Pit to Pinnacle; Prisoner to Prime Minister (Gen 41:1-57)


Genesis 41:1-57; Key Verse: Gen 41:28

"God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do."

Do you sense that God is actively yet silently working in you when your life seems to be "getting worse"? Joseph's life clearly got worse and worse for 13 years from Genesis 37-40. Yet, our God--the God of mystery and sovereignty--displays his perfect providence in the evolving story of Joseph's life. The theme of "The Hidden God" seems quite appropriate, as God allowed Joseph's life to go from bad to worse, even though he is "innocent." So far we have considered:
We can consider Gen 41:1-57 in the following parts:
  1. The Problem (Gen 41:1-8): Pharaoh is troubled by his dreams.
  2. The Plan (Gen 41:9-24): Have Joseph interpret the dreams.
  3. The Providence of God; the Point (Gen 41:25-32): God will do what only God does.
  4. The Proposal (Gen 41:33-36): Look for a discerning and wise man.
  5. The Promotion (Gen 41:37-45): From prisoner to prime minister, from pit to pinnacle, from the dungeon of despair to the height of glory.
  6. The Program (Gen 41:46-49): Joseph collected food during the seven years of abundance.
  7. The Profession (Gen 41:50-52): God has made me forget; God has made me fruitful.
  8. The Provision (Gen 41:53-57): Through Joseph, God fed the world.

The sovereignty and providence of God is the overarching theme. God always does what pleases God Himself (Ps 115:3; 135:6; Jn 3:8). God is fulling his preordained purpose to save not only Joseph, but also Joseph's family, as well as all of Egypt and the surrounding nations including Canaan, where Joseph's family resided. The key verse of Joseph's story is best expressed in Gen 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." God would save Joseph and his family not only from the immediate famine, but also save them in far more profound ways that reveals the glory of God, and that delivers them from their own evil and dysfunction.

Theme: The sovereign God exalts his suffering servant to kingship in order to save the world.

Goal: To encourage God's people to entrust themselves to their sovereign God's good providence.

I. The Problem (Gen 41:1-8): Pharaoh is troubled by his dreams

Forgotten by man, but not by God. The last verse of the previous chapter says, "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him" (Gen 40:23). As a result, Joseph, when his hopes of being released from prison was high, continues to languish in prison for two more years (Gen 41:1). Having one's high hopes dashed, might be more unbearable than a resignation to a situation with no hope at all. But though the cupbearer forgot Joseph for two years, God did not forget Joseph. After two more years in prison, at just the right time, God causes the forgetful cupbearer to remember Joseph. God accomplishes this by giving Pharaoh two dreams (Gen 41:1-7). "As it turns out, even the cupbearer's forgetfulness worked in Joseph's favor since, just at the opportune moment, he remembered Joseph and recounted his wisdom before the king." (Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology. 297).

Troubled and with no one who can help. In the morning, Pharaoh was troubled by his dreams (Gen 41:8a). He does not understand its meaning. He probably guesses that they forecast something ominous because it has something to do with the Nile, which is the source of fertility and prosperity for the nation (cf. Eze 29:3). Pharaoh sends for all the wise men and magicians to tell them his dreams. They were the wisest, best educated men of Pharaoh’s kingdom, schooled in the art of interpreting dreams, but none could interpret them (Gen 41:8b). Why not? The things of God can only be grasped and understood by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:10-16). The king's court grinds to a halt. Pharaoh is troubled because he does not know the meaning of the dreams God has given him, and not one of all his wise men can help him understand God's message.

II. The Plan (Gen 41:9-14): Have Joseph interpret the dreams

The rapidity of Joseph's change of status from slave to courtier. This predicament in the court finally jogs the cupbearer's memory of Joseph, who had interpreted his dream two years earlier. He tells Pharaoh what happened. Pharaoh had put him and the chief baker in prison. Each had a dream that same night. "A young Hebrew...a servant of the captain of the guard" (Gen 41:12) interpreted each dream for them, and it happened exactly as he had interpreted (Gen 41:9-13). "So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh" (Gen 41:14). The verbs in this verse expresses the urgency that Pharaoh felt and the rapidity of Joseph's metamorphosis from slave to courtier, from the "pit" or "dungeon" (Gen 37:20,22,24,28-29; 40:15) to Pharaoh's palace, and from humiliation to exaltation. This would not have happened if the cupbearer had remembered Joseph two years earlier when he was released from prison, for Joseph may have then been himself released from prison and forgotten. God is indeed sovereign as he fulfills all things exactly according to his preordained plan.

III. The Providence; the Point (Gen 41:15-32): God will do what only God does.

Only God gives a peace that quiets a troubled soul. When Joseph came before Pharaoh, Pharaoh said, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Gen 41:15). Imagine the proud king of a great nation asking a foreign slave and a convicted criminal for help and advise. Imagine Joseph a foreign slave and convict being the center of attention in a royal court. How would Joseph respond? "Oh yeah, sure I can do it." Instead, he corrects the great Pharaoh! He said, "I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires" (Gen 41:16). "With hasty brevity he points from himself to God as the sole revealer, disposer and benefector." (Altar) The KJV says, "God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace" (shalom). Joseph is insistent that it will not be his own skill but God who will interpret Pharaoh's dream. Joseph is not only being humble about himself. At the same time he is offering something far better: a divine interpretation of the dreams. For it is God who will give the answer to the troubled Pharaoh, which will give him peace (shalom).

No one can explain the dream. Pharaoh proceeds to tell his dream in Gen 41:17-21. In retelling his dream Pharaoh stresses especially the negative aspect of the cows being ugly (Gen 41:3,19), that is, evil. Pharaoh is not just exaggerating; at some level he knows that his dream intimates something really terrible. In telling his second dream (Gen 41:22-24), Pharaoh stresses the failure of his magicians to interpret the dream to his satisfaction: "I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me" (Gen 41:24). Can Joseph now do what no other wise man in all of Egypt could? Will God reveal to Joseph the meaning of these dreams?

God reveals what he will do. Joseph says to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same" (Gen 41:25a). Just as Joseph's two dreams about his brothers bowing down to him had a single meaning, Pharaoh's dreams also have a single meaning. Joseph continues, "God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do" (Gen 41:25b). In giving Pharaoh this dream, God has disclosed what he is going to do in the near future. Through his servant Joseph, God will make it clear to Pharaoh what God is about to do in Gen 41:26-28. Seven years of bountiful harvests will be followed by seven years of poor harvests -- that is the meaning of the dream. Seven years of plenty and seven years of famine -- that is what God is about to do.

What God will do is fixed and certain. Notice that Joseph stresses the years of famine. Joseph devotes but one statement to the years of plenty (Gen 41:29), but five statements to the years of famine (Gen 41:30-31). Joseph makes his case and loudly sounds the alarm by this bounty of dramatic sentences. Seven years of famine was almost unheard of in Egypt, while the Nile normally flooded the fields every year with moisture and fertile silt. Thus Joseph warns, "The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon" (Gen 41:32). This plan is set and fixed by the sovereign God. God's providence calls for seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. The ESV says, "And the doubling of Pharaoh's dream means that the thing is fixed by God" (Gen 41:32).

IV. The Proposal (Gen 41:33-38): Look for a discerning and wise man.

What God has determined calls not for resignation, but action. Instead of resigning to a sure thing, Joseph calls for action. "...the matter has been firmly decided by God... And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man..." (Gen 41:32-33). Joseph's emphasis on the certainty and imminence of what God will soon do, is not a call for resignation but action--exactly as in the preaching of the prophets. What is theologically noteworthy is the way in which the strong predestination content of the speech is combined with a strong summons to action. The fact that God has determined the matter, that God hastens to bring it to pass, is precisely the reason for responsible leaders to take measures. When Paul was planting the church in Corinth, he experienced much opposition. Perhaps he was discouraged. But Acts 18:9-10 says, "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: 'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.'” It could be reasoned that if God has many people in Corinth, Paul could leave or stop speaking. But it is because God has many people in Corinth, that Paul is to keep on speaking despite the persecution. The fact that God is sovereign and will fulfill his preordained purpose is never a biblical reason for resignation to God's sovereignty, since God will do whatever he has decided regardless of man's response. Rather, through out Scripture, God's preordained plan is always a call for responsible action.

