Genesis and Revelation are bookends to God’s big story. Genesis tells us how everything got started; Revelation explains how it will all end.
Their similarities and contrasts are intriguing: creation of heaven and earth, creation of new heaven and new earth; a garden, a city; tree of knowledge, tree of life; death pronounced, death destroyed; marriage of first man and woman, marriage supper of the Lamb.
But Genesis is more than just about how the world began. Its backstory of the world God first intended can teach us about how life works, and how it doesn’t.
For example, the creation narratives remind us that we can be creators of order and beauty in a world that tends toward chaos and disorder. God’s speaking the world into existence underscores the power of our words, a principle almost lost in today’s culture of lies and conspiracies. We also glean that our lives are more productive when we yield to the rhythms and patterns God established at creation, including “morning and evening,” “it was good,” and “God rested.”
In view of all this, the fact that the author of Genesis spends more time on Joseph’s story than on any other should give us pause. No one else in Genesis — not even Abraham — gets as much screen time! Furthermore, unlike the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, where God was actively and obviously present, His presence in Joseph’s story is implied. He is definitely there but operates from the shadows.
Most significant, at least for me, is that Joseph’s story pivots around dreams. God gave Joseph a dream not only once but multiple times (Genesis 37), and around the fulfillment of those dreams God wove the story of the birth of the nation Israel.
Each of us has a dream, a desire to fulfill some special purpose in life. We dream because we bear the image of the original Dreamer. Standing on the balcony of space long before creation, God dreamed of a beautiful world inhabited by people like you and me.
So we can’t help but dream. God fulfills some of our dreams, demonstrating that even those that are bigger than life are not beyond the reach of His wise providence. This is Joseph’s story. His brothers hated him because of his dreams and the favored status Jacob gave him, and because Joseph’s sincerity of character outweighed their own (Genesis 37:2, 3). It is true what James Thomson said: “Base envy . . . hates the excellence it cannot reach.”
One day when Joseph came to see about his brothers’ needs (v. 14), they carried out a plot to rid the family of “the dreamer” (vv. 18-20). Heeding the counsel of Reuben and Judah, instead of letting Joseph die, they sold him to a band of Midianite traders, who took him to Egypt (vv. 21-28).
Here the overarching lesson of Joseph’s story begins to emerge: God can turn our disappointments into His appointments, our pain into His purpose.
We see this in what happened to Joseph in Egypt. First, he was sold to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s palace guards (v. 36). This began a series of tests of Joseph’s faithfulness to God’s vision in his heart. He became ruler over Potiphar’s house, but when he resisted Mrs. Potiphar’s advances, he was thrown into prison (39:19, 20).
Second, this stumbling block became Joseph’s stepping stone:
But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison (vv. 21, 22, NLT).
Suffice it to say, through these relationships and a God-directed set of circumstances, Joseph became ruler over all of Egypt, second in command to Pharaoh (Genesis 40-41).
Third, with incontrovertible evidence that his dreams were from God, and having at his disposal the wealth and power from being ruler over the world’s greatest empire, how would Joseph fare as a leader? Would he pass the character test?
Andy Stanley is credited with saying “Your character is the internal script that will determine your response to failure, success, mistreatment, and pain.”
This played out in Joseph’s story when a worldwide famine brought his brothers to Egypt (Genesis 42-45). Here at the zenith of the story lies Scripture’s most heart-warming account of genuine forgiveness.
As Joseph explained to his brothers, what they meant for evil against him, God meant for good (45:5). This is providence, the classic Christian doctrine affirming that God is active in all the affairs of this world, superintending all things according to His divine purpose. And it is beautifully illustrated in a dysfunctional family.
Providence puts life in a hopeful perspective, especially in a world that is falling apart. It speaks to Joseph’s faithfulness, both to the vision and to God, which seems to eclipse any regard for the wealth and power of Egypt. This is seen in Joseph’s deathbed instruction for his family to carry his bones to Canaan with them when God delivered Israel (50:25).
So remember that Genesis, the book of primary reference, highlights the power of vision and that as a leader, you are a steward over that vision. Faithfulness to it will merge your story into God’s big story.
Scripture warns against the danger of vision-less leadership (Proverbs 29:18). Too bad our dreams often get lost in the clutter of life and ministry. Some people simply forget to dream. But Joseph’s story beckons us to dream again and shows how dreams are born, tested, and realized.
Therefore, through the power of Him who is able to do exceedingly more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20), let’s keep our dreams alive!
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