Interpreting Dreams – 08.29.2021

[Genesis 40:5-15]

          The purposes of God often develop slowly because His grand designs are never hurried. There’s an old story of the great New England preacher Phillip Brooks. Pastor Brooks was noted for his poise and quiet manner. At times, however, even he suffered moments of frustration and irritability. One day a friend saw him feverishly pacing the floor back and forth like a caged lion. “What’s the trouble Mr. Brooks?” Phillip responded, “The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t!” How many times in our lives have we felt the same way? I’ve got things to do! I’ve got a plan for my life – and God’s timelines, God’s plans don’t seem to be keeping up. A lot of us we figure – if I’m a good person, and I’m wanting to do good things – shouldn’t God be opening doors for me every step of the way? And then an obstacle comes and slows us down. Maybe there’s a sickness, or a problem at work or in our marriages our kids – a roadblock for good people on their way to do good things. And we turn to God bewildered – what was that? What is this doing in my way?  

Some of the greatest missionaries of history spread God’s word all over the world, they were devoted – they did everything right, and yet still sometimes they saw no fruit for all their efforts. William Carey worked for 7 years in Burma before he saw his first Hindu convert to Christianity. Adoniram Judson was a guy with the same story. 7 Years before his faithful preaching was rewarded with changed lives. In western Africa, 14 years before one convert was received into the Christian church. In New Zealand 9 years, In Tahiti it was 16 years. And sometimes I think about that, and I ask myself – could I be faithful week after week, year after year with no “success.” Can I do the right thing, and just keep being faithful and working and working and showing up and showing people God’s love and hold on to God’s hope for over a decade with no visible results? I was talking to some of the kids in our youth program about the word “integrity” a couple weeks back. And one of those kids, a 7th grader said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, whether they can see you or not. Whether there are results or not.” If I haven’t said it before – we’ve got some incredibly bright youth in this church. Today we are continuing our series called “Dreams of Desolation.” We are into week three of Joseph’s journey into Egypt.

          We started a few weeks ago with Joseph the favored child getting sold into slavery. We saw how favoritism created an imbalance in the family – being picky with love ruined everything. Last week, with Joseph in slavery we found ourselves embroiled in a sex scandal where Joseph is falsely accused and then ends up in prison. And that’s where we open our text for today, in Genesis chapter 40. And actually, I’m gonna back up a couple verses, the end of chapter 39, [read v.20b-23]. So Joseph, when he was a slave – he was like the best slave ever. Potiphar, his master, put him in charge of everything. Then, when he ends up in prison, the warden also noticed how Joseph is good at everything, and puts him in charge of the whole prison. So again, he’s in prison – but he’s like the team captain of all the prisoners. Kinda getting this vibe that Joseph is really good at organizing and running things. So then we start chapter 40, [read v.1-3]. Now to really understand this, we need to take a look at these roles. Pharaoh is like the king. He’s the glorified leader of the entire country, royalty that is almost worshipped. Now the cupbearer, obviously is the guy who holds Pharaoh’s cup. Right, when you picture Pharaoh sprawled on his lounging sofa, decked out in all that gold bling, there’s always two or three servants hanging out nearby. There’s fan boy – the one with the big leaf. Grape Boy – the one who dangles grapes for Pharaoh, and then the cupbearer. And maybe there was a fourth one – footstool boy, who would you know – crouch down if Pharaoh needed to stretch out his legs. (laugh – I’m kidding, I hope) For a lot of us, when we think Pharoah, we have this picture of a spoiled king surrounded by servants, and that picture might be somewhat accurate. But there’s a theory put forward by some scholars, that these servants who were always around pharaoh were more than just servants. A lot of times they may have been confidants, even friends, people Pharaoh could talk to, people Pharaoh might listen to.

          BUT evidently these two said or did something that upset Pharaoh, and so off to jail they go. [read v.5-8]. So these two fellas have dreams, and in Egyptian culture, they believed that sleep put them in “real and direct contact with the other world”[1] When you dream – you’re closer to the god, or something like that. And so in this country they took dreams VERY seriously. But verse 8 is the one I want to focus in on today. These two guys say, “we have no one to interpret our dreams” and Joseph responds and says [read v.8b]. Interpretation belongs to God – remember that because it’s going to come back up later. Interpretation belongs to God.

