A Dream Is BornErwin W. Lutzer | September 1, 1996
Selected highlights from this sermon
Life is not easy, especially in a dysfunctional family. Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him just because he was Jacob’s favorite. If that wasn’t bad enough, it seemed that wherever he was, people were conspiring against him.
But God had plans for him—and lessons for us. With God’s help, we can rise above a dysfunctional family. We can trust that God has a dream and a purpose for us, and nothing can permanently stand in the way of it.
All of us have our dreams, don’t we? Some of our dreams are fulfilled, maybe even beyond our expectations. Other dreams are in the process of being fulfilled. We aren’t there yet, but it might be happening. But there are also many other dreams that are not fulfilled, in some instances, dreams that will never be fulfilled, dreams that may have to do with a career or a relationship or even emotional wholeness. There are certain dreams that people might have that will never come to pass.
You don’t have to live long in life before you realize that we are always surrounded by people with shattered dreams. All of us have those kinds of dreams. We never understood that certain events would transpire in our lives that would shatter our optimistic ideals, but more often than not, they are shattered.
What we’d like to do in the next few messages, as we look at the life of Joseph, is to answer some questions. How do we know when a dream is from God? How do we distinguish between God’s dream and our own dream? What do we do? What does God do with our broken dreams? And how does God fulfill a dream? How much power does He have at His disposal if He wants to see one of our dreams fulfilled? What then?
You understand, of course, that I’m not talking about those dreams that we have in the night. I’m talking about desires. The dreams of the night flee away. I had one of the craziest dreams last night, but then I have so many of them. Do you know that last night I actually dreamed that I was flying along and able to take care of some gardens while I was flying over them? Can you imagine that? Where did all of that come from? I have no idea.
Take your Bibles and turn to Genesis 37 where we have the story of a 17-year old boy who had a dream, and he had a dream that eventually was fulfilled, though the dream died many times before it happened. Before I begin to talk to you about Joseph, we have to spend a little bit of time trying to analyze who he really was. What are his roots? To answer that question, we have to ask what kind of a family was he from. I know that the word dysfunctional is oftentimes overused, but I really do think that without stretching its meaning at all, Joseph came from a dysfunctional family.
Let me tell you a little bit about his family. First of all, there was a passive father by the name of Jacob. He was only distantly related to his sons, never deeply involved. For example, his oldest son, Reuben, had a sexual relationship with one of Jacob’s (that is, one of his father’s) concubines, his mistresses, and the Scripture simply says, “And Jacob heard of it.” (period)
He had one daughter. I’ve often felt sorry for Dinah. Imagine her with 12 boys in the family. She gets raped by some pagans and he doesn’t do anything about it. Where in the world are you, Jacob, when you are needed? But he hears of these things, and he doesn’t intervene. He doesn’t counsel his daughter. He does not reprimand his son. He just lets it go. He was a passive man. He also was a man who had a lot of favoritism in the family.
Now you have to understand that he had two wives, and two mistresses. He was married both to Rachel and to Leah who were sisters, and the Scripture says that he loved Rachel but he didn’t really love Leah. Can you imagine that situation in the home?
And then the Scripture says also that he loved Joseph who happened to be, of course, as you might have guessed, a son of Rachel. And he loved Joseph and Benjamin and they were his beloved sons. Favoritism! Where did that originate? Well, whatever goes around comes around. This was part of the family line. This is the way in which things were done because in his own family a generation earlier the same thing happened.
You remember Jacob himself was a twin. Esau was his brother. And then you have, of course, the parents, Isaac and Rebekah. (There’s a nice ring to that name—Rebekah.) But you had that situation, and what happens is that Jacob is favored by Rebekah, and Esau is favored by Isaac, and so you have conflict in that home. And you know the story of how Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. Esau comes out from hunting and he comes to the house and he’s very famished. And Jacob is making this pot of stew. In Hebrew it says that red stuff, that lentil soup, and he says, “Give me some of it.” And Jacob says, “Okay, I will, but you have to sell me your birthright first.” And so Esau, being a man of the world, wanting what he wants when he wants it, said, “Yes.” And I won’t even take time to tell you the story of the deception of how then he stole the blessing by tricking the old man, Isaac, just before he died.
So what you have is this favoritism running through the family, and remember a passive father will always gravitate to the child who doesn’t give him any trouble. He will always gravitate to and favor the compliant child, and that’s what happened here. Joseph was a good boy. He didn’t give him any difficulty, any heartache. And so he loves him because of that as well as the fact that he happened to be the son of his favorite wife.
