The life of Joseph is an excellent primer for understanding God’s sovereignty and how to trust Him despite current circumstances. But this story, that closes out the book of Genesis, doesn’t take place in a cave with Joseph brooding over his own thoughts and praying by himself, it takes place in the middle of the grandest culture of that time. Joseph’s life moved from being sold into slavery, to servitude in an officials house, to a run in the penitentiary, and then up to the heights of success in the Egyptian administrative branch of government. Needless to say, there were a lot of other people involved in Joseph’s story.
Something that caught my eye as I was revisiting this story was a short phrase that Joseph offered Pharaoh when he was about to interpret the monarch’s concurrent dreams predicting 7 years of prosperity and 7 years of famine. After Joseph had heard the ruler’s dreams he said this:
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one”
Direction is a curious thing. As Christians we pray that God will direct our lives, lead us in the way He would have us go, and in seasons of transition we ask for things such as open doors, closed doors, or providential peace or unrest regarding decisions that we have to make. Truth be told, and maybe I’m alone here, making decisions, even significant ones, often feels less like mystical premonition and more like weighing out the facts and pleading with God to help us keep from doing something stupid or painful. I believe that God speaks uniquely to people. I would hesitate to ever make the suggestion that He has taken a means or method of communication “off the table” since the close of the first century. But, again, for me, it’s usually less a voice from Heaven and more a pro/con list.
The story of Pharaoh, it seems, offers an interesting angle to this. Pharaoh had experienced two different stories in his dreams, and while they may have had some similarities it would be difficult to connect those dots. We’ve all dreamed before, and to be quite honest it’s difficult to make any sense of those crazy short films that turn on when we turn off, so to start linking them would be tough. But Joseph’s opening response to Pharaoh was that the two dreams were both talking about the same thing. Both rivers lead to, or from, the same sea. God wasn’t telling him multiple things, just one thing.
I wonder how often this is the case in our own lives. How often are we trying to make sense of multiple streams of information, feeling overwhelmed, when it isn’t many messages we are receiving but just one? Jesus’ teachings cover quite a bit of ground in the gospels. Different lessons on the interpretation of the Law, instructions on communal life, straight talk on forgiveness, love, mercy, and peace, etc… But really the message of Jesus wasn’t a diverse thing, it was one thing with many implications. Mark’s gospel captures it in what could be called the thesis statement of Jesus’ public ministry:
Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
The message of Jesus is singular: “the separation between you and God is over, you couldn’t come close so I came to you and I brought the kingdom with Me”. There are, indeed, a thousand implications to Jesus’ central message, but there are not a thousand messages. There were scores of plans that had to be implicated and engaged in Egypt after Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, but only one message.
I would encourage you friends, look for the central messages in your life. Look at the places where themes are overlapping. Listen to what people are telling you, ponder what you are reading in the Scriptures and other books, even pay attention to the entertainment streams that flow into your life. Look at where they cross each other and see if some of the deep questions of your heart aren’t already being answered.
I often recognize the overlaps and the one message when I “throw up” on someone all my life’s blah blah blah…then I hear all the details at once and realize they do express one thing. God definitely does not try to confuse us!
You just made a great case for the importance of community. How else would we hear the details of life out loud if not for friends and family willing to listen?
Maybe God does “confuse” us at times knowing that the only pathway to clarity leads through confusion.