What the world considers great is different than what the Bible considers great. Joseph was great in the world's eyes because he was second in command of Egypt. He had the palace and the servants and the leadership. But Joseph was great in God's eyes long before that. Why? Find out now.
“MARKS OF TRUE GREATNESS”
(Genesis 46 - 50)
History has recorded several individuals who have adopted the name, “Great.” If you have been a follower of history or if you have just simply gone through your historical courses in high school or college, you have learned of Peter the Great. He had adopted that name out of some ambitious thought that he was great. And yet, if you studied his life closely, you would discover that Peter the Great had a maniacal temper and fits of rage that would one day even kill his son. Another individual we know of is Alexander the Great. He had adopted that name, as well, and you know that he conquered empires and he ruled the known world. And yet Alexander the Great, who conquered worlds, could not conquer his own flesh and he would be given to drunken brawls, one of which killed his favorite friend and his general, Clitus. Herod also called himself, “The Great.” You know him from New Testament times and he was the man who built the temple and organized the nation. And yet Herod was given to fits of jealousy that would take the lives of his wife and his children, lest they dare take his throne. What the world may consider great is something other than what the Bible may consider great. And what man marks as greatness may seem totally different than what God marks as greatness.
As we bid farewell this morning to Joseph, a man who has been a delight for us to study over these past few weeks, I want to back up into some of the passages we have already looked at and then take us to the end of this book. And take a look at that greatness that is true in the life and character of Joseph. And from this, I want to give you seven marks of true greatness. And, if you have notes in your worship folder, I suggest that you take these down and then study them in the future. And ask God, as you look into the mirror of his life, to make these marks, marks of your own character.
Joseph’s greatness is seen, first of all, in his commitment to using authority wisely. Look at chapter 46, verse 31 of Genesis. Genesis, chapter 46, verse 31. His greatness is seen first in his commitment to using authority wisely. “Joseph said to his brothers” - verse 31 - “and to his father’s household, ‘I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me’’”. You know the story of how they have finally been reunited. Joseph is verse 32 says to his brothers, he says, “I will tell . . . Pharaoh” - that - “‘the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ And it shall come about when Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ that you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ that you may live in the land of Goshen” - you ought to underline that, “that you may live in the land of Goshen”, that’s the purpose of this interview - “ for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.” It’s interesting that Joseph, in greatness, never abuses his authority. Not now, not before, and not after. He will rule as premier in this land for nearly a hundred years. And now we find Joseph introducing his brothers and his father to Pharaoh. They’ve come into the land. And Joseph, obviously, wants to take good care of his family. They, being shepherds, must settle in the only place that can capacitate sheep and that is the valley land, the delta region known as Goshen. But Joseph, being the greatest authority other than Pharaoh in the land, has every right, has every potential of telling his brothers, “Hey, settle in Goshen and don’t worry about a thing. I’ll handle the rest. I’m the premier. I’m the prime minister. What I say goes. We won’t worry about Pharaoh, he’s my trusted friend. Who cares what the people might say? They know you are being given the most fertile region in Egypt and a famine is in the land but don’t worry about them, you just go live in Goshen.” He had every opportunity to abuse his authority and yet he says to his brothers, “Go to Pharaoh. Let’s let it be Pharaoh’s decision.” And later in the 47th chapter, we discover that Pharaoh, in fact, says, “Go live in the land of Goshen.” And we kind of chuckle because he probably takes credit for the thought. Joseph had given him the thought and yet he allowed Pharaoh to make the decision.
One of the most discouraging things out in the working force, is working for an employer, a boss, a foreman, a straw boss, the president of a company, or an unsympathetic vice president who constantly and continually abuses authority. And tragically so, the individual, who may call themselves a Christian, finds himself in authority and we can’t help but stand back and think, “Man alive, did they ever change once they were given that position. I knew them before and they never talked like that. They never did things like that. But now you can’t come within an arms reach.” They say that the greatest test of a man or a woman’s character is authority. Give an individual some authority and see how they respond and you will note if they have true greatness.
