Who do you put your trust in? If it's someone other than God, you're setting yourself up for a fall. Everything and everyone will let us down at some point. Only God can bear the weight of our sin . . . and only He can bear the weight of our worship.
“NOBODY LOVES ME, THIS I KNOW . . .”
Last Sunday night we left Joseph in Egypt. He was in a strange land and yet had an incredible work ethic, as we discovered in our study last Sunday evening. Where he decided, even though he was in a foreign land, even though he was where he did not want to be, abducted, betrayed there by his brothers, he decided that instead of throwing his job, instead of, in a sense, sabotaging the effort there in Egypt, he was going to do his best. He would serve God in the house of Potiphar. If you were with us, and I’m sure the story is familiar even if you weren’t, he was approached by Potiphar’s wife and he refused and we studied the principles of saying, “No,” to temptation. And as a result of saying, “No,” as a result of doing what was right, as a result of being Godly, God rewarded him. Well, we wouldn’t look at it that way, if we could remove ourselves thirty years down the road we would say that was God’s design in how he responded to Joseph’s obedience. But Joseph, you remember, responding to something sinful in a right way, was, in effect, rewarded with imprisonment. That’s where we left him.
Let’s take it up with chapter 39, verse 19, “Now it came about when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, ‘This is what your slave did to me,’ that his anger burned. So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. But the Lord was with Joseph”. That is the seventh time that phrase appears and you ought to underline that in your text. He was with Joseph at the beginning of the chapter when he was prospering, when he was being promoted. He was with Joseph in the prison. “The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. And the chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper.” An incredible story as Joseph is falsely accused and permanently imprisoned.
Make no mistake, he’s there for life, he’ll die there. In fact, the literal translation of the Hebrew word, “prison,” is “the hole”. It was a pit. It was a dank, dark, stench-filled room with perhaps two or three other key political prisoners. And that’s where Joseph is shackled. They discovered, the archeologists, similar prisons in the desserts of Egypt, among many discoveries. And they have found holes or pits where they would place prisoners and they would have a brace that would go around the neck, imprisoning or shackling that person to a pillar, and then his ankles also would be shackled. That’s what one of the Psalms talks about when it talks about his neck and his feet being in irons. And so Joseph begins, not with a responsible position in prison, he begins by being shackled to a stone pillar, his neck and his ankles, standing for he does not know how long.
The key phrase, as you well know and I’ve already mentioned it, is that, “the Lord was with him.” And the Lord had another design. The Lord wasn’t about to let Joseph rot in the prison, although for some that has been the case. For Joseph it wasn’t. Something unusual happens, He gives Joseph favor in the captain of the guard’s servant’s eyes so that he’s promoted. What that promotion is now, is not taking him out of the hole, what that means is, he is released from the fetter and now he serves the other prisoners. Not much of an improvement, when you think of it that way. But yet, I’m sure, to him it was a great improvement because no longer is his neck in an iron brace. But he will now serve.
As I was thinking of this, obviously the application is mistreatment that he is facing, unjustified, he is betrayed, he is accused of doing something he has never done before. Obviously we also, to no degree such as this, but we also face mistreatment. And I want to give you three ways, if you have your notes. The first way, of course, that we face mistreatment is from people. There are a number of biblical illustrations of mistreatment by people. You could go to Nehemiah, as we often do, because he’s a classic illustration of someone who continues to do the will of God, even though mistreated, even though accused. When they would one day, the people, look at the work of Nehemiah and say, “Oh, Nehemiah, what you are doing is insignificant, in fact, if a little fox jumps on the wall, it’ll crumble. You’re nobody.” And others would say, “What you’re really doing is trying to pad the pew. You are trying to stack the deck. You are trying to make it so that you will one day have a city to govern.” Mistreatment. It’s interesting that Nehemiah faces it with very little rebuttal.
We would also, of course, face mistreatment, accusation, trouble, criticism from family. And, of course, the logical extension or the extreme of that would be abuse. Perhaps you have come from an abusive home. Perhaps you as a little child were abused. That is the extreme of being mistreated by family. Sometimes we can be mistreated by people we love. And, I’m sure, if we consider Joseph’s story, he also faced mistreatment, obviously by his brothers.
