(If the Soundcloud player does not display in your browser or email, follow this link to listen to the audio: Fruitfulness through Adversity by Renier Veldman)
Today we will look at the life of Joseph. It’s an amazing story, the kind of story that dreams are built on. After many unexpected twists and turns, and thirteen years of toil and affliction, God blessed Joseph in an unimaginable way! As a result, he became the second most powerful man in Egypt, and thereafter, God blessed Joseph with two sons.
He named his second son Ephraim, which had the meaning of being ‘fruitful through affliction’. The word 'affliction" is translated 'suffering' in the NIV.
Let’s look at three ‘afflictions’ Joseph went through in the period between the ages of 17 – 30, and how God made him fruitful at every stage, culminating in him becoming Pharaoh’s top Executive and Egypt’s highest civil servant. The story begins at Genesis 37:2 when Joseph was just 17 years old.
This is the story about a young man named Joseph. His father's name is Jacob, and they lived in Canaan from where his grandfather was from.
Joseph was 17 and because he was one of the youngest sons, his father spent more time with him, and he became very special to him. So Jacob had a special robe made for Joseph.
All of Joseph's older brothers saw this and they got very jelous and disliked him because they thought his father liked him more, and because he got the special coat. They got so jealous they couldn't even say a kind word to him.
One day Joseph had a dream, and he went to go tell his brothers. He said, "Guess what? Last night I had a strange dream. We were tying up bunches of grain out in the field when suddenly my bunch stood up, while all of yours gathered around and bowed to me." The brothers looked at each other in disgust, but Joseph continued. "Then I had another dream that the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me."
"Who do you think you are?" The brothers said. "Do you think that you are better than all of us? Do you think that we would ever bow down to you?" This made the brothers dislike Joseph even more.
When he told his father about his dreams he said, "Those are strange dreams." But he thought carefully about what Joseph had told him.
A few days later Joseph's father asked him to check on his brothers. They were in the fields quite a distance away. So Joseph went to find them.
When the brothers saw Joseph in the distance, they made a plan to kill him. But when Reuben, Joseph's oldest brother heard this he said, "Let's not kill him, just throw him in a well out here in the field." He said this because he was secretly planning to come back and rescue Joseph when the other brothers had left.
So when Joseph came to them, they took off his beautiful robe and they threw him in an empty well. A little while later a group of people came by that were wanting to sell some things in Egypt. One of the brothers spoke up, "Why don't we sell him to these people, this way we never have to see him again, and we don't have to kill him."
The other brothers liked this idea, so they sold him to the people who were going to Egypt.
Unfortunately Reuben had been working and hadn't seen what happened. When he returned to the well he noticed that Joseph was gone. He had been sold to an important man named Potiphar, an assistant to the Pharaoh of Egypt.
The rest of the brothers took Joseph's beautiful robe and dipped it in animal blood and took it back to their father. When the father saw this he cried, "Some animal has killed my son." And he cried for many days, so much that nobody could comfort him.
Now Joseph had started out as a slave, but the Lord was with Joseph and He helped him do everything right. So Potiphar made him his helper, and put him in charge of everything that he owned.
The problem came when Potiphar's wife seduced and lied about Joseph to her husband, so Potiphar had Joseph put into jail.
The Lord was still with Joseph in jail, and the warden put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. He never worried because the Lord was with Joseph and helped him do everything right.
After Joseph had been in jail for some time a cupbearer and baker to Pharaoh had been sent there. One night each of them had a dream. They told their dreams to Joseph and he told the cupbearer that he would soon be let out of jail. "Please tell Pharaoh about me, and ask him to get me out of here." Joseph said.
When the cupbearer was freed he forgot about what Joseph did. So Joseph stayed in jail for two more years. Until one day the Pharaoh had a dream, and nobody could explain it to him. The cupbearer then remembered what Joseph had done for him, and Joseph was brought to Pharaoh.
"Can you understand dreams?" Pharaoh asked. "I can't, but God helps me." Joseph replied. After Pharaoh had told him his dream Joseph explained, "God is warning you. There will be seven years when nothing will grow and there won't be any food for anyone."
