What do you mean God speaks?

S3E15: When listening to God throws you into a pit (Joseph)

May 15, 2023 Paul Seungoh Chung Season 3 Episode 15
What do you mean God speaks?
S3E15: When listening to God throws you into a pit (Joseph)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We’ve now started the final set of episodes of the 3rd season, as we explore the life-story of Joseph, and the question he confronted: what happens when what God has spoken to you, seems to have been proven false? What do you do when listening to God seems to have thrown you into a pit? How does your journey with God continue from there? What can you still hold on to?

Also, I was recently interviewed by Dr. John D Wise in his podcast, “The Christian Atheist”. You can check out the podcast here: 

(Also check out the rest of their content, which starts by detailing a philosophy professor’s journey away from Christianity to atheism, and then from atheism back to Christianity, 25 years later.)         

 1:30     When your 'map' is being questioned           
 10:03     The dreams God spoke to Joseph           
 17:42     Joseph's life is thrown into a pit           
 24:50     What do you mean God is with Joseph?           
 31:28     Why Joseph still listened for God            


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There’s always a risk that comes with hearing God speak to you. Of course, there’s risk to almost everything we do in life, and Life itself is what the Bible characterizes as wrestling with God—as wrestling with everything reality unfolds. 

But, there’s a specific risk that comes with hearing God speak personally to you. That is: if you follow this voice, will it lead you to where it promised? Or, are you being led astray? It’s one thing to encounter hardship and difficulty in Life, because that’s, well, Life. It’s another thing though to encounter hardship because you followed what God spoke, and even worse, to find that things seem to unfold pretty much the opposite of what God said. What happens then? How should you think about that?

That is the question that would’ve confronted Joseph, the favored son of Jacob. So, we’ll begin exploring his story in this episode of…

[ music / ]

… "What do you mean, God speaks?" where we explore important ideas, insights, and stories in Christianity, for the skeptics who want to understand religion, to the Christians who have questions about their own beliefs, and everyone in between.

I am Paul Seungoh Chung, and this is our 15th episode of the third season, “When listening to God throws you down a pit: the life of Joseph, part 1.”

[ / music ]

In our previous episode, I recounted how I realized that the Bible is, in a key sense, a map. It’s not meant to simply transmit what God is speaking, since all of reality is God speaking. The Bible is meant to be a map that guides us to identify, which out of literally everything is God speaking personally with us, and to hear what it is that God seems to be saying to us. And this map is composed of millennia-long list of case-studies about people who spoke with God, and what unfolded in their lives, and the kind of persons they became. It’s like how a map of any land is composed by people who actually journeyed through that land. And we can only know whether their map is true if we ourselves make the same journey with their map—at least, that’s how it was before satellite imaging. So, the question is: if we follow this map, will we encounter what’s in the map? And that’s the risk. We won’t find out if the map is true, unless we follow the map; but, if we don’t follow the map, we also won’t have to find out if the map is false.  

This is the risk that Jacob also faced; now obviously, he didn’t have our Bible, but he did inherit the life and experiences of his father Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham, about how God spoke with them, and what unfolded in their lives. So, in a sense, Jacob did have a map—a much smaller map, but still a map—drawn by the lives of Abraham and Isaac. And when God spoke to him in a dream, and he listened to what God spoke, Jacob began following the still-small map he inherited from them. But, in doing so, he was also risking the possibility that their map would turn out to be false.

So, imagine that you’re Jacob. Years ago, God spoke to you in a dream, as you were journeying anxiously to a faraway land. In that dream, God spoke to you a promise, the same promise that was first spoken to your grandfather—that your descendants will become a nation and will inherit the land around you. Regarding your own life, God promised to enable you to make a living in that faraway land, and to bring you back home safely. Twenty years later, the promises God spoke seemed to have come true despite the odds being stacked against you. Despite being cheated repeatedly by your employer—your crafty uncle—you were not only able to make a living, but prospered, so that you are now returning to your homeland with your family, servants, flocks, and literally a caravan-full of wealth. But, then you receive the news that your brother, who you’ve deeply wronged in the past, has rejected your plea for reconciliation, and is coming after you with hundreds of men. 