The third would be from friends. And, I think, this hurts as much as from family, especially close friends. I think of the rejection that Paul faced and felt when Demas, remember II Timothy, chapter 4, verse 10, Paul writes, and you can almost hear the agony in his voice as he says, “Demas hath forsaken me.” The word “forsaken” could be translated, “left in a lurch, abandoned.” And with that, comes the idea of Paul being in a state where the battle really gets hot, where he really begins to need help and support, like we all do. The implication is, at that point in time, Paul says, “Demas left me in a lurch. Demas abandoned me.”
I think of the disagreeable, disagreement of Daniel in his life. Why don’t you turn ahead to Daniel. We’ve studied this in detail in the past but turn and look again. We are, in a sense, arguing from implication but I think there is benefit to that in this case. Daniel, chapter 1. You remember Daniel, like Joseph, was taken to a pagan country, and he is told, “You need to eat certain foods and you will be tested by the king.” And Daniel says, in verse 12, these words, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence.” “Then put us to the test, give us the final examination.” “And the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food”. “Youths,” would imply all of the Hebrew slaves that had been taken to Babylon to be trained for leadership. What they had intended to do is take these youths, train them for leadership in Babylon, and then ultimately transplant them back in Jerusalem so that they would, in a sense, be puppets of the Babylonian kingdom. So, here’s what Daniel says, he says, “Test us against the youths that are eating the king’s choice food,” - last part of verse 13 - “and deal with your servants according to what you see.” “So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days.” And this is what I want you to notice. “And at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter” - were in better health - “than all the” - who? - “all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.” Implication: Daniel and his three friends were the only of the Hebrew captives to say, “No.” They all were quartered, undoubtedly, with those political prisoners. And I can almost, in my imagination, hear the debate. I can hear Daniel on this side saying, "No, it’s wrong, we can’t eat that. That would violate the Levitical standard. We cannot eat that.” And I can see all the other youths over here saying, “No, Daniel, you’re taking this to an extreme. We disagree.” Well, what happened, finally the test came and Daniel and the three passed. Interwoven into the context of this, I see a very bitter disagreement, where Daniel is forced to stand alone. These are his friends. These are the Hebrew youth that have been taken captive with him. Those are common forms of mistreatment.
Now notice that Joseph is temporarily befriended and divinely inspired. Let’s take a dive now into chapter 40. “Then it came about after these things the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt.” There have been volumes, that I have had the privilege of reading, on just this first verse. Let me share with you the top of what I have learned. The cupbearer could be translated, because of the definite article “the” cupbearer, this is “the chief” of the cupbearers. This isn’t just “a” baker, this is “the” baker. This is the chief of the bakers. There were perhaps dozens, if not hundreds, of bakers and those that kept that palace thriving, preparing the foods. And it’s interesting, and many have implied, that because the cupbearer, who was responsible to hand the king the cup. He would be the one responsible for taking a sip of what he would drink and then give it to the Pharaoh. If he keeled over after 30 seconds, of course the Pharaoh wouldn’t drink. If he survived, then the Pharaoh would drink. So he was a very responsible person because if anybody wanted to assassinate the Pharaoh, slip a little cache of poison in there, he’d fake it and then he’d give it to the king and goodbye king. This was perhaps one of the most trusted men in the kingdom.
You remember another individual who was the cupbearer? Who? In the Old Testament, the whole book, he was the cupbearer to Artaxerxes. Nehemiah, you deserve a front row seat, sir. We’ll wait. No, he’s not taking that one. Nehemiah was perhaps the most trusted person to Artaxerxes. His very life depended on that man.
It’s interesting as well, that the cupbearer was, in a sense, in agreement with the priests. They have discovered, now, so much information that makes conclusive that the Pharaoh was not allowed intoxicating drink. In fact, the priest prescribed what the Pharaoh could drink. The cupbearer would make sure that the Pharaoh got only what had been prescribed. After learning that, in fact, they have uncovered some things and have depicted a king or a Pharaoh on the wall and he has a cup in his hand and there is the cupbearer, in a sense, taking a grape, the picture is him taking a grape off a vine. And the inscription says this, “They press grapes into their water and the king drinks.” Implication: this is right off the vine, this is fresh. Knowing that, explained to me, we’ll get off this rabbit trail in a minute. Knowing that, explained to me Proverbs, chapter 31, verses 4 and 5, for Solomon said, “It is not for kings” - and princes - “to drink wine”. Implication: intoxicating drink. “Nor” - the NIV translates - “for rulers to drink beer”. Interesting verse of scripture. I think it’s because, the next verse says, “lest they drink and forget what” - they decreed. In other words the cupbearer would make sure that the Pharaoh’s mind was not befuddled by intoxicating drink. He would carefully make sure it wasn’t poisoned and also make sure it fit the regulation. Very responsible individual.