"What can I do?" Pharaoh asked. "God has shown you what to do. There will be seven years before the bad years that will be very good. So good that there will be extra food for everyone. So you should save a little bit of each years harvest, that way you will have enough to get you through the bad years." Joseph said.
Pharaoh believed all that Joseph told him, and put him in charge of all the land of Egypt.
People came from all countries to buy grain from Joseph, because the whole world was in need of food. Some of those people were Joseph's brothers. When his brothers came, Joseph recognized them, but they did not know who he was. (It had been over 10 years since they had seen him).
The brothers all bowed to him because he was an important person. Just as he dreamed they would at the beginning.
After a few meetings with his brothers he could not keep it in any longer and Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father alive?" But his brothers couldn't answer him because they were afraid. Then Joseph said, "Come here. I am your brother, the one you sold! Do not worry, and do not be angry at yourselves for selling me, because God has put me here to save people from starving."
So his father, his brothers, and their families came to live in Egypt with Joseph, and they had all the food they needed.
God can make you fruitful through every affliction you face?
What affliction are you going through right now? How are you reacting to it? Can you believe for the God of Joseph to come through for you?
3 of the afflictions through which Joseph became fruitful are:
1) He Became Fruitful Through Rejection
Genesis chapter 37 covers this part of this story, as Joseph’s brothers take revenge on him because of their envy (Genesis 37:4-5) and reject him through betrayal (Genesis 37:12-31). It all began because of the favored status Jacob placed on Joseph (Genesis 37: 3, 4), over all the other sons. This favor included making Joseph a very special ‘coat of many colors’ and using him to spy on his brothers (37:2).
Joseph’s status now was that of being the ‘favorite son’.
To make matters worse, Joseph foolishly began to boast about his futuristic dreams, where one day he would rule over his entire family (Genesis 37:5-7,9). The envy and hatred that was simmering in the hearts of his brothers had now reached boiling point with trouble about to burst! (Genesis 37: 8, 11)
As we read further in Genesis 37, the brothers got their opportunity for revenge and initially planned to kill Joseph (Genesis 37:18-20). But, thanks to the intervention of Reuben (37:21-22) and Judah (37:26-27), they put him in a cistern and decided to sell him off as a slave. Verse 25 says that they actually started to have a meal while he was in the cistern!! Eventually they sold him off to a band of Midianite merchants who in turn sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard (37:36).
Because of his brothers’ rejection and betrayal, Joseph had lost all his rights, and was now a slave. One can only imagine the pain and loneliness this young man went through. It is certain that he would have been treated harshly, maybe viciously, by the slave-traders. God however was with Joseph and gave him favor with Potiphar (39:4), who began to see the unique faith, wisdom and skills this young Hebrew slave possessed (39:2-3).
Joseph’s status had changed from being ‘favorite son’ to being ‘favorite slave’.
As a result, Potiphar now put Joseph in charge of his entire household and of everything he owned (39:4). God in turn blessed Potiphar’s household in abundance, because of Joseph (39:5-6). Similarly, even in our afflictions, God can still make us a blessing to others!
Joseph’ status had now changed even further. He had moved from being ‘favorite son’ to ‘favorite slave’ and was now Potiphar’s ‘favorite Executive’ (CEO of Potiphar Enterprises?).
God had made him ‘fruitful through rejection’!
Rejection is always painful, specially when the blow comes from someone we have loved or someone we have helped. Maybe you are going through rejection right now in your marriage, in a relationship, in your workplace and the pain has become unbearable. I once remember someone once going through tough times that ‘I have no more tears to cry’. But, no matter how bad the rejection, God can still make you fruitful like he did for Joseph. The lady mentioned above too had a very fruitful life thereafter, by serving God wholeheartedly. Let’s also not forget that the skills Joseph developed in Potiphar’s house were more or less what he needed later, to rescue Egypt and the surrounding nations. Similarly, God can teach us valuable lessons and enhance our skills in the midst of rejection and other afflictions.
