BIBLE STUDY SERIES #32, 33 and 34

7 June, 1992

PRISON DREAMS - PART II

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

In this series of Bible studies we have been following the Genesis account of the Great Plan which Almighty God has set in motion in order to rectify the sinful condition of His creation. We had traced the course of the inter-actions between God and mankind through the Chosen Family of the Biblical Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We have now arrived at Chapter 40 wherein Jacob's son, Joseph, has been put in prison on false charges, and there he has languished for a number of years, all but forgotten as life continued onward for those outside the prison.

Now two of Pharaoh's Officers have been placed in prison, and there, on the same night, they both have had dreams which neither of them understood. Naturally, these dreams troubled them. We believe that most people dream practically every night, although most dreams are not remembered the next day. It would seem that these particular dreams of Pharaoh's Officers must have been most noteworthy, and perhaps experienced as sleep fled the minds of these worried officials. Thus remembered traces of these dreams would remain within the scope of their conscious thoughts as they awoke.

But these are dreams designed by God for far-reaching purposes. Joseph has heard the first dream, that of Pharaoh's Butler, or Cup Bearer, and by divine guidance Joseph has given him a happy interpretation thereof. In the Butler's dream, three branches of a grape vine have yielded juice which he pressed into Pharaoh's cup. Joseph tells the Butler that this dream means that in three days, he will be restored to favour as before.

Realising that a favourable opportunity to advance his own fortunes is herein presented, Joseph asks the Butler to remember him when he is restored to office, and to speak on his behalf at the court of Pharaoh.

Upon hearing the favourable explanation of the Butler's dream, Pharaoh's Baker no doubt felt encouraged, and he now proceeds in turn, to tell his dream. We pick up the story at Genesis 40:16.

16. When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head:
17. And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head.

Now it is one thing to tell a worried prisoner that his dream has a favourable meaning, but quite another to relate an unfavourable outcome. Joseph might have felt a temptation at this juncture to allow his sense of sympathy to take over, placing the most favourable interpretation possible upon both these dreams.

Have we ever felt such a temptation? Perhaps on some occasion a very real opportunity to speak up has come to us. Perhaps we may have sensed that something from scripture ought to be said, but we remain silent, refraining from letting someone know how their circumstance should be brought into accord with Biblical principles. We would then be silenced by those same considerations which might here have tempted Joseph, and substitute some platitude, a little lie.

Joseph, however, is an honest reporter of the God-given meaning of such dreams, even though this honest report must have put the Baker into a deep state of shock and depression; something which, we may assume, Joseph would not have desired to do. Joseph, a long-term prisoner, would probably be most sensitive to the feelings of the Baker, and, incidentally, he would also be aware that an optimistic "slant" to his report might gain for himself some slight favour in return.

A most important lesson, however, appears at this point in our account. Eventually, as the story unfolded, it turned out that telling the whole truth at this moment of moral crisis was ultimately the key to Jospeh's release. Had he succumed to the temptation to just give a false but "easy" interpretation, Joseph would not have left with the Butler, that Baker's companion in misery, the memory of having encountered a true prophet in the prison house; a memory which would be the eventual key to his release.

We find here a valuable lesson with a far wider application for all of us. We do not, in the end, reap long-term acclaim and benefits by lying, saying what people want to hear, though there is a great temptation to do so for short-term acceptance. A short digression on that point would, I feel, not be out of place at this point.

The assurances of plausible lies may be, and indeed in the present general state of morality in public life, it seems they frequently are, the desire of very large numbers of the public. A people who lack the morality that demands personal commitment do not want to hear the awful truths which would require them to actually take the initiative of independent action. They want to avoid the exertion required to correct a situation. They prefer the lazy narcotic offered by agreeable liars who assure them that they don't need to be troubled. As Isaiah 30:9-11 explains:

9. That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:
10. Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
11. Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.