Well, because the cupbearer and the baker are both thrown into prison at the same time, what does that make you think? Implication is: these guys had something going. Perhaps had been hired by assassins. Perhaps someone had slipped poison into the food and the Pharaoh didn’t know, was it the cupbearer or was it the baker? Who’s responsible? And so he throws both of them into prison until evidence has been weighed. Perhaps that’s what they’re waiting for. Let’s go to the next verse. “And Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. So he put them in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the same place where Joseph was imprisoned. And the captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them”. That is, in that dank little cell, Joseph will now serve them. It’s humiliating enough to be a slave, but now, in effect, although he’s loosened, he is a slave to criminals. He will take care of them. They were in confinement for some time.
Now note verse 5, “Then the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt, who were confined in jail, both had a dream the same night, each man with his own dream and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected.” - or depressed - “And he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces so sad today?’” Volumes have been written on that as well. Obviously Joseph is a very caring, sensitive individual. Even though he is imprisoned, he is still concerned enough to ask these two men, who are prisoners as well, “What’s bothering you?” “Share it with me, maybe I can help.” An unusual character.
Verse 8, “Then they said to him, ‘We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.’ Then Joseph said to them,” - these startling words - “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.” This reveals, ladies and gentlemen, two very important things about Joseph in prison. First of all, it reveals that Joseph still believed in his dreams. You remember the dreams that he had? If he didn’t believe in his dreams, he would have told these guys, “Listen, the last thing you want to do is dream. I had two dreams one time and let me tell you what happened to me. Are the sheaves bowing down to me? Are the moon and the stars worshipping me? Forget the dreams, guys. They don’t mean anything. Nothing will come to play.” It reveals that Joseph still, in his heart, believed that God had given him those dreams and they would come true. The second thing, obviously, this reveals that he had not abandoned God, which is incredible. “Do no interpretations belong to God?” “I want you to know that even though I was obeying Him, even though I was doing what was right, even though I was a trusting follower of His law, He’s thrown me into prison. And yet I still trust Him. I still obey. I still follow. He had not abandoned God.
Let’s read on and see what happens. “So the chief cupbearer” - verse 9 - “told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, ‘In my dream, behold, there was a vine in front of me; and on the vine were three branches. And as it was budding, it’s blossoms came out, and its clusters produced ripe grapes. Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; so I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.’” This again would be evidence to the rabbit trail I was on a few minutes ago. Verse 12, “Then Joseph said to him, ‘This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer.” Now verses 14 and 15 are interesting. Note them well, because Joseph is absolutely human. He says, “Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this” - “prison, this hole.” - “For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.” In other words, Joseph is saying, “Listen to my story now and when you get out, please - note the word - put a good word in Pharaoh’s ear for me.” And I’m going to mention this again as we get to applications, how God is developing in him a very important principle that needs to be in our lives as well.
Let’s go on to verse 16. “When the chief baker saw that he had interpreted favorably, he said to Joseph, ‘I also saw in my dream, and behold, there were three baskets of white bread on my head; and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.’ Then Joseph answered and said, ‘This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head” - note - “from you”. It’s a big difference. He’s going to be beheaded. “And will hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh off you.’” First of all, note the character of Joseph. I wondered if he made sure he was far enough away from the leash of this guy before he gave him the interpretation. He measured how far he would have to run. But yet, unseemingly, Joseph, without even blinking an eye, simply says, “This is the interpretation.” What a powerful statement to everybody today, who speaks, who teaches the Word. Because we have, not only the message of the cupbearer that’s great news, - there is heaven, there is forgiveness, there is rejoicing - we also bear with us the message of the baker, - there may be judgment, there may be death. And Joseph interpreting the Word of God, gave them both.
Now this is incredibly important because in that day, you note, in Egypt they embalmed the bodies. Why is that? Because in their religious system, the preservation of the body was essential for life after death. And so you wanted to make sure that they really took good care of your body because you would come back and inhabit it in the next life. That’s why they developed this tremendous process of embalming bodies. You’ll notice that the judgment here is really severe in Egypt. Verse 19, “They’ll not only behead you, but they will take your body, what’s left, and they’ll impale it to a tree and birds will come and eat the flesh off your body.” Birds were sacred in Egypt so you never destroyed a bird. They were probably in an overabundance and even carnivorous. So they would come and pick the flesh from his body, thus he knew there was no chance for life after death being a pagan. He faced severe judgment.
