Home >> Previous Sermons >> September 2, 2012

The Road That Leads to God

The Road to God

Those of us who were not only children are pretty certain that life as an only child has its benefits. But it isn’t the best- case scenario. No few only- child autobiographies reveal dark shades of neglect. No, the best-case scenario is to be the favored child. Whether you are the only child or one of say, 11 sons, the life of a favored child is great. That is, until it isn’t.

We need to keep the favored-child model in our mind as we consider the Old Testament story of Joseph. He is the son of Rachel, the woman Jacob promised seven years of labor in return for marriage. This is the son born to the wife Jacob loved, and this the son that Rachel felt took away her shame of childlessness. As Genesis 37:3 tells us, “Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons.” Not only was this obvious to the other sons, it was obvious to Joseph. He grew up the favored child, and the favor of Jacob was a great security in a hard world. A boy and eventually a man would never tire of knowing that the most powerful man in the region was the man who looked on you as a favorite. For these reasons Joseph might never have considered that his future would lead him away from that favor.

In fact, part I of his story is a shocker: The road that leads to God is a road that leads away from Jacob. Remember, the favor of Jacob was obvious. Every day Joseph wore his robe of many colors—distinctive and expensive in the ancient world—the whole family knew what it meant. No one would work their way past Joseph in Jacob’s heart. The rivalry among the sons is revealed in Genesis 37:4: “When his brothers saw that his their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him even more.” But then it gets worse. Joseph begins to have dreams in which his brothers are bowing down to him. And then the dreams have his whole family bowing to him. Finally, the family bonds break. Read along with Genesis 37:23-28:

When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he had on. Then they took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. They looked up, and there was a caravan of Ishmaelites coming down from Gilead. Their camels were carrying aromatic gum, balsam and resin, going down to Egypt.

Then Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s ell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay a hand on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

When Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him for 20 pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took Joseph to Egypt.

This is the worst-case scenario for Joseph. He is away from Jacob’s favor. Jacob cannot help him. He’s never known a life without the strong shadow of Jacob, the provision of Jacob, the protection of Jacob. It could hardly get worse. Or so it seemed.

Part II of the story takes a sharper turn. What we find here is that the road that leads to God is the road that leads farther away: Pharaoh. It is hard to imagine a more foreign experience that what now unfolds. The favored child is now a slave, and the slave will soon face betrayal by his owner’s wife. And then prison enters the story. And in prison he will again be a man of dreams, interpreting dreams for two men in prison. His interpretations will prove true, but his request that one of them remember him when he is released will not find answer. At least not right away. Read with me from Genesis 41:9-14:

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I remember my faults. Pharaoh had been angry with his servants, and he put me and the chief baker in the custody of the captain of the guard. He and I had dreams on the dame night; each dream had its own meaning. Now a young Hebrew, a slave of the captain of the guards, was with us there. We told him our dreams, he interpreted our dreams for us, and each had its own interpretation. It turned out just the way he interpreted them to us; I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”

Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they quickly brought him from the dungeon. He shaved, changed his clothes, and went to Pharaoh.

What good can possibly come to Joseph, a Hebrew from the plains, from the man-king Pharaoh? This is an important turn in the story. As you remember, Pharaoh has been dreaming. Joseph, by God’s help, explains the dream of the coming fourteen years of plenty and then famine. Not only does he explain the dream, he explains what Pharaoh must do to survive the coming famine.

And so part III of the story arrives. The road that leads to God is the road that leads to a new home: Egypt. Who saw this coming? Joseph’s eye for detail gives him a lottery job with Pharaoh. Read along in Genesis 41:38-41:

The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has the spirit of God in him? So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God made all this known to you, there is no one as intelligent and wise as you. You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands. Only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “See, I am placing you over all the land of Egypt.”

What we know in hindsight is that Joseph’s place in Egypt saves his family from the famine. It was God’s will to get Israel into Egypt, and to get Israel into Egypt God put Joseph in Egypt.

The irony is rich.

  • Joseph’s departure was the true hope for Jacob. No one could have told him that his son needed to be away from him and his reach for his family to live safely in the future. No one could have told him it was God’s will for Joseph to live beyond the reach of Jacob’s favor.
  • Pharaoh’s favor was the true hope for Joseph. Neither Jacob nor Joseph would have seen this. But it was true. Pharaoh’s favor proves far more important than Jacob’s favor.
  • Egypt was the true home for Israel. This band of families under the patriarch Jacob could not yet see that the foreign land and people of Egypt was not only their hope but God’s will for them.

The surprises never end. In God’s hand, every road that led Joseph away from family was actually a road that led toward reunion. People who felt they were far from home were getting closer to home every day. And people who only felt the pain of a child taken far way did not see that a far away child was the only way to be a family again.

There is a challenge here.

  • Do we need to reconsider favor? Who is to say that you cannot live without someone’s favor? Who is to say that God can’t richly provide for us whether we’re in or out of favor?
  • Do we need to reconsider separations? While we’re afraid to send kids away or be away ourselves, who is to say that these separations cannot be used of God to bring us closer?
  • Do we need to reconsider setbacks? Who is to say what is a setback and what is a step forward? In God’s hands, the lines are not so clear. Like Joseph, God must be trusted.




    Bulletin Insert

    Genesis: The Ancient Modern Story V

    T The life of a favored child is great. Until it isn’t.

    Part I The road that leads away: __________

    dream after dream e a robe of robes

    When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he had on. Then they took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. They looked up, and there was a caravan of Ishmaelites coming down from Gilead. Their camels were carrying aromatic gum, balsam and resin, going down to Egypt.

    Then Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s ell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay a hand on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

    When Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him for 20 pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took Joseph to Egypt.

    Genesis 37:23-28

    Part II The road that leads farther away: _____________

    betrayed e forgotten

    Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I remember my faults. Pharaoh had been angry with his servants, and he put me and the chief baker in the custody of the captain of the guard. He and I had dreams on the dame night; each dream had its own meaning. Now a young Hebrew, a slave of the captain of the guards, was with us there. We told him our dreams, he interpreted our dreams for us, and each had its own interpretation. It turned out just the way he interpreted them to us; I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”

    Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they quickly brought him from the dungeon. He shaved, changed his clothes, and went to Pharaoh.

    Genesis 41:9-14

    Part III The road that leads to a new home: ___________

    an eye for details e a lottery story

    The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has the spirit of God in him? So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God made all this known to you, there is no one as intelligent and wise as you. You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands. Only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “See, I am placing you over all the land of Egypt.”

    Genesis 41:38-41

    The irony…

    Joseph’s __________ was the true hope for Jacob.

    Pharaoh’s favor was the true hope for Joseph.

    ___________ was the true home for Israel.

    In God’s hand, every road that led Joseph away from family

    was actually a road that led toward reunion.

    The challenge…

    Do we need to reconsider favor?

    Do we need to reconsider separations?

    Do we need to reconsider setbacks?




Leave a Comment

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment in the box below!







worship schedule