Knowing Your "Why"
1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. 2 And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody. 5 And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” 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.”
I’ve been reading a book by Eric Metaxis, “If You Can Keep It- The forgotten Promise of American Liberty”. In the early chapters he points out that the STatue of Liberty is placed facing away from the city of New York, and ultimately towards the people that would have arrived to come here. It represented the original purpose of the American Experiment. It wasn’t just about us, it was about others.
The statue is a figure of Libertas, a robed Roman liberty goddess. She holds a torch above her head with her right hand, and in her left hand carries a tabula ansata inscribed JULY IV MDCCLXXVI (July 4, 1776 in Roman numerals), the date of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. A broken shackle and chain lie at her feet as she walks forward, commemorating the recent national abolition of slavery. After its dedication, the statue became an icon of freedom and of the United States, seen as a symbol of welcome to immigrants arriving by sea.
That’s why at its base is the final words of the poem by Emma Lazarus:
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
As I pondered the words of Metaxis’ early chapters, I couldn’t help but wonder about America’s original purpose. You don’t have to agree with me, but it seems like we’ve lost sight of our purpose in many ways. Instead of facing out, we’ve been facing in a lot more. And I suppose there are reasons for that which cannot be avoided- yet at the same time I fear we’ve become so self-centered that we have lost our purpose- our reason. Our why.
When Christians lose their why, or forget their why, or misinterpret their why, our walk with Christ becomes affected.
1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt.
Some time after this… we don’t know how long Joseph was in prison before the baker and the cupbaker came to join him. We DO know that the period from Joseph’s being sold by his brother to the end of the imprisonment was about 13-14 years.
We have spent 6 months in semi-confinement over this virus that is currently holding us hostage. It has been tough. I want you to imagine 13 years in Joseph’s situation.?
2 And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker,
3 and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined.
You may see random action in the baker and cupbearer’s destination in prison. I would suggest that you see the design of God, the hand of God at work.
4 The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.
Again, we don’t know how long the baker and the cupbearer spent in prison. It was simply “some time”.
5 And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation.
Again, there is no accident that the two cellmates of Joseph dreamed in the same night and shared that dream in the morning- both of them. God is deeply at work in this story.
6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled.
Here, if anything, I want you to notice the sensitivity of Joseph to his surroundings, but particularly to the others in his presence.
7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?”
Joseph asks the question… why are you downcast today?
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.”
The Egyptians shared a belief that sleep put us into direct contact with the place where the gods dwell. Therefore, to dream, and in particular for both of these gentlemen to dream in the same night in the same prison meant that their fate was in the balance. The gods were communicating to them- but they had no one to explain… in prison the experts were outside and unavailable.
However, Joseph was available. And according to Joseph himself, it is not education but inspiration that matters. “Do not interpretations belong to God?” he asks.
We could read on in this chapter. There is much detail given in the dreams by these two gentlemen, and a great deal of time and effort is given to our understanding that Joseph is able to discern and interpret dreams. In fact, the writing style of this chapter is different- to the point that we should ask more questions of why so much detail. But I won’t. There is enough in these first 8 verse for us to understand a great deal of the development of Joseph- not his character in the story, but the actual person of Joseph.
Because the great question that Joseph must be asking in this story is “why?” Why am I sold into slavery, why am I falsely accused, why am I sitting in this prison tending to two men who have had dreams and I can interpret them? Because, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Does God really need me here? Now?
Later in this story when Pharoah has his dream, Joseph’s words to Pharoah are strikingly similar-“It does not depend on me, but God will declare to Pharaoh his well-being.”
Sometimes we ask wrong questions of our circumstances. Why is this happening? Why am I here? These would be cheap questions of this character, the person named “joseph” to be asking.
The greater “why” question would be “why” has God gifted me to interpret these dreams. When dreams and their interpretations belong to God, why has God placed me in the situation of interpreting 2 men’s dreams which in time will lead me to be freed from prison but will also lead me to interpret the dream of Pharoah and place me in charge of Egypt? All because “Interpretations belong to God”- the question should be why has God given me His interpretations?
