Scripture Reference: Genesis 39-41, Psalms 105:18-19, 1 Peter 2:20
A Dream Is TestedDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 15, 1996
Selected highlights from this sermon
The life of Joseph was a wreck. He’d been sold, his dreams were battered, he was falsely imprisoned, and he helped others with their dreams while he was forgotten.
But there was one who didn’t forget him: God.
The Almighty unveiled a dream for Joseph that he could have never foreseen. Here's a lesson for Joseph and for us: in the midst of injustice, we must submit ourselves to God’s kindness.
We’re talking about dreams. Some of our dreams are fulfilled. There are many dreams that we have for ourselves that are being fulfilled, and there are still other dreams that will never be fulfilled. As you and I know, we don’t have to go along very far in life before we realize that the world is filled with broken dreams.
Joseph had a dream. God gave him a dream that someday his brothers and sisters, and even his parents, would bow down to him. That was his dream, and they did all that they possibly could to sabotage it. And last time we learned that in that experience Joseph was taken and thrown into a pit, and then he was sold and on his way to Egypt. And that was the end of his dream, and the brothers were happy because at last they had put to death this young man who had received his father’s coat, which was a sign of heirship, and above all, it was the end of his dreams.
Today I want you to take your Bibles, and let’s turn to Genesis chapter 39. If you were here last time you know that we stressed that Joseph, first of all, had to die to his family. If there was any possibility that his dream would be fulfilled, it most assuredly wouldn’t be because his brothers wanted it to be fulfilled, and his father was powerless to help him.
Joseph is going to die now another death, and that death is going to take place in the land of Egypt. Remember when Joseph went there, God was leading him, and we read in chapter 39: “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man.” Potiphar began to trust this young man, and entrusted everything to him for which he had responsibility because he said, “Here’s a young man whom I know I can believe in.”
Potiphar, you remember, was responsible. He was the “secret service” for Pharaoh, a very prominent position. And because of his many duties he was away from the house a great deal of the time, and this meant that Joseph and Potiphar’s wife spent an awful lot of time together, too much time as it turned out, within the house. And that’s where the second death that Joseph experienced took place.
Well, you remember what happened. The Bible says that Potiphar’s wife began to try to seduce Joseph. Verse 7: “And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’”
Well, let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s sandals. Think of the opportunity that he had. And why was this such a powerful temptation? First of all, it was because he was exalted in Egypt. He had an important position. And usually people who have positions of importance tend to make exceptions for themselves. Saul, you remember, put away all the witches from the land of Canaan, and yet when he is in trouble, what does he do? He goes to the Witch at Endor. It is the principal of self-exemption. Joseph could have said, “Here I am in Egypt. God has blessed me, and surely God, because He is merciful, will continue to bless me even if I commit this pleasurable sin.” That’s what he could have thought.
Let me give you another reason why it was such a sexual temptation that was powerful. It’s because he was so vulnerable. Notice in verse 6, the last part of the verse reads: “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” Joseph was tempted because he was tempting, a good-looking hulk of a young man, with much desire within his body. And furthermore there was every reason to believe that Potiphar’s wife was very attractive, and so you can just imagine the chemistry that could have been there between them. As it was, it was all one-sided, but Joseph was in a position of great, great temptation. In fact, do you know what the text says? Day after day she pressured him and made her moves. This wasn’t just a matter of one time and then Joseph walking away. No! He had to live with the possible fantasies and with her desires in the house as long as he was there day by day.
Another reason is he was away from home. Mom and Dad were long gone. They were in the land of Canaan. None of his brothers or the sister that he had were with him there. Nobody really knew him in this strange land with its strange customs. Nobody who meant a great deal to him would ever find out. This could have been his trip to Fort Lauderdale during spring break. Nobody knows what’s going on. I’m with students and nobody knows me. Here I am. I’m can have my fling.
