Bible Dreams – Joseph

Bible Dreams – Joseph

Bible Dreams – Joseph.

“That night God came to king Abimelech in a dream…” (Genesis 20:3); “As Jacob slept, he dreamed of a stairway…” (Gen. 28:12); “In my dream, the Angel of the Lord said to me, ‘Jacob!” (Gen. 31:11); “One night, Joseph had a dream…” (Gen. 37:5); “The previous night, God had appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream…” (Gen. 31:24); “Interpreting dreams is God’s business, so go ahead and tell me your dreams,’ said Joseph.”(Gen. 40:8); “Two years later, Pharaoh dreamed… (Gen. 41:1);“When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord.” (Judges 7:15); “That night, Yahweh appeared to Solomon in a dream.” (1 Kings 3:5, and 9:2); “I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means,’ said King Nebuchadnezzar. He sent for Daniel at once.” (Daniel 2:3, 14); “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream…” (Matthew 1:20, also in 2:19 and 2:22); “God had warned the Magi in a dream.” (Matt. 2:12); “Pilate’s wife sent him a message, saying ‘Let that innocent man alone! I suffered through a terrible nightmare about Him last night!” (Matt. 27:19).

Why would God, who has every means of revelation at His disposal, choose dreams as a way to contact a person and convey vital guidance? Dreams tend to be unreliable, unpredictable, illogical, and poorly remembered if at all. Many if not most dreams don’t seem like a very trustworthy vehicle for divine communication. They can be mistranslated so easily, and sometimes are so bizarre it’s hard to take them seriously. And we know now that dreams can be affected by external things like room temperature, what we ate or drank before bedtime, the events of the day, or even if there are any lingering aromas in the house. And because dreamers are in an unconscious state, dreams are outside of our control as the unfettered imagination runs wild.

Nonetheless, God speaking through dreams didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows in Scripture. Everyone from pagan kings to heroic saints were not surprised by this strategy of God to reach them. We now realize that after decades of so-called dream science, the whole topic of dreams are just as mysterious now as in ancient times. Dreams remain a fascinating frontier when it comes to scientific research, and we still simply cannot confirm why we have this ability to mentally experience vivid pictures, stories and images while in an unconscious state. God in His wisdom knows when to approach someone with divine intervention while a person is in a dream state. He knows who is a likely prospect for His appearance in a dream. Perhaps some people are more receptive to God’s guidance when in an unconscious state, which says a lot about a person’s stubbornness when in a conscious state. Perhaps it is only during a dream that a person doesn’t have much of a choice of whether to listen or not, knowing that dreamers are captive audiences. Maybe God waits for when a certain person’s resistance is down. Perhaps a person’s imagination might be more picturesque and creative during a dream, able to manage an other-worldly, heavenly message. We just don’t know for sure the motivation of God in using dreams, of course, because His very presence is a mystery as He somehow travels back and forth between spiritual, material and imaginative realities. But we do know that God often chooses to work in mysterious ways and in this matter of dreams, He has chosen, and continues to choose, dreams to warn, instruct, guide, reveal His presence, and encourage us. God loves us so much that He will do whatever it takes to reach us whether awake, or asleep, or everything in between.

“Here is the history of Jacob. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he used to pasture the flock with his brothers, even though he was still just a boy… Now Jacob loved Joseph the most of all his children, because he was the son of his old age; Jacob made him an elaborate robe to wear. When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than all his brothers, they began to hate him and reached the point where they couldn’t even talk with him in a civil manner. Joseph had a dream which he eagerly told his brothers, and that made them hate him all the more. Joseph said to them, ‘Listen while I tell you about this dream of mine! We were tying up bundles of wheat in the field when suddenly my bundle got up by itself and stood upright; then your bundles came, gathered around mine and bowed themselves before it!’ His brothers retorted, ‘Yes, you will certainly be our prince. You’ll do a great job of bossing us around!’ And they hated Joseph still more for his dream. Joseph had another dream which he told his brothers: ‘Here, I had another dream, and there the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down before me!’ He told his father too, as well as his brothers, but Jacob rebuked him… His brothers were completely jealous of Joseph, but Jacob kept this matter in mind.” (Genesis 37:2-11).