God's wisdom brings peace. Joseph goes on to propose what Pharaoh can do to ease the dreadful effects of the coming famine in Gen 41:33-36. The gist of Joseph's proposal is to "look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt" (Gen 41:33). "The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials" (Gen 41:37). The news about the coming famine is horrible, but Joseph's proposal sounded good and sound to Pharaoh and his court. The prudent proposal of Joseph caused the troubled Pharaoh to be at peace. Joseph's proposal and practical call to action so pleased and moved Pharaoh that he asked a rhetorical question, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Gen 41:38) Even a proud pagan king was able to recognize the spirit of God in a lowly slave and prisoner.

V. The Promotion (Gen 41:39-45): From prisoner to prime minister, from pit to pinnacle, from the dungeon of despair to the height of glory.

From prisoner to prime minister? Joseph would have been happy just to be set free from prison. But he is in for a surprise. Pharaoh said, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you” (Gen 41:39-40). Joseph was likely shocked. He could not believe what he just heard. Will Pharaoh actually do what he just said: Make him the prime minister of Egypt and the second in command only to the great Pharaoh?

Conferring honor, power, authority and blessing. Pharaoh repeats, confirms and finalizes what he had just said, “'I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.' Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck" (Gen 41:41-42). The signet ring gives Joseph the authority to validate documents in the king's name. Placing a gold chain around Joseph's neck is a well-known Egyptian symbol of investiture (conferring honor), one of the highest distinctions the king could bestow. "He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, 'Make way!' Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt" (Gen 41:43). "Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt'” (Gen 41:44). Pharaoh also gives Joseph a new, Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah -- probably meaning "God speaks and lives," and gives him a wife of nobility, Asenath, daughter of an Egyptian priest (Gen 41:45). Overnight Joseph is transformed from an imprisoned Hebrew slave to an Egyptian nobleman; even more, he becomes prime minister of Egypt without having to climb up the ranks.

VI. The Program (Gen 41:46-49): Joseph collected food during the seven years of abundance.

Diligent stewardship after a momentous promotion. After this miraculous promotion from prisoner to prime minister at age 30, Joseph does not retreat to recover from his recent travails. Instead, as he was entrusted with stewardship by Pharaoh, he travels throughout the land of Egypt and gathers up 20% of each harvest during the years of plenty and stores it in granaries in the cities (Gen 41:46-48). "Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure" (Gen 41:49). At first careful records were kept of the amount of grain put into storage. But as the volume increased, keeping careful records became impossible and finally was abandoned.

VII. The Profession (Gen 41:50-52)

Joy in the midst of sorrow; fruitfulness in spite of suffering. In addition to making the harvests fruitful, God also makes Joseph's marriage fruitful, giving him two sons (Gen 51:50). Joseph names the firstborn Manasseh ("making to forget"), for he says, "God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household" (Gen 41:51). The second son he names Ephraim ("twice fruitful"), for he says, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering" (Gen 41:52). Often we think that we experience joy by avoiding sorrow and suffering. But Joseph experienced and tasted God's victory and fruitfulness through much trouble and suffering, especially in his family. Surely, he missed his father Jacob who loved him more than his own life. Surely, he could never really forget being ruthlessly thrown into a pit and heartlessly sold as a slave by his very own dear blood brothers. Likely, he himself could not overcome such unbearable agony of soul. But he confessed and acknowledged that it was God who helped him to overcome himself, for he said, "God has made me forget" and "God has made me fruitful" (Gen 41:51-52).

VIII. The Provision (Gen 41:53-57)

After the seven years of abundance ended, the seven evil years of famine come. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. As the famine was increasingly felt throughout Egypt, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the hungry Egyptians as well as to those from all the surrounding countries (Gen 41:53-57).

From this dramatic story, we learn numerous things. We shall comment on several things (A-F):

  1. Always take responsibility. Joseph was not fatalistic. He did not give in to despair. He honored God by always being responsible. Knowing that God is sovereign did not cause him to surrender to blind resignation, but spurred him toward decisive action.
  2. Boldly speak up without fear before God. Joseph was not self-conscious or fearful when he spoke to the most powerful man in the world.
  3. Changes should not change you. Joseph's life changed drastically for the worse. The clothing motif spells a change in Joseph's status. Jacob's gift of the robe to Joseph elevated him among his brothers. When his brothers stripped him, he descended from a favored son to a slave (Gen 37:23). When Potiphar's wife disrobed him, it sealed his transition from trusted slave to prisoner (Gen 39:12). His change of clothing in order to come before Pharaoh (Gen 41:14) suggests that the clothing motif has now come full circle. Despite all these changes, Joseph was not changed by his situation, because the Lord was with him (Gen 39:2-3, 21,23).
  4. Delight always in the welfare of others. Joseph's concern was primarily for others: his father, his brothers, his master Potiphar, the prison warden, the king's cupbearer, and now even the great Pharaoh. Because Joseph truly cared for others, his heart was free to give his best when he advised Pharaoh the best course to take in view of the upcoming famine.
  5. Entrust your life and future to God. Joseph's life has been at the mercy of his brothers, of his master Pothiphar and his wife, the chief cupbearer, and now Pharaoh. Yet, Joseph entrusted his life and future to the hand of God.
  6. Focus on God always. Joseph's speech referenced God at every opportunity without coming across as pushy or overbearing (Gen 41:16,25,28,32).
Jesus is the ultimate Joseph:
  1. Jesus took full responsibility for our sins and paid the highest price for it.
  2. Jesus boldly spoke up without fear before his murderer's accusers.
  3. Jesus never changed his mercy and grace toward us no matter how much we broke his heart (Heb 13:8).
  4. Jesus' love for us for our welfare and benefit never ever ceased (Jn 13:1; Jer 31:3).
  5. Jesus entrusted his entire life and death to God (Ps 31:5; Lk 23:46).
  6. Jesus focused on God always, and lived in the very bosom of his Father (Jn 1:18).

Though there are similarities between Joseph and Jesus, there are also significant differences. Joseph took responsibility that eventually benefited himself. But when Jesus took responsibility for us, he only stood to lose everything and he did. Joseph spoke up to Pharoah who needed his help. But Jesus spoke up to the religious leaders who were determined to kill him, no matter what he said.

Do you know Jesus, the ultimate Joseph, who had everything but gave it all up, so that we who have nothing can gain everything?

  1. Greidanus, Sidney, Preaching Christ from Genesis. Chap. 21. Joseph's Rise to Power in Egypt (Gen 41:1-57). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmas Publishing Co. 2007, 394-409.
  2. Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP. 1967, 194-198.
  3. Altar, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York: W W Norton & Company. 1996, 234-243.
  4. Duncan, Ligon. Pharaoh's Dream (Gen 41:1-37). Ruler in Egypt (Gen 41:38-57).
  5. Johnson, S. Lewis. From Prison to Prime Minister (Gen 41:1-57).
  6. Deffinbaugh, Deffin. From the Pit to the Palace (Gen 41:1-57).
  7. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary.
  8. Commentary on Genesis, Vol 2, by John Calvin.
  9. Exposition of Genesis by Herbert Carl Leupold.

Deleted Sermon

God is sovereign; God does whatever pleases Himself. Ps 115:3 says, "Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him." Ps 135:6 says, "The Lord does whatever pleases him." Jn 3:8 says, "The wind blows wherever it pleases." The wind represents the Spirit of God. The story of Joseph clearly reveals the God who does whatever pleases God Himself.

  • God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery by his own jealous brothers.
  • God allowed Joseph to be falsely accused of rape and thrown into a foreign prison with no human hope of ever being released.
  • God also gave specific dreams to the chief cupbearer and to Pharaoh at exactly the right time, and provided Joseph as the only one in all the land who is able to interpret those dreams.
  • Despite Joseph's life getting from bad to worse, God was doing whatever pleased Himself in order to elevate Joseph to prime minister of Egypt, so that through him, God would fulfill his own purpose of fulfilling Joseph's dreams and saving his family and Egypt from a famine. More than that, God would save all parties involved in profound ways that they could never ever have saved themselves.
How do I live in light of the God who is sovereign? Like Joseph in prison, like his brothers in the prison of their own darkness, and like ourselves in the confines of our own predicament, we cannot ever truly save ourselves. How do I reconcile the God who is sovereign and live my life in a way that acknowledges his sovereignty? There is no short and simple answer. But an answer would be to always humbly submit ourselves to his sovereignty no matter what difficulties I am facing in my own life.

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What is God's Love? (John 13:1-38)


John 13:1-38; Key Verse: Jn 13:15

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

What is God's love? The theme of my sermon is: "God's love is to show you what you should do." God's love is not just a romantic good feeling in our heart. Rather, God's love through Christ has real practical expression in our life. The five parts of this sermon are:
  1. The Manner of Love (Jn 13:1-5)...is foot washing. How Jesus showed us his love.
  2. The Necessity of Love (Jn 13:6-11)...is cleansing. Why Jesus has to "wash" us.
  3. The Imperative of Love (Jn 13:12-17)...is to do as Jesus did. What Jesus wants us to do.
  4. The Pain of Love (Jn 13:18-30)...is to love a betrayer. When love cuts to the heart.
  5. The Glory of Love (Jn 13:31-38)...is to love God. Who love is ultimately directed toward.