Put yourself in his sandals. He could have rationalized along with Potiphar’s wife and said, “Look, let’s do this and then let’s make up a good lie so that if we are found out we will come armed with a pack of lies that will be consistent, and if we use those lies we’ll be able to talk our way out of anything—anything!” Joseph could have thought to himself, “Well, I can handle the consequences. Whatever those consequences are, they are manageable. In fact, I’ll deal with those consequences tomorrow.”
You know, today there’s a lot of emphasis on the need for abstinence, and we need to emphasize that, but I think that many of our arguments are not being bought by our young people. We tell them, “You know, remember there is the fear of AIDS, and that there are unwanted pregnancies. Remember there is guilt. Remember all of these consequences, and the giving away of something so special has some very deep and lasting consequences.” But many young people aren’t buying it, because remember the human mind has the ability to rationalize anything that the human heart wants to do, and you can bypass all that and say that there is an exception for me, and I will take whatever precautions are necessary so that I won’t get caught in the same trap that others have. I am smarter than all that. I can do it and I can get by. I think Joseph would have said the very same thing, a young man with burning desire, as all young men have in a house that is empty with a woman who greatly desires him. A perfect match!
But there’s one thing. Joseph could not rationalize. Only one! He said to her one day, “How could I do (last part of verse 9) this great evil and sin against God?” That was the question. Joseph had a right view of sin. He didn’t call it an affair. He didn’t say, “We really shouldn’t do this little hanky-panky on the side.” Today we live in an age of euphemisms. Adultery is an affair. Homosexuality is an alternate lifestyle. Joseph said, “It is sin. It is a great sin.” And he says, “I have a right view of sin, and a right view of God. I could put up with the consequences. I could live with the guilt. I can have my pleasure today and have my harvest tomorrow, but there is one thing that I cannot rationalize, and that is that it will break the heart of my Heavenly Father, and I love Him so much I can’t do this to Him.” And that’s the one thing you can never rationalize. Never, because no matter whether anybody knows or not, it matters not, because God knows and He is offended and He is hurt.
David learned that in his relationship with Bathsheba. He tried to cover it up, of course, and we all know the story, and eventually he couldn’t. And Nathan, the prophet, came to him and said, “Thou art the man.” Do you remember the story? And finally David said, “I tried to hide this sin from everyone in the palace. I didn’t do a very good job, but I tried to hide the whole thing to cover my shame.” But when he repented he said, “Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned. God, that which was hidden and that which I lied about, and that which I tried so confidently to cover, it was all seen by You.”
Most women, if they had had a sermon like this from a young man, they’d have given up on this kid. They’d have said, “You know, he’s so staid and traditional in his morals, I’m going to give up.” She didn’t. This lady really had it for Joseph. You’ll notice it says that day after day she kept the pressure up even after he told her that he couldn’t do this great sin against God. Finally, one day she really made her move, and she just grabbed for him. And he, of course, is trying to get away, and she grabs his coat, and she ends up with his coat. And there he is out the door. I know that it’s been said rather accurately, I would say, that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and she said to herself, “I’ll fix that guy.”
So she brings in all the servants and she says, “Look at what this Hebrew tried to do. The guy tried to seduce me. In fact, he was trying to rape me. I’ve got his coat in my hand.” Potiphar comes back and she tells him the same story, and he believes it, and the text says in verse 19: “As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, ‘This is the way your servant treated me,’ his anger was kindled. And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison.” And of course he got on his cellular phone and called his attorney (laughter) and immediately said, “I want to have my rights read. I want this investigated. I’m going to file a complaint and we’re going to get this resolved, and I’m going to sue him.” (chuckles)
Oh wow! In those days there was no trial. There was no attorney. There was no justice. There was no hearing. There was no opportunity for him to tell his side of the story. Nothing but jail! (period) Bango!
Let me ask you a question. Where in the world did this idea ever arise? Who hatched the idea that if you do what is right things will always turn out good for you? Where did that come from? Surely not the Bible! Joseph does what is right and gets two years in the slammer for a false accusation against him for doing what was right and sound and pure in the sight of an Almighty God, and that’s what he gets for it.