Now Joseph is potentially rescued and yet he is tragically forgotten. Look at verse 20, “Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants”. This is interesting, Pharaoh designed his own birthday party. “And he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants.” In other words, he pulls them out into that banqueting room. He’s going to have fun. This is sport. This is “my little birthday party to myself.” “And he restored the chief cupbearer to his office”. And he probably said, “I’m a wonderful Pharaoh, aren’t I?” Perhaps, however, he discovered the evidence he was looking for. That the cupbearer was innocent and the baker was guilty. “And he restored the chief cupbearer . . . and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand;” - verse 22 - “but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them.” He beheaded him, obviously, and then hanged his body on a tree. Now, verse 23, of course, is very important. “Yet” - “but” - “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” You ought to underline those three words, “but forgot him.” And sometime, at another time, ponder the implications of how that must have affected Joseph.
F. B. Meyer, the colorful expositor that I read from last week, uses his imagination and he writes of how the next day when the prison door opens, Joseph jumps with a start. And he looks toward the door, perhaps even running over to it. “Here they are! I’m free!” He probably told all the other prisoners. “They’re coming to get me, I guarantee you.” Then after a few days, the door opens and he probably, with a start, with a hopeful look, looks over at the door - another prisoner, a guard entering or exiting. Until finally, someone comes to the door and Joseph doesn’t even look. Must have been unbelievably difficult for Joseph to go through that experience of knowing that the cupbearer had chosen to forget him. Because the cupbearer has been restored. “Would I dare threaten the position I have now with the Pharaoh by bringing up a story about this Hebrew captive, this slave? No way! I’m not going to endanger my position. He’s walking on eggs.” And then, perhaps over a period of time, forgets the entire story.
Let me give you some common responses to mistreatment. I’m sure that these are in a book somewhere, I didn’t read them. In fact, the way that I got them was that I leaned back in my chair and I asked myself the question, “Stephen, how do you respond to mistreatment?” There are three, at least three, let me give them to you. Number 1, self-pity. I can imagine that Joseph, in that prison, had every potential to throw the biggest pity party in history. “Look at me. Woe is me. It all started with jealous brothers. And then I do my best and Potiphar doesn’t defend me. His wife accuses me. Now I’m in prison, I interpret for God the dream, and it doesn’t get me anywhere. Poor me.” The next chapter reveals, by it’s silence, that Joseph never threw that party. But, because he’s human, I have every reason to believe he was sorely tempted to.
The second is bitterness. Bitterness that, initially, is directed toward the person that has mistreated me. The person who has accused me. The person who has criticized me. Initially, bitterness. I don’t want to see that person. I don’t want to be near that person. I don’t want to drive my car by that persons house. I don’t want them to drive their car by my house. And it begins to grow. But ultimately, bitterness is directed, not toward that person but, to who? It is directed toward God. A person who is filled with bitterness, ultimately has forfeited his fellowship with God. Because he, in effect, says, “God did not deal kindly with me in allowing this to happen to me.” So bitterness is a very, very common threat when you’re mistreated.
Third, revenge. That’s the one where you can really spend some time. You envision that persons face on the wall of your kitchen or in your study or office, on the driveway when you pull up into your garage. Joseph had every reason in the world, in fact, what I mean by silence or absence, I can imagine that Joseph’s, in a sense, “hit list” is growing. And as soon as he gets out of prison, he’s got a list: eleven brothers. Once I am the most powerful man, when they bow their knee to me, I’m going to slice their heads from their bodies. And I’ve got every reason to. Wait until I have more power than Potiphar. He’ll be accountable then. And Potiphar’s wife! I think if I were Joseph, I would imagine putting her in prison, in that very cell, for the rest of her life, with only water. And yet we never read, in the record of Joseph’s life, when he is elevated to prime minister, that he ever has a meeting with Potiphar. He probably never saw Potiphar’s wife. But I guarantee you, they were thinking, “Uh-oh.” And, of course, you know, as we’ll study in detail later, when he meets his brothers, how he forgives them. Somewhere in that prison cell over the next two years, - two years, forgotten, abandoned - he was able, by the grace of God, to get victory over mistreatment.