[read v.9-15]. The first guy, the cup bearer has a dream. There’s a vine with three branches, and he watches as the vine buds and then the grapes grow and ripen, and then he takes the grapes and squeezes them into Pharaoh’s cup, and puts the cup in his hand. When you know the interpretation, it always seems obvious – but Joseph explains it. Three days and you’re going to get your job back and put the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. We’re gonna put that in the “good dream” category. Right? Like, this is very good news for this guy. So, then [read v.16a]. So the baker, he sees that the cup-bearer has a good interpretation, and he’s thinking – all right! This is great news, he had a good dream – maybe my dream will be good too. And I just… you gotta feel bad for him a little bit. [read v.16b-19]. Yikes. I’m gonna put that in the “not as good” dream category – we have a word for that actually, this is straight up nightmare. This is terrible news for the poor baker. So you got two guys – cupbearer and baker. And one is hoping Joseph is really good at his job, and other is hoping that Joseph is a total quack. Oh man, I hope he was faking it.

          [read v.20-22]. Turns out Joseph was not a quack. He wasn’t the one interpreting at all – interpretation belongs to God. And God doesn’t make mistakes – Joseph was just listening. Everyone’s dream comes true. And then the chapter ends with the single most devastating sentence possible. [read v.23]. He forgets Joseph. And I’m gonna give you a little sneak peak into next week – two years go by. Two years Joseph is left in prison because the cup-bearer forgot. Joseph, hanging all his hope on this guy, this cup-bearer who might be a confidant, who might be able to whisper in Pharaoh’s ear and convince him to help – disappointed for years. Everyone’s dream was fulfilled – except Josephs. Okay, now I want to pause for a second and name a fear. One of the reasons we struggle with patience in our lives is that we fear we are forgotten. One of the reasons we stress, and worry and freak out in our lives is that we fear we are forgotten. My kids are going to forget me, my spouse is going to forget me, my work is going to forget me, my church is going to forget me, my friends at school are going to forget me. Without realizing it is what it is – we are afraid of being forgotten. There is a deep need for us to be known, there is a deep need in each of our lives for us to be remembered. And so when we hear – “and Joseph was forgotten” it’s sort of the ultimate nightmare scenario. It is devastating to be forgotten.

          The good news coming out of the text this morning is straight out of verse 8 – Joseph looks at these guys, and their dreams and says, “interpretation belongs to God.” The good news this morning is that interpretation belongs to God. Okay now let me walk you through that a little bit. Think about this – why does interpretation belong to God. Why does God never get it wrong? Because God knows what will happen. Interpretation belongs to God because the FUTURE belongs to God. And if the future belongs to God – do you see it? The future doesn’t happen to God, like a surprise, the future BELONGS to God. It is his to create and craft. And what that means is that God will not forget you. That is the real good news this morning. Interpretation belongs to God, but what that means is that God will not forget you. God will not forget you. We’ll find out next week, God didn’t forget Joseph and he will not forget you.

          When I was in college, I’m an extrovert, and I love making new friends – and so I loved strolling down the hallways just poking my head into stranger’s rooms and introducing myself. I prided myself on the fact that basically I knew everyone in the dorm. At Calvin College, where I went – the dorms were for freshmen and sophomores, juniors and seniors lived off campus. So by the end of my sophomore year – I knew practically everyone in my dorm of 400 people. It was so much fun, I felt like a king – I used to love walking the halls talking to everyone. I was known, I was remembered, I was extremely puffed up on my own importance. Then Junior year I moved out of the dorm. I became an RA in a different dorm, and then Senior Year I moved into a house with some friends. Lived off campus with a couple of buddies. January of Senior year, I got an offer – hey, we need someone to be a substitute RA for just the month of January. One of the RA’s was studying abroad, they needed a substitute leader. So I moved back into the dorms for one month. Suddenly, and unexpectedly I was a stranger in an unknown land. I walked the halls where just two years ago I was king and now? I was nobody. I knew none of the faces, I wasn’t friends with any of these people. Within a few years, I was completely forgotten in the place I called home. Now I realize I’m being dramatic, right? I mean, this is totally normal for your school to forget you. But it was a gut check for me, and I think it gets at a deeper issue for us in our lives. A lot of stress, our worry, our deep seeded fear in this world is that we will be forgotten by the people and places that matter to us. The uncomfortable truth we’re dealing with here is that the world will forget us, just like the cup-bearer forgot Joseph. But God will not forget you. Interpretation belongs to God, the future is his – and he will hold each and every one of you close to His heart. God is not going to forget you and your story – and that is great good news.