There’s a verse in 1 Peter 2:20 that says, “You know, if you do evil and you suffer for it, it’s no big deal. You’re getting what you deserve. But if you do what is right and you suffer for it, such suffering finds favor with God.” If you have ever had to suffer unjustly and you have done it graciously for Christ, God takes notice and says, “Now, that’s something special to Me.” Don’t you ever bypass an opportunity to suffer unjustly, especially if it is for the Lord you love because God says, “I find favor if you can handle it.”
What was God doing anyway? What is the big deal here? Well, you know it says in Psalm 105:18… Just listen. It says about Joseph: “His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron.” Don’t ever think that prisons were lovely places to be. They were terrible infested dungeons. He was bound in the irons. He was put in the stocks, and there the word of the Lord tested him.
God was trying to find out what Joseph was made of. Could he…? Well we know that he was a good administrator in success, but could he handle failure? He was doing well in the palace, but can he handle the desert? He was doing well when he was receiving just recompense. Can he handle injustice, and furthermore, can he hang on to his dream, even though it dies in a prison cell? That’s the question! “Can you hold onto your dream?”
Two phrases that you ought to underline in your Bible, if you are in the habit of underlining it. Notice verse 2. Potiphar exalts Joseph. It says, “The Lord was with Joseph.” Now he’s in jail (verse 21), “But the Lord was with Joseph.” Will you remember, my friend, today that God is with us in our exaltation, and He is with us in our humiliation? He is with us when we are promoted, and He is with us when we are demoted, even if it happens unjustly. God is with us!
Alright, how far have we come? He had to die to his family, If the dream was to be fulfilled, most assuredly it would not be fulfilled through them. They tried to burst his dreams, if there’s a word like that. If not, there is now. He had to die to his reputation. Everybody in the palace said, “Look at him. Hypocrite! He seems so nice but look at what the guy did. He tried to rape Potiphar’s wife.” And there was no way to straighten out the rumors and the gossip, and the innuendos and the tabloids. There was no way to get justice. He had to die to his reputation.
God still isn’t through with him though. He has another death to die, and that is mentioned in the fortieth chapter. He’s thrown into jail with two guys, you remember, the cup bearer and the chief baker, and they have their dreams, and I’m not going to tell you what those dreams are because it’s going to take too long. And you can read those on your own. But Joseph interprets the dreams. He’s really good at interpreting other people’s dreams. He doesn’t know what in the world happened to his own, but he’s a counselor in jail. And they come to him and they say, “You know we both had dreams. And Joseph said, “Hey, you guys, guess what! Good news! Bad news!” You’ll notice it says that Joseph said to him in verse 13 (That is, he is speaking to the cup bearer), “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer.”
“Good news! Baker, guess what! In three days you are out of here, and your head is cut off.” But while he was talking to this cupbearer who is going to get out of jail, he says in verse 14: “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” Last verse of the chapter: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”
Do you have friends like that? They are in trouble and you help them, and then you’re in trouble and they don’t even remember your address. They never call on the telephone. They never give you a kind word. They aren’t there to help you. Everything seems to be going wrong in your life and you are enduring it all alone and the people who verbally said, “Yes, we are your friends,” don’t come through at a time of need and they say, “Well, life is tough. It’s good for us. It’s bad for you, but that’s the way it is.” The cupbearer forgets him. Death to his friends!
If there is ever any way now that this dream is ever going to come alive (I’ll tell you, talk about an impossible dream), God was going to have to resurrect it from the ashes and the stench, the smell, the grime and the vermin of a dungeon. Well, you know, it’s interesting that in Chapter 41 Pharaoh has a dream. Everybody’s dreaming here. It reminds me of a college class I had in psychology. Everybody’s dreaming. He has his dream. Fourteen cows come out of the Nile River, seven of them sleek and fat, and then behind them another seven skinny ones, and the skinny ones eat the fat ones and they still stay skinny. Eat your heart out Jenny Craig! (laughter) Boy, this would make a SlimFast commercial.
