Pharaoh’s Dream
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Pharaoh’s Dream

Genesis 41:1–57  (ID: 1866)

Our world looks to wealth, power, and pleasure in search of purpose and meaning. In Joseph’s day, Pharaoh looked to his dreams—and they troubled him greatly. He turned to Joseph for answers, and Joseph turned to God, who he knew reveals all things in His time and according to His will. Alistair Begg similarly exhorts us to take comfort and learn from Joseph and Pharaoh to patiently trust God’s sovereign control.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Hand of God, Volume 1

Genesis 37:1–41:57 Series ID: 21904

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now, to Genesis chapter 41. The story we are dealing with is the story of Joseph—the historical record of one man—and we have discovered to this point a number of things. First of all, we recognized that he was the object of his father’s special interest; hence, the multicolored coat that he was given. He was also the object of his brothers’ jealous and cruel hatred of him. And he was at all times and remains the object of God’s providential care.

We have tracked him as he was sold to a group of Ishmaelite traders who were heading towards Egypt. He was sold into their captivity as a result of the intervention of one of the brothers, because the early plan had been to do away with him, and his life had been spared, and he was strapped into the custody of these Ishmaelites and dispatched as a slave to Egypt. Once in Egypt, he was resold. They presumably turned a profit on him, selling him into the custody of a gentleman who was a high-ranking official in the Egyptian government, a man by the name of Potiphar.

And so, this seventeen-year-old boy finds himself divorced from all that had represented security to him, removed from his culture, his language, his people, his family, and now a slave in the house of someone whose conversation he cannot even understand. But instead of bemoaning his circumstances, instead of simply crying the blues, we discover that he gives himself wholeheartedly to making the most of it. And as a result of making the most of it, he is advanced in usefulness and service within the home of Potiphar—indeed, to the extent that Potiphar cared only for the food that was on his table, and at the same time, he was going to look after his wife, so he said. Unfortunately, he didn’t do as good a job of looking after his wife as he thought, because she came increasingly with seductive interest in this young man Joseph, and when she was spurned by him, she was stung into the response of animosity, choosing to accuse him falsely of some advances upon her, the result of which was that Joseph finds himself incarcerated—thrown into a dungeon and left there.

In the course of the early days, he encounters two other fellows who are part and parcel of this experience of bondage, interprets dreams for them; one of them ends up hanged, the other one ends up released. The one who is released, Joseph has asked if he might put in a good word for him, in the hope that Joseph, in turn, might also be discharged, but in actual fact the chap forgets him; whether he ever planned to remember him at all, we don’t know, but the fact is that he forgot all about him. And that is the end of chapter 40 and the beginning of 41: “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

Now to 41. There are fifty-seven verses, I think, from memory, and so we need to have some plan of action in breaking into the chapter. And what I’d like to do is just identify for us one or two key phrases in order to help us through. This morning, we’ll probably get no further than maybe three phrases that will, I think, do justice to the text and allow us to understand God’s Word together.

Two Full Years Had Passed

The first phrase is the first phrase—Genesis 41:1: “When two full years had passed,” or if you like, “Two full years had passed.” Now, whether we date this from the time that Joseph was first of all put in prison, or whether we date it from the time of the cupbearer’s departure, the point clearly is that Joseph was in this situation for a lot longer than he would ever have reckoned himself to be or would have imagined that it was right for him to be. He was too long there for someone who had done nothing to deserve it. Because after all, it wasn’t that he was in jail because he had actually violated some code of ethics or had disobeyed his master; he was in jail on a trumped-up charge. And the little glimmer of human hope that he had in the release of this cupbearer was now dimming very, very quickly.

