|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||God Anticipating our Needs|
|Text||Psalm 105 vv.16-22 |
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Now let us turn together at the Word of God to Psalm 105 and to verses 16 and following. Psalm 105 at verse 16.
"Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance: To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom." (Psalm 105, 16-22)
It is very clear that this Psalm is a Psalm looking back over the lives of the people of God. We could call it a historical Psalm because the writer is giving a review and making a summary of God's dealing with the Patriachs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and so on. And the purpose of this review of history is to note the wisdom of God in the ways in which He leads His people through life, onward, from stage to stage. It is a Psalm which reveals the hidden hand of God in human affairs. These Patriachs themselves did not really understand very much, if anything, of what the Lord is doing with them in their own generation.
Take Abraham. There was an occasion in his life when Abraham tried to make sure that the promise of God was fulfilled. He did it himself. God had given him a promise that he would have a seed and that in his seed all the nations of the world will be blessed. But God kept Abraham waiting so long that in the end Abraham resorted to try to do it himself. And you may remember that when his own wife was unable to bear him a son, he took a secondary wife. A surrogate mother as we call them today. And Ishmael was born. But the plan of God did not include Ishmael. It was for Isaac. Abraham made a mistake. The plan of God and the hidden hand of God in his life were things which were far greater than he knew or understood.
The same is true exactly with Isaac. In his old age, when his eyes were dimmed, and he could not see, he called Esau to give him the blessing. But God said to him, and had already said, the elder shall serve the younger. And the prophet used to say later, Esau I have hated, it is Jacob whom I have loved. Isaac did not see the hidden hand of God and the secret purpose of God. He tried to do it himself but the purpose of God was greater than himself. The same is true in the life of Jacob. And it is abundantly true in the life of this man who comes before us now in my text - this amazing man Joseph.
When you look at the life of Joseph, you have to say that this is a perfect story. It has a happy ending as all stories ought to do. It begins with trouble and ends in triumph. Begins with tears and ends with joy. Would you know what I meant if I talked about the half life of a saint. Scientists talk about the half life of an atom. What do they mean doesn't matter in any way to us now. But it is a good phrase. A half life. Now what I mean is this - Christians also have their half life. If you were to study simply the first half of the life of this man Joseph, you would say what a sad story. You would say what a tragedy. You see, in the first half of this young man's life, almost everything goes wrong. Let me remind you some of the things which appear to be going wrong, although let me hasten to remind you, behind all these things that were going wrong, as we say, was the hidden hand of God. And the secret plan of God though he didn't quite see at the beginning. But God gave him a clue as to what would happen one day. Perhaps the most remarkable element in the life of Joseph when he was young was these dreams. Remember, his father favoured him more than his brothers. And gave him a coat of many colors to distinguish him from his brothers. This young man was the son of his favourite wife and he had this coat of colors, beautiful colors, to distinguish him from all the rest.For this his brothers hated him. But then he had these dreams, the sheaves in the field, all bow down to his sheaf. You remember it. The sun, moon and stars made obeisance to him. And when he told these dreams, it was clear enough, that the implication was that all the family would one day bow down to this young Joseph. And his brothers hated him all the more for his dreams. On one occasion, you may recall they said this, 'we shall see what will become of his dreams'. And then, the most terrible thing of all, they sold him into slavery in Egypt for 20 pieces of silver. What an unnatural thing to do! He was the youngest at that time. Benjamin was not yet on the scene. They hated him and they sold him into Egypt for 20 pieces of silver.
Now it is a comfort to us to remember that all these things were being done in that one family of which we could say, it was the most godly family in the world at that time. And yet in this godliest of families in the world at that time, the older brothers were conspiring to sell the younger brother into slavery in Egypt. And they did so. Selling him to these Ishmaelites or Midianites, they seemed to have two names. And they in turn sold him down as a slave into Egypt. And that wasn't the end of his troubles. When he came to Egypt, you remember, he became eventually a servant to a high ranking man by the name of Photiphar. But the husband was away from home and Joseph took the fancy of Photiphar's wife and more occasions than once she made advances to him which he rejected being a godly, honourable, God fearing young man. And for this he was put into prison. Not only into prison, we are told, but into a dungeon, into the king's dungeon. Presumably, this was where the top security criminals were held. And the Word of God tells us that his soul was in chains, not simply his body. An early translation puts it like this, the iron entered into his soul. Which seemed to mean something of this sort that not only was his body in terrible pain in the dungeon and in chains, but his very soul was in anguish because of the way in God's providence he had been treated. Now, I say, if we only had that much of Joseph's life story, we should say, what a sad story. How incomplete, how unjust! But you see at that point we are only talking about the half life of this good man. And I am convinced that the reason why you and I are often so unhappy even though we are Christians is because we are only aware of the half life that we have gone through.