Power-hungry office-seekers are ever ready to satisfy this market for lies. They calculate that the short memory of the voter, (assisted by frequent co-operative media diversions) will save them from exposure. The tendency, therefore, is for smooth talkers to be widely acclaimed, and at election time, for voters to flock to their support. As the function of media editors is to sift information and to create that picture of each candidate which reaches the mass of the electorate, any tendency on their part to corrupt the truth to please a controlling media mogul would therefore form a most reprehensible lie. The responsibility for truth on their part is of extreme importance.

Although many persist in supporting each new candidate offered by the media in turn, the present failures of governments to meet the expectations of the masses should come as no surprise to a dissatisfied and increasingly informed and sceptical public. Lies do not match reality, so it is no wonder that the results attained by such politicians hardly ever even approach, let alone match, expectations.

Politicial parties rise and fall with accelerating pace as voters shift from one to another. In fact, one might suggest that the push by elitists is becoming more and more frantic to lock the world into a one-world governmental design before reality overtakes the process in the minds of dissatisfied populations as increasingly desperate electorates are stung towards wisdom.

How different will be the government of Jesus Christ when He returns, for He will never offer lies, and His government will match every promise and meet every expectation. The reason is that only God knows the complete reality of His universe, and thus only God's rules of conduct of individuals and of society will permit mankind the tranquil advantage of a co-operative natural environment and social congeniality.

But now let us return to the Biblical account at verse 18:

18. And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days:
19. Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.
20. And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.
21. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand:
22. But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.
23. Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.

For a time, certainly, the Butler did forget Joseph as the bright light of day outside the prison, and the swirl of activity connected with his former occupation again engulfed his attention.

But even the sad end of the Baker has served God's purposes. Indeed probably in no other way could the significance of what had transpired in the prison have been underscored impression in the latent memory of the Butler. Probably it required the death of the Baker by hanging to place firmly in the Butler's memory the significance of what had actually transpired as God used Joseph to reveal the meaning of his own dream.

Had we been present with the family of Jacob, we might have examined each of a number of occurrences in the past life of the young Joseph, separately as they occurred, with a superficial appraisal, and have declared each in turn to be "unwise". Had we been there, we might have suggested that, with greater wisdom, he ought to have refrained from antagonising his brothers with those tales of his dreams. We might have cautioned his father, Jacob, explaining that he should wisely refrain from expressing favouritism in the gift of that coat of many colours. The brothers, we might have suggested, would have behaved more prudently in suppressing their anger before the drastic step of selling Joseph into slavery became an accomplished act.

Joseph might have been cautioned not to work in the house without suitable witnesses, thus presenting Potiphar's wife with that opportunity to make advances and then to charge him with attempted rape. But then, life is like that, isn't it? We do our best as we see things at the moment. We often determine the wiser course later, as we review our social gaffs and thoughtless remarks. Our ernest decisions turn into sources of consternation and pain. To use a cliche, we simply have to "live and learn". Our later wisdom is assembled out of our immediate failures and dismay.

It ought to be a matter of great assurance to us all, then, when we realise that God had this whole pattern in view as He permitted Joseph to report those dreams, and Jacob to show that favouritism in giving that coat of many colours to him. God designed the sale of Joseph to the slavers, and the placing of the young Joseph in the position of trust in Potiphar's house.

God designed that Joseph should feel the stress of false accusation and the turmoil of incarceration in bondage. God allowed the years to pass as Joseph was kept from the pleasures of the world beyond those prison walls. Surely at each stage in turn, as night followed day and day followed night in Joseph's life, prayers arose to The Almighty to relieve the strain and pain, the loneliness and the insecurity. It was all God's design, His Plan. At the time, Joseph would not, perhaps, see any sense to it all. But how mighty was to be the end result for Joseph, and for the whole of mankind through the millennia to follow! The thought should give us renewed heart and courage as we find ourselves passing through similar situations with no apparent answers to prayer. God hears. He has something better in mind for us than we can even dream if we remain faithful to Him.

We shall continue with our study on our next programme.

