March 12, 2018

Lent 4 - Genesis 41:32-44

Theme: A Destiny that is Truly Manifest from God
1. Individually - Joseph’s Ability to Interpret Dreams
2. Nationally – Israel’s rise and prominence as God’s people
3. Eternally – As citizens of heaven

Any student of American history has heard of the term, Manifest Destiny. That term was first used by a magazine editor in 1845 and referred to the growing belief in American culture of the God-given right to expand westward and colonize territories. For us in the Pacific Northwest, Manifest Destiny had a direct impact. Our land, if you will, was secured through this mindset and policy of expansionism. In 1849, The United States signed a treaty with Great Britain to mark the division of nations at the 49th parallel north, where the current border between the United States and Canada remains to this day. This was a product of Manifest Destiny, without it, it’s likely that the Pacific Northwest never would have become U.S. land.

Is that a good thing? I’m sure we all appreciate that we can call Washington home. Yet, we also know the evils that came along with the idea of Manifest Destiny. It led to the deportation and mistreatment of Native American tribes. It led to the Mexican - American War and to the several thousand lives lost. It led to a nationalistic pride among many Americans in thinking that our nation can do what it wants because we have God’s supposed blessing. That’s a dangerous sentiment to hold to, and one that certainly continues even today.

This discussion is difficult to be sure. The key lesson is to be careful about determining in your mind that God has given His blessing to something that you’re doing. Unless you have clear evidence from Scripture that God has personally sanctioned whatever you are doing, you are actually lying. I suppose there is certainly the possibility that God could directly reveal Himself through another means, possible, but very, very unlikely because He has now revealed Himself through the Holy Scriptures in this New Testament age. 

Whenever humans go above and beyond the Word of God, danger ensues. We recognize from history this problem in connection with the idea of Manifest Destiny. The same issue has sprung up in many other eras as well. We get a taste of one in our text today. As Joseph’s well-known story soon comes to a close, the nation of Israel’s begins. At this turning point, God reminds us yet again of the importance of following His Word closely and taking care not to add to our ideas about God from our own thoughts. We ask the Holy Spirit’s blessing as we read from Genesis 41:32-44 and as we consider our theme for today: 

A Destiny that is Truly Manifest from God
1. Individually - Joseph’s Ability to Interpret Dreams
2. Nationally – Israel’s rise and prominence as God’s people
3. Eternally – as citizens of heaven

Genesis 41:32-44 "And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.  33 "Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.  34 "Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years.  35 "And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities.  36 "Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine." 
37 So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants.  38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?"  39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you.  40 "You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you."  41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."  42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.  43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt.  44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

Manifest means to make known. Destiny means what will happen in the future. Put them together and they express certainty about future events. The next logical question is, how? Believers know the future is clear because God makes it so. But, when we look at Joseph’s life, and really most true followers of God, the opposite seems to be the case. A believer certainly knows the what the future holds in their heart. Whatever happens, will be for our good and will ultimately end in heaven. But, while we’re moving along here on earth, it’s a maze of unexpectedness.

Part 1: Individually - Joseph's Ability to Interpret Dreams

We see that in our text. We know it already in the prior context from Joseph’s life. Sold in to slavery. Abandoned and betrayed by his family. Reputation maligned for doing the right thing. Forgotten and left in prison by the one he helped. And here, in his next opportunity for freedom, the path forward comes through a dream. The very nature of dreams or visions is that they are unknown. The destiny is not clear, at least immediately. By God’s power, Joseph was allowed to interpret the vision.

The dream of the seven skinny cows and the seven plump cows was meant to prepare Egypt for famine. In the bigger picture, it also prepared the rest of the region, since Egypt would supply other nations with food. Individually, it prepared Joseph for God’s plan. Through the wisdom God had given Joseph, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to second in command – perhaps the most important person in the nation at that time, maybe even in the known world, because of the work he was given to do.

Joseph’s manifest destiny came through a simple dream. In a similar way, a believer’s destiny comes through the vision of God’s Word. It’s commonplace in our culture today to emphasize following one’s dreams. We tell kids that they can be who they want to be and do what they want to do. This is great, if their desires are right. If a kid dreams of hurting others, would we want them to follow it? If someone dreams of power over the weak, should they be urged to pursue it? Absolutely not, yet the message our culture gives is – follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you no.