And so he was living—had lived—for two years with disappointed hopes. Any human ground for his release had long since been removed. And as he stacked the hours upon the hours and the days on days and weeks on weeks and months on months, he had occasion to say to himself, “Goodness gracious, what is going on here?” He certainly had all the time in the world to do it—to replay in his mind the video of his life. And it would be surprising, if we looked inside his thinking, not to discover him way back in the giving of the coat, and saying, “You know, maybe if I hadn’t had the coat. Maybe if I hadn’t had the dreams, and yet those dreams seemed to be so significant, and yet the dreams seemed to suggest that I would be exalted, and so far I haven’t come close to being exalted. I got strapped to the back of a camel; I got sold into somebody’s house; I got accused of rape; I got dumped in a hole. I’ve been stuck here for two years. How in the world is this playing out? O, God,” he might have said with the psalmist, “how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”[1] (Psalm 13. You can look it up.)

How ’bout you? You ever had those kind of thoughts—that your life is nothing more than the stacking of one hour on top of another hour? That the fellow who lives two doors up, now, he’s got a life, but you’re looking for a life; that the girl who sits at the other desk, she has a life, but you’d like one. But for you, it’s just routine. It’s monotony. It’s the same thing all the time, with no apparent human hope of change. And they can’t get enough weekends into the week to lift your fallen spirits. You say to yourself, “God, what are you doing with me?”

Joseph: “God, I don’t even have a girlfriend, let alone a wife. The only situation that I’ve been in in recent days is one that has ended in disaster. I’m going to be thirty years old, and I’d like to have children. What are you doing? Oh, the years seem so long.”

Although the days may seem dark, and although there seems to be no potential for change, nevertheless God is working everything out in conformity with the purpose of his will.

Well, isn’t there just a lesson in this—that we might learn, with Joseph, patience, in the awareness of the fact that he is a life-sized illustration of Romans 8:28, as we’ve been saying? Of the fact “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”? And that although the days may seem dark, and although there seems to be no potential for change, nevertheless God is working everything out in conformity with the purpose of his will, and he makes everything beautiful in his time.[2]

Surely that’s what the heroes of the faith were to discover, as the writer to the Hebrews chronicles it in chapter 11. These individuals we have mentioned for us—some of the big names, you know, like Abraham and Noah, and so on—but there were other people who are described in Hebrews 11:13 in this way: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” A wonderful group! A commendable group! They did not fall foul of our twentieth-century preoccupation with nanoseconds, with everything happening right now, with it all being fulfilled instantaneously.

Can it be that in such a short period of time we have become so frustrated with these ATMs and how slow they are to discharge our cash? There’s one at the corner of 91 and Wilson Mills Road that has a Scottish lady in it. I don’t know if you’ve got money there, but she actually talks to you, and she’s very slow. I’m not talking about a teller; she’s behind there or something, or maybe it’s a tape recorder. But it’s slow! I want to bang on it and say, “Hey Scotty, speed it up! This is Thursday. If you could get it to me today that would be helpful.” In point of fact, I haven’t stood there more than twenty-seven seconds for the whole transaction. How did I get so impatient?

And when I apply that to Christian living and to the expectations that I bring to God in the fulfillment of his promises, I think I need definitely to learn from Joseph, in the two full years that passed. I need to be reminded from the Word of God that God knows what is best for each of his children, and we do well to wait upon him. He will never give us anything too soon, nor will anything ever arrive too late: there is “no good thing which the Lord withholds from those whose walk is blameless.”[3] We “delight ourselves also in the Lord and he will give us the desires our hearts.”[4] When? See, isn’t that the first question? When? We believe that, but we are not so sure that we want to believe it if it’s not gonna happen soon.

It is in the routine that the real gains are made, that the real joy is discovered, and that the reality of God’s provision becomes most obvious.