ILLUSTRATION – In 1 Samuel 23, there is a story of how David rescued the city of Keilah from the Philistines. King Saul subsequently found out that David was in Keilah and decided to surround the city and capture him. When David heard about this, he inquired of the Lord as to whether the people of Keilah, the very ones that he had saved, would hand him over to Saul. To his dismay, the Lord revealed that they would surely betray him. Talk about rejection and ingratitude!!! The Lord however saved David, taught him to rise above ingratitude, and made him fruitful as we know so well.
2) He Became Fruitful Through False Accusation
As Joseph began to prosper in Potiphar’s household, a new and serious challenge was building up. Potiphar’s wife began to get attracted to the handsome Joseph and tried to seduce him (39:6-7). Soon, he was facing consistent sexual harassment at the workplace (39:10).
Eventually, when she thought she had trapped him into a compromising situation, Joseph ran away (39:11-12) because he did not want to either hurt God or his Chairman (39:8-9). As a result, Potiphar’s wife exacted her full revenge on him through falsely accusing him of trying to molest her (39:13-19). Because of her false accusation, Joseph was unjustly thrown into prison! (39:20).
The cutting wounds of false accusations come to all of us at some time or another. Character assassination is one of the most difficult challenges a human can face. It's also amazing how such false accusations can travel with lightning speed, as Marvin Gaye sang, 'through the grapevine'. How we handle it will determine how fruitful we will be through it. You don’t find Joseph grumbling or complaining. Instead, he trusted in the Lord and the Bible says that the Lord was with Joseph and made him fruitful in the midst of his affliction (39:20-21). He will be with us too.
How many of us sitting here today have been fasly accused of something?
Joseph now found favor with the prison warden, who in turn made him the chief Administrator for all management operations and labor control in the prison! (39:21-23)
Joseph’s status had changed once again. He had gone from being ‘favorite son’ to ‘favorite slave’, to ‘favorite executive’, and was now the ‘favorite prisoner”!
He became fruitful through the affliction of false accusation.
3) He Became Fruitful Through Being Forgotten
As the story continues in Chapter 40, the king’s chief cupbearer and chief baker were thrown into the same prison as Joseph for what could have been a possible assassination attempt on the king (40:1-3). They thus came under Joseph’s influence (vs 4). Sometime later, they both had dreams and when they were troubled over the dreams, Joseph interpreted them accurately (vs 4-19). The end result was that the chief cupbearer was restored back to his position, while the chief baker was executed, exactly as Joseph predicted (vs 20-22). In verses 14-15, we find Joseph pleading with the chief cupbearer to speak to the king on his behalf, once he is released, stating his innocence to the accusation brought against him.
Sadly, verse 23 tells us, “the chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him”. In fact, his forgetfulness lasted 2 long years! However, Joseph was learning to be fruitful through the affliction of being forgotten.
What about you? Have your efforts and your hard work or a promise made, been forgotten, maybe by your boss or some members in your family? Maybe a close friend. Maybe your labor in the ministry seems to have been forgotten by others. Do you feel that maybe the Lord has forgotten you? Be patient and keep trusting the Lord and He will lift you up at the right time. He will never forget you!
Thankfully, when Pharaoh had a couple of bad dreams two years later and none of his wise men could interpret the dreams (41:1-8), the chief cupbearer’s memory came alive again (41:9-13). This resulted in him recommending Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams to the king, and the rest is history. While most people search for the 'right contacts' at Conferences, Seminars and other events, it is significant, as a man of God said, that Joseph found his contact inside a prison!! God may do the same for you in unexpected ways and places! After interpreting the king’s dreams accurately, Joseph was released from prison and promoted to the second highest position in Egypt, at the age of 30 (41:46). He was also assigned the huge task of saving the nation of Egypt and the surrounding world from the famine that was about to break out (41:37-40). Joseph handled the task to perfection (41:56-57). In the process, he was used by God to bring restoration to his family and to also save the nation of Israel.
Joseph's status had changed once again from being 'favorite son' to 'favorite slave', to favorite Executive', to 'favorite prisoner', to now being 'favorite Diplomat'!
CLOSING - Where did Joseph acquire the skills needed for this massive operation? It was during the 13 years he spent in Potiphar’s house and in prison, as he faced the afflictions of being rejected, falsely accused and being forgotten.
As he mentioned to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”.
God can do the same for you and for me and truly make us fruitful through our afflictions!