Well, that’s only part of the story. He was a passive father. He exercised favoritism, but also Jacob was deceitful. Remember that the very word Jacob means cheater. He cheated Esau out of his birthright, as we noticed. Later on he goes to work for Laban, and he and Laban end up cheating one another, and finally when Jacob wrestles with God there at the Jabbok River, you remember that the Lord said to him, “Tell me your name.” And he had to say Jacob, in effect saying, “I am a cheater.” And God says, "From now on you’re going to be called Israel." And even in the text here in Genesis 37, he is called Israel because this, of course, happens after the experience of wrestling with God, with the Angel of the Lord at Jabbok.
Well, so much for the father. What about the family itself? Do you realize, of course, that he was brought up (Joseph was) in a blended family? Today we hear a lot about the blended family because of divorce and remarriage, and so two sets of children are supposed to get along, and the parents aren’t supposed to show favoritism to the children that are not their biological children. You know the conflict. (chuckles) You realize what’s going on here in the text. The twelve sons of Jacob were a collection of half-brothers from four different mothers.
As I mentioned, Jacob was married to Leah and Rachel, but he also had two mistresses, Bilhah and Zilpah. And they also had children, and now these guys were supposed to get along. No wonder there was so much treachery. No wonder there was so much jealousy and hatred, and so much misunderstanding, because they were supposed to somehow make it. Their mothers didn’t get along, and now they were supposed to live together and make peace. Well, you know that they made a lot of war along with the peace.
Now, of course, you have to understand that thrown into this is the fact that he has brothers that hate him. He’s isolated. Joseph is isolated because his father loves him and his brothers hate him. Typical family feud!
With that background, let’s pick up the text. Chapter 37: “Jacob lived in the land of his father's sojourning(s), in the land of Canaan.” Verse 2: “Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhap and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report of them to their father.” He tattled on them. You know that there is something that you should never do if you are a member of the family, and that is be a tattle tale, but he was.
“Now Israel (that is, Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors (that very special coat, Joseph’s coat).”
Now we have to stop here and ask what’s going on here in the text because the brothers hated Joseph. But what really put them over the brink were two things. First of all, this tunic, this special coat because it symbolized, first of all, heirship. You know, the New International Version translates it a richly ornamented robe. There was only one of those robes per family, and it was usually given to the firstborn. And so here is Jacob who bypasses Reuben who is his firstborn and he gives it to his favorite son, Joseph, and you can imagine the hostility. It’s like throwing a match into a can of kerosene. So that was part of the problem.
But there was something else that just eventually put the brothers over the emotional brink, and they said, “We can’t take it anymore,” and that is their kid brother’s dreams. Joseph was a dreamer. You’ll notice it says in verse 5: “Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.” You almost have to say that it’s understandable that they would.
There were two dreams. One was celestial. That’s the second dream. The first was agricultural. Notice it says: “‘Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us?’ (Or are you indeed to rule over us?)’ So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.” Ouch!
And then what does Joseph do rather naively, perhaps even foolishly? He has another dream. Well, he can’t help that. You don’t control your dreams, but he tells them about a second dream, and it’s just as bad as the first, at least in their sight. Verse 9: “Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?’ And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.”
There you have it! Hostility all over the place! Perhaps the boy, being unwise in sharing his dreams of putting himself in the center with all of the others bowing down before him, did seem ostentatious. But apparently this was a dream that had been given to him by God, because, as we shall see, 22 years later it was fulfilled.
Well, so much for the family. Would you expect that out of this family God would raise a jewel, a prince of a man who would be admired throughout all generations, century after century, as a model of integrity and godliness?
Well, let’s continue. So much for his family. What about the treatment that his family gave him? How did they respond to him? Well, we have to just continue the story. The brothers are out and they are herding their sheep, and it says (and they were in Shechem—verse 13): “And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ And he said to him, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.’”
Now, let me tell you the rest of the story. Joseph goes about 60 miles from Hebron, which is in the south, all the way to Shechem, which is toward the north, and he’s trying to find his brothers to see how they are doing so that he can bring back a report to his father. Well, they remembered the bad report that he had given earlier, but he gets there and they are not there. So he meets a man who says, “You know, I think I saw your brothers ten miles further north at a place called Dothan.” And that’s where he went and that’s where the brothers confronted him.