Can I suggest to you, by way of application, several things. Let’s try to tie this together and bring it home. I think there are ways that we open ourselves up for mistreatment or the ill effect of mistreatment. We call them perhaps, “let downs.” Let me give you two. First of all, misplacing our trust. Misplacing our trust. Joseph really opened himself up because, in verses 14 and 15, he tells this man, “You be my savior. In a sense, you give the word. You get me out of here.” And God would teach him over the next two years, “If you get out of here, it will be by Me.” And it will, in fact, be a miracle that gets Joseph out of prison. We open ourselves up for this kind of let down when our fulfillment, our happiness, depends on someone else other than God. We put our trust in flesh. Whenever you put your ultimate trust in me, you will be let down. If I ever ultimately put my total trust in you, I will be let down. We all fail each other. And, I think, whenever we face the bitterness, or the potential self pity, or revenge, we are, in a sense, telling ourselves this, “I placed my trust in them rather than in GOD working through them.”
Secondly, making unrealistic expectations. It’s interesting, Gary and I were talking and he was sharing with me some things that have happened. And he, being human, of course, told me about a pastor who called him up on Saturday night and said, “Gary, where are you?” Gary was supposed to be in the Midwest for a Sunday seminar, all day. And he kind of laughed and he said, “You know, I had completely, I had misjudged or miscalculated or put something else in the place of that calendar, and had forgotten.” He got a red eye special and somehow made it there. There is no way in the world, you know me long enough, I know you long enough, you know anybody long enough, they will drop the ball. They will let you down. They will disappoint you. They will be late. (laughter) Let’s move on, that’s too convicting there!
Let me lead you to the next and last part of the applications. What to do when left in a lurch. What to do when you face handling the response to mistreatment. Three things. First of all, reevaluate. Write in there, what is my attitude supposed to be? What are my motives supposed to be? What are my priorities? Is this person revealing to me that my priorities are way out of line. That my motive for doing something is out of kilter?
Secondly, refuse, simply refuse to retaliate. And that’s as much a commitment as anything else. You make up your mind you will not allow your mind to retaliate, to imagine revenge. If you don’t imagine it, you will never perform it. It begins in the heart.
Thirdly, refocus. Let me give you two things to put under that. Number 1, refocus on God’s desire. And this is an interesting thought because God’s desire is for harmony, and unity, and forgiveness. In fact, that’s why Matthew, chapter 5, verse 23, tells YOU to go to the person who has something against you. It isn’t the other way around and you would think it would be the other way around. But He says, “If you know someone has ought against you, stop everything, leave your gift at the altar, and go to that individual.” And I think the reason for that is because that person who has ought against you is so caught up and has, in fact, transgressed the line and is involved in bitterness, perhaps revenge, self-pity. When they’re in that position, it is our responsibility to go and help them out of that by saying, “Tell me what I did.” And apologizing if necessary. It’s interesting how Jesus Christ tells us to strive for harmony and unity and forgiveness. Obviously in the family, but in the church. Secondly, refocus on God’s design. Two thoughts. Every disappointment is another illustration of the faithfulness of God. We’ve heard about that today. Every disappointment in life. When someone disappoints you, that is an illustration about how Jesus Christ NEVER disappoints. Secondly, every disappointment is another step toward maturing in the image of Christ. Jesus Christ learned obedience through the things that he suffered. Could you imagine taking several hours, and not even finishing the task, of writing down every time Jesus Christ was mistreated, accused, abandoned, rejected, on down the line. We fellowship with Him in his glory but also in his sufferings.
Let me read you something that was written perhaps a hundred years ago. It’s anonymous but it’s a poem. “Pain’s furnace heated within me quivers. God’s breath upon the flame doth blow. And all my heart in anguish shivers and trembles at the fiery glow. And yet I whisper, ‘As God will.’ And in His hottest fire, hold still. He comes and lays my heart, all heated, on the hard anvil, minded so into his own fair shape to beat it with His great hammer, blow by blow. And yet I whisper, ‘As God will.’ And at His heaviest blows, hold still. He takes my softened heart and beats it. The sparks fly off at every blow. He turns it over and over and heats it and lets it cool and makes it glow and yet I whisper, ‘As God will.’ And in His mighty hand, hold still. Why should I murmur? For the sorrow thus only long-lived would be, it’s end may come and will tomorrow. When God has done His work in me, so I say, trusting, ‘As God will.’ And trusting to the end, hold still.”
Men and women, there is something far greater than vindication before men, recognition before men, acceptance before men. There is something far greater than all that. It is the conscienceness, like Joseph, that GOD is with me. And God is going in a particular direction and I am going with God. I have a little plaque in my study that says, “The greatest knowledge is the will of God. The greatest joy is doing it.”