All you need is love. Love is the biggest theme and topic of all time and through out human history, as the Beatles sang, "All You Need Is Love" written by John Lennon in 1967. Paul McCartney sang "Silly Love Songs": "You'd think that people would have had enough of silly love songs. But I look around me and I see it isn't so. Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs. And what's wrong with that?" We humans can never get enough of love. But what is love like?

The closest approximation of God's love is parental love. Perhaps, the closest approximation of God's love is a parent's love for their child. When my daughter gave birth to her first son, Timothy Lewis Herman, on Thanksgiving day 2012, I witnessed the sheer joy and love of motherhood. Holding her son and looking at him, she said, "I am so happy just to take care of him all day and do nothing else." When he grows up she surely wants nothing but the very best for him, and she would teach and show him all that she can because of her love for him. I am simply expressing what all moms and dads want for their kids: to grow healthy, to be successful, to have good friends, to marry well, and to make their parents so proud of them. God's love for us is all of this and more.

What was Jesus' last practical display of love before he died? On his very last night before he died, what could Jesus do to show most clearly to his disciples whom he loved just how much he loved them? If you knew the last day of your life, what would be the most important thing that you do or tell someone you love? Give them some money? Promise them a happy and successful life? Hug and kiss them tightly with tears? In Jn 13:1ff, Jesus would show his disciples whom he loved "the full extent of his love" (Jn 13:1b; NIV 1984). The 2011 NIV says, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." How would you love someone to the end with the full extent of your love? This sermon is not a comprehensive verse by verse/word by word exegesis, but an overview of how Jesus showed his full extent of love for those he loved.

I. The Manner of Love (Jn 13:1-5)

God is love. Jn 13:1. "It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." What does "to the end" mean? It means that Jesus loved them to the very end of his life. It presupposes that they way Jesus displays his unflagging love for his own disciples is in the cross immediately ahead, and in the act of self-abasing love, the foot washing, that anticipates the cross. The primary attribute of God is that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:8,16). All that God expresses to us, and allows to happen to us--even some horrible things that we do not comprehend--comes from the unchanging attribute that God is love. Jesus could show his friends no greater love than to lay down his life for them (Jn 15:13). Thus, one who does not know or understand that Jesus died for them, would not know or understand the full extent of love.

The manifold expression of love. This passage clearly shows the love of Jesus. But it also shows other matchless attributes of Jesus:

  • The humility of Jesus (see below), for he served others in spite of who he was by condescending himself more than anyone else ever did.
  • The endurance of Jesus, for he served others in spite of what he was going through by genuinely thinking of and considering the needs and comforts of others.
What do you do with knowledge? Jn 1:3. "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God." Knowledge puffs up (1 Cor 8:1). Absolute power corrupts absolutely. With such power, status and knowledge at his disposal, we might expect Jesus to defeat the devil in an immediate confrontation, and to devastate Judas who had already prompted him (Jn 1:2) with an unstoppable blast of divine wrath. Instead, he washes his disciples' feet (Jn 13:4-5), including the feet of the betrayer.

Foot washing is seemingly unnecessary, stunning and shocking. Doubtless the disciples would have been happy to wash Jesus' feet. But they could not conceive of washing one another's feet. Some Jews reserved foot washing only to Gentile slaves, or women and children and pupils. The reluctance of Jesus' disciples to volunteer for such a task is culturally understandable. Also, there is no instance in either Jewish or Greco-Roman sources of a superior washing the feet of an inferior. But here Jesus reverses the roles. His act of humility is as unnecessary as it is stunning, and is simultaneously a display of love (Jn 13:1b), a symbol of saving clensing (Jn 13:6-9), and a model of Christian conduct (Jn 1:12-17).

The humility of God. When Jesus "took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist" (Jn 13:4), he adopted the dress of a menial slave, dress that was looked down upon in both Jewish and Gentile circles. As Jesus "poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him" (Jn 13:5), he demonstrated his claim that "I am among you as one who serves" (Lk 22:27; cf. Mk 10:45). Jesus who was "in very nature God...made himself nothing" (Phil 2:6-7). Indeed, Jesus "became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Phip 2:8) The matchless self-emptying of the eternal Son, the eternal Word exchanges the form of God for the form of a servant. Jesus dons our flesh and goes open-eyed to the cross so that his deity is revealed in our flesh, supremely at the moment of greatest weakness and greatest service.

What does foot washing mean practically? Why does God want to wash our feet? There are many things to say. But there are two things that God's love expressed as foot washing clearly are not:

  • It is not tolerance. Modern people think of love as accepting all the practices and beliefs of everyone. It is to not get angry with others in the name of tolerance. But real love is engagement; it is washing feet. In Jesus' day, people's feet were dirty, infected and cut. Loving them would involve washing them, which would hurt. Rebecca Pippert, Christian speaker and author, said,
    • “We tend to be taken aback by the thought that God could be angry. How can a deity who is perfect and loving ever be angry?...We take pride in our tolerance of the excesses of others. So what is God's problem?... But love detests what destroys the beloved. Real love stands against the deception, the lie, the sin that destroys. Nearly a century ago the theologian E.H. Glifford wrote: 'Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.'... Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference... How can a good God forgive bad people without compromising himself? Does he just play fast and loose with the facts? 'Oh, never mind...boys will be boys'. Try telling that to a survivor of the Cambodian 'killing fields' or to someone who lost an entire family in the Holocaust. No. To be truly good one has to be outraged by evil and implacably hostile to injustice.” If God loves you, He will hate the evil in you. The more God loves you, the angrier He may get with you.
  • It is not just romance. We think of love as being attracted. Attraction may not just be toward physical attributes. We are also attracted to someone for their success, intellect, brilliance, abilities. But the essence of love is foot washing and service, not a feeling of attraction. Today, "I love you," means "You make me feel good." But love as foot washing is to serve others in spite of their lack of attractiveness.
II. The Necessity of Love (Jn 13:6-11)

The disciples do not understand that the foot washing refers to the cross. Doubtless all the disciples were extremely embarrassed by what Jesus was doing. For most of them, their embarrassment bred beleaguered uncomfortable silence. But for Peter, he had to object indignantly, spluttering in astonishment and incomprehension, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" (Jn 13:6) But Jesus expects him to submit to the washing in faith, even though the disciples cannot yet understand that the one whom they venerate as the Messiah must go to the cross (Jn 13:7). What they will later understand does not refer to the foot washing, but to the passion to which the foot washing points. After Jesus' death/exaltation, and certainly after the descent of the Spirit, they will understand.

To have a part with Jesus absolutely requires washing, which symbolizes Christ's atoning, cleansing death. When Peter understandably and emphatically protests (Jn 13:8a), Jesus responds, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (Jn 13:8b). This means that unless the Lamb of God has taken away a person's sin (Jn 1:29), has washed that person, he or she can have "no part" with Jesus, which in Jewish thought can refer to participation in eschatological blessings (Mt 24:51; Rev 20:6, 22:19). Peter surely wanted to be linked with Jesus, even if he had not himself grasped that the basis of the cleansing foreshadowed by the washing of his feet lay ahead in the hideous ignominy of the barbarous cross. Thus, his unrestrained rejoinder: not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn 13:9)

Though already saved once and for all through Christ, confession of sin is still necessary. The thought of Jn 13:10 is not dissimilar to John's first epistle addressed to Christians who have already believed (1 Jn 5:13) and received eternal life (1 Jn 2:25), where John insists that continuing confession of sin is necessary (1 Jn 1:9), as is continued dependence upon Jesus, who is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 2:1,2).

The supreme display of Jesus' love for his own. The disciples were not yet aware that the foot washing points, in various ways, to spiritual cleansing based on Christ's death, and that the foot washing and Jesus' atoning death are the supreme displays of Jesus' love for his own (Jn 13:1b). The foot washing was shocking to the disciples, but not half as shocking as the notion of a Messiah who would die the hideous and shameful death of crucifixion, the death of the damned. But the two events -- the foot washing and the crucifixion -- are truly of a piece: the revered and exalted Messiah assumes the role of the despised servant for the good of others. This plus the notion of cleansing, explains why the foot washing can point so effectively to the cross.