We were in the airport the other day, just passing through somewhere, and my son pointed out to me a little child who was wandering around and having one of these absolute fantasy conversations. I can’t remember it exactly, but she was saying, “And then, we’ll get the thing, and tomorrow it’ll be Christmas, and then—.” I said, “Christmas? Goodness gracious, we’ve only just had Easter,” but for her, Christmas is tomorrow. It has to be—she’s just a kid! It isn’t Christmas tomorrow, and it’s not everybody’s birthday tomorrow, and God hasn’t pledged himself to take us out of the dungeons of our monotonous lives. You say, “Well, my life’s not monotonous.” I don’t mean it in a totally disparaging way. Your life is fairly monotonous! You do largely the same thing every morning when you get up: you hit the same button, you go to the same place, you take the same toothbrush, you comb the same hair, you put on the average same clothes, you make the same journey, you get to the same place, you say the same stuff, you go out to the same place, you come back, you drive home, you do the off routine in the same way, and then you wake up and you do it all the next day. That is called monotony! And God is sovereign in those kinds of days. It’s very important that we understand that—in our marriages and in our parenting. I’ll probably get shot for this, but marriage is monotonous! But the idea that four nights in Hawaii is going to sort it all out is bogus, because it is in the routine that the real gains are made, that the real joy is discovered, and that the reality of God’s provision becomes most obvious.

Now, this came home forcibly to me at an even deeper and more significant level when I took my favorite little magazine, which comes to me on a monthly basis, of last month, and I opened it to discover the opening article, by a fellow by the name of Maurice Roberts, had a most striking title. It is entitled, “The Christian’s Posthumous Joy.”[5] I don’t know if you’ve ever put joy and posthumous together in the one sentence, but if it has a kind of flavor of death and joy, then you’re right. And what the chap is saying, quite wonderfully, is this—and I’ll just give him a quote or two:

[This] present world is, and always has been for God’s children, a difficult place. So long as error and falsehood are on the world’s throne, we must expect truth and righteousness to be pilloried and placed on the scaffold. This is not to deny that there are joys along the way to heaven. But we must expect them to be much marred by the inward pain which we feel at the presence of countless evils …. Till Christ our Redeemer comes on the clouds we must make up our minds to expect this to be a world where all the wrong people are laughing.[6]

And that’s not a comment on what just immediately happened. But all the wrong people are laughing. And he who laughs last, laughs best. And there is a realistic sense in which the Christian will always laugh last—not in a disparaging way over the souls of those who are lost, but we may cry now and laugh then, or choose to laugh with the world now and cry then. And we’ve gotta understand that in these years, however long they might last: “God is not slow concerning his promise.”[7]

Now, he then illustrates this idea of our greatest joys being later on, and I’ll just give you two of his illustrations—they’re quite wonderful.

“Take the example,” says Roberts, “of a Christian father and mother”:

They brought up their children in this world in the ways of God. But both died before they heard of the salvation of any of their family. Their children, we may say, brought down their parents’ ‘grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.[8]

That’s Genesis 42; we’ll come to that.

To all outward appearance the parents’ labour of love was lost. Their sons and daughters saw no need of God or of the Saviour. [And] with a sigh both parents closed their eyes at death on a family whose only ‘religion’ was worldly pleasure.
Imagine then their joy in the glory of [heaven] to see their once rebellious children coming one by one to Zion! Picture their ecstasy as they hear the story of how a Holy Spirit graciously and sovereignly arrested them with the recollection, years after their parents’ death, of truths taught by them and exemplified in their lives. What happy posthumous joy![9]

“[Or],” he says, “Let us suppose a poor mother in England during the [darkness of] the Middle Ages”:

God had opened her eyes by some means to see the superstition of the church in her day. With inward sighs she sees how ignorantly the people around her venerate their saints, pray to the Virgin, adore the wafer, confess sin to the priest. It is clear to her that the vast bulk of her parish—not to say, [the whole of the land], are going to hell ‘with a lie in their right hand,’ [and so] she prays to God for the church, for [her] land and for a brighter day to dawn upon the whole world. But she lives not to see [one] spark of that glorious Reformation [that] is to come.[10]

She dies pre-sixteenth century, and she goes to heaven. Now she’s in heaven.