“Coat of many colors.” Most Hebrew scholars now agree that the King James Version of the Hebrew words in this passage, “ketonet passim,” is not really very accurate. “Ketonet” can mean many things, including coat, robe, tunic, vest, or any type of outerwear. And “passim” generally refers to an extravagant cloak, with long fancy sleeves, big cuffs that cover the palms of the hands, and a bottom hem that reaches the feet. So the accurate way to think of Joseph’s coat is as an elaborately embroidered coat, an ornamented tunic, or a beautifully tailored robe. A coat like this was totally impractical for the working class, of course, and so is worn only by the elite class, or a prince, or someone who enjoys the privilege of not having to do manual labor. This type of outerwear is worn only by those assumed to be pampered and spoiled. It is also assumed by the scholars that a special cloak like this was customarily given to the child who was privileged to own the father’s birthright, which was only given to the firstborn. All of Joseph’s brothers of course knew where Joseph stood in the family line, the 11th son born to Jacob, certainly not the first! Evidently, Joseph was given VIP status, special son treatment, because he was the first son born to Rachel, father Jacob’s true love.

Joseph as a “young lad.”  He was not a particularly endearing adolescent. In rabbinic literature, Joseph distinguished himself by usually “acting childishly.” Even before Joseph foolishly shared his dreams with the brothers, Rabbi Jonathon Sacks characterized Joseph as someone who had “the air of a spoiled child.” So it’s clear that Joseph’s immaturity and his unearned privilege led to his early downfall.

Joseph’s Dreams. As one might say these days, he was not someone who was very good at “reading the room.” When he eagerly reported his dreams to the brothers, and then to father Jacob, Joseph must not have recognized how bitter and resentful his brothers were toward him. Joseph was so triumphant about his prophetic dreams that this proved to be the proverbial nail in Joseph’s coffin. The brothers were not going to stand for this claim that they were destined to bow down to Joseph as if he was a prince. They already saw enough of that at home every day, so the brothers hated him all the more after the dreams. They looked for an opportunity to get rid of his privilege and arrogance once and for all. Out in the fields one day, they conspired to just throw Joseph into a deep dry well and leave him there. The eldest brother Reuben nixed that idea, and then Judah suggested that they sell Joseph to these traveling slave traders nearby and be done with it. And the rest is history… Joseph ends up in Egypt becoming a prince (Deut. 33:16), the owner of Jacob’s birthright as predicted in the dream (1 Chron. 5:2), and an ancient picture of Christ as providing the bread of life, the deliverer from tragedy, our dwelling place and refuge, and the forgiver and redeemer of mankind.

More of the Joseph story. Father Jacob “refused to be comforted” when told of Joseph’s demise. The rabbis interpreted this to mean that Jacob refused to give up hope, that he wouldn’t be comforted about Joseph’s death because he continued to think that somehow Joseph was still alive. Meanwhile, Joseph was sold as a slave to an Egyptian official who threw Joseph into jail for making advances on his wife. These charges were untrue, Joseph was innocent and kept his purity, but he was thrown into prison nonetheless. It was while Joseph was in prison that he helpfully interpreted the dreams of two fellow inmates. Two years later while still in prison unfairly, Joseph was put on Pharaoh’s radar and was asked to interpret two of the Pharaoh’s dreams that were particularly troubling. Joseph did so with flying colors, and now at thirty years of age, Joseph was made a governor of Egypt, the primary manager of all of Egypt’s national affairs. He guided Egypt successfully though a severe world-wide famine, and soon Joseph’s family came to Egypt looking for food during this same famine. When the brothers approached Joseph in his chambers, they didn’t recognize Joseph, since they hadn’t seen him in twenty ears, he looked Egyptian, spoke in Egyptian, and he was so highly exalted in the land of Egypt! But Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, and he sent them back to Canaan with food, without ever telling them that he was the long-lost brother they had sold into slavery so many years ago. But the famine continued, and once again father Jacob sent his sons to Egypt for more food. Joseph received them and prepared a big banquet for them in his prince’s palace. After some interesting examples of Joseph messing with the minds of his brothers, he could contain his secret no longer. Joseph wept aloud and finally revealed himself as their brother. He told his shocked and mortified brothers that they should not feel guilty for their earlier treatment of him, that they should not be disgusted with themselves for doing such a thing. And here is one of the most moving scenes in Scripture. Joseph wisely saw the Big Picture, how God had actually been working behind the scenes and ahead of the action this whole time, to enable Jacob’s family to survive and continue. “So it was not you, dear brothers, who sent me here, but God!” (45:8). So Joseph arranged for the whole family of Jacob, all 70 of them, to move to the choice land in Egypt, the land of Goshen. Even Pharaoh said to Jacob, “You will eat the fat of the land. Everything good in the land of Egypt is yours!”