          So, coming out of that I have two challenges for you to take with you this week. First, trust in God. If interpretation belongs to God, if the future belongs to God, if God is trustworthy – then we need to TRUST him. But WAIT, WAIT, WAIT – here’s my problem. I just got in front of a comfortable church and said a cliché Christian thing. “The big challenge today is to trust God” (make a fart noise). Soon as those words left my mouth half of you fell asleep with your eyes open. I yell at you because I care. This challenge is one of the most significant and difficult things a pastor can ask you to do. It is so basic and so simple that most of us THINK it is easy – BUT IT’S NOT! Every single day each of us gets up, we turn on the TV or the phone, or we listen to the radio on our way to work and we are bombarded with a thousand messages that all say the same thing: “don’t Trust God, be very afraid.” Our culture, the news, social media – they traffic in your fear. They want you to wake up and freak out. They want you to turn to them for answers. When I say “trust in God” you might think that means you sit there and passively spit out trust. But Trust is not a passive exercise. It takes active reminders. Over and over and over you have to remind yourself – the future belongs to God and he will not forget me. Every time the world throws something at you to be afraid of – you need to remind yourself to trust in God. Look at the latest COVID numbers – God will not forget me. Look at the horror stories coming out of Afghanistan with all those people so desperate to escape – God will not forget them. Look at the storms and earthquakes in Haiti, the hurricanes on the eastern coast – God will not forget them. People fighting about Vaccines and masks and always everyday finding new ways to divide and hate each other – but God will not forget me. For nurses and teachers and pastors and politicians and small business owners, and fast food workers and honestly it just seems like this has been difficult for everyone – but GOD WILL NOT FORGET YOU. Don’t sleep on God’s trust. Don’t delude yourself into thinking trust comes easy. You got a hundred thousand messages coming at you every single day propped up by billion dollar advertising industries and you think you’re going to combat that by coming to church for 90 minutes on a Sunday? Every single day – you need to remind yourself that God will not forget you. Actively work to build the trust in God you need.

          Now, I’m gonna do it again. I’m gonna say a cliché Christian thing – and you’re gonna think it’s easy, but it’s not. Challenge number two: wait on God. Wait on God’s timing. And again – it sounds cliché, it sounds easy – but honestly? This is SO hard! Trusting in God means we never have to worry about God holding up his side of things. Interpretation belongs to God, the future belongs to God – God will not forget us. That’s trusting God. Waiting on God means all we need to worry about is being ready for when God decides to move. G Cambell Morgan says it like this, “waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.” Let me put a picture on the screen. I say something cliché like “wait on God’s timing” and a lot of folk think I mean the picture on the left (couch), when what I really mean is the picture on the right (starters pistol). That athlete is waiting. They are not actually doing anything. But he coiled. He is ready to spring. They are both waiting, but there is a difference in posture. Did you know that Navy Seals train almost constantly? Like they get back from a mission, and they don’t go sit on the couch. They get up the next morning and resume training. They have to shoot X amount of bullets, they have to run x amount of laps and do whatever their exercises are. Every day, whether they are being sent out or not – they are ready. I was listening to a Seal explain it like this – they do these exercises to keep up the muscle memory. They draw their gun a 100 hundred times and shoot a target on their day off, so that when they are in the middle of a mission, the arm muscles automatically know what to do. This is the way we wait on God. When I say, “wait on God” what I mean is let your posture be that of athlete waiting for the starters pistol. Let your posture be that of a soldier waiting for the command to go out. If you Trust God, then waiting on God means you are getting ready for God to move.

          And there’s one last piece of this. At the end of this story – Joseph is still in jail. Like, we’re gonna start next week – still in jail. God was with him every step of the way, every day he was in jail – but he had to wait for YEARS to get God’s answer to his prayer. Waiting on God takes preparation, like a Navy Seal, but it also takes endurance. So take a lesson from Joseph, pray for endurance during injustice. God will not forget you. Whatever season you are going through, whatever oppression or darkness you are facing – God will not forget you. Even if we have to endure for years – God will not forget you. So pray for endurance, pray for patience, pray for trust – that daily reminder that the future is God’s and he’s got this. God will not forget you.

          I think about those missionaries who worked for years before they say even one person come to know Jesus, and I wonder if I could trust God that much. Can I wait patiently, and trust that God’s timeline is better than my own? In the midst of injustice and fear and stress and worry – can I endure, can I believe that God is truly the one in control? It’s a simple thing, but it’s not an easy thing. And so I’ll leave you with this: Every single time the world throws a fear in your face, may you remind yourself to trust in God. May you wait on God like a soldier waiting for a command, like an athlete waiting for a starters pistol. May you endure through every injustice you face – by holding onto the simple truth: God will not forget you. Amen.


[1] Word Biblical Commentary.


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