III. The Imperative of Love (Jn 13:12-17)

Jesus wanted two things from his disciples through his foot washing. By asking, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (Jn 13:12) what did Jesus want for his disciples through his shocking foot washing? Two things:

  1. He wanted them to know that the foot washing points to his impending crucifixion and death that would cleanse them (Jn 1:29).
  2. He wanted a fellowship of the cleansed that he is creating to be characterized by the same love (Jn 13:34-35).
After pointing to his atoning sacrifice through foot washing (Jn 13:6-8), Jesus proceeds to the exemplary nature of the foot washing in this part. By remembering Jesus' washing of them, he wanted the same self-abnegation for the sake of serving others. That means that the foot washing is almost bound to have exemplary significance, just as Christ's death, however unique, has exemplary force (Mk 10:35-45; Jn 12:24-26)

"Do as I have done for you." Whether or not his disciples understood, Jesus proceeds to explain what he has done by answering the question he asked in Jn 13:12. Jesus was indeed what they called him: "Teacher" and "Lord" (Jn 13:13). But now that Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, has washed his disciples' feet - an unthinkable act! - there is every reason why they "also should wash one another's feet" (Jn 13:14), and have no conceivable reason for refusing to do so. Jesus says, "I have set you an example" (Jn 13:15a). The word hypodeigma suggests both "example" and "pattern" (Heb 4:11, 8:5, 9:25; Jas 5:10; 2 Pet 2:6). "...that you should do as I have done for you" (Jn 13:15b).

Humility requires the lowering of oneself before another. To do what Jesus said requires humility - the lowering of oneself before another. But human pride always manifests itself in a stratified society by refusing to take the lower role. But Jesus did so. Now his disciples are told to follow his clear example and pattern. Any Christian zeal divorced from transparent humility sounds hollow, even pathetic.

Jesus did so, can you refuse? Jn 13:16 has often been poorly understood and explained (Mt 10:24; Lk 6:40; Jn 15:20). Here Jesus deepens the teacher/pupil contrast by introducing two other pairs: master/servant (slave) and superior (one who sends)/messenger (apostolos). The point of the aphorism in this context is painfully clear: no emissary has the right to think he is exempt from tasks cheerfully undertaken by the one who sent him, and no slave has the right to judge any menial task beneath him after his master has already performed it.

Do we just say "amen" and not do anything? "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" (Jn 13:17). "These things" refer to Jn 13:14-15,16. There is a form of religious piety that utters a hearty "Amen!" to the most stringent demands of discipleship, but which rarely does anything about them. Jesus has already condemned those who hear his words but who fail to keep them (Jn 12:47-48; cf. 8:31). Now he emphasizes the truth, in line with a repeated stress in the Gospels (Mt 7:21-27; Mk 3:35; Lk 6:47-48) and elsewhere (Heb 12:14; Jas 1:22-25).

How can we obey? We can only when we realize what Jesus has done for us.

IV. The Pain of Love (Jn 13:18-30)

The best Christian experience without becoming a Christian. The story of Judas is always painful to recount. Doubtless when Jesus washed the disciples' feet he included the feet of Judas (Jn 13:5). It is easy to demonize Judas (Jn 13:2,10-11,27,30) without trying to learn from him. We say that Satan entered Judas (Jn 13:27). But Jesus had also rebuked Peter, "Get behind me, Satan" (Mt 16:23). What can we learn about Judas? Washed by Jesus Judas may have been; cleansed he was not (Jn 6:63-64). Clearly no rite, even if performed by Jesus himself, ensures spiritual cleansing. Judas had the best small group experience, the best preacher, the best moral example, the most incredible training anyone has ever had. All the disciples went out evangelizing, preaching and casting out demons. The Spirit of God used Judas' talents for the benefit of people around him. He had the most incredible input and output as a follower of Jesus, but he never became a Christian; he never became a child of God. What does this mean? The gospel never clicked with him. He never understood it. He did not perceive the full extent of Jesus' love for him (Jn 13:1b).

Rejecting God's love invites the devil. Without touching on Jesus prediction of his betrayal (Jn 13:18-26), let us proceed to Jesus giving Judas a piece of bread (Jn 13:26). What does this mean? It was Jesus' final gesture of supreme love for Judas (Jn 13:1b). How did Judas respond? Newbigin writes, "So the final gesture of affection precipitates the final surrender of Judas to the power of darkness. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has neither understood it nor mastered it." (The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel, p. 173, 1982.) Judas received the bread but not the love. Instead of breaking him and urging him to contrition, it hardened his resolve. "As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him" (Jn 13:27).

V. The Glory of Love (Jn 13:31-38)

Glory means the visible manifestation of God's self-disclosure. After Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once" (Jn 13:31-32). What is glory? Glory (doxa) is a word used to denote the visible manifestation of God's self-disclosure in a theophany (Ex 33:22; Dt 5:22), or even of the "glorious" status of God's people when He rises to save them (Isa 60:1). Thus, when God's people are aware of God's presence, they cry "Glory" (Ps 29:9), which shows how the word almost means "praise" (Jn 5:41). In the prologue of John's Gospel, glory or God's self-disclosure began not in a spectacular display of blinding light but in the matrix of human existence with the incarnation (Jn 1:14). Now Jesus brings to a climax this theme of glory. To John, it is clear that the supreme moment of divine self-disclosure, the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross. "God is glorified in" (Jn 13:31,32) Jesus' temporal obedience, sacrifice, death, resurrection and exaltation -- one event; Jesus, "the Son of Man is glorified" in the same event, partly because by this event Jesus re-enters the glory he had with the Father before the Word became incarnate (Jn 1:14), before the world began (Jn 17:5, 24). The entire event displays the saving sovereignty of God, God's dawning kingdom.

Why is the new command? What should we do when we realize God's glory and self-disclosure? Jesus lays out what he expects of his disciples while he is away (Jn 13:33): “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35).

Why is this command "new"?

  1. The key to this "new command," which is immediately related to Jesus' foot washing, is "As I have loved you" (Jn 13:34) and "as I have done for you" (Jn 13:15). This command is new because the standard of comparison is Jesus' love (Jn 13:1b), which was just exemplified in the foot washing (Jn 13:4-5, 12-17). But since the foot washing points to his death (Jn 13:5-10), these disciples would in a few days begin to experience a standard of love they would explore throughout their pilgrimage.
  2. It is a command designed to reflect the relationship of love that exists between the Father and the Son (Jn 8:29, 10:18, 12:49-50, 14:31, 15:10), designed to bring about amongst the members of the nascent messianic community the kind of unity that characterizes Jesus and his Father (Jn 17:21-23). The new command is threfore not only the obligation of the new covenant community to respond to the God who has loved them and redeemed them by the oblation of his Son, and their response to his gracious election which constituted them as his people, it is a privilege which, rightly loved out, proclaims the true God before a watching world (Jn 13:35). Orthodoxy without principial/elementary obedience to this characteristic/basic command of the new covenant is merely so much humbug.
Can we obey this new command? The more we recognize the depth of our own sin, the more we recognize the love of the Savior; the more we appreciate the love of the Savior, the higher his standard appears; the higher his standard appears, the more we recognize in our selfishness, our innate self-centeredness, the depth of our own sin. With a standard like this, no thoughtful believer can ever say, this side of the parousia, "I am perfectly keeping the basic stipulation of the new covenant."

How will others know that we are Christians? It is "by this" foot washing love (Jn 13:35). There is a remarkable testimony of Tertullian, writing about a century later than John. The pagans of his day marvelled at the love of the Christian fellowship, especially as it faced sometimes ferocious persecution: "See how they love one another!...how they are ready even to die for one another!"

Despite Peter's insistence on his undying loyalty, he would soon disown Jesus not once but three times (Jn 13:36-38). Despite his inability to do what he said, Peter should not be harshly judged, for he speaks out of confused devotion and a lack of self-knowledge. At this point in his pilgrimage, Peter's intentions and self-assessment vastly outstrip his strength. Nonetheless, three decades later, Peter would lay down his life and glorify God (Jn 21:18-19).

In summation, let us repeat that:

  1. The Manner of Love (Jn 13:1-5)...is foot washing. This is how Jesus shows us his love.
  2. The Necessity of Love (Jn 13:6-11)...is cleansing. This is why Jesus has to die in order to "wash" us.
  3. The Imperative of Love (Jn 13:12-17)...is to do as Jesus did. This is what Jesus wants us to do as his disciples.
  4. The Pain of Love (Jn 13:18-30)...is to love a betrayer. This is when love cuts us to the heart.
  5. The Glory of Love (Jn 13:31-38)...is to love God. This is who love is ultimately directed toward.
No one just does what they are told. Even if they seemingly do so, they may do so for all the wrong reasons. We may love others, serve others, teach them the Bible, etc, to prove to ourselves that we can, and to show others that we are good Christians.