What would all this mean to you? Specifically, what would this mean for your belief that God had spoken to you these promises and blessed you all this time? The map that you’ve inherited assures you that God will unfold in your life what God spoke to you. Now, the part of the map that was drawn by the life-story of your grandfather, Abraham, cautions that this may take a very long time, and what God speaks may at times seem like an impossible thing to you. But, it will happen. Yet, if your brother kills you and your entire family, then it wouldn’t simply be an issue of God’s promise taking a long time to be fulfilled, or that the promise seem impossible to you. Because you know, you’d all be dead! God’s promise would instead be proven false; the promise that you’ll return home safely, or that your descendants will inherit this land, would all be proven false.

So, the night before your brother, Esau, arrives with his armed men, you’re wrestling with God—wrestling with your questions. And depending on the time period in which you live, you’d be confronted with different sorts of questions about God in this situation. This is because in each time period, you’d have a different view of God. 

In the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Genesis account, “God” was a deity that for some reason took an interest in them and spoke with them. This deity was very powerful to be sure, and seemed to be the Creator of the world, but, Abraham and his children were still learning about this “god”—about his power and his character. So, if you were Jacob during this time, your question would be: can you trust this “god”? Does this “god” speak truthfully and keep his promises? Maybe this “god” lacks the power to bring about what was promised? Or maybe this “god” can cancel his promises; perhaps, he annulled his promise because you did something he disliked; or, perhaps this “god” is capricious, like some other gods in the old stories, giving and withdrawing his favor at whim. Either way, if your brother kills you and your entire family, then what you have believed about the trustworthiness of this deity would be proven false. 

By the time the concept of God is more developed, however—so, for example, by the time the life-story of Jacob was written down in the Bible in its present form, or at least by the time ‘theology’ became a distinct intellectual discipline—you’d begin asking a different sort of questions as Jacob. For those living in this time, “God” would never lack power, or speak what is not true, or break a promise, ever. Everything that happens is what God unfolds; every truth is God speaking to us. So, if what you heard turned out to be false, then it just cannot be what “God” has spoken; if it seems that you’ll be killed so that the promises you heard from God will fail to come true, then the question you’d ask would be: “Did I really hear God speak to me?” Maybe you were delusional, or maybe something other than God, say, an evil spirit, has lied to you. Whichever it was, your belief that what you heard was God speaking to you would be proven false.

Today, I suppose we’d ask a different question. In the past, if you were Jacob and you were killed by your brother, we’d still believe that God speaks to people; it’s that you were wrong to believe that God spoke to you. But now, we would consider a different possibility; it’s not just that you did not hear God speak; maybe no one does. So, today, many of us are asking, “Maybe there is no God”? But, we already explored in our two previous episodes what it really means to ask this question, and also how we have misunderstood the key ideas and beliefs that this question addresses. So, I’ll refer you to those episodes, if you haven’t checked them out already. 

In each case, however, the question we’d be confronted with is really the question regarding the map—that is, we’re questioning the previous life and experiences that we inherited from those who spoke with God. The map, drawn by the life-story of Abraham and Isaac, testify that God is trustworthy; the map, drawn by thousand-year long list of case-studies about those who have spoken with God, describes how you can recognize God speaking personally with you. The map, drawn by the spiritual, intellectual, moral journey of the people of God since then, testifies that all of reality speaks to us as Who rather than a what, and that we can hear that voice. And the question that confronts us in Jacob’s place, each time, is that this map may be wrong

It turned out that though that in the end Jacob did not have to answer this question. After he wrestled with God throughout the night—or rather, the angel that represented God to Jacob—God blessed him and gave him a new name, “Israel.” God then said, “You have wrestled with God and men, and have prevailed.” The next morning, his brother Esau arrived with his men, but, he wasn’t angry. It turned out that Esau also wanted to reconcile with his brother, and as soon as he arrived, he ran to Jacob, and hugged him while he wept. We’re never told whether he had been coming to kill his brother, but God changed his heart, or if this already happened long ago, and Jacob had misunderstood his brother’s intentions. Either way, God fulfilled what He promised to Jacob—now called “Israel”. Jacob’s map was proven true; God does speak with us, and God did speak with him personally, and what God has spoken is trustworthy. 