By the way you can go to Dothan today. It is what is known as a tell. It is a mound because the city has been destroyed and rebuilt, and that’s the place, incidentally, where Elisha and the angels surround the town of Dothan, a story that takes place in the book of Kings.
Here is Joseph now and he’s coming toward his brothers and notice what happens. Verse 19: “They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.’”
Get the point! Kill him, you kill his dreams. That will be the end of it. We don’t want to listen to this young guy who is talking about us bowing before him, and the richly ornamented robe. We’ll take care of him. Kill him!”
Well, it’s interesting that in this context Reuben, who happens to be the older brother, steps in and says, “No, let’s not kill him.” He says: “’Shed no blood (verse 22); throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father.” You know, you read this and you say, “Is it because Reuben was such a really kind-hearted guy? Was he touched by the grief of his younger brother?” Perhaps but then perhaps not. Maybe it’s because he knew that he was in the doghouse with his father because of what he had done to his father’s mistress, and so he may have just feared the wrath of Jacob. We do not know, but at any rate Ruben says, “Let’s throw him in the pit, and let’s simply keep him there.”
At that point, Reuben makes a mistake because all of the others say, “Yes, throw him into the pit,” and that was fine. It says in verse 25: “Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah (and we’re going to encounter him again) said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him.’” And so they sell him for 20 pieces of silver, and Joseph is on his way to Egypt.
Reuben was not there when it happened. He was having lunch (He obviously was eating a Reuben sandwich), and it took too long and he goes and Joseph is no longer in the pit, and he can’t believe it. And they say, “We sold him for 20 shekels of silver.” Benjamin wasn’t with them. Ten brothers therefore are left. Each of them gets two shekels of silver. They make up a lie, and they tell their old father, Jacob, as they took that coat and dipped it into animal blood and showed it to him and said, “Is this the coat that you gave to Joseph?” And he says, “Yes,” and they said, “A wild beast must have devoured him.” And that’s really the end of the story. They put out the light of their brother, they thought. They sold him but they said that he was killed and that was really the end of the story.
For 22 years those brothers hid that lie in their hearts. And just like a siren that continues to get lower in its decibels because of a battery that is beginning to expire, in the very same way their consciences no longer could be touched by anything. Maybe throughout the years as they saw a coat like Joseph’s, or perhaps they walked past a pit, they remembered what happened, but they bound themselves by an oath, and they kept the secret. And Jacob, of course, says, “I’m going to go to the grave mourning for my son.” He can’t even believe that they would tell him such a lie. He assumes that what they are saying is true, and that is the end of the story for now from his point of view.
Let me ask you a question. How does Joseph take this? Do you think he took it so stoically? You know, sometimes we exalt him as if he was almost a supernatural person. You know, the Bible does not record any specific sin that he committed and so we tend to exalt these saints and think that they were not touched with the same infirmities as we are. Not so!
Twenty-two years later Judah is going to be speaking and he does not know that Joseph is present. And I want you to read the story beginning at chapter 37, and read to the end of the book of Genesis so you see it all in context. And he does not know that he is in the presence of Joseph, and he says these words. Judah says, “This has happened to us (He’s talking about his own distress.) because we saw the distress of our brother and his pleas for help, and we did not help him.” Oh, I want you to catch this today. He knew, and every one of those brothers knew, that selling him into Egypt was probably far worse than death could ever be, and here’s a 17-year old boy now who doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his father. He doesn’t know whether or not his father has been told the truth, and believes that, so far as he knows, he will never see his family again. The dreams dies. It dies, and that’s the end so far as he can see.
Now, of course, eventually God is going to resurrect the dream, and that’s really the story. It’s an intriguing story of the providence of God, the greatness of God’s ability to even control the weather patterns throughout the whole Middle East just to get this boy reconciled to his family. It is a story that is staggering in its doctrine of providence as we shall see in this series, but Joseph doesn’t know that. As far as Joseph is concerned he was simply the victim of angry brothers. He didn’t ask to get this coat. He didn’t ask to be the one that was favored by his father. He didn’t do anything to ask for what he got. Talk about an unfair shake from his family.
Well, there’s so much more that could be said, but for openers today, what we’d like to do is to give you four lessons that we can learn so far from Joseph’s experience, four lessons that will bring encouragement and hope and help, and eventually, I trust, healing to many who hurt.