1. What did Jesus know (Jn 13:1,3,11,18,38)? Knowing all this, what did he do, and why? (Jn 13:1b, 4-5)? What does this show about him?

2. How was the devil working (Jn 13:2, 27, 30)? What do you learn?

3. How did Peter respond to what Jesus did and why? (Jn 6,8a,9) What did Jesus teach him and the disciples in response (Jn 13:7,8b,10)? What do you learn from this (Jn 1:29; 15:3)?

4. What did Jesus want his disciples to understand and do (Jn 13:12-17; Php 2:5-8)?

5. What did Jesus want his disciples to know and why (Jn 13:18-30)? How did Jesus continue to love Judas (Jn 13:26)?

6. What is glory and why did Jesus talk about glory (Jn 13:31-33; 1:14, 12:23,28,31-32)? How is Jesus’ command a new command (Jn 13:34-35, 4-5, 12-17; 17:21-23; Dt 6:5; Lev 19:8)? What did Jesus know about Peter (Jn 13:36-38)?

*** Why is love the sign of Jesus’ disciples (Jn 13:35)? What can you learn about Jesus’ love for you (and others)?

  1. Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1991. IV. Jesus' Self-Disclosure in His Cross and Exaltation (Jn 13:1-20:31), 455-487.
  2. Keller, Timothy. The Love of Jesus (Jn 13:1-21). Sermon. Apr 26, 1998.

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Prepared By Providence In Prison; The "Hidden" God, Part IV (Gen 40:1-23)


Genesis 40:1-23; Key Verse: 40:23

"The chief cupbearer...did not remember Joseph; he forgot him."

Prepared by Providence in Pharaoh's Prison. A nice title with alliteration is "(Joseph) Prepared by Providence in Pharaoh's Prison." Defining providence, the Westminster Larger Catechism says, “God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful, preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.” The important words are "'preserving' and 'governing' all his creatures and all their actions." The providence of God is something that governs all the actions of men, even their thoughts.  Acts 17:18 says, "In him we live and move and have our being." Dt 30:20 says, "For the Lord is your life." Job 12:10 says, "In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind." Dan 5:23 says, "God...holds in his hand your life and all your ways." Do you learn to see the God of providence in the details of your daily lives, especially when you confront disappointments?

Providence and Sovereignty: Two important related words. Always, providence is God's sovereignty. Also, God's sovereignty is expressed through his providence. Sometimes, it falls in all the right places. More often that we would like, it seems to fall in all the wrong places, as it did with Joseph. How we each deal with providence and sovereignty will greatly impact our lives. We know this truth: when bad things happen to us, we will get better if we do not become bitter. Yet, for some, bitterness may be harder to resist than adultery.

Doing good and getting bad results.

  • How do you deal with life when your hopes are raised to the heavens only to be dashed to pieces on the ground?
  • How do you respond when everything goes wrong after you have done everything right?
  • How do you see God's goodness when bad things happen to you?
In Gen 40:1-23, as we continue preaching through Genesis, we study about the "hidden" God in Joseph's imprisonment. May God bless you to see the goodness of God when God seemingly allows evil to fester and persist ll around you.

The "Hidden" God. The story of Joseph could exemplify the God who seems to be "hidden," quiet and silent in instances of life when we are in unbearable agony. From Gen 37:1-40:23 this "hidden" God seems to be deathly silent as Joseph's life gets progressively worse and worse:

  1. The "Hidden" God in Joseph's Suffering (Gen 37:2-36).
  2. The "Hidden" God in Judah's Sin (Gen 38:1-30).
  3. The "Hidden" God in Joseph's Temptations (Gen 39:1-23).
  4. The "Hidden" God in Joseph's Imprisonment (Gen 40:1-23).

Where is God when it hurts? What seems to be especially tough is that Joseph was doing all the right things and then wrong things resulted. He did what was good and bad things happened. He carried out his father's errand to go find his brothers, and he was ruthlessly stripped, thrown into a pit and sold into slavery (Gen 37:23-24,28). When Potiphar's wife repeatedly demanded to have sex with Joseph (Gen 39:7,10,12), he resisted her because it was wicked and a sin against God (Gen 39:9). He did what was good, godly and God glorifying. Yet he was falsely accused and thrown into prison (Gen 39:17-20). In today's passage, Joseph interpreted the cupbearer's dream correctly, thus expecting to be released from prison, and the cupbearer conveniently forgot about him (Gen 40:23). Where is God when it hurts? Where is God when we need him more than ever?

Gen 40:1-23 involves:

  1. 2 special prisoners (Gen 40:1-4).
  2. 2 unique dreams (Gen 40:4-8).
  3. 2 specific interpretations (Gen 40:9-19).
  4. 2 opposite outcomes (Gen 40:20-22).
  5. 1 devastating disappointment (Gen 40:23).

Good biblical lessons to put into practice. Over the years, as we studied Gen 40, we emphasized the following about Joseph:

  1. He was mindful toward his 2 special prisoners and noticed that they were sad and dejected (Gen 40:5-6). We Christians should have a heart for others, in order to reach out to them and serve them, as Joseph did.
  2. He gave all credit to God when he said, "Do not interpretations belong to God?" (Gen 40:8b). We should always give all credit and glory to God no matter what we do.
  3. He boldly taught the Bible and proclaimed painful truths (Gen 40:18-19). We should not compromise when teaching the Bible.
  4. He had to learn patience when the cup bearer forgot about him for two full years (Gen 40:23-41:1). We should learn the virtue of patience and to wait on God's time schedule.
  5. He had to overcome bitter disappointment after his hopes of being released were raised. We should trust God's better plan.

These lessons regarding mindfulness, crediting God, bold teaching, learning patience, and overcoming disappointment are surely very important as we live out our Christian lives. When we do so, we can overcome our perpetual default of incurvatus in se (turned/curved inward on oneself). But how do we overcome our default to self? Do we simply say anthropocentrically to ourselves:

  1. Be mindful of others. Don't be self-centered.
  2. Give glory to God. Don't glorify yourself and steal God's honor and glory for yourself.
  3. Boldly teach the Bible without compromise.
  4. Be patient and wait on God.
  5. Overcome yourself and your disappointment.
  6. Now, just go do it!

We fail and we fall, for we are frail, fallible, flawed, and fallen. Surely, we should do so, and in fact must do so. Yet we fail and we fall because we are frail, fallible, flawed and fallen beings. Despite our best good intentions, even our best righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6), because our own hearts are deceptively deceitful and flawed (Jer 17:9). So, what can we do? Is there another angle or perspective to this text for our Christian lives other than good implied instructions and information. What might be the point and the perspective of the author of Genesis from this text? Let me suggest the following theocentric perspective:

  1. God's goodness gives hope in dark times (Gen 40:1-4).
  2. God opens His door of providence (Gen 40:5-11).
  3. God empowers us [as God divinely empowered Joseph to interpret dreams] (Gen 40:12-19).
  4. God fulfills His own purpose, which inadvertently adversely affected Joseph (Gen 40:20-23).
    1. God furthers His own glory by delaying the answer to Joseph's understandable desire to get out of prison.
    2. God leads our lives by circuitous paths. He establishes His own plan of salvation for us according to His divine purposes.
    3. God uses one event to accomplish multiple purposes.
    4. God is the main Actor, not Joseph or the chief cupbearer.
    5. God does whatever pleases Himself (Ps 115:3; 135:6).

I. God's Goodness (Gen 40:1-4)

Planned by God. The offenses of the cup bearer and the baker were committed in the ordinary course of life. But ultimately the Scriptures say they were planned by God. Also, they were planned by God for the welfare of Joseph. That is why the cup bearer ultimately offended Pharaoh and why the baker did too, because it was by this that ultimately Joseph came to the attention of Pharaoh. It was by this that he was ultimately made second in the land, right behind Pharaoh (Gen 41:41-44). It was by this that all of the Egyptians were made to bow before Joseph, and that Joseph might be the deliverer of the chosen family when they came down from Egypt from the famine. So God works in the small things of life as well as in the great things. Prov 21:1 says, "In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.” All of this was only possible because of the offense of the cup bearer and the baker.