Here we see the difference in the way God acts. When God directs your destiny, you can be sure it will lead to a good outcome – for you and for others. But, sometimes God’s path is unknown to us or not understood by us. Certainly we can say that of Joseph. How lonely he must have felt as he rotted away in the Egyptian prison – all because He remained faithful and followed God. How frustrating it must have been to help the butler go free just to be abandoned again. Yet, in all these things God was working for Joseph’s destiny. Without these bad things happening, Joseph would not have been in position to become 2nd in command of all Egypt and he never would have reunited with his family. Such is the way that God works. When He directs our lives, there is uncertainty, but we are able to reach outcomes that we could never attain on our own.  

Part 2: Nationally – Israel’s rise and prominence as God’s people
But, it wasn’t just Joseph’s life that God was directing. He was also providing a way for His people Israel to be established as a nation and even more importantly overseeing the promise of a Savior for all peoples – us included. Individually, we all face temptations to think of our lives as more important, or more special, than others. This leads us away from trusting in God’s plan and more to trying to work things out on our own terms. But this temptation comes in a nationalistic way as well. America’s version of Manifest Destiny is an example of this. But, the danger is heightened when it affects our faith. The humble establishment of Israel as a nation reminds us also of what would come – a destiny of nationalism that, for many, would overshadow the destiny of the Messiah through Jesus.

Joseph’s personal prominence set the stage for the people of Israel to grow in relative safety for many years in Egypt. They didn’t have to duke it out with the Canaanites in open warfare yet. They lived in peace for hundreds of years growing into a new nation. When the Exodus came around, it was a difficult period but it was necessary – the time had come to go to the Promised Land. Centuries of struggle and toil ensued as Israel took possession of the land God had given them. But just as soon as they gained power of the region, under David, the downward slope began. The latter periods of Israel’s history are marked with a different type of struggle and toil, trying desperately to hang on to what had been gained.    

Riddled with oppression and captivity, Israel’s latter-day history has been marked by self-motivated attempts to determine their destiny. When Christ finally came to earth, the majority killed Him on a Roman cross because He defied their nationalistic expectations. Israel mistakenly thought that God had chosen them to become a nation of earthly power. The true Jesus, the One who came preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins, was not the Messiah they wanted; and sadly, He remains that in many hearts across this globe.

How important it is to remember the significance of Joseph’s story for our lives. His story tells us of the importance of humility and respect before God. Through the toil of Christ by the gospel, not by our own self-efforts, the believer’s destiny is realized by faith. Israel would have done well to call to mind its humble beginnings in Egypt – made possible by the grace of God. Likewise, each sinner stands in awe of Christ, who took us from hopelessness lost in sin and re-shaped our lives to have purpose and eternal life.

Part 3: Eternally - As citizens of heaven

Maybe you’re like me. When I hear the word “manifest” I can’t help but think of hymn 134 in our hymnal  - “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.” The five verses of that hymn contain the word “manifest” 11 times. The familiar refrain reads, “God in man made manifest.” That hymn is all about the many blessings we have through the God who became made known to humans – Jesus Christ. It was written for the season of Epiphany, when Jesus came to earth and was revealed as the Savior incarnate. A fitting theme indeed.

Through Christ’s birth and Epiphany the Savior was made known. But, we’re talking about more today. We’re looking at our Manifest Destiny through that Savior. To understand our place, we need to travel to Calvary. Jesus was born. He lived, preached, walked and talked. He performed miracles. He helped people. He lived the will of God in action. We follow His example in our lives. But none of that tells of our destiny. What is our future? What do our lives become? Where are we heading? For those answers, we can only look to the end of our Savior’s life. We look to His passion of suffering and dying for our transgressions. We look at His exaltation and victory over death and sin. Only then, does our future become manifest. Only at the cross and the empty tomb, do we clearly see our destiny by grace.

It is not selfish individualism. It is not vain nationalism. We are not headed toward grand visions of earthly power. We are not soon to become gods of our own. We are going to heaven. As one who trusts in Christ – the crucified and risen – your destiny is eternal and righteous. And by the gospel proclamation – it clearly known. Open to all people, all races, all ages, all sinners. With humility we recognize how God led people in the past – Joseph, the Israelites, and many others – in His plan of salvation through Christ. And with gratitude we trust His will for our lives. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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