So then finally the cupbearer says, “Oh, oi oi oi.” And so they go get Joseph. He says, “I remember there was a guy in jail—Joseph, and he could interpret dreams.” And Joseph shaves and comes and Pharaoh says, “What in the world? Tell me my dream and what the interpretation is.” And Joseph says, “Look, you’re going to get seven years of plenty, and then there are going to be seven years of famine. And if you’re smart you are going to save during the years of plenty because the famine is coming.”
Pharaoh is impressed. In verse 38 of chapter 41 Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this in whom there is a divine spirit?” And he gives Joseph his ring, and he gives him his chariot and he says, “You are going to be second to me in all the land of Egypt.”
By the way, what does that do with old Potiphar? You know, Joseph went up the corporate ladder rather quickly at this point. In fact, all of his peers said he jumped a couple of rungs, and as a result of that, being next to Pharaoh, he could have gotten even with Potiphar who believed that lie, and Potiphar’s wife. “Wait till I get ahead of you in the corporate structure. I’m going to teach you a thing or two.” He’s a bigger man than that.
And so what happens is Joseph actually ends up getting married. He could have said to himself, “Well, you know, this can’t make any sense. Strictly speaking I shouldn’t even be here in Egypt. How could God have a wife for me?” But Pharaoh named Joseph (and they gave him an Egyptian name) and gave him Asenath (verse 45), because even there God had a wife for him of all things.
Students say, “Well, you know, I’m at Moody Bible Institute. What if the one that God has chosen for me is at Philadelphia College of Bible and we’ll never, never meet?” God’s providence is much bigger than that. Much bigger! Even if you took the wrong train, God has His ways.
Well, he has two sons. In fact, one he names Manasseh (verse 51), which means to forget. That’s looking at the past. “I’m forgetting the past. I’m turning over a new leaf.” And the second is Ephraim (verse 52), which means fruitful. The past I am forgetting. A fruitful future! Joseph begins to feel as if life is coming around for him again. And as we shall see next time, soon he’s going to be on his way to his dream.
Well, as you know, we’re learning lessons about dreams, and if you missed my last message I suggest that you get it because these are part of a whole piece of cloth that fit together about dreaming, and how we can find out whether a dream is God’s dream, and how to handle broken dreams.
Let me give you four lessons that we’ve learned so far today about dreams—four more added to the four that I believe I gave you in the last message.
Number one, don’t ever sacrifice a great dream on the altar of a lesser dream. Oh, the history of so many lives can be written of foolish immediate decisions that sabotage the possibility of something so much greater, hastily getting married without taking into account the larger dream that God may have for you. What would have happened if Joseph had committed adultery with this woman? Well, God wouldn’t have given up on him. God would have had something else for Joseph to do, most assuredly, because God does not abandon His people when they fail. But the great dream here would have either had to have been modified or given up because this all had to be a part of God’s plan. And Joseph had to play the role that God desired that he play so that it be fulfilled. And if you look at the lives of even Christians that are basically strewn with the wreckage of foolish decisions, immediate dreams that are sought, and they lost sight of the big dream, namely to know God and to enjoy Him forever, and to be fulfilled in the way that He called them and gifted them, don’t ever sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate. Don’t give up a big dream just for a little immediate dream that will stand in the way of the big one. Lesson number one!
Lesson number two! God has as many dreams for us as there are circumstances of life. He has as many dreams as there are situations in which we find ourselves. You know, if we had asked Joseph back there in Canaan, “What is your dream?” He might have said, “My dream is to have a nice Jewish wife, to sit down with my father, and to have a tent and some animals and just be content until I die.” That was his dream, or maybe something like that.