It would be his son, Joseph, who would be confronted with this episode’s question. 

[ Pendulum ]

So, what is the question Joseph would be confronted with? 

It’s: What do you do when you listened to what God spoke to you, and then what God has spoken seems to be proven false? And I do not mean the cases when you clearly did not hear God speak, but deluded yourself, because you were ignorant, or arrogant, or out-and-out crazy. I mean the cases when it really did seem like God spoke to you, because God spoke in the same way that you believe God truly spoke in the past—to people like Abraham and Isaac—to the people whose life-story that now compose the Bible. And there were compelling reasons why you came to this conclusion, so if this was not God personally speaking to you, then it almost seems like nothing that God spoke to people in the past, was really God speaking. So, what do you do when what God spoke to you even in such a case seems to be proven false?

And this is what happens in Joseph’s story. God spoke to him in a dream, just like how God spoke to his dad, Jacob. Well, not quite the same way, since in his dream, God spoke to him not with verbal words, but with a series of visual images. But still, God did speak. Yet, when he told his family what God spoke to him, his brothers burned with such hostility that they eventually did a terrible thing to him—something that seemed to prove wrong everything God had shown to him. 

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because the seeds of what happened between Joseph and his brothers—the sons of Jacob, now called Israel—were sown well before they were born. Now, Jacob had four wives: Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah. But, if you remember from episode twelve, Jacob had really only wanted to marry Rachel. He was tricked into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister, by his uncle Laban—so that Jacob had to work seven more years for him for that marriage. Bilhah was a servant-girl of Rachel, and Jacob had to take her as his wife because Rachel wanted her to bear surrogate children for her. Not to be outdone by her sister, Leah offered her servant-girl, Zilpah, to Jacob. So, by the time Jacob returned to his homeland, Jacob had four wives, through whom he had eleven sons, and at least one daughter. I say, at least, because only one was specifically named: Dinah, the daughter of Leah. 

But, for Jacob, Rachel was the love of his life, but they only had a single son between them, and that was Joseph. And it was clear to everyone who was the most precious to Jacob. When Esau arrived with his men, and Jacob did not yet know that his brother had come in peace, he placed the two servant-girls and their children at the front, just behind him as he went to face his brother; he placed Leah and their children further back, and at the rear-most, farthest away from danger, he placed Rachel and her son, Joseph. Then, something else made his favoritism toward Joseph even worse. Rachel died, giving birth to her second son, who Jacob named Benjamin.

Now, Joseph and Benjamin were the only children left to him from the woman he loved the most. And Joseph was Jacob’s favorite. Jacob gave him a special, ornamented robe to wear, marking him different from his other brothers. Genesis also reports that while helping his brothers shepherd Jacob’s flocks, he brought a bad report to his father regarding some of them, specifically the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. That he can do so suggest that he was being groomed to be Jacob’s successor, displacing all of his brothers—his older brothers, mind you. So, even at the best of times, Joseph was not at all liked by the rest of his brothers. 

But, things really took a turn for the worse when Joseph had a dream, around the time he was seventeen, according to Genesis. In the dream, Joseph and his brothers were binding sheaves of grain in the field, and suddenly his sheaf stood upright, and the sheaves of his brothers gathered around it and bowed to it. The meaning seemed clear: Joseph would rule over his brothers, who’d bow down to him. Joseph then told this dream to his brothers, and they were quite predictably furious. They replied angrily, “You think you’ll really rule over us?” I suspect though that at least part of their anger was because they knew that due to Jacob’s favoritism, this is what will one day happen. But, Joseph had yet another dream. In it, he saw eleven stars, as well as the sun and the moon, bowing down to him. He then told this dream to his family. This time, even his doting father, Jacob, sharply reprimanded him, because again the meaning of the dream was clear: not only his brothers, but his father and mother—though not his biological mother, Rachel, since she had died—would all bow down to Joseph. “What kind of dream is that?” Jacob snapped. But, Genesis adds that Jacob kept the matter in mind; here, I think that Jacob sensed something. After all, dreams were how God had first spoken to him in the past.   

