How Fast Things Can Change
Text: Genesis 41
Proposition: The certainty and rapidity of how change occurs in us and around us invites us to forget the past and be thankful for Who God is.
Introduction: When I was about 15 I had this little chameleon for a pet. I would take it out and put it on the front lawn and then lay a circle of string about three feet long around it. I’d go back into the house and then sitting by the front window I’d take a set of binoculars and look for the chameleon in that circle of white string. It was a game I played because I loved the way the chameleon could change color to suit its background. Sometimes change can be a lot of fun, sometimes change can happen as fast as colors on a chameleon, sometimes change takes us by surprise and sometimes change can even turn our lives upside down. The entire NDP party in Ottawa knows of those chaotic feelings of change, 76 families in Norway know a type of change that they never wanted to see. Sometimes change happens because of the actions of others and sometimes change happens because of my choices but always God has a use for the changes that take place in our lives. This morning let’s look at how the life of one man changed and how the lives of an entire nation were broadsided by change. God not only sees the change coming but also gives us two great ways for responding to it. Turn with me to Genesis 41.
I. Change to God Is More Like Progression Than Detour.
Joseph remains in prison for two full years, a time that would seem to him more a detour than a sequence. He was faithful, he was a man of integrity, he spoke the truth and he lived by faith and prison was where he sat for two years. That was when Pharaoh had a fitful night, dreaming two successive dreams. In both dreams he sees himself standing by the Nile River, the place of Egypt’s main water source. The first dream sees seven great water buffalo come up from the Nile, a common sight they graze on the lush grass in the lower lying areas alongside the river. Then all of a sudden up out of the river come seven gaunt buffalo and they seem to consume the fat ones. Perhaps it was the contrast, perhaps it was the anomaly of cattle consuming cattle, whatever it was he awakes with a start, likely in a sweat. He soon goes back to sleep and dreams the second dream, seven heads of grain or wheat on one stalk. This would be considered good Egyptian wheat, conditions were just right, it would energize a farmer and make them eager to harvest. Then suddenly seven other heads of wheat, blighted, withered by the east winds from the Arabian deserts, these now seemed to suck in and absorb all the fatness and abundance of the seven good heads of grain. The contrast again awakens Pharaoh, just as God had intended it to. It seems sometimes God uses sharp contrasts to wake us up, to catch our attention. To Pharaoh these contrasts seemed like shocking events, detours from prosperity. God sees fourteen years of time as a small sequence, a progression that perfectly occurs. The two years in prison were but preparation for the fourteen and more to come. To God these dreams were pictures of a progression in time, two sevens that fit perfectly together and would serve to accomplish the setting of the stage for the next step of redemption.
II. Though the Speed of Change Varies, God Invites Us To See His Hand In It.
One moment Joseph is in jail, the next he is being bathed, shaved and saved. The butler has finally remembered the way Joseph had interpreted his dream two years earlier. All Pharaoh’s wise men couldn’t interpret the dreams or even hazard a guess, again a sovereign act of God closing mouths instead of opening them. Look at verse 14, this still wet Hebrew slave stands before Pharaoh and the leader of all Egypt. The door swings wide open before Joseph as Pharaoh says, “I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.” When change occurs as fast as this, where it can seem like a dream, rags to riches, captive to king, we can be tempted to see only our own hands as the cause of it. We can be tempted to pride or tempted to fear because the change can be rapidly upwards or rapidly downwards, we can gain or loose, it’s still rapid change. Joseph’s reply to Pharaoh is significant, “It is not in me, God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” This isn’t to say that we don’t deserve promotions or make mistakes that cost us but even here God invites us to see His hand in it. Always He wants us to be aware of the sin that so easily entangles, always He wants us to pursue Him which is the only way to peace. For Joseph change occurred within minutes, but the dream he now hears from the lips of Pharaoh is a clear picture of years of time, seven prosperous years followed by seven disastrous years. Think of that, what will things look like seven years from today, in July 2018? What of seven years beyond that in 2025? Suddenly fourteen years seem like a long way away, the process of change will almost seem invisible. In prosperity it will seem like it will always be this way, in adversity it will seem like the grip upon our throats will never end. Do you remember that passage in 2 Peter 3:3,4, “…for scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’” Though the speed of change varies God invites us to see His hand in it. Look at verse 25 of Genesis 41, “Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do.” It’s then that Joseph lays out the interpretation of the dream, seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of extreme famine. This is the hand of God we are invited to see and when we realize that these changes are in His hand it can take our breath away.
III. Two Great Ways For Responding to Change, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Not everybody likes change. In the story before us I can only imagine that the other rulers were offended that Joseph should not only be promoted over them but even given Egyptian citizenship. I can imagine that when Joseph levied a 20% tax on all grain in the seven abundant years that many grumbled about this grain grab. Then for sure there were the thousands upon thousands who didn’t prepare in prosperity and now were ruined in adversity, a change that made their bellies ache. Not everybody likes change, in fact nobody likes all change. It makes us feel vulnerable, dependent, like we are not in control of our future. Let me suggest that the actions of Joseph as he marries Asenath and names his two sons may for us be a key to how to respond to change. It was in the midst of the first seven years when grain was so abundant they lost count of how much was put in the storehouse that Joseph names his first born son, Manasseh. It tells us the reason for this choice of name in verse 51, “For God has made me forget all my toil and my fathers house.” I don’t think this refers to some act of God erasing Joseph’s memory bank, what it means is that God has caught Joseph’s attention so much so that he’s not looking back or to the left or right. He’s looking forward, like a farmer who plows the ground in a straight row by keeping his eye on a fixed point in the landscape ahead. How are you at forgetting that which it seems you can’t forget? Joseph says that God made him forget all fruitless work, Potiphar’s wife and her deception, butler’s who forgot him, all the times people treated him like a servant. Joseph even said that God made him forget his fathers house, meaning his family, especially the abusive brothers. It seems that God enables Joseph to forgive and open his hand and let these bitter memories go. They weren’t holding onto Joseph, he was holding onto them. Perhaps the first key is to write the name, ‘Manasseh’ over the shame, the anger, the bitterness, the loss, the regret. Manasseh, God has made me forget it as I set my eye upon Him, He is my reward, He is my justice, He is Defender, He is Life. The second son is soon born and another key is offered to us, ‘Ephraim’. Verse 52 says the name means, “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land on my affliction.” Fruitful doesn’t just mean rich or prosperous, it means prosperous for a reason. A tree bears fruit but only for one of two reasons, it is either meant to be eaten or it is what contains the seed for new life. Fruit for the sake of just riches tends to rot into uselessness. God caused Joseph to be fruitful for the sustaining of many lives all around him, not the least of which would be his very own family members. But it also says that God caused him to be fruitful in the land of his affliction, in or through the very things that he had considered hard, painful, the loneliness and the isolation were the landscape of affliction. Without the suffering there would have been no fruit. When you suffer for whatever reason, respond to the change it brings by writing, ‘Ephraim’ upon those days. God has made me fruitful in, even through, the land of my affliction.
Remember these things as change comes upon you, name them ‘Manasseh’, name them ‘Ephraim’. They are the forgiveness and the redemption that are the axis of the cross. Joseph is very much a picture of Who Jesus Christ is, what Jesus has done. Forgiven and Redeemed are what Jesus brought to a starving world.