Number one, a child can rise above a dysfunctional family. A child can rise above it. Nobody would have ever expected that Joseph was going to arise as a man of God, given the father he had, the brothers he had, and the hatred that he endured, and the separation from his mother, and all of the experiences that were so terrifying and so hopeless in a strange land whose customs and language he would have to learn, for he did not understand them. No one would have expected that out of that family.
Some of you to whom I speak today are ashamed of your roots. You want to keep that in a closet. You want to keep those doors closed because of alcoholism and abuse and incest, and all kinds of ugly things that you hope you never even have to confront or deal with. You want to keep the doors closed, and you think to yourself, “I am inevitably and permanently tainted. There is no hope for me.”
I want you to know today that God sometimes, just to display His mercy and His grace, reaches down in the most unlikely, terrible situation and raises up someone to display His glory and might to show that the family of God can step in when the human family has failed, and we don’t have to be victims. We don’t have to be victims of those brothers and sisters that harassed and mistreated us and were angry with us and abused us. God can do something wonderful even in a family like that.
It’s interesting that the Bible says of Jesus that He was a root out of dry ground. That had to do with His lineage. Oh, I know, He was divine, but He was also human. And then He came from Nazareth, the town that was despised, and people asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” If you are an environmentalist in the sense that you believe that people are the product of their environment, what hope do you give to Jesus? What hope do you give to Joseph?
Let me challenge you. If you came from a family like the one described here in the Scriptures, break the cycle. Break the curse in the name and the power of Christ and move on, because God is with you. God is with you! That’s the first lesson. A child can rise above a dysfunctional family, and Joseph proves that.
Secondly, and more painfully, God’s dream for you may be different than your dream for yourself. That’s very obvious, isn’t it? God’s dream for you may be an entirely different dream than you carved out for yourself. You know, if we could interview Joseph before all this happened and sit down by a tape recorder and say, “Joseph, what’s your dream?” he wouldn’t talk about being a sheave before which others bowed, or being in the middle of the sky so that the stars would even bow before him. That isn’t really what he’d talk about. He’d say, “You know what I want to do? I want to live next to Dad. I love my dad. I want a couple of sheep. I want to marry a nice Jewish girl. I want to settle down and have a family life, and frankly I’d like to live a life free of hassle.” Probably that’s what he’d say.
God says, “Joseph, you know, I’m sorry but I have a different plan for you that includes 22 years of ups and downs, being mistreated, misunderstood, false accusations, and eventually to rise in Egypt to fulfill your dream. It will happen, that is, to fulfill the dream about the stars and the sheaves. It will happen but the years are not going to be pretty.”
You know, isn’t that true? Yesterday we heard of a couple going through a great deal of problems because of the birth of a child that was born prematurely. And my daughter related that one of the friends of hers said this, “You know, when you stand at the altar and you say, ‘I do for richer for poorer, for better for worse,’ nobody knows what the worse is going to be. Your dream is happiness.’”
I’ve performed I don’t know how many marriages. One day I counted all of the marriage certificates that I have in a file, and it may not be a complete list, but tons of them. I don’t remember anyone saying, “You know, our dream is to have a miserable marriage. What we’d really like to do is to go through life unhappily. Could you help us fulfill our dream?” I’ve never had anybody say that, but I’ve married more than one couple for whom God had obviously a rather different dream.
You see, the point is this. Sometimes we do get this confusion because we know what our dreams are, and they are always pretty dreams. They are always successful dreams. They are always painless dreams. That’s the way my dreams have always been, but God sometimes desires a different agenda because of a different purpose. If you hang on and if you come back, as we do this series, we are going to be both encouraged and breathless at God’s providential guidance in the life of someone who’d have never, never, never chosen Egypt as his dream. But God’s dreams are sometimes different from our dreams.
A third lesson, and this is more difficult to take, and I know I have to say this carefully because some of you are hurting today and you might not agree with this, but I’m going to say it anyway. Not even your family, not even your hate-filled family, can stand in the way of God’s dream for you. Ouch! But I’m going to say it again. Not even a hate-filled family can permanently stand in the way of God’s dream for you. Some of you grew up in homes, and the desire even of your parents, not to mention your brothers or sisters, was to shatter your dreams.