14 June, 1992

FROM PRISON TO COURT

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have been studying God's Great Plan, as it has been working out in the life of Jacob's favourite son, Joseph. Joseph has been sold into Egyptian slavery, and falsely accused. He has been cast into prison, and has there remained as the years passed. He has by God's guiding insights correctly interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's Butler or Cup Bearer, and of Pharaoh's Baker as they joined him for a while in that prison.

Subsequently, the Baker was executed and the Butler restored to his office, just as Joseph had interpreted. The request which Joseph had made to the Butler for a word to be spoken in Pharaoh's ear on Joseph's behalf, however, had been swiftly forgotten as the Butler joined the active life beyond the dark walls.

Joseph must have contemplated his chances of ever seeing freedom again with less and less hope as time moved slowly onward and he remained behind those walls. Was God really aware of all his prayers, his faithfulness to his duties, his constancy of character? Would it never end? What was God doing, if anything, to relieve his situation? Joseph must have been at times, near the end of his patience as year followed year and his innocence went unrewarded.

Perhaps some of us also have at times felt that life was moving onwards all about us, and we have been as it were forgotten by God, left in our own prison of seemingly unending drudgery, pain or the curse of some limitation which seriously hampers our happiness. Possibly the problems are medical, or perhaps financial or of family obligations. We see only diminishing expectations of having the slightest improvement in our lot as the years passed, and then even more years have come and gone, and God seems silent. We may prayerfully protest our innocence to God, and feel that He does not appreciate our constancy of service. Our prayers appear to go unanswered. It may seem as if God does not care. For all who thus feel confined by circumstance the story which we are following ought to be a source of great hope.

Joseph might have felt as we do, but The Almighty was watching. Psalm 105:19 describes Joseph's experience thus: "Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him." Now let us see what God had in store for Joseph as the time appointed finally arrived. We pick up the scriptural account at Genesis 41:1.

1. And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river.
2. And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow.
3. And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river.
4. And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.
5. And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.
6. And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them.
7. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream.

Today, we might dismiss such dreams as of no value, and a belief in their importance would be accounted as simply superstitious nonsense. But dreams, as we have seen, may be one of God's means of speaking to people. Particularly in ancient times, it was generally assumed that such dreams might well be the means of God-given auguries.

Of course, there were those who falsely claimed to have received such visions, and the Bible strictly warns Israel concerning them in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. Such dreams must have an interpretation consistent with God's word throughout all scripture. But even false dream events are, as we see, permitted as tests of the desire of God's people to serve Him. We might say that the proof of the concept is in the subsequent events. The fact is that events recounted in the example before us did later unfold as the dreams projected them.

Not only do we have the examples of Joseph's earlier dreams, but those of Pharaoh's Butler and his Baker, and of Pharaoh himself; and there are others also.

God spoke to Jacob in the dream of the ladder reaching to heaven, as we find in Genesis 28, when Jacob lay sleeping with his head resting on the stone known as Jacob's pillow, and again in Genesis 31:10 where He provided guidance concerning the gendering of cattle to the benefit of Jacob's family. Solomon received God's offer, concerning his own life in a dream, in I Kings 3:5-15.

We may also remember the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, which was repeated by prayerful request to the Prophet Daniel, and which Daniel interpreted to him in Daniel 2. Bible scholars generally agree that the subsequent course of history did indeed unfold the succession of nations in accordance therewith.

In Matthew 1:20, Joseph the husband of Mary was given God's assurance concerning Mary's condition, and in Matthew 2:13, an angel provided the Holy Family with a warning concerning Herod's intentions in a dream; a warning which resulted in the move to Egypt until the death of that monarch. The slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem amply demonstrated the proof of Herod's intent. In another dream, recorded in Matthew 2:19, Joseph was told that he could return home with Mary and Jesus when it was safe to do so.

Thus we see that dreams have indeed been a valid means by which God imparted prophetic understanding to certain Biblical personages. Upon waking in the morning light, the Godly people in these examples wisely took those dreams as valid assurance of God's will in their lives and those of their peoples.