Prepared by God. From the king's cup bearer and the baker, who were regarded as important high ranking servants of the king's court, Joseph surely learned the way of the palace and the intrigues of Pharaoh's court. Through these life experiences, God was "hidden" and behind the scenes in training, disciplining, sustaining, and preparing Joseph for what was to come. In his commentary on Genesis, John Calvin says, "God, before he opened the door for his servant's deliverance, entered into the very prison to sustain him with his strength." Joseph likely never thought, "God is training me through this hardship." But that was what the "hidden" God was doing. If asked in the future, Joseph would likely say that he learned more about life from being in prison than from being favored and loved by his father at home.

Assigned by God (through Potiphar). Gen 39:4 says, "The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them." The captain of the guard is Potiphar (Gen 39:1), who had burned with anger when he heard his wife's accusation against Joseph and put him in prison (Gen 39:19-20). This shows that either Potiphar has softened in his anger towards Joseph, or he has begun to suspect that perhaps Joseph was not, in fact, guilty of the things his wife charged him with. Whatever the case is, this is a sign of God’s favor on Joseph even in the midst of the prison.

II. God Opens Doors (Gen 40:5-11)

God focused rather than dwelling on past hurts. God gave dreams that burdened the 2 royal prisoners (Gen 40:5-8). When Joseph heard that they had dreams, he could have been skeptical, remembering his own dreams of being elevated to glory, but which only landed him as a forsaken slave and an abandoned prisoner. He could have said, "Just forget about your dreams. If someone interprets them for you, just do the opposite." Instead, he says, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams." (Gen 40:8b).

III. God Empowers (Gen 40:12-19)

In the lowest moment of his life, God was with Joseph to give him wisdom, insight and inspiration to interpret dreams. Though Joseph was helpless in all ways possible, the most important resource was at his disposal.

IV. God Fulfills His Purpose (Gen 40:20-23)

Forgotten. Joseph asked the cup bearer to remember him to Pharaoh when he all goes well with him in three days, so that he might be released from prison (Gen 40:14-15). But when the cup bearer was restored to his former position (Gen 40:21), he "forgot him" (Gen 40:23). He did not remember Joseph for two full years (Gen 41:1). Imagine Joseph's state of mind during this time.

Circuitous paths. John Calvin says, "When (God) might have delivered the holy man directly from prison, he chose to lead him around by circuitous paths, the better to prove his patience, and to manifest, by the mode of his deliverance, that he has wonderful methods of working, hidden from our view. He does this that we may learn not to measure, by our own sense, the salvation which he has promised us; but that we may suffer ourselves to be turned hither or thither by his hand, until he shall have performed his work." At this juncture Joseph had been a slave and a prisoner for 11 years. Two years later he would interpret Pharaoh's dream and become the second in command to Pharaoh.

Pain is God's megaphone. No one likes to experience the difficulties of life. But the difficulties of life are often the main means by which God gets our attention. C.S. Lewis says that pain in God's megaphone. May God help us to learn from Joseph's painful experience in jail, which was under divine providence. May God help us to remember that even the little, tiny affairs of our lives are affairs under his sovereign control, and it is in them that he wants to teach us, the things that make for our spiritual well being.

Another Joseph. Joseph was imprisoned, abandoned and forgotten in his dark dungeon. But centuries later, another Joseph was imprisoned, abandoned and forgotten in his dungeon of darkness, which was vastly deeper than anything Joseph ever encountered. Joseph was loved by his father Jacob, and trusted by his slave master Potiphar, and by the prison warden, so much so that they entrusted everything under Joseph's care. But the ultimate Joseph was abandoned and forsaken by everyone he knew and loved--his people, his own disciples, and even his own Father...because of our sins (2 Cor 5:21). In his dark dungeon Joseph experienced that the Lord was with him to comfort and strengthen him (Gen 39:21-23). But the ultimate Joseph was all alone on the cross with his desperate cry of dereliction, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34) Jesus, the ultimate Joseph was abandoned and forsaken, so that we who should be forsaken forever for our sins, will be welcomed into God's presence.

The "worst" providence. Jesus did everything right, and yet he experienced everything wrong. He loved the most and was hated by many. He was sinless, yet he was treated as the worst of sinners. He was the very embodiment of life and he tasted the very pangs of death. He should have been commended and rewarded, but was instead pummeled and punished. He was the emblem of justice, yet he tasted the most grievous injustice. More than anyone else who ever lived, he literally experienced the worst possible providence any man ever encountered. Yet, this worst providence of all, was the providence of love for all the people of God.

Do you see the "hidden" God of providence in the midst of your bitter disappointments and hurts? Do you know and experience God's presence with you in your darkest moments?


  1. Duncan, Ligon. Joseph Imprisoned (Gen 40:1-23). Sermon, April 2, 2000.
  2. Calvin, John. Commentary, (Gen 40:1-23). Commentary on Genesis 24 to 50 for download.
  3. Gill, John. Exposition of the Whole Bible.
  4. Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP. 1967, 192-194.
  5. Altar, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York: W W Norton & Company. 1996, 229-233.
  6. Johnson, S. Lewis. Joseph Prepared by Providence in Pharaoh's Prison.
  7. Piper, John. The Sale of Joseph and the Son of God. Sermon, Sep 9, 2007.

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The "Hidden" God in Joseph's Temptation (Gen 39:1-23)


Genesis 39:1-23; Key Verse: Gen 39:2a, 21a

"The Lord was with Joseph..."

Just say "No" to free sex? How does a believer overcome lust and sexual temptation in a sexually promiscuous society? Even if one avoids sexual contact, how do we overcome the wild imaginations of our mind and the allurement of sexually explicit pornographic images freely available on the internet? Do we just say "No" to free sex, porno, nudity, strip clubs, as we say "No" to drugs? In this famous episode of Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Gen 39:1-23), let us consider how Joseph overcame such overpowering temptations. How did he do it? The answer might surprise you. It was not primarily his fortitude, but that God was with him (Gen 39:2).

With God, Silence is not Absence. At the beginning of Genesis, in the narratives on creation, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God appears often, and often in spectacular fashion. But toward the end of Genesis in the narratives of Joseph, God is rarely mentioned. There are no miracles, no visions, no voices, no appearances of God. But with God, silence is not absence; hiddenness is not impotence. Often when God seems the most hidden, He is working the most for us. From Gen 37:1-40:23 we have:

  1. The "Hidden" God in Joseph's Suffering (Gen 37:2-36).
  2. The Hidden God in Judah's Sin (Gen 38:1-30).
  3. The "Hidden" God in Joseph's Temptations (Gen 39:1-23).
  4. The "Hidden" God in Joseph's Imprisonment (Gen 40:1-23).
In Gen 39:1-23, notice 3 temptations in the beginning, in the middle and in the end (Sermon by Tim Keller):
  1. The power of temptation
  2. The sexual temptation
  3. The hardest temptation of all, in some ways.

I. The Power of Temptation

It might be easy to miss and not see that there is the power of temptation. Joseph had been sold to Potiphar who was likely the commander-in-chief of Pharaoh's armed forces (Gen 37:36, 39:1). He was a very powerful man, perhaps 1 of the most powerful men in the most powerful nation of his time. Joseph had come into a center of power. How do you use power? We may not realize in this text that there are 2 very different ways exemplified by 2 different people--Potiphar's wife and Joseph--in how they use their power:

  1. Use your power to serve yourself (Gen 39:7,12).
  2. Use your power to serve others (Gen 39:4-5).

Use power for yourself. Potiphar's wife had great power as the wife of Potiphar. She was used to getting what she wanted. When she wanted sex from Joseph, she simply demanded it, expecting that it would be done and carried out. She commanded Joseph, "Come to bed with me" (Gen 39:7,12). The English translation does not express the forcefulness of her demand. In Hebrew, it is just a 2 syllable word "shakab" (shä·kav'). It might be equivalent to commanding in English, "Sex! Now!" or "Down! Sex!" It is blunt, aggressive, crude. It is like throwing a ball and telling the dog, "Go! Fetch!" She was demanding sex. But it was about power. "She presents the matter in terms of power rather than love, of command rather than seduction; she is 'his master's wife.'" (Fretheim, Terrence E. "Genesis." 1994.) She was using her power to get what she wanted. The habits of her heart have been corrupted by the power that she was so accustomed to as the wife of a powerful man. She was so used to using her power to getting whatever she wanted, in order to fulfill her own desires.