Picture then, her posthumous joy when at the last Day she is informed that her many prayers on earth came up ‘for a memorial before God.’ In answer to her life-long yearning for revival, God had given her a male descendent—John Wycliffe by name—who was like the ‘morning star’ to all the world. In due course the light of the gospel broke out which she vainly sought on earth, not over the British Isles only but over all Europe and mankind! Not in this brief life here below, surely, are we to discover that God answers prayer ‘exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or even think.’[11]

You see, in our pains, sometimes, to explain to our pagan neighbors that, you know, we are just like them, I’m afraid we are just like them. And so the statistics of teenage pregnancy are the same in or outside the church. And so the statistics on divorce are the same. And so much is the same. So why then would a pagan ever want to become a Christian? ’Cause they don’t like church services, and they simply do not want to relieve themselves of one external mode of life for another external mode of life. No, dear ones. There’s going to have to be something more. There’s going to have to be about us that which is absolutely otherworldly; that we are saying to our world, “Yes, we enjoy these pleasures which God has given to us, but in the midst of our pain and in the midst of our illness and in the midst of the apparent nonsuccess of interventive surgery, we still do not live without God, and certainly not without hope, because we know that there is yet to come out of the dungeon of this experience all the glory of a Father who knows best.” Do you know God in that way? Joseph did.

Well, that’s the first phrase I wanted to turn your attention to. Let’s turn to the second one in verse 8. First of all, we noticed this little phrase, “two full years had passed,” and we learned the importance of patience in the midst of monotony and the understanding of the fact that God will give things as he chooses in his time, and in certain cases his time may involve us in waiting until eternity.

His Mind Was Troubled

Second phrase, then, is “his mind was troubled”[12]—“his mind was troubled.” And “in the morning” after he’d had these two striking dreams, “his mind was troubled.” Well, the dreams were troubling, were they not? We’re told that we all dream a significant number of times in a week or in a night, or whatever it is; I don’t know, I’m no great expert on dreams. They say the average dream lasts about thirty seconds, although it would seem to me, when I’m having one, it seems to last forever—I can’t get out of it! And indeed, I was telling people earlier that one of our elders, with whom I traveled to Bolivia, had dreams that had lasted for years, and he was able to dream certain dreams at will when he went to bed at night. So he told me, and he’s an honest man—smart as well, Ph.D., works for Intel. Scared me to death! I wouldn’t room with him; I was frightened of him. I asked for my own room; I didn’t know what he was going to do in the middle of the night. He never asked me in the morning for an interpretation, thankfully!

But these dreams were extraordinary dreams. These were, as in other dreams, a foreshadowing of God’s intervention in the life of an unbeliever: something stirring into this person’s existence that awakened him in the morning with something a wee bit more than “That was a strange dream!” The idea these ugly cows eating the big fat sleek shiny cows—that’s bizarre. And corn, you know, parched and fragmented and shriveled corn eating really nice corn. I mean, you imagine coming down to breakfast in the morning, you know, telling your wife that? But he tells the people around him ’cause he’s got nobody else to tell.

Cows and grain represented prosperity and security in Egypt. And he’s troubled. He wakes up, and he wakes up concerned, and he looks around for help. And so like Humpty-Dumpty, who’s fallen off the wall, he sends for all his horses and all his king’s men—in verse 8, the wise men, the magicians—and he “told them his dreams.” But what could they do? Nothing. Presumably all they did was look down at the floor in embarrassment, look around at one another shamefacedly, and finally look Pharaoh straight in the eye and say, “I’m sorry, Pharaoh. You’ve stumped us on this one.”

Can I just say, as an aside: all the magicians and wizards of the world are ultimately confronted with the poverty of their own explanations. And if you’ve been going to the wizards, if you’ve been phoning the 1-900 numbers, if you’ve been tempted to try and find an answer to why it is that you awaken troubled, I want you to know—in fact, I want to save you a lot of journeys—there are no answers to your predicament in those places! Because God said so. And Calvin expressing this says, “The Lord so strikes the wicked workers of deceit, that they cannot even find a specious explanation of the dreams.”[13] They can’t even come up with a bogus explanation that the guy might swallow. Nothing!