Death of Father Jacob. God confirmed this big move by telling Jacob, “It is there I will make you into a great nation.” (46:3). So the family of Jacob settled in Egypt, flourishing in every way possible. After 17 years, father Jacob died at 147 years of age, and all of Egypt mourned. Before his death, Jacob had adopted Joseph’s children into the family, and gave prophetic blessings over his sons that have stood the test of time (Gen. 49). Joseph and his brothers took Jacob’s body and buried it in Abraham’s field, finally at rest in the Promised Land of Canaan.

Forgiveness. Now that father Jacob had died, the brothers of Joseph wondered if Joseph’s earlier kindness to them was merely for the sake of their father. They were terrified that Joseph would finally exact revenge. And now comes one of those monumental events in the Bible, the beginning of the idea of forgiveness. This is the first mention of forgiveness in Scripture, and it is memorable for sure. Joseph forgave his brothers from his heart as he wept, his brothers literally lying prostrate before him in their fear for their lives. Joseph graciously declared to them, ”Don’t be afraid! Even though you planned evil against me, God produced good from it.  God turned into good what you meant for evil. God made it turn out for the best so that our families would be saved! So don’t be afraid – I will provide for you and your children.” (50:17-21). Scripture reports that “In this way, Joseph comforted them, speaking with great kindness to them.” (50:21).

“We plead of you, we beg of you, forgive the cruel sins of your brothers and the suffering that they caused you. We beg that you forgive our crime, for we are the servants of the God of your father!(50:17). The Hebrew word used for this first mention of forgiveness is “Nasa,” which is a word used literally hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible. Depending on the context and intention of the passage, “nasa’” has three possible meanings: to lift up; to carry; to take away. In this context of forgiveness, the scholars agree that to forgive meant to: lift the charges; to spare judgment; to bear with; to take away the offense; to carry away the resentment; to sweep away the wrongdoing; to take away all claim to retaliation. Forgiveness, thy name is Joseph.

Joseph’s Last Words. “And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Soon I am going to die; and God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you to the land He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob… God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” (Genesis 50:24).

Joseph’s life journey had been unpredictable. From being the spoiled favorite of his father Jacob, to the rejected brother stewing in a pit. From being an immature dreamer to actually having those dreams fulfilled. From being sold into slavery to becoming the Prime Minister of Egypt. During a time of extreme uncertainty, Joseph offered to his brothers historic and profound words of forgiveness. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. So don’t be afraid.” And with those words, Joseph made good on his promise and provided a fruitful piece of property in Egypt, the land of Goshen.

But now, after a long successful stint as an important official in the Egyptian government, the time has come for Joseph to die. On his deathbed at 110 years of age, he receives a word of knowledge from God. Joseph prophesies that after a time, the Lord will come to help the Israelites escape from Egypt and will lead them to the Promised Land, the land that God had promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph’s last words were a vision of his family leaving Egypt and heading to Canaan. He then made the sons of Israel swear that they would take his bones out of Egypt when they left. Joseph knows that Egypt is not his homeland. His true home is the land promised to his fathers. And sure enough, 400 years later, they carried Joseph’s bones on their march through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. “God led the people round by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this.” (Exodus 13:18-19).

And sure enough, the Israelites were faithful in completing their historic promise to Joseph. “The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought along with them when they left Egypt, were buried in the plot of land Jacob had bought, located in the territory allotted to the descendants of Joseph.” (Joshua 24:32).

Joseph’s last words were intended to encourage his brothers and by extension the Israelite families. Joseph made a promise that the Lord would visit them and help them in due time. Joseph wanted to depart with a word of hope for his extended family, that God would not forget them, God would notice and take action when the time is right. In his final words, Joseph envisioned a national salvation and homecoming for his family by the hand of God.

Magnanimous. Oh, for the “Good Eyes” of Joseph as he generously showered his brothers with grace after being so horribly wronged by them. Oh, for the faith of Joseph who could see beyond the ill treatment and believe that God’s hand was involved right from the start. Oh, to be this magnanimous to those who do us wrong. This is quite the redemption story. We can believe that God can take the worst of situations and somehow redeem it into something good and glorious. God is all about redemption, about taking the bad and making the good come out of it. This story of Joseph and his brothers might be blinding in its grace, but not so bright that it would blind us to this wonderful truth.