John Cook - "Joseph"

Genesis 37:  What made men and women of the Old Testament great was the Spirit of Christ.  Joseph was a man who had that Spirit and he was indeed a noble youth.  He was helping to feed the flock at 17 years of age.  Sometimes we are inclined to make excuses for people because they are young.  We need more amongst us like Joseph.  It is true that young people have not had much experience, and they have not matured, but there are many things that can be expected of these as well as from the elder ones.  Some have been very young when they professed, yet they understood what they were doing. Joseph felt his responsibility in helping to feed the flock.  In verse 2, he brought unto his father the evil report of his brothers.  He knew more at 17 than many do at 71.  He knew enough not to take the evil report to one of the other brothers who might let him down and make out he was a tattler.  When we see things in some other person that are not as they should be, if we would pray more to God about it and talk less to another person, we would find that God would never let us down.  We cannot blame somebody else for telling what we tell them ourselves.  We cannot expect others to keep a secret that we did not keep ourselves.  We can tell our Heavenly Father all that we care to about the wrong things we see in our brothers and sisters.  It is no wonder Joseph could be called a noble youth.

We are told that Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colours, or pieces.  We heard this morning about the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  All these together would be like a coat of many pieces.  Encouragement is given that all would seek to develop as much as possible of these qualities within ourselves.  It would make a variety.  God’s order of things is that there is a variety of gifts, all regulated and controlled by the same Spirit.  Courage, faithfulness, endurance-- these are some of the things God wants to give us.  There are two sides to our testimony – the inside and the outside.  We might excel in one side and come far short in the other.  We need to keep in the place that whatever way people look at us, there may be something to appeal to them.

Verse 7:  “For behold, we were binding sheaves in the field.”  We have come here from our fields of labour. Could we conscientiously say that during the last year, or years, we have had a testimony to the effect that in those fields we were binding sheaves?  A sheaf is made up of many stalks of grain, all tied together.  All those stalks represent a lot of time and labour in sowing, cultivating, etc.  Each one of those stalks might represent a person who has been delivered by the gospel.  It is up to us to bind them together.  When we go into a place where others have laboured, it is good to remember the corn of wheat which has died. There are a number of stalks gathered into one sheaf which we call a church.  Does our influence, talk, spirit, etc., have a binding effect upon the church, or are we guilty of saying things in an unwise way that loosen the binding?  It will be a very good thing, as we scatter to our fields of labour again, to see that our uppermost business is to lend our strength to binding sheaves in the field.  It’s good to labour so there will be more understanding and unity amongst the Lord’s people in our fields.  We can contribute much toward saints endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit, helping to bring them into closer association with one another.  We need to get little messages from God to meet the deep needs of the Lord’s sheep without preaching at them.  We need to make it our business never to throw stones in a meeting.   If we have anything to say special to an individual, it is best to call them aside privately.  If we tell them in a meeting, another person, for whom we don’t intend the message, may get all upset.  We have to have something that will bind people in a meeting, helping them to see themselves in the light that God gives.

