Genesis 41:1-42:2: “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering”

Thanksgiving is a day when we as Americans gratefully remember all the blessings in our lives.  And when such gratitude and thanks fill our hearts, then the sorrow and tragedy in our lives no longer seem so large.

Today, we take a look at the life of Joseph.  This isn’t the Joseph that was Jesus’ stepfather.  No, we’re looking at the Joseph of the Old Testament.  He had the coat of many colors.  But he was also the one whose brothers had sold him into slavery.  We look at his life that it may shape our hearts to be more thankful, even when our way ahead may look dark and foreboding.

Joseph’s 10 older brothers hated him–mostly because their father, Jacob, played favorites.  Joseph also had those dreams, where his brothers bowed down to him to give him honor.  Over time, their hatred became so intense that they even wanted to kill Joseph.  But they sold him into slavery, instead.

And so, at 17, slave traders carted Joseph off to Egypt.  Then, as the way events unfolded, he was thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  For 13 years, Joseph was a prisoner and a slave–all of it undeserved and acutely unfair.

Then one night, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had a dream that troubled him.  Because Pharaoh had heard that Joseph could interpret dreams, he yanked Joseph out of prison to see him.  Joseph did interpret Pharaoh’s dream, and so began a new chapter in his life.

That morning, Joseph woke up in a dungeon.  That night, he went to bed in a palace.  Joseph woke up wearing rags.  He ended the day wearing royal robes.  Joseph began that day as a dirty, forgotten prisoner.  He ended the day as the leader of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

It was a real, rags-to-riches story.  After a series of appallingly unfortunate events, comes unexpected and unimaginable fortune.  So, how would you feel?  Perhaps, Prime Minister Joseph thought, “Wow!  This is all right!  This must be what God had in mind for me all along.”  If this were a fairy tale, the story would end, “And they all lived happily ever after.”  But life with God is more complex than that.

Joseph sat back and looked at all that happened in his life.  He pondered how God had blessed him in so many ways.  At first, Joseph may have thought that he had finally gotten even from his brothers’ cruel words and actions, their selling him into slavery.

We can see some of that in the way Joseph named his first son.  Scripture records, “Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh” (Manasseh means “to forget”).  Joseph said, “It is because God has made me forget all my hardship in my father’s household” (Genesis 41:51).  It was as if Joseph thought: “Ah, this is now God’s purpose for me.  This is the way life is supposed to be.”

But as Joseph further reflected, he realized that all the wealth, power, and honor he had was not his way of getting even for being sold into slavery.  His large fortune was not the essence of his life.  We see Joseph’s deepening and changing understanding reflected in the name he gave to his second son: Ephraim, which means “fruitful.”  Joseph said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:52).

This is what Joseph realized: Egypt was not the land of his power and wealth.  In reality, for Joseph, it was the land of slavery and imprisonment.  For Egypt was not his real home.  His real home was back in Canaan with his father and brothers.  And Joseph realized that it made no sense that he should have power and wealth in Egypt, the land of his suffering.  But for Joseph, God in His grace made life the way it shouldn’t have been.

In Joseph’s life, we see the depth of God’s love.  We see how contrary God’s response is to our sinful behavior.  For God was using Joseph’s life in Egypt to rescue his brothers from famine and starvation.  They were the ones who had sold him into slavery!

Oh, how clearly we can see God’s patience, love, and mercy when He even turns the bad of our sin into something good, when He uses our own sinful acts to help rescue us.  That’s what God did with the sin of Joseph’s brothers.  He used that sin to work good in their lives.

We see that theme repeated throughout Scripture.  We see it most vividly when Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried” for us and our salvation.  Although sinful man killed Jesus, God used that evil sin to bring about our salvation.

Sometimes, we forget that we live in a fallen world.  We have the best medical care ever imagined.  Technological toys fill our lives with what an awakened sleeper from 50 years ago would consider magical.  Take a moment and look at Table Rock Lake, and its beauty will bedazzle your eyes.

Yet, we must remember that this is still a broken, fallen, and cursed world.  This world is not the home where our lives are to be fulfilled or where we get even with the hurts that haunt us.  After all, like Joseph, this isn’t our true home.

Like Joseph, it makes no sense that we should have the comforts and happiness we have.  The only way to value fully what we have is to see the blessings of this life as undeserved gifts.  That’s how a maturing faith would have us see it.  That’s how Joseph eventually came to view all the blessings and fortune in his life.

Like Joseph, God has made us fruitful in the land of our suffering.  God had given Joseph the grace to see that He had used many terrible events to save his family from an even-worse fate.  But something Joseph could only see dimly was his connection to the future birth of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Joseph’s brother Judah.  Who was Judah?  He was the brother who came up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery.  How is that for God working good from the bad in our lives?

We must admit that it makes no sense for God, who insists on justice and holiness, to be kind to us and bless us with what we don’t deserve.  So, what causes God to see us in such a favorable light anyway?  It’s Jesus.  He offered Himself as a substitute, as a sacrifice.  Jesus died on the cross.  And because of that one act, which transcends all time, God does not count our sins against us, no matter what those sins have been.  Through the cross, God sees you as the perfect creation He originally intended you to be.

So this evening, let Joseph teach you that happiness and material security are not simply for your own enjoyment.  It isn’t just for you.  Like with Joseph, God also has the welfare of others in mind.

But more than that, God has used the events of your life, both the good and the bad, to point you to your eternal home.  And so we say, “Thank you, God, for making us fruitful in the land of our suffering.”

But remember, we still live in a broken, fallen, and cursed world.  God wants something better for us.  Our future is not here in the land of our suffering, just as Joseph’s home was not in Egypt.  Your real homecoming will be with God in eternity.  After all, that’s why Jesus died for you and lives for you.

There’s a story about a man who was dealing with his grief the day after his mother’s funeral.  He had a gentle way about him and was a loving father.  And so he carefully watched for the best time to talk to his six-year-old son about his grandmother’s death.  Since Christ had surrounded this family for many generations, he knew how to speak when it came to the death of a Christian.

The son asked the father, “Dad, why did Grandma stop talking and eating?  Every day she got worse.”

The father explained about Adam’s sin, a broken world, and how Jesus’ death and resurrection are how God makes everything new.  He said: “Grandma was baptized into Jesus’ death.  And just like Jesus rose from the grave, so will she.  Like Jesus, she will live in heaven forever.  She will never be sick, and she will always be happy.  Nothing bad will ever happen there.”

The son asked, “Will every day be better than the one before it?”  The father thought about that and agreed.  “Yes, every day will be better than the one before it.”

Yes, God has made us fruitful in the land of our suffering.  But we are even more thankful that, because of Jesus, we will be taken from our land of suffering to our eternal home.  There, each new day will be better than the day before it.  Indeed, that’s something for which we can be eternally thankful!  Amen.