The second thing that strikes me and impresses me about Joseph is that he has a willingness to live humbly. Let’s look at the next few verses, “Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, ‘My father and my brothers and their flocks and their herds and all that they have, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen.’” - “They are waiting your final approval.” - And he took five . . . brothers, and presented them to Pharaoh.” Now, remember, they are loathsome to Pharaoh, to the Egyptians. “Then Pharaoh said to his brothers, ‘What is your occupation?’ So they said to Pharaoh, ‘Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers.’” I can’t help but wonder what Joseph is doing about this time. As he’s standing next to his brothers and he’s, perhaps, thinking, “Don’t mention that. Say something like, ‘We deal in large tracts of real estate,’ or something. Don’t mention that you’re shepherds because they are loathsome.” In fact, we have discovered archeologists have art dating back to the time of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob from Egypt. And the art depicts, on occasion, shepherds and they are always pictured as emaciated, evil, wicked kinds of people. For some reason, and we don’t know all of the reasons, they were loathsome, they were hated, they were despised. This was the lowest cast in society. And some of that carried through, even into the New Testament with the Jew. And it’s interesting that God would come and give the message that his Son was born to the shepherds. But here we see an interesting characteristic and mark of Joseph’s character. He is willing to live with the knowledge rampant in that kingdom that he is from the line of shepherds. His father’s a shepherd. His brothers are shepherds. I can imagine him hearing or thinking that the people will say, “Will we follow a shepherd? Will we obey this premier, who now we know is, a mere shepherd, a keeper of sheep?” I think he, in fact, risks his credibility with the people by being honest, by being humble. Someone wrote well, “One who knows God well will be humble. One who knows himself well will never be proud.”
A third mark that strikes me of his character is that he had the ability to administrate honestly. Look at verse 13. The ability to administrate honestly. Chapter 47, verse 13, “Now there was no food in all the land, because the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine. And Joseph gathered all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the grain which they brought, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.” Note that well, he, “brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.” “And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, ‘Give us food, for why should we die in your presence? For our money is gone.’ Then Joseph said, ‘Give up your livestock, and I will give you food for your livestock, since your money is gone.’” In other words, this welfare system was not a hand-out. If they had something in exchange for the food, they were going to give it. And so finally their money was gone and their livestock was gone as well. But what strikes me about that passage, that we often overlook, is the simple fact that Joseph was handling, virtually, the gross national product. He was handling all of the money in his hands. He had the key to the pantry. He was the one who was the meal ticket for the entire nation and they brought all of their money to him. I imagine that, literally, millions of dollars in gold and silver trickled through Joseph’s hands. And what did he do with it all? He did what he was supposed to do. He brought it into his superior’s house. If there was ever a time in Joseph’s life where he could have padded his account, where he could have thought of retiring early, this was a gold mine! I am unaccountable. I am having people come to me and say, “Joseph, we’ll do anything for you. We’ll give you all of our money just for food. Here, take our livestock.” And Joseph allows himself to be a funnel. That is a mark of character. Administrating honestly.
George Mueller, who has been mentioned often from this pulpit, was a man who took care, in his lifetime, of ten thousand orphans. They say that more than eight million dollars came to George Mueller as a result of prayer. And yet, when he died they tallied up his accounts and he owned less than a thousand dollars, that was to his name. Another Old Testament character that strikes me is Nehemiah, who was building the walls of Jerusalem. And the world cannot figure out why anybody would build a wall, restore a city, without some kind of financial manipulation in mind. Why would you build a kingdom if you weren’t going to become wealthy from the kingdom? And Nehemiah is there building the wall and finally the enemies say to him, “Oh, we know why you’re building that wall, because you want to be governor. You want to receive the salary of a governor.” And he said, in effect, “I have not and I will not receive all of the benefits of being a governor.” And they couldn’t figure it out. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were scratching their heads outside the wall and thinking, “Now what makes Nehemiah tick?” They must have been thinking, “What in the world makes Joseph tick? We can’t figure this guy out.” That, ladies and gentlemen, when you are unaccountable, when you have all the opportunity, the potential, the alibi, when you’re alone with yourself, are you honest?