He gets to Egypt and he gets to be Potiphar’s assistant and God has another dream for him. It is to be the best possible administrator that he can be, because Joseph knew that if he was a good administrator for Potiphar, he would be a good servant of God, so he fulfills that dream. And that lasts awhile and then he gets thrown into jail, and does God abandon him and say, “Well, you know, that’s the way it is; life is tough”? No, God is with him there in prison, and God shows him kindness. And guess what! God has another dream for him in prison. It is to be a model prisoner and to minister to those who are in prison, and to help them with their lives and get those lives unraveled and untangled. That’s where his dream was. And then God brings him out of that and again raises him to a position of responsibility, and now he has a new dream.
You see, I’ll tell you, God is never caught off-guard by our mistakes and by the zig-zags of our own careers, which sometimes go up and which sometimes go down, and which sometimes go in all different directions, and sometimes even belly up. God is not caught in a dilemma for which he can say to us, “I have no more dreams for you.” When God says, “I have no more dreams for you,” you’ll be taken up into heaven and it will be all over on earth. He has as many dreams as circumstances and there is no one to whom I’m speaking whose dream is so shattered but that God has a ray of sunshine that comes to us from a cell in Egypt, and that sunshine says, “Even there, God has still one dream left at least.”
The third lesson: We often fulfill our dream when we help someone else fulfill his or her dream. People say, “I have no dreams left. My dream is not being fulfilled.” How about finding a needy child and fulfilling his dream? Listen to what Isaiah says: “And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will arise in darkness and your gloom will become like the mid-day, and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places and give you strength in your bones. And you will be like a watered garden and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”
Find someone who is hungry and thirsty and afflicted. Get involved in somebody else’s dream, and help them see it become fulfilled. And who knows but that God may graciously be in the process of granting your very own dream too. I find this significant. Here we have the dream of a pagan king and the dream of a 17-year old boy… That’s how old he was when he had the dream. Now when we’re in Egypt at this point he’s about 23. But isn’t it interesting that these two dreams should converge, and as Joseph helps Pharaoh fulfill his dream, that is going to be the key to have Joseph see his own dream come to pass, because in the sovereign work of God these two dreams are concurrent. They are joined and they meet together on Planet Earth.
This morning some of us prayed together. My prayer partners gathered to pray in my study before I came down, and one of them, before we were even praying, not even really knowing exactly what I was going to say today said, “You know, I have a dream and that is to help my wife fulfill her dream.” Some of you guys who are hard to live with… Of course, if you are, you probably don’t know it. Do you know what you ought to do? You’d ought to just begin to help your wife fulfill her dream for a little while, and maybe what you’ll discover is that in fulfilling her dream your dream also will come to pass. Those of you without any dreams get involved in the life of someone else, maybe that child in Compassion International that we heard about this morning, and help somebody else fulfill his dream. And the promise is that it will come back to you and light will arise, and it will be like a watered oasis in the desert.
Finally, we must leave our dreams with God. At the end of the day when everything is said and done… And by the way, have you ever noticed that when everything is said and done, usually more things are said than done? But when everything is said and done, God is the ultimate One who knows what dream is best for us. I urge you to give him your dreams, even your shattered ones.
What God does when He gives us our dreams, when we allow Him to make the decision for us, is He keeps us so wondrously sometimes from dreams that we want for ourselves that wouldn’t be good for us anyway.
I need to tell you this morning that standing right here today I am fulfilling my dream. I’ve always wanted to preach. There are no preachers in our family on either side—father or mother. Yet here I am a last-born, and growing up the only thing I wanted to do is preach. I’d come home (I’d listen to the preacher) and imitate the preacher. I don’t know why. I just always wanted to preach. I’m fulfilling my dream. But I want you to know today that the reason that I am able to fulfill my dream is because God very graciously kept me from stupid dreams along the way that I thought I wanted. And if He had not kept me I would not be here today fulfilling this dream.