Let us see what transpired in Joseph's life in consequence of Pharaoh's dreams, picking up the account in Genesis 41:8:

8. And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.
9. Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day:
10. Pharaoh was wroth with his servants, and put me in ward in the captain of the guard's house, both me and the chief baker:
11. And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream.
12. And there was there with us a young man, an Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret.
13. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored unto mine office, and him he hanged.

So we see here that though two years were yet to pass over Joseph in that prison, in the Great Plan of The Almighty, Joseph must eventually be drawn from prison into Pharaoh's court. He must be made available on that later occasion when Pharaoh himself received those disturbing dreams. The connecting link had to be that Butler, and the trace of memory of that dream interpretation years before. Perhaps the Butler did not wish to remind Pharaoh of his own incarceration, and thus avoided mention of anything connected therewith. But the memory was still there. I think we see the workings of conscience within the Butler's thoughts as he speaks, for he does, at last, speak of his "faults" in not having mentioned Joseph before that moment.

As our time has about expired, we shall only have time to conclude by simply reading verse 14 to see that Joseph has indeed been drawn out of prison in God's good time and adding a brief comment. That verse says:

14. Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.

Joseph must prepare to meet the king who was probably the most powerful in the world of his day, and he must be suitably prepared. He must have a suitable personal appearance in every way. Probably quite costly raiment would have been provided to him for after so many years of incarceration in the prison, his clothes would not be in the best of shape. He must be suitably prepared to appear before Pharaoh and the whole court and to be received with appropriate court approval. Again we must note the significant part which dreams have once more played in Joseph's destiny.

We shall examine further of these matters on our next programme.

21 June, 1992

CALLED WITHOUT WARNING

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

In following the unfolding plan of Almighty God which is working through a chosen lineage of one Patriarchal family for the benefit of all mankind, our Bible studies have brought us to Genesis 41, and we now stand with the thirty-year old Joseph as he is suddenly brought from prison into Pharaoh's court.

It has been two years since those two notable prisoners, Pharaoh's Butler, now restored to office, and Pharaoh's Baker, since executed, had spent some time in the prison with him. Joseph, as we have seen, has now had to endure that prison for the last twelve years on a false charge of attempted rape of the wife of the Captain of Pharaoh's Guard. That twelve years amounts to well over a third of his entire existence to this point, and it must have seemed that God had entirely forgotten him. (The non-Biblical Book of Jasher, in fact, states that the Butler and Baker had spent a whole year thus incarcerated with Joseph before Pharaoh's judgment fell upon the Baker and the Butler had been released. It further intimates that God allowed the succeeding two years to pass, during which Joseph had to endure life in the prison, because Joseph had trusted in those men rather than God for his release, but that thought is not mentioned in the Biblical account.)

By now, no doubt, Joseph had become quite resigned to his lot within those walls, and to his customary daily employment. He had passed up the opportunity for illicit sexual gratification with Potiphar's wife, and we may suppose that his contemplation through those subsequent years since that time has not excluded a periodic review of the thought that his life is passing, that he is not getting any younger, and that the time of normal youthful social interaction has been denied him. Do you ever have such thoughts as you go about the daily round of mundane tasks, seemingly locked into a life pattern not altogether of your choosing, and seeing no pathway to improvement?

Joseph has no immediate intimation of Pharaoh's intent as he arises on that morning, and it would probably seem to be like any other morning of the past twelve years of his life. It reminds me of other Biblical passages in which God has somehow, and quite without warning, actively entered and drastically altered, the life of some person whose quite ordinary existence has, up to that point, been relatively tedious and uneventful.

I think that, today, we might, for the sake of comparison, profitably review some similar Biblical occasions which demonstrate that God does intervene in the often tedious, and sometimes exasperating, daily rounds of the lives of individuals. We might think of many examples of such sudden and totally unexpected occurrences where great events forever broke the uneventful plodding pattern in the lives of ordinary people.