Pharaoh, in a subsequent era, might have found himself going through from his bedroom and grabbing a cup of coffee and turning on the radio and turning it to a nice easy-listening station, like 104.1, you know. And drumming his fingers on the side of his coffee cup, as the song makes its way:

It’s a long and a dusty road,
And it’s a hard and a heavy load.
And people that I meet aren’t always kind.
Some are bad and some are good
And some have done the best they could,
And some try to ease my troubled mind.
But I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound, where I’m bound.
I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound.[14]

And the blankets that he was pulling over him could neither cover him in the night nor snuggle him in the morning, nor save him from the tyranny of his own mind. And loved ones, this morning it remains the same, all these years later. If you are trying to make sense of your world by pulling, as it were, over you the blankets of materialism, and intellectualism, and hedonism, narcissism—that’s preoccupation with who you are, and what you’ve got—if you are trying to cover yourself in those blankets, get ready for waking up regularly troubled. For those blankets are too short, and they are too narrow, and alas, men and women seek to cover themselves in them all.

It was a privilege to walk around Harvard University this week. I certainly felt like a fish out of water. But in an early morning stroll I came across Emerson Hall, and at the entry—across the entry to Emerson Hall—you have, in letters carved in stone about a foot or two feet high, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”[15] And I said to myself, “My, my—at least it had a great beginning.” As I was driving to the airport with a friend who had studied there, and I remarked on this, he said, “You know, it is an interesting thing, but when they built Emerson Hall, they left instructions to the stonemason to put across the entry, ‘Man is the summit of all things’—and then they went on vacation. That was a tactical error, for the stonemason was a Christian, and he said, ‘Though they hang me for it, I’ll put up here what needs to be up here.’ And he put up, ‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him?’”

Now, you see, that is where a worldview begins—with that question, and then the correct answer to that question. And that, you see, was the fundamental question in the mind of Pharaoh. And that is the basic question in every mind: Who am I? Why do I exist? Is there meaning in my life? And what does my destiny hold?

You say, “Well, you know, this is a long, long, long way away from us.” Well, let me give you a twentieth century Pharaoh, shall I? Any day now, if it hasn’t already happened, the Untold Story of Howard Hughes will reach the bookshelves.[16] It is currently in a previous edition of Vanity Fair magazine—excerpts from it. Howard Hughes, as you may know, was brought up in the finest lifestyle in Massachusetts: private school, well bred, clean fingernails, the whole bit. He knew the difference between a soup spoon and a teaspoon. At eighteen his father died and left him a multimillionaire; he took the cash and hit Hollywood. By the time it was 1957, he had already created the coast-to-coast speed record in his plane; he’d crashed his plane, nearly killed himself. He had made at least one fortune. He had contracted syphilis—unidentified and untreated for a period of time, without any kind of antibiotic intervention, which had a dramatic impact not only on his body, physical, but also in his neurological function.

And in 1957 he decided one morning to begin a journey that was to last for the remainder of his life, some eighteen years. And he had the people drive him to a studio lot in Hollywood and into a screening room, and he went into the screening room and he sat down. He didn’t come out for the next six months. And the writer records how inside this dingy compound, Hughes headed straight for the screening room—a dark enclosure about the size of a studio apartment—and sitting in the middle of the room was his white leather recliner with a TV snack tray next to it. He lowered himself into the chair and arranged the Hershey bars in seven little stacks. He looked them over, picked them all up again and arranged them in ten stacks. The piles were too high, he explained to his friend. “Start the film.” Hughes spent the night in the screening room. The next morning, the aids found him in the same chair, eating a breakfast of six Hershey bars and a half pound of Texas pecans. “Mr. Hughes, can we get anything for you?” Howard continued to stare straight ahead. His aide pressed: “Is there anything you need? Do you have instructions for us?” Hughes wheeled around his chair: “As long as I’m here, don’t speak to me unless I ask you a question or make a comment. Each morning and each evening, you will bring me a fresh bag of half pecans, ten Hershey bars, and a quart of milk. Don’t speak to me when you deliver it, just come over and stand next to me. When I ask you a question which requires a yes or no answer, do not speak—just nod your head for yes, shake your head back and forth for no. Sometimes I will need to present you with more complicated questions. In that case I will use a number 14 grease pencil and scrawl the question on one of my yellow legal pads. Once that is done, do not speak—just write the answer on one of your legal pads.”[17] By early March, more than two months after he’d entered, Howard’s clothes were filthy, tearing at the seams. They reeked of urine. The white shirt was gray with grime and sweat, splotched by stains from the Hershey bars, and by the third month, Hughes had discarded all of his clothes. He remained naked for months. Filth was now everywhere except on the telephone, which was his conduit to the world and to sanity. Every morning he took Kleenex and scrubbed the phone until tissues were strewn around him like dirty snow. On good days, it took an hour to clean the telephone—on bad days, four hours. No one was permitted to come within four feet of him.