“My sheaf arose.”  That truth followed Joseph through every walk in life. No matter what circumstances he found himself in, he always arose above them.  He did not worry.  How true these words were when his brothers sold him for twenty pieces of silver (about $10).  They tried to make him appear cheap, but he arose above it.  Others may make us seem cheap, but it is only we ourselves who can make us cheap.  We could act unwisely and make ourselves cheap; this is easy to do, but not so easy to recover from.  Joseph never did anything to make himself cheap.  His captors made him a slave, but not in spirit.  Paul said, “I am bound, but the word of God is not bound.”  It does not matter what kind of a place we may be in – we can be free in our mind, and that is the greatest liberty we can enjoy.  Ezekiel was among the captives, but he was not captive. While he was among them, the Word of God came expressly to him.  We will find ourselves among captives wherever we go, but we need to see that we are not taken into captivity, and then we will find the Word of God will come expressly to us; it will meet a special need and have a special meaning to us.  Captives are brought under the control of another and they lose the power of resistance in themselves.  Joseph and Ezekiel were not taken captives. They were able to put up a resistance.  If we put up the resistance, we will get the needed assistance from God.  When he was sold by his brothers, carried into Egypt , tempted there and put into prison, he always stood upright.  God was looking on and He knew He had a man in that noble youth.  His brothers sold him as a slave, but God spoke of him as a man, Psalm 105:17.  His brothers thought they had made him a slave.  There are many ways we can make slaves of ourselves, but nobody else can do it unless, first of all, we have made slaves of ourselves.  We may find ourselves in the midst of tumbling surroundings, but we can have a feeling of balance. We need to have a balance and ballast.  A watch would not run well without a balance wheel, no matter how many other wheels it had.  We need the ballast to keep us down.  Somehow, many other experiences would make us pop out of the water, and we need the experiences which help to keep us down, and then we can arise on an even keel.  Joseph had the ballast, so when success and prosperity came his way, he did not capsize.  God was with him, yet he was carried down into the well, down to Egypt , down in the eyes of Potipher, and down to the prison.  He was carried down to Egypt by the Ishmaelites.  Their business was to carry down spices.  Joseph was the best kind of spice they ever carried.  We are expected to be like a little spice, changing the taste of things.  We can be, in God’s hands, the means of changing people’s taste.  If food is too insipid, we don’t like it, but when a little salt or spice is added, it tastes alright.

Joseph was just a human being like any of us.  When he was instrumental in helping the butler, he gives us an insight into his feelings, saying, “Make mention of me unto Pharaoh and bring me out of this house.”  Sometimes we make the mistake of making a way of escape for ourselves, and escape the place of usefulness God has in mind for us.  We may get in too much of a hurry to escape.  Saul could not learn to wait long enough, and he spoiled God’s plan for his life. With Joseph, it was different. He made a plea, showing his human side, but he did not make the way of escape.  After his time was up, Pharaoh called him hastily, and all Joseph had to do was to shave and change his raiment.  He had kept the inward preparation up-to-date. Through all the loneliness, hardness and misunderstanding, he kept right in heart and attitude toward God. Sometimes, when things are not going so nice, we are apt to forget to keep up our inward relationship with God, and then when an opportunity presents itself to us, we are not in shape to manifest to others the help that God wants us to give them.  It was not so with Joseph; all he had to do was shave and change his raiment.  After that, he experienced the seven years of plenty and then the seven years of famine.  In Psalm 105, it says that God planned this famine, and He has planned many things.  Caesar planned to have a census taken.  The fact that a child was born at that time in Bethlehem did not seem to matter much—the great thing was that Jesus was born at that time.  God put it into Caesar’s heart to command this census to be taken, causing each person to go up to their own city to be enrolled—all for the purpose of Jesus being born in Bethlehem.  There are a lot of great things going on in the world today.   Our gathering here—where new purposes are created in our hearts---seems a small thing, but it is a great thing in the eyes of God, and it will mean a lot to the world.  God caused that famine in Egypt —all to fulfill His purpose.  If Joseph had not been the man he was, the whole thing would have failed.  God sent a man before them, even Joseph who was sold for a servant.  God is sending a famine today in the very states we will be labouring in; that is, He is bringing conditions about causing people to see the emptiness of life.  A famine does not mean a person gets nothing to eat, but he does not get enough to eat, and is not satisfied.  Many are prospering in the world, but God is calling for a famine upon their land.  This makes the future bright and hopeful for us as we carry the gospel to them.  In any person’s salvation, God has done the most of the work.  It is He who caused the famine.  We can look back to times and places where we have worked missions, and we wondered why our simple message had effect there and not in previous missions.  God caused a famine, making the people to hunger, and then our simple message appealed to them.  They are looking for someone to give them the bread of life, and as they listen to our message, they realize we have bread and to spare.  Then they will arise and come to their heavenly Father.  The famine of the world is our hope for the future.

Psalm 105:18, “He was laid in iron.”  The margin puts it, “His soul came into iron.”  Iron is heavy and Joseph was in a great heaviness, as any of us would be, going through the same trials.  His soul came into iron, but iron also came into his soul.  That youth had an iron purpose.  We could have a soft purpose that soon breaks down and wears off.  We need a lot of iron, and then we will be able to sharpen our companions and others with whom we come in contact.

