The Closing Years of Joseph
July 12th, 1989 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-5-89 7:30 p.m.
To the throngs of you who share this hour on radio, you’re a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas; and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Remember Me. In our preaching through the Book of Genesis, we are following the life of Joseph. We’re coming to the end of this marvelous and incomparable first book in the Bible; and to my amazement again, there is far more about Joseph in the Bible than there is about Abraham or many of the other tremendous saints of the Old Testament.
Now, the subject Remember Me: it is taken from chapter 40, verse 14 when the butler and the baker of the king were incarcerated and Joseph brought to them the interpretation of their dreams. When the butler was told that he was going to be lifted up and was going to be remembered by the king and exalted by the king, Joseph said to him, "Think on me when it shall be well with thee and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me; and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this prison."
All right, the chapter concludes with verse 23: "Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forget him" [Genesis 40:23]. And the next chapter, the next verse, begins at the end of two full years [Genesis 41:1]. Wouldn’t you have thought that when Joseph interpreted to him a dream from God that he was going to live, God was going to exalt him in Pharaoh’s house once again [Genesis 40:1-13] – "and remember me when that time comes" [Genesis 40:1-14] – wouldn’t you have thought that he would have thought upon Joseph, brought him to mind, remembered him? He forgot him [Genesis 40:23].
And then in that forty-first chapter, verse 9, when Pharaoh himself dreamed a dream from God and sought the interpretation thereof, verse 9, "Then spake the chief butler under Pharaoh saying, ‘I do remember. I do remember, and may God forgive me my faults this day. I remember. I remember.’"
Now the other passage is in chapter 45 that brought this subject to my heart – in chapter 45. When Judah made his beautiful and marvelous plea, one of the most eloquent pleas, one of the most eloquent appeals to be found in the Bible, in verse, in chapter 44, when Judah made the plea for Benjamin [Genesis 44:1-34], why, [chapter] 45 begins:
Then Joseph could not refrain himself before his brethren. And he cried, "Cause every man to go out from me!" And they all went out while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
And he wept aloud . . .
And Joseph said unto his brethren, "I am Joseph," . . . and his brethren could not answer him, for they were troubled at his presence.
"Remember me? I am your younger brother that you sold into slavery. Remember me?" Now he’s exalted – is as Pharaoh himself walking in and out before the people [Genesis 41:38-]. "Remember me?"
And his brethren were troubled at his presence.
And Joseph said, "Come near, I pray you." And they came near. And he said, "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.
But don’t be grieved nor angry with yourselves . . . God did it. God did it that you might be preserved . . .
God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
So now it is not you that sent me hither, but God; He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and the lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
The sorrows of Joseph are beyond description. He was hated by his ten brothers [Genesis 37:4-5, 8, 11]. I don’t know about Benjamin, his full brother, but the others hated him; and they cast him into a pit to die [Genesis 37:18-24]; and from the appeal of Reuben, he was finally sold to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 37:25-28] who carried him down to Egypt; and he was, and he was there bought by the highest bidder on the slave market in Egypt [Genesis 37:36]. And Potiphar, who was the general who headed the military wing that guarded the court and the life of Pharaoh, Potiphar bought him, and he was there introduced as a young slave into the house of the military commander [Genesis 39:1-4].
You can’t help but think of that youth. Here in the passage that I’ve read, in another part of it, they speak of the agony of his soul and his crying when they took the boy and sold him to the Ishmaelites [Genesis 42:21]. And here he is in a strange country – strange customs, strange speech – and he’s there numbered with the other slaves in the court. And he looks at those walls covered with hieroglyphics. Did you know, it’s only comparatively recently that we, with all of our knowledge, have been able to decipher those hieroglyphics? Until comparatively recently in the earth’s history, they were an unknown calligraphy – just strange, strange; and it was strange to the people of the earth for thousands of years.
Think how strange it was to this boy when he’s introduced to the court, and everything was so different for him. He was the love of his father, the object of his affection [Genesis 37:3-4], and now a slave in a strange culture [Genesis 37:36, 39:1-2]. Those outstretched wings as you see so many of the gods and figures and heroes of the Egyptians – those outstretched wings came to be for him a sign of the love of God and the care of God for him. For in chapter 39, verse 2, it says: "The Lord was with him." The Lord was with him, and God made him to prosper in the house of [Potiphar] [Genesis 39:1-6].
I want to ask you a question here. Hadn’t you rather have been Joseph in that strange land and a slave with God with you than to have been his brethren in the land of Canaan and with them a bloodstained garment? I had rather be like Joseph.
Well, in [chapter] 39, verse 20, it says in verse 20, "And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the [sohar], a place where the king’s prisoners were bound. And he was there in the [sohar]." You have it translated here "prison." In other places in the Bible, it’s translated "dungeon." It’s translated "pit." In some places, it’s translated "cistern." In some places, it’s translated "grave;" and in some places, it’s translated "sepulchre."
I know some of you are bound to have been in Rome and have been let down into the Mammertine dungeon, Mammertine prison, where Paul was incarcerated against the day of his death. If you’ve ever been there, you know how it is. It’s like a cistern. There in the middle is a hole, and the prisoner is let down through that hole into the cistern: filthy, dirty, unclean, indescribably terrible. Well, that’s what they did with Joseph [Genesis 39:6-23]. They let him down into a dungeon, into a cistern, and fed him from that hole up there in the top with just a little light coming in. Oh, dear.
But that leads me to the heart of this message tonight. In Psalm 105, verse 17, it says: "Joseph was sold as a slave." Then verse 18 says: "His feet were bound with fetters," and the next part of that verse in the Hebrew is, "His soul entered into iron." Let me turn that around – "His soul entered into iron." If you’ll give me permission to turn it around, what God’s inspired Word says about this young man, iron entered into his soul. This young fellow, the adorable object of his father’s affection and love, pampered and petted, his father lavishing upon him every sign of his first choice. He was the apple of his eye, and the father made no extenuation of any kind concerning his outward show of preferential love for Joseph.
What kind of a man do you think he’d have grown up to be like that? Pampered and petted, and his every wish immediately satisfied, and exalted and bragged upon – what kind of a man do you think he would have been? There’s no doubt but that he would have been just that kind of a critter: pampered, petted, soft, spoiled, expecting everything, and everything he expected given to him. What did God do with him? He sent him down there into Egypt, and I quote what God says happened to him: "Iron entered into his soul" [Psalm 105:18]. Iron entered into his soul.
You have here the head of our preacher’s college, our Center of Biblical Studies. About a day or two ago, he came to my office here in the church, and he said, "We’re going to do something for you which is supposed to be a surprise, but I can’t – we can’t do the surprise unless I fulfill my assignment. So my assignment is to write a chapter about you, and I have these questions;" and he had a whole series of them – questions. And here’s one of them: he asked me, "What do you think is the chief characteristic of a successful pastor?" And you know what I told him? I didn’t have to think about it. I said, "The chief characteristic of a successful pastor is a man who is so committed to God and to the service of the Lord that the fiery furnace through which he will inevitably go as the pastor of a church are nothing. He’s committed; he’s called; and these providences that happen in his life but put iron and steel in his heart and just make him that much more given to the calling and work of the Lord."
Now, I’m no different from you. When you fret and find fault and become sometimes bitter and certainly unhappy because of the providences of life that overwhelm you, just remember God is putting iron in your soul; and if you’ll receive it as from the Lord, these tragedies that overwhelm you [are] but avenues of greater blessing in your life. Even our Lord, in Hebrews 2 and verse 10, even our Lord was described as someone who was made perfect in suffering. God’s will was done in the life of our Savior by the things that He suffered.
Well, let me now speak of the visions in the prison. I mentioned the baker and the butler, and finally Joseph, and finally Pharaoh. Isn’t it a wonderful thing what the world has received from these who have been incarcerated? As I turn through my Bible, practically all of the epistles of Paul were written from prison [Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon], the last one from that Mammertine dungeon that I described a moment ago [2 Timothy]; and it was while John was exiled, apparently to die of exposure and starvation, it was while John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos that heaven opened, and he saw the vision of the triumph and coming of our Lord – the Apocalypse, the Revelation [Revelation 1:9].
And if you’ve been to school at all, every school boy knows that it was while John Bunyan was in prison that he saw and wrote that incomparable allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress . Isn’t it amazing how God, through the trials and tragedies of life, bring visions of glory into the presence of the Lord before our very eyes?
So Joseph, in God’s goodness and grace, and in God’s time, was elevated from the prison to the palace [Genesis 41:14-57]. His brethren despised him [Genesis 37:4-5], but the greatest nation in the then-known world exalted him [Genesis 41:38-]. His coat of many colors was torn from him [Genesis 37:23], but kingly garments now clothe him [Genesis 41:42]. His hands and his feet were tormented by fetters and manacles of iron [Genesis 39:20; Psalm 105:17-18], but now he’s adorned with the gifts of a king [Genesis 41:42]. Once he was humbled in the life and sale of a slave [Genesis 37:36, 39:1], but now all Egypt is commanded to bow down before him [Genesis 41:40-41, 43-44; Psalm 105:20-22].
You know what I think? That the story of Joseph is a picture of our living Lord. "He took upon Him the form of a slave," Paul writes in Philippians 2:
and was made as a man obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, given Him a name which is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, things in earth, and things under the earth,
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God our Father.
It is an exact thing that we see here in the life of Joseph – humbled, slave, incarcerated – and now all the kingdom is commanded to bow before him. That’s exactly what’s going to happen one day before our Lord: every knee bowed and every tongue confessing that He is the Lord of all God’s creation.
Now I close with a word from chapter 41 – just interesting here to look at this. In chapter 41, verse 45: "And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah." Now, doesn’t that beat you? How would you like to say, "This is my dear and close friend, Zaphnath-Paaneah." That’s what, that’s what Pharaoh called him. That’s what Pharaoh called him. Zaphnath-Paaneah means "the one who furnishes the nourishments of life."
You know what we’d say. He’s our Savior. He’s our Savior: "the one who furnishes the nourishments of life." That’s His name. That’s our Savior.
And in that same chapter of 41, in verse 51, Joseph called the name of his firstborn "Manasseh" which means "forgetting," and he named the name of his second boy "Ephraim" which means "fruitfulness" [Genesis 41:52]. Thus the beautiful life of Joseph: a picture of the marvelous goodness of God to us in our Lord Jesus, humbled and exalted, and a reminder and a remembrance on our part that the things in life that bow us, and humble us, and hurt us are the blessings of God against the day when He exalts us, and blesses us, and raises us up [Romans 8:18; Colossians 3:2-4; 1 Peter 1:13, 4:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10].
So, Lord, when trials and troubles come, grant, Master, I receive them as from Thy hands. They’re disciplines, and they are God’s leadings into a fuller, more marvelous ministering life before Thee. Grant it, Lord, to us all.
Now, Fred, I want us to sing us a song; and while we sing the hymn, I’ll be standing right here. If there’s one here tonight to give himself to the Lord, you come and stand by me: "Pastor, I know I’m a sinner, and I know that I face the judgment of death; but I also know in the gospel that Jesus died for me, and if I’ll accept Him, He’ll not only forgive me and wash me of all of my sins, but He’ll open heaven’s door for me and give me a life forever in glory. And I’m accepting Him as my Savior tonight." A family to come into the sweet fellowship of our church, anyone to answer the call of the Spirit in your heart, as we sing this hymn, you come to me while we stand and while we sing.
THE CLOSING YEARS OF JOSEPH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Jacob mourned for Joseph for twenty years; Genesis 45:25-28
Jacob’s final interview with God; Genesis 46:1-7
Joseph and Jacob in Pharaoh’s court; genesis 47:7-10
Joseph’s first visit to his dying father; Genesis 47:27-31
Joseph’s second visit; Genesis 48:1-22
Joseph’s third and final visit; Genesis
Death of Joseph; Genesis 50:22-26