In studying the story of Joseph we can see how — as he learned to use his gift of dream interpretation for God’s glory rather than his own — he received greater blessings than he ever could have dreamed.
He must become greater;
I must become less.
Dream 1: Serving Self
We meet Joseph as a teenager, just 17, the second-youngest in a band of brothers who call Jacob their father, the future tribes of Israel.
Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph, a generational sin that led to big problems in Jacob’s own family of origin, has put Joseph at odds with his brothers. Rather than seeking reconciliation, however, Joseph, full of self, instead plays both sides against the middle.
The first thing we see him do is bring a bad report about his brothers to his father. (Genesis 37:2). His snitching is rewarded with further favor as his father gives him an ornate robe. (Genesis 37:4)
It’s in this unhealthy family dynamic that Joseph has two dreams. The first dream is about 11 sheaths of wheat bowing down to the twelfth, and the second is about the sun and moon and 11 stars bowing down to the twelfth as well.
Why did God give Joseph these dreams if they were only going to cause trouble? Perhaps He offered them as a promise for the future, to encourage Joseph that the rejection he was experiencing in his family would not be permanent.
But this prideful young man has not yet learned discernment. Joseph appears to make no effort to understand God’s purpose or message, and instead takes full credit for his visions, rather naively sharing them with his brothers without considering how they might be received.
“Listen to this dream I had.” (Genesis 37:6)
The result is an ominous deepening of his brothers’ hostility:
“They hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (Genesis 37: 8)
By the next time Joseph heads out to the fields their jealousy has reached a murderous pitch.
“Here comes the dreamer,” they mock. “We’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37: 18)
Far from bowing down to him, they put him in a place lower than themselves, literally, tossing him into a well.
Dream 2: Serving Others
The next time Joseph is given an opportunity to use his gift, he has matured into a strapping young man under circumstances that have humbled him and his dreams of grandeur. Imprisoned on false charges Joseph is learning to lean on the Lord, and to use any earthly favor with wisdom.
“The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:21)
This is quite a different Joseph. Now more others-focused, Joseph notices two of his fellow prisoners are having a tough time of it, and he shows concern for them asking, “Why are you sad?” The cupbearer and baker to the Pharaoh tell him they each have had a dream and want to understand the meaning.
Joseph responds, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Tell me your dreams.” (Genesis 40:9)
This time Joseph readily acknowledges God as the source of his gift. He interprets each man’s dream, telling the cupbearer that he will be restored to his position and the baker that he will be executed.
Even knowing God is with him and has full power over his circumstance Joseph still struggles to trust God fully. Cupbearer is a high-ranking position in Egypt, and Joseph knows this man is about to have the King’s ear, so he implores him:
“When all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.” (Genesis 40: 14)
Yet people and things of this world often fail to satisfy. We learn that “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” (Genesis 40:23)
Dream 3: Serving the Lord
Two years later, Joseph is still cooling his heels in prison while the cupbearer is enjoying the blessing promised him in the dream, not once recalling the friend who helped him in his time of need.
The cupbearer may have Pharaoh’s ear, but God is sovereign over his entire being. He gives Pharaoh troubling dreams, first of cows and then of grain, the healthy ones consumed by the unhealthy ones. Pharaoh is desperate to learn the meaning of these troubling visions, and consults with magicians and wise men, but finds no satisfaction.
Finally the cupbearer’s memory is jarred, and he says, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings,” and tells Pharaoh how Joseph interpreted his dream so long ago.
Pharaoh brings Joseph out of prison and asks him to interpret his dream. Now Joseph thinks nothing of himself and asks nothing for himself. Instead all he can do is point Pharaoh to God:
- “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Genesis 41: 16)
- “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (Genesis 41: 25)
- “God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. (Genesis 41:28)
- “…The matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.” (Genesis 41:32)
Pharaoh cannot help but see God shining through Joseph. While he doesn’t know his God, he knows he needs Him. Pharaoh asks his advisers, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” Then he says to Joseph:
“Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:39-40)
And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph.
Genesis 41: 57
Interpreting Joseph’s Dreams
- What gift or gifts has God given you?
- Do you use your gift to serve yourself or others?
- Do you still find yourself longing to receive some credit?
- Are you faithful in seeking to use your gift for God’s glory, directing others’ praise to the source of all good gifts?
- Are you focused on the gift or the Giver?
The truth for all of us is probably some mix of each of these at different times.
We know God’s desire is to use us, like Joseph, for the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:21)
Let’s pray that, like Joseph, God will help us grow in wisdom and virtue in how we steward the gifts we’ve been given:
Today, Jesus, we surrender all we have to you.
We ask that you grow the seeds you’ve planted in each of us to create a rich harvest. As we become less, Jesus, you become more in the eyes of others. May even those who don’t know you see you and be drawn to you as you radiate, unencumbered, through each of us.
May we use the gifts we have been given for your glory, and may you multiply the power and the blessing of those gifts to your good purpose: the saving of many lives.
We ask this in your name, Father. Amen.