She was willing to risk everything because of her uncontrollable desire for Joseph. We might look upon her as such a trashy women who just wanted sex. There’s a fascinating ancient Jewish legend in which Potiphar’s wife, named Zuleika, is mocked by other aristocratic Egyptian ladies, her circle of friends, for being infatuated with a Hebrew slave boy. So she invites her friends to her home, and gives them all oranges and knives to peel them with. While they’re engaged in this task, Zuleika has Joseph walk through the room. Distracted by his handsomeness, all the ladies cut themselves with the knives, and the blood flows, staining their garments. She then reminds her friends: “I have to see Joseph every single day.” And her friends never mock her again. (Ginzberg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews, vol. 2, 28.) This explains why she pressures Joseph day after day. She used all of her power for herself.

Use power for others. What about Joseph? He also had been conferred great power as the chief steward of Potiphar's household. That Joseph was Potiphar's attendant (Gen 39:4) might be misleading. It is the same word used for Joshua as Moses' aide (Num 11:28). Joseph was not just Potiphar's personal assistant. Rather, he had power and stewardship over Potiphar's entire household (Gen 39:4b-5). He was like the COO (chief operating officer) of a Fortune 500 billion dollar company. But Joseph did not use his power the way Potiphar's wife did. He used it for the welfare and benefit of others. He used his power not for himself but to bless others (Gen 39:5). Joseph used his power such that a society that did not acknowledge his God, and a master who did not acknowledge his God was blessed by his stewardship and use of power. What might we learn here?

The Man God Uses. Joseph is an example of a great Christian. Dick Lucas, a renowned British pastor and preacher, said that if we see a book with the title "The Man (or Woman) God Uses," we would immediately think that it would be about some great missionary, preacher, pastor, minister, theologian, or some great Bible teacher in various positions of leadership and influence in the church. Why? It is because the church has conditioned us to think this way. But Joseph was none of these. He was simply a highly successful businessman. He was not a missionary, minister or Bible teacher. He was a great manager and administrator in Potiphar's house...and God was mightily using him. He was commended highly and greatly by the narrator of Genesis (Gen 39:3,5).

In some ways, being a good missionary, minister or Bible teacher might be a whole lot easier. There is a certain degree of spiritual glamor in doing it. How much do we look up to Billy Graham, Hudson Taylor, Spurgeon, Moody, Edwards, Winfield, Calvin, Wesley? Yet, the Bible reveals that God is willing to use men and women of God in every sphere of life, in business, in music, in the arts, in law, in medicine, in every arena of life.

Music, business, communication skills. This is the great shortfall today. If one is a great singer or has great musical skills, the implicit idea is that if we want God to use us, we should use those skills in the church to bless the people who come to church and to Christian events. If one has great business and administrative skills, and if we want God to use us, we should use it for the church and for ministry. If one has great communication skills and we want God to use us, we have to be a great preacher or Bible teacher in the church.

Bless the church or the nations. Yet, in Gen 12:2-3, God promised Abram that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." The very person that God directly uses to bless the nations, God does not call him to be a preacher, prophet or minister. God called him to be a very successful businessman, and later a very successful government leader who will use all of his creative and administrative gifts to mount a massive hunger relief program to save his own family and the nation of Egypt. That is how God used him. It is because Joseph knows how to use power.

Do you know how to use power? God can use men and women of God in every sphere of life to do amazing things if we are able to do what Joseph did. What did Joseph do? He used power. But he was not used by power. He took up power. But he was not taken up by power. He took power but he was not co-opted by power the way Potiphar's wife was.

St. Augustine wrote the City of God. In every city there are 2 cities: the city of Man and the city of God, the earthly city and the heavenly city. What marks the people of these 2 cities is that the supreme motivation of the citizens of the city of God is the love of God, while the supreme motivation of the citizens of the earthly city is the love of self. The City of Man is shaped by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, and the City of God is shaped by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. But the practical difference of these 2 citizenries is in how they use power. The very best citizens of the earthly city are the citizens of the heavenly city, because in every area of life, whether it is law, or medicine, or government, or business, or the arts, they use power to bless others, not serve themselves. This is not easy. It is never ever easy because of the seductive temptation of power.

Can you overcome the seductive temptation of power? If anyone wants to be used by God, they must know how to overcome the temptation of power. If an attractive woman knows the kind of power she has over men, how does she use that power? Does she use men like the women in "Desperate Housewifes," or "Grey's Anatomy," or "Sex and the City"? When a leader knows the kind of power he has over those under him, how does he use that power? (Mt 20:25-28; Mk 10:42-45).

Once a boss took the blame for a major mistake one of his workers did. As a result she did not loose her job. She was shocked. She asked why he did this. She knew of bosses who would take credit for what his workers did. But she never heard of a boss who took the blame for his worker's mistakes. He told her it was because he was a Christian. Since he understood that Jesus took the blame for him, he has always let that shape the way he lived, including those who worked for him. She was so touched and moved by him that she began to investigate the claims of Christianity.

II. The Sexual Temptation

Just say "No" to premarital sex! Maintain your sexual purity until marriage. Is this the spiritual lesson of Joseph's victory over sexual temptation? Commentators have made the example of Joseph as an excellent study on how to overcome temptation. However, such morally inclined teachings are to be avoided. "No clear model is presented, and no exhortations or statements of approval from the narrator urge us to go and do likewise... It is only when we consistently adopt the criteria of taking our lead from the overt teaching of the text that the morass of subjectivity can be avoided and the text can retain its clear vision and voice." (Walton, John H. Genesis. 2001.)

What's the big deal about sex? Isn’t sex just another appetite like all other appetites? Hungry? Eat. Feeling sexy? Have sex. C. S. Lewis said there’s something different about sex. In Mere Christianity, he wrote, "Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations." No other appetite gets so obsessive for us so quickly. Imagine, he said, finding a country where young guys go off to university and they plaster all kinds of posters of hamburgers and sushi all over their walls, and everyone runs from room to room, looking at them. And in this country, you find people gathering in a dark room, and paying money to watch someone slowly uncover cakes and pies. You’d assume that this country was filled with starving people. And you’d be astonished to find that not only are they not starving, but the more they eat, the more they do this. You’d surely conclude that this is an appetite out of control! (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Also retold in a sermon by Tim Keller, “Lust: The Case of Joseph,” March 12, 1995.)

Joseph uses 3 arguments in refusing his master's wife.

  1. He cannot betray his master who has entrusted everything under his care (Gen 39:8). 
  2. To obey his master's wife would be to disobey his master who has withheld nothing from him except his wife (Gen 39:9a).
  3. Joseph's primary reason for refusing her aggressive demand for sex is that it is a a wicked thing and sin against God” (Gen 39:9b).

Is sex or sexual desire wicked and evil? Does the Bible teach that sexual desire is bad? Not at all! In the beginning, God created sexuality and said, "It was very good" (Gen 1:31). In Proverbs, husbands and wives are instructed to be ravished by each other (Prov 5:15-20). In the Song of Songs, an entire book in our Bible is dedicated to the celebration and enjoyment of sexual desire within the context that God created it for. How about that bachelor Paul? In the very next chapter, right after his instructions to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18), he uses 40 verses to instruct husbands and wives in detail to consciously cultivate intense sexual desire and passion for each other, and to be ravished by each other.

One flesh. It is a sin not just because she is married to Potiphar (and therefore wrong and wicked), but because she is not married to Joseph. Paul, in a riff on this Joseph story, alludes to this text and to the Christian sex ethic in 1 Cor 6:15-20 that sex is different from other apetites. "Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.' Flee from sexual immorality..." (1 Cor 6:16,18a). Perhaps Paul was thinking of what Joseph did, for he fled from sexual immorality ("porneia" [Greek] means "illicit sexual intercourse").

Whole life oneness. According to Paul and the Bible, why is it wrong to have sex with anyone you please? It is because sex is designed to create "one flesh." Both Old and New Testament say the same thing over and over: our sexuality is beautiful, powerful, sacred. It is not just another appetite. It has a purpose—the two will become one flesh. Sex is God’s way, created to say to someone else: I belong completely and exclusively to you in every aspect of my being. Sexual intercourse was never intended by God to be used purely for sexual gratification. Rather, sex was designed by God for two individuals who are wholly and singularly committed to each other. Sex is intended by God to say to another person that "I belong entirely and exclusively to you with the entirely of my being: socially, financially, economically, legally, emotionally and spiritually." In other words, our physical vulnerability and oneness in sex must be an expression of our whole life vulnerability and oneness. God created the sex act to involve the complete person. It is the most intimate and most vulnerable way possible to give yourself entirely to the one to whom you belong.