The fourth thing that strikes me is his desire to serve others unselfishly. Look at chapter 47, verse 23, “Joseph said to the people, ‘Behold, I have today bought you” - and they have become, in effect, tenement farmers, this was something like a feudal system of the middle ages - “now, here” - note what he does - “here is seed for you, and you may sow the land.” It’s interesting when this country comes to the end of their famine, the people still have their dignity and their self-respect because Joseph was serving the people with them in mind. He says, verse 24, “And at the harvest you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh,” - a 20% tax - “and four-fifths shall be your own for seed of the field and for your food and for those of your households and as food for your little ones.” It’s interesting that many liberal commentators will poke at Joseph at this account. In fact, many literatures, given to scriptural exposition, will begin chapter 47 at verse 27. They’ll skip this whole passage because they’re just convinced that Joseph is now out for himself. And yet, archeology, once again, has helped us because neighboring countries excised more than 50% tax. People were often demanded to give half of their produce, half of their money to the kings. And Joseph is in a sense, saying, “I’ll take just 20%. Enough to handle the administrative affairs. Enough to keep this system going. We’ll take care of your cattle. We’ll provide the seed. You give us one-fifth.” In light of what was taking place, Joseph was amazingly compassionate and unselfish. He served the people with them in mind. In fact, verse 25, says, if there is any doubt, they said to him, “You have saved our lives!” Not, “You have been uncompassionate.” Not, “You have been desirous of taking all that we have.” No, they say to him, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be” - your - “slaves.” That is, “We will serve you faithfully.”
One of the greatest marks seen in the character of Jesus Christ was that day in John, chapter 13, where he was in the upper room and the big thought on the apostles minds was, or disciples at that point, was the question, “Lord, who’s going to be the greatest in the kingdom?” What they were really wondering was, “What does God consider great? What is the mark of character that He really takes note of? Who will be among us, then, the greatest?” And, as you well know, Jesus Christ, there in that room as they had already reclined to eat, no one wanting to wash the feet of the other, the slaves were not there, and they didn’t even wash their own feet, which strikes me. Jesus Christ takes his gown and He girds it up around him and He takes a towel and He goes up to Peter and He takes his feet and He puts them in the basin and He says, “Peter, I want to wash your feet.” And Peter, in the text literally, draws his feet up and he says, “No, you can’t wash my feet.” And the Lord gives him a theological lesson in being “in Christ.” And, finally, Peter acknowledges His sovereignty and allows Him to wash his feet. And Jesus Christ goes around the room and washes 24 dirty feet. And, I imagine, in that room you could have heard a pin drop, only the splashing of water in that basin. And the dropping of tears as they ran off the ends of the noses and cheeks of the disciples as they sat there and watched true GREATNESS. The world measures greatness by how many people serve you. God measures greatness by how many people you serve.
Another mark that strikes me is his transparency in grieving openly. Look at chapter 49, verse 29, “Then he charged them” - this is Jacob on his deathbed - “ and said to them, ‘I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah - the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.’ When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.” What will Joseph do now? Great man that he is. A man who has trusted God in His sovereignty in unwavering faith. How will he respond? With a smile, saying, “Wonderful, he’s with his fathers now. Glory, I’m going to see him one day in heaven.” No. He had the transparency to grieve. Look at verse 1, “Then Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father.” To give him the greatest burial Egypt had ever seen. Now forty days were required for it, verse 3, “such is the period required for embalming.” - but, note - “The Egyptians wept for him seventy days.” Let’s add on another thirty in mourning and grieving for him. Verse 7, “So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, and all the household of Joseph and his brothers and his father’s household”. Verse 10, “When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed seven” - more - “days mourning for his father. Now when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, ‘This is a grievous mourning for the Egyptians.’ Therefore it was named Abel-mizraim,” - which means, “weeping” - “which is beyond the Jordan.”