He would remain in the germ-free zone for the remainder of his life, no matter where he resided—Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London, Vancouver, the Bahamas, Nicaragua, Mexico—his life pattern was now fixed. The light of the sun—s-u-n—was blocked out. Clothes were largely banished. Television, movies, and the telephone were his only intruders. He became a disembodied voice on the phone, a sort of Wizard of Oz. And while he was doing that for eighteen years, he made another fortune. And says the writer, “Howard Hughes died of an illness called neglect. He left an estate worth an estimated one billion.”[18]

Howard Hughes died of an illness called narcissism. Howard Hughes died of an illness called “me first, and God can take a running jump.” Howard Hughes died of an illness because when he wakened in the morning troubled, he just rearranged his Hershey bars and refused, like Nebuchadnezzar before him, to lift his eyes to heaven. You say, “Well, you know, we’ve got Pharaoh in Egypt, we’ve got Howard Hughes in Hollywood, but we’re in Cleveland and, you know—” Are you telling me you don’t wake up troubled? You see, the issue is not the zeroes. The issue is not the place. The issue is this: we are all in the same predicament. We are all facing the same raw statistics.

Do you realize that the population of the United States since 1960 has increased 41 percent? We’ve almost grown by 50 percent since 1960. Do you know that violent crime has increased 560 percent? That the US Department of Justice projects that eight out of ten people will be the victims of violent crime at least once in their lives? Go along a row, count ten, and reckon that only two of you are going to come out, two of us are going to come out clear. The most active incubator for all of this violence is in the 10–17 age group, where the rate of the perpetration of violent crime has soared 400 percent since 1960. Since 1960, illegitimacy has increased 400 percent. Since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in ’73, an estimated twenty-eight million unborn children have lost their lives. Since 1960, the rate of teen suicides has risen more than 200 percent, making it the leading cause of death amongst young people. Since 1960, the divorce rate has increased 200 percent; the consequence is that less than 60 percent of children live with both of their biological parents. And while the spending on public school education has more than doubled in constant dollars since 1960, the SAT scores continue to go down the line. The federal tax burden on families with children is now an estimated 24 percent of their income, whereas in 1960, when children were doing better in school and better in society, the federal government only asked for 12 percent of a family income. And the fact is, you can’t buy your way out of this problem; you can’t legislate your way out of the problem!

The Vice President decided to stay in my hotel in Cambridge—I thought that was quite nice. But all of these security boys, hundreds of them, had him all closeted away, ’cause I’d love to have just got a hold of him for a wee minute, and just say, “Hey, you know, I’d like to run through my sermon on Joseph with you, see what you think.”

So Pharaoh Sent for Joseph

Well, just one last phrase: “So Pharaoh sent for Joseph”—verse 14—“Pharaoh sent for Joseph.” When circumstances are happy and prosperous, men and women have little interest in serving, in sending for someone who will help them. And even when the circumstances are bad, if they feel that they don’t like the kind of help they’re being offered, they’re likely to become enraged.