Sexual integrity. The Bible calls us to complete sexual integrity: integrate your body with your whole life! When you have given your whole life to another, then it’s safe and good to give yourself most intimately, even your body, in complete vulnerability. That is integrity. If sex/physical union is an expression of our whole life expression of oneness, then sex deepens trust. But if someone has sex, while keeping their options open, then they are saying that they only want physical oneness, but not whole life oneness. It is to give ourselves to each other physically and sexually, but not completely and entirely. It is like saying, "I want you. But I do not want to entrust myself to you. I still want some things that I have control over, such as seeing another person, or keeping my money separate from you." Thus, if one is not willing to give their whole life, they should not be giving their body.

Sex is God's invention for complete life entrustment. If one uses sex just for physical satisfaction for the moment, we weaken ourselves from doing whole life entrustment; we weaken ourselves from living a complete and full life. Paul is saying that separating sex from whole life oneness is a monstrosity and a dissonance. That is why Joseph recoiled from it, and why Paul says to recoil from it.

Casual sex. In a promiscuous society where casual sex is regarded as healthy or OK between consenting adults, people will feel guilty about hearing that one should flee from casual sex, which is non-whole life entrustment sex. But people should be open to this novel and interesting idea that we should integrate our body with our whole life, rather than separating sex from the rest of our life.

Ridiculous and retrograde. Other people will reject such thoughts out-rightly because it is so foreign and strange and ridiculous and retrograde to modern society. Many have slammed Christianity for being exclusive by claiming that Jesus is the only way, and by raising Christianity above other religions. They say that Christians should celebrate what all other religions in the world have in common. This is one of them. There are a few things all religions in the world share a consensus and have in common. But all religions basically say that you should not have sex outside of whole life covenant and commitment.

Does self-control work? How does Joseph resist temptation? Greeks, Buddhists, Taoists, or any life coach and modern psychologists think this way--that self control, including sexual self control is mainly a matter of the will, reaching deep inside to find the strength within: Just suppress all those bad desires that could get you into trouble. Use self control by using the will to subdue the heart. But those who do so invariably come across as being constipated and sanctimonious. That is not how Joseph dealt with sexual temptation. This is not the way of the Bible. Joseph did not look inward for moral strength, but outward. He wasn’t looking inside to suppress his natural desires; instead he looked outside to expand, to enhance, his deepest desires for God. As Tim Keller puts it, moral strength is not a matter of will-power, but of heart-power. Our temptations are not the result of too much desire, but too little desire. Our desires are too small.

Look not inside to self, but outside to God. Joseph is not looking inside to suppress his desire for her, but looking outside to enhance his desire for God. What was Joseph's ultimate argument? This was primarily a sin against God, not just against Potiphar. Joseph is not using self-control and will power to overcome the temptation. Rather it is through heart power. He does not look inside and say, "No" to illicit sex. Rather he looks outside and says, "How can I trample on the God of my life?"

How does self control work effectively? When Jacob agreed to work for 7 years of hard labor for Rachel whom he fell madly in love that it "seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her" (Gen 29:20). 7 years of hard labor takes a lot of self control, for surely Jacob wanted to give up, take a break, slow down, enjoy pleasure and leisure, be lazy, not work, give into self pity. He was like everyone else when they have to work so hard. But Jacob had self control. Why? Though he wanted many, many things, it was not like how he wanted Rachel. Jacob had 1 over-mastering desire and passion that put all the other desires in his heart in their proper place.

What self control is: re-ordering the loves of the heart by 1 supreme passion. Rather, it is all the desires of the heart being re-ordered and put in their proper place by an overmastering passion and supreme love. If anyone just tries to suppress desires, they will not be able to do so indefinitely. Real self control does not come by suppressing the desires of the heart, but by re-ordering the loves of the heart through 1 overarching overmastering passion and supreme love that puts all other loves in their place. We need a Rachel. We need something that captures our heart, and our imagination.

Another Joseph. Joseph did that. But we have something better. We have something Joseph never had. We have access to something Joseph never had access to. We have resources that Joseph could not dream of. Joseph was beautiful. But there is another Joseph. He was beautiful (Ps 27:4; Isa 33:17). He had the palace and the glory (Isa 48:11). He was equal with God (Phil 2:6). He was in the very bosom of God (Jn 1:18). He enjoyed the glory of the Father from all eternity (Jn 17:5). But like Joseph, he lost it all. Jesus lost his beauty and his majesty (Isa 53:2). Like Joseph, Jesus also was assailed by powerful temptations to turn away from his vocation and mission. Jesus cried out with sweat like drops of blood, saying, "Take this cup from me." Like Joseph, Jesus was false accused, numbered with the guilty and the transgressors (Isa 53:12), even though he was neither guilty or a transgressor. Like Joseph, Jesus refused the temptations. Like Joseph, Jesus was willing to lay down his life.

What do we really want? We think we want sex and power, when what we really want is God. Freud says that spiritual longings are just frustrated sexual longings. But the Bible says that sexual longings are just frustrated spiritual longings. Zuleika (Potiphar's wife) didn’t know the beauty she really longed for. All of us need 1 thing. We need an ultimate beautiful person to find us beautiful, and to give themselves completely to us. Jesus, the most Beautiful One, the ultimate Beauty, did that for us. He, the most Beautiful One, gave Himself completely and wholly to us. We are his Rachel. When we realize that we are his Rachel, then he becomes our Rachel.

Does marriage solve the problem of sexual temptation? Single Christians often think, “If only I were married, then I wouldn’t struggle with sexual temptation." Not so. Even the best marriages cannot be entirely fulfilled by the spouse whom they love and who loves them. Why not? Unless one has the Spousal love of Jesus as the ultimate existential reality, we will never be able to overcome sexual temptation. Without Jesus the ultimate Beauty fulfilling us, this will eventually spill out into sexual temptation no matter how happily married one is. But if Jesus is the ultimate Beauty in our hearts, then all other desires in our hearts will be ordered and they will find their proper place.

III. The "Hardest" Temptation

Here Joseph does everything right. Yet his life blows up. The hardest temptation may be the temptation to despair. When we do our best and do what is right, and yet things go bad. The temptation to despair is the hardest temptation when things go wrong even though we do things right. We have a perspective on Joseph's life that he did not have. Nothing can derail God's care for us and his ultimate plan for our life.

The ultimate Joseph lived the perfect life and yet his life completely blew up. William Cowper often gets depressed. He wrote "God Moves In A Mysterious Way."

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

How could Joseph overcome such devastating temptations and adversities where his life literally gets worse and worse and falls apart? He went from a most beloved son to a slave to a prisoner all the while doing his best to do what was right. Many a lesser man gives up and gives in with far lesser trials and temptations. How did Joseph do it?

The name Yahweh (the LORD) is used 8 times in Gen 39:2,3 (2x),5 (2x),21,23 (2x). This 8fold use of God's covenant name stands out here because in the entire story of Joseph it is used only once more (Gen 49:18; plus 3 times in the Judah story [Gen 38:7 (2x),10]). Moreover the narrator repeats 4 times that "the Lord was with Joseph" (Gen 39:2,3,21,23). 3 times he links this presence of the Lord with Joseph's success/prosperity (Gen 39:2,3,23). 2 times he mentions the Lord's blessing on the Egyptian's household, his house and fields (Gen 39:5). Clearly, Joseph's success is not because of his innate wisdom or ability but because the Lord is with him.

How do we overcome temptation? We need to know that the Lord is with us. We need to know that the Lord loves us and gave himself for us (Gal 2:20), even more than Jacob loving Rachel. We need to know that Jesus is our Rachel, our ultimate beauty, that no other beauty in the world can compare with. Potiphar's wife did not know one more beautiful than Joseph and was overcome by her own desire. But Joseph knew of One more beautiful than the seemingly irresistible temptation of power and sex. We know Him more clearly than Joseph ever could, as we behold His beauty of loving us unto death.


  1. Greidanus, Sidney, Preaching Christ from Genesis. Chap. 20. Joseph in Potiphar's house (Gen 39:1-23). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmas Publishing Co. 2007, 378-393.
  2. Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP. 1967, 189-192.
  3. Altar, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York: W W Norton & Company. 1996, 224-228.
  4. Duncan, Ligon. Success, Loyalty and Betrayal (Gen 39:1-23). Sermon, March 26, 2000.
  5. Keller, Timothy. "Temptation" (Gen 39:1-23). Sermon, June 15, 2003.
  6. Kuepfer, Tim. Falsely Accused (Gen 39:1-23). Sermon, July 17, 2011.
  7. A Sentence-Outline of C.S. Lewis's MERE CHRISTIANITY.

Textual Theme (Greidanus): The Lord is with his people both in prosperity and adversity (as the Lord was with Joseph in his rise and fall in Potiphar's house).

Textual goal: To assure God's people of his presence with them in times of prosperity as well as times of adversity.

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