I remember a man saying to me, “You know what the fondest wish of my mother is?” And I said, “What?” And he said, “That I might be a failure. She so hates men that she ridicules me, cajoles me, makes me feel very inferior, abuses me (when he was younger), and she did this because she is determined to show that every single man is evil, every single man is a good-for-nothing.” And what she wants to do is to smash his dream once for all.
That’s what the brothers wanted to do. They said, “Come, let us kill him, and let us kill his dream.” And some of you, bless you, you’ve had to survive a home like that. Where is God? Does God abandon you and say, “Well, you know, if you are from a family like that, what in the world do you expect me to do with this mess?” No! You love God and He’ll have a dream for you. He’ll have a dream. Sometimes even out of ugly situations there is a dream. It’s not the dream that you wanted. No, we’ve already covered that. It’s not the dream that you would choose if God gave you options, but then the options are very few in life, aren’t they? And what you need to do is to understand that God does not forsake those whose dreams have been shattered. He gives them new dreams. New ones! And He says, “It isn’t what you want and it isn’t want you expect, and it isn’t even what you deserve, but here is something else.” God! Twenty-two long years was with Joseph and his dream incredibly was fulfilled.
Finally, and I’ll leave off with the fourth lesson. Broken dreams can be more easily accepted when we know God. Let me say that again. Broken dreams can be more easily accepted when we know God. Do you know what we’re going to see in the next message in this series? A remarkable little phrase occurs a number of times in the life of Joseph. He goes into Egypt and it says, “The Lord was with him.” That’s the phrase. He’s promoted in Potiphar’s household, and it says, “The Lord was with him.” He is falsely accused. He’s going to have to die to his family, to his reputation, even to his friends, as we shall see, so you stay with us. But the interesting thing is that in prison, falsely accused, and the Lord was with him.
You see, when Joseph left Canaan he had to leave his family behind, but he did not leave God behind. God transverses the borders. God is the one who follows people into countries and into situations where no one else is permitted to go. God goes with His people, and God is with him in his good times of elation and promotion, and God is with him in his demotions, and God is with him the whole way. God is there.
And, you know, you can take some shattered dreams. You can… Oh, it doesn’t mean that the pain goes away. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy, but you can live with some of those shattered dreams more easily if you know that God walks with you through the furnace, through the fire, through the misunderstanding, and through all of the hurt. The Lord is there.
And so I end this message today by asking you a question. Do you know God well enough that you can trust Him in the dark? Many years ago when I interviewed Dell Hasenfeld just before he died I said, “Dell, you know you’ve learned so much with this terminal illness, this tumor.” He was diagnosed I think it was in April, and the doctors said, “We promise you that you will not live till Christmas.” People were praying for him all over the world, and yet he died in November of that year.
I had a 45-minute interview with him, and Dell said to me, “You know, when you follow God in the light, it’s like coming home.” He said, “I can find my way in the house even when the lights are out because I have walked in that house so often during the day.” (chuckles)
So I need to ask you something. Do you know God well enough in the light that when darkness comes and the dreams lie shattered at your feet, do you know that He walks with you through that experience? You can only know Him like that through Christ, and if He is distant to you, if you do not know Him personally, if He is only a concept or an idea, I remind you that Jesus said, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” I invite you to Christ, because in inviting you to Christ I invite you to see God. To see God! And if you’ve never believed in Christ personally, there’s been no transfer of trust, you can do that even today.
We have many purposes for our existence here at The Moody Church, but the good news of the Gospel, the understanding that God is a forgiving and receiving God to those who come in humility through Christ, that is really the core. That’s our bread and butter. That’s our life. That’s the thing that motivates us. That’s the thing that explodes within my soul.
Every time I have the privilege of telling people that there is a Christ who can lead you to God so that you can know Him well enough in the light… And when the dream is gone He is still there. He is still there! As the deer pants after the water, so our souls pant after Him. Why? It’s because we know that we need God even worse (more) than the fulfillment of our dreams. We need Him more desperately than we need them.
Where are you today? Are you willing to give all your dreams to God? Give them up to Him. And for those of you who don’t know the Savior, come quickly today in faith and receive Him.
Let us pray.
Father, we do want to thank You today for the life of a young man who eventually saw You in the injustice and the hatred. And in the end he will say that God was a part of it all. Work in us the same faith, particularly among those today who hurt. Grant them, Father, hope, the hope of Christ and God and Your promises. Raise up many from homes that are a mess to display Your glory. Lift up all those who have fallen, and grant us Your peace. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.