At this point in the story, the first impression we may have of Joseph’s character is kind of ambiguous. Or, perhaps not even that for some of us: he may seem like an arrogant brat, and one that rats out his brothers. But, what Genesis portrays is more complicated than that. First, we’ll soon see that reporting on his brothers seemed to be something his father tasked him with. I think it was a way for Jacob to train him to be his successor, to oversee the work of others, to be a manager of operations, so to speak, rather than just another laborer in the field; that Joseph was likely being trained to do this, and was rather adept at it, is something that’ll become apparent later in his life. 

Second, if we believe that it was simply due to arrogance that he told his dream to his brothers, we wouldn’t be able to explain why he’d tell the second dream, especially to his father. After all, the second dream would be greatly offensive even to his father, since it seemed to say that even his parents would bow to him. And it couldn’t be that Joseph was too stupid to realize that—again, we’ll see later that he was far from stupid. Yet, he did tell the dream, even to his father. And predictably, Jacob got angry with him. It seems to me that Joseph told the dream to others, simply because he sensed that they were important. Again, remember that God first spoke to his father, Jacob—now Israel—in a dream. God also spoke at times to his grandfather Isaac, and his father, Abraham, in a dream. So, the map he inherited regarding God that has spoken with them, would’ve indicated to him that these dreams may very well be something that God was speaking to him and his family. But, why? Why is God showing him these dreams? Should they not know about it, and think about what God is speaking? 

Joseph, however, was quite likely naïve. He wasn’t a fool, intellectually, but he seems quite inept at sensing what others feel. He understood the significance of the dreams, and as far as he was concerned, that was good enough reason to tell others about them. But, he doesn’t seem to understand how others would truly feel about them—or the extent of their angry response. Perhaps you know the type; logical, intelligent, and generally well-meaning, but can’t quite grasp human emotions—and more to the point, darker emotions. He would pay for that ignorance, and more than once.

[ Pendulum ]

After Joseph told his dreams to his brothers, they utterly despised him, to put it lightly. A better way to put it would be, they were murderously furious. Then, sometime later— and it seems not too long afterward—they were grazing their flock some distance away from the main camp, near a place called Shechem, and Jacob sent Joseph to check on how they were doing and how the flocks were faring, and report back to him. As I said, that seemed to be Joseph’s job at this point. But, when he arrived at Shechem, his brothers were nowhere to be found. Then a man came by and told him that they had traveled further away to a place called Dothan. So, Joseph continued on to Dothan. 

His brothers saw him from some distance away, and began to conspire together. “Here comes that dreamer,” they said darkly to each other. Then, someone made a much darker suggestion: “Let’s kill him and throw him down a pit, and we’ll tell our father that some wild beast attacked and killed him.” They liked that idea, and said to each other, “Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

The eldest brother, Reuben, opposed the idea though. “Don’t kill him! Just throw him down a pit, but don’t kill him.” He said this, planning to rescue him later; after all, he was the oldest, and felt responsible for all his younger siblings. So, when Joseph arrived, his brothers seized him, and stripped him of the special, ornamented robe that their father had given him, and threw him down a pit. Then, they sat down to eat, and while Reuben had gone elsewhere for a short while, a caravan of traders came by on their way to Egypt. This caravan belonged to the Midianites, a tribe descended from Ishmael. 

Then, Judah, who was the fourth son, born between Jacob and Leah, spoke up. “Let’s not go so far as to kill the boy; he is, after all, our brother. Besides, what do we really gain by killing him? Let’s instead sell him as a slave to these merchants.” And the other brothers agreed that it was a great idea. They pulled up him from the pit, and ignoring his tearful pleas, sold him for twenty pieces of silver.

We’re going to leave these brothers now, and return to their story in our next episode. We’ll be following Joseph, who was taken down to Egypt, and sold to a high-ranking official there named Potiphar, the captain of the guards for the Pharaoh, king of Egypt. 