When Joseph made himself known to his brethren, he said, “You sold me, but God sent me.”  Sometimes we are weakened and tied up because we see the meaning others have in things, but do not see God’s meaning.  It does not matter who tried to sell us. We can have confidence in God and feel He is sending us on the mission we are engaged in.

Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  In connection with Manasseh he said, “God hath made me to forget all my toil.”  There are certain things that we may try to remember when God wants us to forget them. It may be what people have done to us or what they have said about us.  His brothers had planned and schemed to put him in the pit, but God made him forget all that.  Ephraim’s name meant, “God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  Affliction, in one sense, means we get into a corner and don’t know how to get out of it.  God allows us to get into such corners-- like the children of Israel when the enemy was behind them and the Red Sea before them.  When we are at our wit’s end, God acts if He sees we have enough grace to stand still and not blame Him for bringing us through such experiences.  When we talk about past experiences we, seldom if ever, say much about the easy days.  It isn’t that we want to seem like martyrs, but there is a sweetness about talking of times when it was hard and God was able to work into us what He could not do in any other way.  These experiences helped to make something out of Joseph, and he made good use of them while he was passing through them.

Jacob said Joseph was a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over a wall.  There is no cheap way of getting a well.  In one of the Psalms it says, “They passing through the valley of Baca (misery) make it a well.”  They did not get stuck in the center of the valley, but passed through and made it a well.  Joseph had a well and he had a wall in connection with his life.  There are two sides to a wall.  Some come in amongst us wanting one side, but not the other. We have to have both sides.  One side speaks of separation, and the other, protection.  We cannot have the protection without the separation.  We, as workers, have the responsibility of trying to impress this upon people, not encouraging them to believe they can be right with God without this wall of separation.  Joseph did not go over the wall, but his influence did.  Sometimes people think they should go out more into the world’s social activities for the purpose of influencing others to come in, but it usually ends up with them being influenced to go out.  God separated light from darkness, and one of the last things God is going to do is to divide the sheep from the goats.  If we allow the wall of separation in our lives now, we will be alright when God does the separating at the finish.

The archers sorely grieved Joseph and wounded him, but his bow abode in strength. He did not shoot back.  How much that was like Jesus, who when he was reviled, reviled not again.   To curse does not necessarily mean people swear at us, but they go out of their way to make things hard for us.  Saul of Tarsus went out of his way to persecute the Christians before he got saved.  To bless means we will go out of our way to make it possible for people to get something, going farther than they would naturally expect us to go.  Joseph’s hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.   He was not wasting his strength shooting back at those who shot at him.  Even when we know people are saying things about us and blaming us for things we never dreamed about, it is good not to shoot back.  The one who shoots behind our back is on a low level, and if we shoot back, we bring ourselves to his level.  When there was a chance for Joseph to do some shooting, he could shoot and not miss.  He had the strength to shoot the arrow a long distance.  If we keep our arrows for the right purpose, we can use them profitably.  There are saints who have done a lot of shooting back and forth, and when they go to a fellowship meeting, they cannot do any straight shooting.

It is no wonder Joseph’s name means “He shall add.”  He made the Kingdom of God more than it was before.  Israel was richer for having a man like him.

The word of the Lord tried Joseph.   The word of God may try us, holding us back so we will learn our lessons, and after we learn them, God will have something in us to depend on.  If we had great missions and revelations all the time, we would not bother so much with the lambs and sheep.  When it is so hard to find them, we are caused to value them all the more.  The reason people value precious metals so much is that they are hard to find.  It is good to think of what our brothers and sisters have gone through to find them.  Some workers are far more kindly towards lambs and sheep of other workers than their own.  It does not mean they don’t have interest in their own, but they think of the labours of others.  Whenever we go to a little church where others have laboured and we do a little watering, we are doing a lot.  Whatever else we do in trying to get people saved, let us be sure to make it our business to bind the sheaves together.