Joseph is in the middle of the storm. He doesn’t know that around the corner the cupbearer and the baker will be freed only for one of them to be beheaded by Pharoah. And Joseph clearly doesn’t know that they will forget about him for several years until Pharoah himself has a dream. All that Joseph knows in the midst of this imprisonment is that God interprets dreams- and for some uncanny reason he chooses to allow me to interpret them from time to time in my jail cell.
Joseph’s “why” question should not be the pathetic cry of one who has been wronged unjustly- and make no mistake, Joseph was wronged unjustly several times, and multiple times if you consider each of his brothers as a separate event. Joseph’s “why” question was not an invitation to a pity party for his situation.
And neither should our “why” question become that, either. When life gets tough, we can cry about it or cry out to God to make sense of it.
And that is Joseph’s true “why” question. What is the purpose of all of this? Why is all of this happening?
Hear me clearly, not “what is the purpose of this happening to me?” like some sort of victim. Not “why” is this happening to me as a victim of our circumstance. Rather, “Why” is this happening in the sense of purpose or greater good of God’s plan.
And the answer to that question is rarely answered when we need to hear the answer.
If you’ve ever read the story of Joseph, and I encourage you to read Genesis 37-50, you know that at the end of the story everything that happened to Joseph added up. It made sense. None of it got any prettier, but there was purpose in it. You intended it for evil, but God meant it for good. Right?
In the book of Isaiah, God speaks to the nation of Israel concerning His greater purpose. Israel had fallen prey to false Gods, allowed themselves to worship false Gods. Because of invading armies, those gods had to be transported to not be destroyed. And in the 46th chapter, God sarcastically speaks to Israel and points out that their “gods” were now horizontal- being carried out of town. And God goes on to ask, “When did you ever carry me? No, for all of this time, as you were stubborn and rebellious- I have carried you.
And He continues that everything He said would happen had happened. And ultimately, his purposes would be accomplished. Look at Isaiah 46:10-11 for how he states it:
10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
Sometimes, in the midst of the most difficult times, when we are asking our “why” questions- God has to remind us of His “why”. That at the end of the day, the rocks and the stones will cry out if need be, but He will be praised and His purposes will be accomplished.
Joseph’s circumstances were difficult; but God had a purpose and was accomplishing it even when Joseph could not see it.
When Christians find themselves in trying times, and we are asking the “why” question, we need to ask not about our circumstances as much as God’s ultimate purpose. What is God trying to accomplish in this time, what is His purpose here?
The apostle Paul laid out his understanding of this concept plainly in Romans 8:28-30;
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Paul is saying to us that the matters of our lives- when we know and serve Jesus Christ- those things, like a recipe, work together. Good. Bad. All Things. Work together for the good of those who love God.
And that we will be conformed to the image of His Son. Today, Jesus is glorified. If you were to see Jesus today, you would not believe the beauty and the awe of being in His presence. Like Moses, I believe we would have to mask our faces before others- but you must remember that before He was glorified and resurrected, He was crucified.
And ultimately, that crucifixion as ugly, difficult and deadly as it was- was part of God’s purpose. For without that death, you and I die forever. We live without God. And God’s purpose in creating us was relationship. So in spite of our sin separating us from God and breaking the relationship- God’s purpose in the death of Jesus on the cross was good- to forgive us and restore us to Himself.
All things work together for the good. Everything.
Though Joseph didn’t know why He was in slavery, or in prison, or with these two men who had dreams he knew one thing-”God reveals dreams”. And He revealed them to Joseph.
Joseph walked by faith in the knowledge he had, as shortsighted and nonsensical as it seemed.
Jesus said if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed we could move mountains. It is often the planting , nurturing , and waiting on that seed that grows our own faith.
When your eyes can’t see it let your faith explain it.
When Your Eyes Can’t See Why Your Faith Shouldn’t Die
When Your Eyes Can’t See Why Your Faith Shouldn’t Die
Whatever the circumstance we find ourselves in- difficult or hard or whatever- we walk by faith not by sight. Our human eyes deceive us.
We live in the moment. But the purposes of God are written in chapters. Moments of time. So the big and the small things matter.
Even in the face of the toughest times, we need to remember that because we are His...
all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes.