By grace, God chose Jacob’s son, Judah, to be the ancestor of Jesus Christ, but He chose younger brother Joseph to have a much bigger impact on the development and growth of the Jewish nation until the time of King David. The fascinating story of Joseph, his godly interpretation of dreams and his critical rise to power under the Pharaoh of Egypt begins in Genesis 37 and is well worth reading.
To use some railroad terminology, Judah was on the “main line” of the kingly lineage of Jesus Christ, but brother Joseph comprised a very important “siding” for the survival of the Jewish nation. Joseph was not the same Joseph who was the stepfather of Jesus, who was born many hundreds of years later. This Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob, a younger brother of Judah, Jacob’s fourth son.
Many people know the story of Joseph and his multi-color coat because it was the subject of a popular musical show. Joseph was sold into slavery by his older brothers because they were jealous of the favoritism their father Jacob showed him. In addition, they resented that God had given Joseph dreams that his brothers would one day bow down to him in subservience. Although there were many twists and turns in Joseph’s story, the dream played out in real life, and that is exactly what happened, to everyone’s benefit.
After Joseph was sold off as a slave by his brothers, he was carried down to Egypt by Ishmaelite slave traders.
Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. Genesis 39:1-4 ESV
Joseph rebounded from being sold off as a slave by his jealous brothers because of the gracious care and loving favor of God. No matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in, the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us. He will provide for our needs, and we may even find greater well-being than before due to His generous hand, even in the midst of hardship and injustice by others. Such was the case for Joseph. Unfortunately, he would later fall victim to another evil heart, this time that of his master Potiphar’s wife. She made a false accusation against Joseph, which resulted in him being wrongly locked up for a crime that she knew he did not do.
20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. Genesis 39:20-23 ESV
Once again, the innocent Joseph, having been wrongly punished, was solely dependent upon the gracious hand of God to keep him alive and thriving. He enjoyed great success despite his unjust captivity. In a sense, God was holding Joseph in a “protective custody”, because when the time was right, Joseph was in exactly the right place to save and bless all of the descendants of Abraham, as well as the entire Egyptian nation under Pharaoh.
The big turn of events began when two prisoners under Joseph’s care each had dreams one night, and it disturbed them greatly. They shared their dreams with Joseph.
8 They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” Genesis 40:8 ESV
Joseph was given the gift of interpreting dreams by God. The prisoners’ dreams and Josephs interpretations can be found in Genesis 40. Subsequent events proved that both dreams and their interpretations were prophetic, and that Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation was indeed from God.
Two years later, Pharaoh also had disturbing dreams and he searched desperately for help in interpreting them. One of the prisoners who had had the earlier dream was now free and back in Pharaoh’s court, and he remembered Joseph and his prophetic gift. Mentioning this to Pharaoh, Joseph was ordered to be cleaned up and brought from the prison into Pharaoh’s presence to interpret his dreams.
28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Genesis 41:28-32 ESV
Pharaoh recognized the divine inspiration of God’s warning behind the dreams and their interpretation, and Joseph was placed in a position of great authority to oversee all preparations for the coming famine. And just as God had prophesied to Abraham hundreds of years earlier, his descendants would be strangers in a land they did not know, moving down into Egypt. There they would survive the brutal seven-year famine, growing and prospering under God’s blessing. Then, a new Pharaoh came along who feared the thriving Israelites, and put them under a yoke of slavery, bringing them many hardships. God would hear their cries and deliver His people from bondage under the leadership of Moses, as recorded in the book of Exodus.
Here are some other examples where God spoke through dreams or night visions in the Bible:
Genesis 15:12-16 The Lord spoke to Abraham in a deep sleep and warned him about the future destiny of his descendants. God told Abraham that they would one day be slaves and that they would eventually be freed to return to their Promised Land of Israel.
Genesis 28:10-22 During a dream, the Lord showed Jacob a ladder that reached to heaven. He then tells him about the future of Jacob’s descendants, how they would grow in all directions and that all people on earth would be blessed through them. This was ultimately accomplished by the appearance of their Messiah, Jesus Christ, offered to all.
Daniel 2 God gave the king of Babylon a dream that foretold all the global kingdoms to come on the earth. These included the Empires of Babylon, Media-Persia, Macedonia-Greece, Rome and a latter-day reconsolidated Empire that will be overthrown by the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. God gave Daniel both the King’s dream and the interpretation for it, confirming the interpretation’s validity. Daniel was later given confirming dreams and visions of his own in Daniel 7 and 8.
Matthew 1:18-25, Matthew 2 God used dreams to confirm to Joseph that Mary’s child, Jesus, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and to warn both the visiting magi and Joseph of the dangers presented by King Herod. This allowed the magi to change their return travel route and allowed Joseph and his family to flee to Egypt, as God directed them.
These are some of the examples in the Bible where the God spoke to people through dreams to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps you know of some cases where the Lord has done this in our time.
Has God ever spoken to you or someone you know in a dream? What was it? What happened afterwards? How can we know these are truly from God, and not from our own imaginations or from the evil one? God often uses confirmation to verify He is the source.
Joseph thrived in the midst of injustice and hardship. Where have you seen the loving favor of God in your life, even as you were experiencing challenging circumstances?
Are there hardships you have gone through in life that you are now thankful for? Which ones and why?
What ongoing challenges are you seeking God’s help for?