute. He may be out-of-sight for the moment, but His presence will soon be revealed and His plan unfolded right before our eyes. The words of Paul to Timothy should give us comfort and provide us with conviction regarding God’s faithfulness.

“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” – 2 Timothy 2:13 NLT

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