The world would say to something like this spectacle, “That is weakness.” Christianity would say, “That’s unspiritual.” I tend to believe there are people, within the body of Jesus Christ, who need a good cry. Who are bottling things up; difficulties, resentments, deaths and have been told by the spiritual side, “Oh, chin up.” I remember being at my father-in-law’s funeral and my mother-in-law sitting in a chair with a tissue and a relative coming in, who supposedly knew the Lord, and saying, “Now look, there’s no need to cry. Get a hold of yourself.” I wanted to punch the guy in the lights. See, we’ve missed what Joseph had. He was secure enough in his faith in God that he was able to grieve and weep. I remember reading of Jesus Christ, as you well know, who wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus Christ, who looked over the city of Jerusalem and he, weeping, said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”. It is strength to reveal those emotions, not weakness.
Sixth, he had a capacity to forgive graciously. One of the most beautiful texts in the book of Genesis is found after Jacob dies and Joseph’s brothers are afraid that, now, Joseph will have a vindictive attitude and send them to death. And they come to Joseph, in verse 17, saying, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong. . . . please forgive”. “And” - they - “fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants” - Joseph. And verse 19, “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Remember the capacity to forgive like this, ladies and gentlemen, is dependent upon our ability to see God at work in the lives of other people. So that when someone impacts me in a certain way. When someone may criticize, when someone may say something to tear down, when someone may attack you, when someone may be less than gracious, they are tools in God’s hands to develop you. Joseph viewed his brothers as tools in the hand of God to bring about this great result.
Finally, Joseph is great and it is seen in his confidence in dying as a visionary. Boy, I love this. Verse 22, “Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his father’s household, and Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim’s sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh” - that is, he saw his great grandsons - “born on Joseph’s knees.” - he was there. “And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” And I stop and I say, “Come on, Joseph. He gave a covenant promise to Abraham that he would be a great nation and Abraham had one son. He repeated that covenant promise to Isaac, “I will make you a great nation,” and he had two sons. And to Jacob, again, and he had twelve. Three generations. A tribe of seventy and you’re holding to this? Joseph died a visionary. In fact he would make his brothers swear. I know two things about his vision. First of all, it’s of God’s faithfulness. He made his brothers swear, verse 25, “saying, ‘God will surely take care of you”. But he also was confident of Israel’s future. Would you note the last part of verse 25, he says, “and you shall carry my bones up from here.” I love that! He said, “Look, when God finally fulfills the promise of the land, don’t leave me in Egypt. Bring my body. I want to be there. God will fulfill His promise.” How could he die with such vision? Because Joseph lived with such vision.
Would we like to die like Joseph? The question is, do we live like Joseph? As one said, “Or are we chained to the status quo, afraid to try, to risk, to change, to go, to do something that we feel God may want us to do.” Where is vision? Living a life with vision will determine the way we die.
I have a book in my study that I read periodically. It reminds me of the brevity of my own life. Let me read you the statements of some men who spoke their last words on their deathbed. One was an unbeliever that I’ll read from. Berlioz, a dramatist and composer who spoke like Shakespeare and wrote like him, he wrote this before he died, “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury. Life signifies nothing.” A man who lived 50 years prior to this man, Isaac Watts, who wrote, “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” and “Oh God Our Help In Ages Past.” Listen to his dying testimony, he says, “It is a great mercy that I have no manner of fear or dread of death. I can lay my head back and die without terror this afternoon.” - which he did. Martin Luther, the monk that shook the world and conceived Protestantism that you and I enjoy today, as he was lying on his deathbed with his closest friends about him, he repeated three times, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth.” Then as he breathed his last, he repeated John 3:16 and then his favorite verse, Psalm 68:20, “Our God is the God of whom cometh salvation. God is the Lord by whom we escape death.”
I want to die like that. But you know what it takes? It takes living like that. Allowing the Holy Spirit to stamp upon our character the marks of true greatness. Using authority, for those here that have it, wisely as a parent or as an employer. Administrating honestly. Serving others. Grieving openly. Forgiving graciously. Greatness, men and women, is not developing great empires but developing great and Godly character. Greatness is not in leading men but leading our lives in such a way that God is pleased. Greatness, by our world’s standards, is not receiving the applause of men, it is receiving the approval of God.
The last verse says, “So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed” - temporarily, mind you - “in a coffin in Egypt.” End of chapter. End of a book that I have come to love. But it is not the end of the story. Because the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph is alive. And He is just as available to stamp upon your character and mine the marks of true greatness.