I was in love with a young woman one time. I thought it had the hand of God on it. If there’s anything—any marriage that was made in heaven, it was this one. (chuckles) Of course, lightning and thunder are also made in heaven. (laughter) God graciously kept me from that relationship, graciously kept me from it even though it killed me. But I want you to know today that if I had married that young woman I would not be here today. I’m absolutely certain that that is the case. God kept me from it, and then He had another woman prepared for me by the name of Rebecca, so that we could share our dreams together.
You don’t know what is best for you. Don’t be so confident that you know the very thing that is best. Only God, who sees the future, knows. Why not give Him the whole shebang and give up trying to fight your own dreams which are going to break anyway?
I love to tell that story about the guys who were walking through an insane asylum. They came to a padded cell. This one guy is beating his head against the wall saying, “Linda, how could you do it? Linda, how could you do it?” So the visitor said to the administrator, “What’s his problem?” He said, “He was just madly in love with Linda, but Linda broke the relationship and she ran off and she married another lover and he couldn’t take it. And it broke him, and all that he does is sit here all day and hit his head against the wall saying, ‘Linda, how could you do it? How could you do it, Linda?’”
They walked a little further, and they got to the end of the hallway and they came to another cell and here was a man hitting his head against the wall (laughter) and saying, “Linda, how could you do it? Linda, how could you do it?” (laughter) The visitor said, “What’s his problem?” And he said, “Well, he’s the man that Linda married.” (loud laughter)
Do you really think that you know what is best for you? Do you really think so? There have been all kinds of things that have happened in my life where I thought I knew, and God graciously protected me from dreams that would have been nothing but detours from the bigger, larger dream. Give God your dreams. Give Him your dreams—broken, shattered, smashed, helpless, wonderful dreams, fulfilled dreams, partially fulfilled dreams. God loves you and cares and will give you the best dream He can give you, given what you give Him at this point in your life. He’ll give you the best dream He’s got for where you are at.
You know, Fannie Crosby was not born blind. At six weeks old the doctor comes by because she has some problems with her eyes. It was kind of a rash and they put some medication on, and she goes blind at the age of six weeks. At the age of nine she wrote:
Oh what a happy soul am I.
Although I cannot see I am resolved
That in this world contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot and I won’t.
You talk about somebody who wrecked her dream when she was six weeks old! She could have grown up bitter and angry, saying, “You know, why did this happen? Here I sit in darkness. What kind of a dream can there be for me? Somebody wrecked my future.” That’s a possibility of how she could have reacted.
The other possibility is to say, “Oh God, you are bigger than all of that. You are bigger than a stupid decision by a foolish doctor. And as long as I am alive I still have a dream and I will sit here and I will dream.” And today our hymnal has at least 25 hymns written by Fannie Crosby.
It was about 1856, if I remember the year correctly, that she needed five dollars. And in those days that was a lot of money, and so she prayed about how she would get those five dollars, but she had no idea as to where it would come from. And a visitor came to the house, and as he left he shook hands with her and left a five-dollar bill in the palm of her hand. She was overwhelmed with gratitude to think that God would take note of someone who was so insignificant and so blind. She said, “You know, God, I love you so much I’m going to write a song just to remind myself and others of the faithfulness of God. And so she wrote a hymn:
All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
Remember God always gives the best dreams to those who leave the choice with Him.
Let us pray.
Our Father, we thank You so much for the life of Joseph, for the reminder that You are with us in injustice. You are with us in families that are dysfunctional, families that want to do nothing but hurt us, and yet You work and You continue to be faithful. We ask, Father, today for those who go through those hurts. Help them to see God, even in injustice, even in a prison cell. We pray today, Father, that graciously Thy hand would be upon them.
Thank You for the memory of Fannie Crosby, for the encouragement she has been to millions throughout the world. And Father, we know that she could say all of that because Jesus was a part of her life. And we think of those who are here today, even listening to this message, or by radio listening, who do not know Christ personally as Savior, and therefore they cannot trust a God they do not know. We pray that in grace You will work in their lives that they might trust Christ personally, and pray to Him to receive His gift of eternal life that they might begin Your dream. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.