In this connection, I am reminded of Moses, as he tended the flock of his father in law, Jethro, at the desert-fringed mountain called Horeb, seeing and approaching that burning bush displaying God's presence on the slopes of Sinai, and thenceforth, having answered God's call, to enter the LORD's honour roll of history for all time.

I am reminded of Gideon, timidly threshing wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites; a farmer's son who was called one day by the angel of the LORD to be a mighty man of valour in overthrowing Israel's oppressors in his generation.

I am reminded of a young widow called Ruth whose mother-in-law, the widow Naomi, was returning to her former home. Ruth, that day, made a God-inspired decision to accompany her, leading later to a marriage to Boaz, the rich kinsman, and to becoming part of the ancestry of King David and of Our Lord.

I am reminded of David, as a young lad, the youngest son of Jesse, hastily called one day from his daily task of tending his father's sheep, to be anointed by Samuel the Prophet as the future King of the nation of Israel.

I am reminded of that famous passage in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, in which that Prophet speaks of the holy vision of the Lord's throne, granted him in the year that king Uzziah died, and in which, after his lips were symbolically touched by a cleansing coal from off the altar, he records having heard the voice of the Lord and his own reply: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me."

I am reminded of the young Jeremiah, who received the word of the LORD and his call to service thus in Jeremiah 1:5-10:

5. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
6. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.
7. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.
8. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.
9. Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth, And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.
10. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.

I am reminded of the passage in Amos 7:14-15, wherein Amos recorded these words: "Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel..."

I am reminded of the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, keeping watch over their flock by night, (Luke 2:8-15) on the night that Christ was born, who suddenly saw the night gloom splendidly splintered by myriad shafts of light, heard that glorious announcement from the herald angel of a Saviour, and decided at once to go and find Him. Surely their lives would never be the same again.

I am reminded of the experiences in the lives of each of the men called to be Christ's disciples; Andrew, one day, hearing John the Baptist say that Jesus was the Lamb of God, and thereafter following Jesus, then finding Peter to call him also; Jesus calling Philip, who went to bring Nathanael (John 1:36-51). I picture Levi, named Matthew, called one day in the midst of his work as he sat collecting taxes at the table, in Luke 5:27-29.

I am reminded of the multitudes in the time of Jesus' earthly ministry, whose experiences are epitomised in that of blind Bartimaeus, the brief account of whose experience is found in Mark 10:46-52:

46. And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.
47. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.
48. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.
49. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.
50. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.
51. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight.
52. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

I might just add to that, the comment that Bartimaeus' faith was expressed in three ways. First, he demonstrated faith by crying out to ask for Jesus to have mercy on him and to heal him of blindness. Second, he further persisted in crying out when ordered to be silent by the crowd, thus overcoming the natural tendency to move against his own conscience in order to comply with the mood of the crowd. Third, when finally called, he, being blind, cast aside his cloak. He had faith that he would see to find it again after being cured! But we should note that, until that hour that Jesus passed by, Bartimaeus' life was proceeding as had every other day, in his sad life of blindness.

I am reminded of Saul of Tarsus who, on the road to Damascus, received the vision of Our Lord and was converted to a life of service thereafter (Acts 22:6-16) with the new name, "Paul."

Thus, we see that in these many instances, as in the case of Joseph, God had plans of which the individuals forming the main participants had no prior notice. These are not the only occasions. No doubt many others will have occurred to our listeners as I speak. With this background, we shall return to Joseph's situation on our next programme.

I want to leave with you, however, the meditation that our lives may, just as those which we have touched upon this day, be suddenly visited like Joseph in the prison, with unexpected opportunity and glory by the hand and by the planning of the Almighty God of all the universe. We may not have any prior intimation of it. When it happens, it will be because, God, outside the prison walls and beyond our present ability to see or project them, has been sorting out the braided strands of circumstance in our unknown future. He can intimately design that which concerns us all along the way, while we may see and hear absolutely nothing beyond our prison walls to encourage us right up to the moment of His revelation and His call. We shall continue with our Bible study next week.

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