Joseph was now a slave, but Genesis reports that the LORD was with him. Whatever Joseph did in that household, turned out well. It seems though that he was especially good in management, in organizing and directing others—something that his father seemed to have trained him to do. And reality unfolded good results for everything he undertook; God responded favorably to whatever he did. And his master noticed this, and eventually placed him in charge of his entire household and properties. Joseph became his steward-in-chief, manager of his businesses and day-to-day operations. So trusted was Joseph that his master basically left everything up to Joseph to manage them, and didn’t even feel the need to check on his work, afterward. 

Again, how things fared for Joseph, was just like how it was for his father, Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, according to the Genesis account. Just like them, God blessed him, so that everything he did yielded good results, and great wealth. Yet, unlike them, Joseph was a slave—even if a high-ranking one. The wealth his work produced was not his, but his master’s. He was cut off from his family and his people in a foreign land, and even worse, it was his own family—his brothers—that did this to him. That dream that God had showed him, where his brothers and even his parents would bow to him, seemed to have rather clearly been proven wrong. In fact, you could even say it was because God had spoken to him through that dream that he was now a slave. After all, his dreams were what pushed his brothers finally conspire against him.

And things would become even worse for him. Remember that I said, Joseph seem to have difficulty grasping the darker emotions of people? Genesis reports that he was a handsome young man, and his master’s wife fell hard for Joseph. She began coming on to him, trying to seduce him to sleep with her. He refused, saying quite sincerely and earnestly, that her husband—and his master—trusts him so greatly that he put him in charge of everything in his household. So, how could her betray that and sleep with his wife, and—here he specifically adds—sin against God? Again, remember the first episode this season: for them, belief in God is the same as belief in reality of truth and morality. 

However, she did not stop. She kept trying to seduce him, and one day, when no one else was around, she grabbed hold of his garments, forcefully telling him to sleep with her. Joseph threw off his garment and fled outside. That was when she snapped. She took the garment Joseph left behind, and went around showing it to everyone in the house, saying, “That Hebrew man is looking down on us all. He dared tried to rape me, but when I screamed, he left these clothes behind and ran away.” Then, she told the same to her husband. Angrily, Joseph’s master—who was the captain of king’s guards —took Joseph away threw him in jail, reserved for the King’s own prisoners.  

Now, on a side-note, because the time being what it is right now, with the prominence of the Me-too movement, the story of false accusation of rape may ring all kinds of wrong bells to today’s listeners. However, I’d caution linking this story unthinkingly with today’s social issues. From what I can tell, the ideal purpose of the Me-Too movement is to give voice to those who would otherwise not have a voice—which too often tended to be victims of sexual assault. In Joseph’s story, it’s the reverse: it’s Joseph, whose voice was easily silenced—he was, in the end, a slave and a foreigner, and his accuser was a noblewoman in ancient Egypt, where women held relatively powerful social status. He was the one who was powerless before her sexual advances. 

In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that he was simply thrown in jail, with all his limbs intact, so to speak. It could’ve been much worse; he could’ve been executed, for one thing. This is why in the Jewish tradition, there were speculations—for example, raised by Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian in the 1st century—that his master knew Joseph was not the kind of man who’d do the thing he was accused of. But, again, it was the words of a noblewoman against a slave, and a foreigner at that. So, his master handed him the lightest punishment he can—incarceration in the Pharaoh’s prison. But, this still meant that now, Joseph was doomed to rot away in prison for the rest of his life. 

Yet, Genesis reports that the LORD was still with Joseph. The warden of the prison came to trust Joseph, and left the affairs of other prisoners up to him. And there, as a prisoner—a respected among other prisoners, but still a prisoner—Joseph pined away.

[ Pendulum ]

Here’s a question though. According to Genesis, the LORD was with Joseph even in prison—that God blessed Joseph. But, he was in prison, presumably for the rest of his life. I don’t know about you, but that don’t seem like blessing to me. 

Now, on the one hand, the point that Genesis is conveying is quite clear: whoever you are and wherever you are, your life can manifest a glimpse of God that speaks to us. We’ve explored this point before; there are truths, then there are truths that generate other truths, and that truth is about a kind of person—someone who speaks truthfully, who teaches us or guides us to new truths, who acts justly and with compassion, which  shows us how to live meaningfully in our particular time and context—such a person is the closest image we have of God, in that how we relate to them, is the best analogy available to how we relate to all of reality as a whole that can speak to us. And such persons may be kings or heroes, but they may also be slaves or prisoners. Yet, they will bring blessing to wherever they are, however humble it is, and reality will unfold the best possible things given where they are. Except of course, the best possible things in prison is usually a lot more limited than the best possible things in a King’s court.

And Joseph was in prison. Furthermore, it’s one thing to hear God speak to you while you’re in prison, so that you become the kind of person who will bless everything in that prison. Then, you may say that even in a prison, God is bringing forth wondrous things. But, it’s another thing entirely to hear God speak to you, and then be thrown into prison. And it’s even worse for Joseph; he was thrown in prison due to some false accusation, and that happened because he was trying to do the right thing. And don’t forget: the whole thing started because he heard God speak to him in the first place through a dream, since that pushed his brothers to sell him into slavery. If he had never heard from God, he’d still be at home with his family, even if his brothers would likely still hate him. So, while there may be some truth to the point that Genesis is making by saying that God “blessed” Joseph even in prison, I’d also say that there’s a bitter irony in that statement. At the very least, what God had spoken to Joseph through his dreams years ago, seemed to have been quite decisively proven wrong. His brothers will never bow to him now—whatever that means—and in fact, he’ll never see them again.

This is why what happens next in this story is so remarkable. I think most people who read this part passes by it without much thought, but considering what happened to Joseph so far, it really is an odd thing. Joseph listens to someone else’s dreams, and tells them what they mean, saying that it is God who speaks to us the truth of what our dreams are telling us. Yet, based on what happened in his life, he should be the very last person who’d say something like that. He certainly didn’t know what his dreams meant, ever since he was sold as a slave, and then thrown into prison—the Genesis account makes that clear, much later in the story. So, why would he think that he can listen to someone else’s dream, and tell them what they mean? More to the point, how could he possibly think that God is going to speak to him what those dreams mean?

But, again, we should go over the actual story. So, sometime after he was thrown into prison—quite likely some years later—two new prisoners arrived in the jail block where Joseph was. They were both placed in prison by the Pharaoh himself, the King of Egypt. One of them was the chief baker; you know, he’s the King’s chef. The other was the King’s cupbearer. Now, this office may sound somewhat strange to us today, since a cupbearer is someone who pours out drinks for the king—which doesn’t sound like a very important job. But, when you’re in a position of power, where assassination by poisoning in ever present danger, someone who pours out your drinks—and tastes them first before handing it to you—needs to be someone you deeply trust. And that trust isn’t gained simply by serving drinks. A cupbearer was usually one of the ruler’s chief advisers and confidant. And the fact that both the cupbearer and the royal baker were imprisoned at the same time, suggests that something happened, which raised suspicion that someone tried to poison the King. It seems that—though it isn’t stated outright in the story—these two officials were both under investigation and Joseph was tasked to take care of them while they were in prison. 

One day, Joseph noticed that both of them seemed really depressed. So, he asked them what was wrong. It turns out that both of them had a dream, and they were quite disturbed by them; they were sure there was meaning to those dreams, but no one could tell them what they were. And it was then that Joseph said, “Is it not God that reveals to us the truth of our dreams? Tell me about them.” 

So, the cupbearer spoke up first. “In my dream, there was a vine before me with three branches. It budded, blossomed, and ripened into grapes. I then took the grapes and pressed its juice into the Pharaoh’s cup, and placed it in his hand.”

Then, Joseph said, “This is what it means. Three branches mean three days; in three days, the King will lift your head and restore you to your office, and you will place the cup in his hand as you did before.” Then, Joseph said to him, “Please remember me when this happens, and speak to the King on my behalf. I was taken from my home, the land of the Hebrews, and I’ve been placed in this prison even though I’m innocent.”

Then, the chief baker, hoping that his dream also meant good news, spoke up. “I also had a dream. There were three bread baskets on my head, filled with all sorts of baked food for the King. But, the birds were eating them out of these baskets.” 

Then, Joseph answered him, “This is what that dream means. Three baskets are three days; in three days, the Pharaoh will lift off your head from your body, and hang your corpse on a pole, and birds will feed on you.”

And on the third day afterwards, the King celebrated his birthday, with a feast for all his servants. Just as Joseph said, the King then restored the chief cupbearer to his former position, but executed his chief baker and hanged his corpse. So, what Joseph had said regarding their dreams indeed came true.

[ Short pendulum ]

Why did Joseph believe that he would know what God is saying in their dreams—that things will turn out just as he said? Why would Joseph still believe that God was still speaking to him and guiding him, even when he had been enslaved and thrown into prison, likely for the rest of his life? Sure, whatever task he undertook yielded good results—and it seemed God was with him in those things—but in the bigger picture, his life was a mess, and quite arguably because God spoke to him through those dreams in his youth. And that’s assuming it was God that spoke to him. 

Yet, he listened to the cupbearer and the baker, clearly believing—and saying as much—that God would reveal to him the truths of their dreams. Why?

[ Genesis music ]

It’s because our journey does not just start with us. The map that depicts our journey with God, is something we inherited from those who have gone before, and our journey continues from where theirs left off. Joseph’s relationship with God did not simply start with him; he inherited it from his father, and his father, and his father. What he heard from God—the dreams from his youth—seemed to have been proven false, yes, but his dreams weren’t the first nor the only thing that linked him to God. His grandfather, Isaac, was a miracle that God brought forth, which his great- grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, had waited for decades. His father, Jacob, wrestled with God in that dark night when all of God’s promises to him seemed to be threatened, and there, he became “Isra-El.” And this was the crucial difference between what Joseph was going through in Egypt, and what his great-grandfather, Abraham, went through in that same land when his wife, Sarai, was briefly taken from him. Had he lost his wife back then, Abraham would’ve never again spoken with God. At that point, Abraham was just beginning to know “God” —just beginning to learn what it means to relate to all of reality as a whole, as Who that speaks personally with him and guides him; by the time Joseph was born, however, God had been speaking to his family for four generations, and demonstrating each time that what God speaks to them, will indeed come to pass. 

When what God spoke to Joseph seemed to have failed, it was not like some stranger, a contractor, breaking the contract; it was more like someone you’ve known for a long time, and trust deeply, failing to keep an important promise they made with you a few days ago, and you don’t know why. But, that single seeming failure does not end a relationship that has been established for a long time. It may indeed shake, and you may become angry and hurt, but it will still endure for a while longer—as you continue to wait and see, and in a sense, give them a benefit of the doubt. And this is why when whatever Joseph undertook turned out well, even in prison, it served as an indication that God was somehow still with Joseph. 

What Joseph confronted was not some irreversible failure of what God spoke to him, but a question that was remained unanswered. Why did he have those dreams? Why did God show him those dreams? Or were they not from God? Yet, when he listened to the dreams of the King’s cupbearer and the baker, and through a wellspring of insight, he understood what they meant, he would have realized that God still spoke to him through dreams. That would have been a cause for hope.

A hope that would be unanswered for another two, full years. For the cupbearer, after being restored to his position, simply forgot about Joseph. And Joseph would have to wait—to wait and see, where his trust in God that spoke with his family, God that he still hopes speaks with him, would lead him. 

And so, like his father, Joseph would wrestle with God—wrestle in the depth of his cell, with painful, unanswered questions—not just for a night, but for two years.

And then, one day… the Pharaoh, the King of Egypt… had a dream.

[ ending music ]

So, please join us next episode, as we follow through Joseph’s life and explore what he experienced—what he learned, regarding what God had spoken to him in that dream, and what all of this meant. 

And in the meanwhile, you can go check out my interview at the podcast, The Christian Atheist, listen to my interview there, and also follow his content, as he details his journey from atheism back to Christianity.

And please support this series, by following, subscribing, and sharing this series with others, and by rating it on your apple podcast platform. You can also support this series at buymeacoffee.com. 

When your 'map' is being questioned
The dreams God spoke to Joseph
Joseph's life is thrown into a pit
What do you mean God is with Joseph?
Why Joseph still listened for God