That’s what you’ve got in the story of Naaman. Remember, Naaman wakes up and he’s got leprosy. Wee servant girl in the house says, “You know, I’ve got a good idea: if you go and see the servant of God at his house, I think he can take care of you.” So he humbles himself enough to get his legion of chariots put together and goes to the guy’s house. You know the story in 2 Kings 5: One of the servants goes in, says to Elisha, “There’s a fellow out here called Naaman, got a big string of limousines at the front door. He’s got leprosy, and he wants to know what to do.” Elisha, who’s having his cornflakes, looks up and says, “Tell him to go and dip himself in the Jordan seven times.” You liked to have had that message to take back to the front door? So the guy comes out and he says, “Excuse me, the word from the servant of God is, ‘Go dip yourself in the Jordan seven times.’” “Now, I know I have leprosy,” he says, “and I know I want fixed, but I’ll go to hell before I get fixed that way.” And the answer is, that is exactly where you’ll go. And as he drives his limousines off in a rage, one of his servants says to him, “Naaman—Naaman! If the chap had asked you to do something really difficult, you’d have done it. But he only asked you to dip yourself in the Jordan seven times.” And for a second time, responding to the word of a servant, he turns around, and he goes, and he does what Elisha said.

It pains me more than I can say to look into the eyes, with regularity, of the affluent and the well-heeled to find that in many a life there is the preparedness to admit, “Yes, I need to be cleansed,” and then to watch as you continue to turn your heels and walk out into your own proud empires, because you will not bow your knee to Jesus Christ. You’re prepared to come, you’re prepared to be religious, you’re prepared to give—and that is wonderful, but it does not save. What are you going to do—go back to your magicians?

And so he sent for this young man, and he said, “I hear that you’re good at dreams.” And goodness, he wouldn’t have been expecting the response, because Joseph says to him, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.” “What? You can’t do it? They told me you can do it. They told me. Joseph, you’re my main man.” “No,” says Joseph, “I can’t do it. But God can do it.” And in this simple juxtaposition is the nature of all genuine Christian service—indeed, is the nature of all spiritual life.

Would you like to be saved, to know that your sins are forgiven, that heaven is your home, that your destiny is not lostness in hell? Do you know what you have to say? “I cannot do it. I cannot work my soul to save. I cannot make myself righteous enough. I can’t tip the scales in my favor. I can’t do it.” Well, if that was the end, it would be a miserable existence for us all, but it isn’t. The answer is: “That’s absolutely right! You can’t do it.” But there is one who has done it. And in acknowledging my can’t and his can, I may be brought from darkness into life. And then, having been brought to faith, that I would live to serve him. “Now, could you help us in this way?” “Oh, I’ve never done that. I can’t do it.” That’s good—that’s the starting point. But God can. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”[19]

This morning, as we take our leave of one another—especially if we go to serve God in any capacity at all—let us take a leaf from Joseph’s biography, so that in our dungeon days and in our monotony and in our routines we may learn still to trust in God; and in our moments of great opportunity, when people might be tempted to look to us, that we might be lost sight of so that they may, in turn, look to God alone, for he is the only one who can deal with a troubled mind, the broken heart, and the rebellious spirit. Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.[20]

Let us pray together:

And now, Father, you have seen into our lives and heard our words. May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight,[21] and may grace, mercy, and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, rest upon and remain with all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.




[1] Psalm 13:1 (paraphrased).

[2] Ecclesiastes 3:11 (paraphrased).

[3] Psalm 84:11b (paraphrased).

[4] Psalm 37:4 (paraphrased).

[5] Maurice Roberts, “The Christian’s Posthumous Joy,” The Banner of Truth Magazine, 390 (1996), 1–5.

[6] Ibid., 2.

[7] 2 Peter 3:9 (paraphrased).

[8] Roberts, “The Christian’s Posthumous Joy,” 3.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Genesis 41:8 (NIV 1984).

[13] John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, Vol. 2, trans. John King (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1850), 320.

[14] Tom Paxton, “I Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound” (1964) (paraphrased).

[15] Psalm 8:4 (KJV).

[16] Peter H. Brown and Pat H. Broeske, Howard Hughes: The Untold Story (New York: Signet, 1997).

[17] Ibid., 316–317 (paraphrased).

[18] Ibid., 373.

[19] Philippians 4:13 (paraphrased).

[20] Hebrews 4:7 (paraphrased).

[21] Psalm 19:14 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.