Ever think about how much dreams figure into the whole Joseph narrative? At least six times dreams are told and interpreted, and this satisfies some and makes others angry. Joseph dreams his brothers–even his father Jacob at one point–will bow down to him. Joseph the dreamer.
Or was it Joseph the dream intepreter. After he gets tossed into the dungeon with the king’s baker and taste tester, the two men both have dreams that Joseph divines for them. The taste tester’s head will be lifted up, he will be restored to his rightful place in the king’s court. The baker will also be lifted up . . . and hanged from the nearest tree. What could a baker have done to make a king so furious? One too many twists of the bread. Did he knead the bread too hard? Forget to wash his hands like Poppy in Seinfeld?
Then Pharaoh dreams of scrawny cows devouring fat ones. A second dream about grain, Joseph says, is really the same meaning and they both mean Egypt will get seven bumper crop years and seven years of famine. Joseph becomes a super star by this important skill in ancient eastern life–interpreting dreams. Don’t think he was the only one trying to do this at the time. Wizards of the king had tried and nothing satisfied him. What did those wizards say to him? Better guard those fat cows from the scrawny ones with the hungry eyes?
There is more, however, to the story of Joseph than dreams. Much more. Last night in my 5th and 6th grade class, we’re learning about God’s salvation. We’ve talked about God’s image in which he created us from the get go in Gen 2. I showed them a hand mirror and told them every time these adolescents see themselves in the mirror, they are looking at one made in the image of God. Self-image? Let’s teach our kids God-image. No they are not gods. But they are made in his image (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom 8:29). Then a few weeks ago we talked about the fall and illustrated with a cup representing humanity held in each of our hands that represent God and his care. The cup, after it fell, could not jump back up into our hand. God reached down. This particular illustration came from Karyn Henley. If you teach children, you must check out her material.
If it’s not already clear by implication, you may be able to see that I’m teaching the children about God’s saving work from the beginning. The focus is on God’s saving, not our response initially. Too many presentations of salvation are too quickly presented and focus on the response of the believer. God is working in the lives of these children and they are encouraged to see themselves as part of this incredible movement of God. So I used an old story book by William Neil called The Bible Story (good luck finding it but glad if you do . . . I’m not gonna troll the web looking for a link to this perhaps out of print book but let me know if you find a copy). After telling the whole Joseph narrative (and there’s a lot there), we focused on several statements Joseph made to his brothers, through his weeping.
Joseph’s brothers are literally scared speechless by the cat-and-mouse game Joseph is playing with them, particularly when he reveals himself to them. But behind that he tells them, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:4-7). Later, after Jacob dies, the brothers get freaked out again that Joseph is going to seek retribution on them. They send a perhaps phony message to him saying Jacob had left it before he died and it said emphatically that he should forgive his brothers for treating him so badly. It was their way of saying sorry. It didn’t matter that they’d made it up. Joseph knew it was from them mostly. Joseph wept. Then he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
We shared stories in the class about things that started out bad then turned out good. Then I told them this is what God has done for us in Christ: what humanity intended for evil, God intended to save us.