Now, we can't read life backwards can we? If you have the biography of some great men, you can began at the last chapter, can't you, and you can come back to the beginning and read the rest and you know what is going to happen at the end. You can do that with a biography or an autobiography. You see what's happening at the end, maybe Churchill and he is able to win the war, he and the allies. At the beginning when you start the book you don't know who is going to win perhaps. Maybe you don't know the story. But then when you come to the last chapter of the book you see that he and the allies win the war and all is well. But now you can't do that with your own life, can you? You can't read your own life backwards. You can read the lives of other people backwards. You can start at the last chapter and work your way back. Because you know what is going to happen at the end, it doesn't upset you when the trouble comes. When the figure in the biography goes through his trials and temptations and disappointments, you say, O well it doesn't really matter because I know what's in the last chapter. But you can't do that with your life and I can't do it with mine. We can't read the last chapter yet and that's why in life we go to a great deal of sadness. And very often a great deal of unnecessary sadness. And that is what this life of Joseph and similar lives in the Word of God are given to show us. That in the end the life of all God's children, everyone of them, is going to be blessed. Our little half life now must be read in the light of the promises of God. And that brings us right back to Joseph because of course, our text tells us in Psalm 105, of the extraordinary advancement that this man underwent.
Let me read these words again at verse 17 "He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free." Now this is what we have exactly in the book of Genesis where we read this man's life. He was in the dungeon, and in the prison and in fetters and in irons. But the day came when Pharoah send forth his word and this man was taken hastily out of prison. They shaved him and they took him into the presence of the king. All of a sudden, his fortunes changed. The day came when he saw his dream fulfilled before his very eyes. All of this was a hidden plan of God. Seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. His brothers came along, speaking their Hebrew language, and he interviewed them, speaking the Egyptian language. It never crossed their minds that this was their brother. He understood them speaking to one another. But they did not understand him. No wonder he turned his face away and brushed the tears from his eyes. When he heard them accusing themselves of what they have done to him years before, he understood. And they never dreamed that he understood.
He was given such authority in the land. He could bind the princes, he could teach the senators understanding and wisdom. God suddenly exalted him and lifted him up out of his low condition. The day came when he was able to say to them, I am Joseph your brother. And when he wept on their necks and kissed them, and on the neck of his little brother Benjamin and kissed him. Not only that but the day came when all the family came to be with him in the land of Egypt. He died old and full of days. A true saint, a great example of everything good. A perfect life but the second half of the life explains the first. Now, I am going to put this point. God's ways are strange. How do we explain the way in which God dealt with this man? Why was it that God dealt with him in this way? And what is there here for us to learn about our own life and our attitude indeed to our own life here below? Because it would not be surprising to me to know that there are people here today and there are problems that you have in your lives that caused you a great deal of upset, and disappointments and bewilderment and you say, God's ways are very strange. Why should this be happening to me? Why can't I have what other people have? Why is my life so different? Why am I going through these sorrowful experiences? Well, I am trying now to explain why is it that God dealt with this man Joseph in the way He did. And by application, why God deals with His own people today and in every day in this manner.
And the First point I would make by way of observation is this, My friends, the hidden hand of God is in the lives of all men and especially of those who are of his own dear people. And the secret purpose of God is the thing that God is looking to more than anything else. I'm going to imagine now, that behind me in this, let us say, Art Gallery is a huge mural, a painting stretching from that side of curtain to that side and from floor to ceiling. And I am going to suggest that we are all standing 2 feet away from it and looking at this mural painting. Now you know very well that you can only see a small part of the painting. And if you want to see the entire picture, you instinctively have to walk backwards until you come to the back of the room and then at a glance you can see it all. But when you are so close to the painting, as 2 feet or 3 feet away, you can only see a small part. So it is with our lives in this world. When Joseph was in the prison, rejected by his brothers, sold for a slave, badly dealt with by Potiphar and wife, he could only see the small part of his life. And the iron went into his soul. He was deeply saddened by his experiences of life and no doubt wandered greatly why the Lord has done this to him. He was innocent. He had not done any of the thing by which he was accused. Many wicked people had got away with it. But he was perfectly innocent and he was punished for it. Now the reason why he was so troubled at that point surely was this, he was so closed to the canvas. So it is with you and me, as we go through life's troubles, we are so close to ourselves, we cannot see the plan of God. And God had many things to do in our lives and many things to do with our lives. And He has other people to bless through our lives that if we could stand back from the painting and see the entire picture, we would be content. We would be at peace. And that's what this man Joseph came to see.
There's a wonderful verse somewhere in the book of Genesis when the brothers come along and they all do this. They bow down low with their faces to the ground before Joseph. And the Bible says this, it's very touching, brings tears to the eyes, Joseph remembered the dreams. He saw them all done on their faces and he remembered God's secret purpose and his secret hand in his life. We have no need to be told this, he was worshipping God in his soul, he was blessing God everything had come through. Well, all the good things that God has promised to you will come true if you be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. O you can only see the half life that is passed, you can't see the future life and that's why you and I are often very sad. But God is telling us in the life of this man and similar men in the Scripture, we must not live by sight but we must live by faith.
Now, another reason why God deals like this, I would suggest, is that God is testing us all through our circumstances. Now circumstances prove our character. Isn't it the same as children in the classroom? They are taking notes of what the teacher says, maybe of geography, or maybe one of the sciences or French or something. They are making notes and they are taking down the details of what the teacher is saying. But then in so many months time, they will sit an examination. There won't be a teacher to remind them. They would have to rely on their own abilities and their own memories. So it is with us, as Christian and those who fear God. When we come to church, we hear the theory. The catechism gives us the theory. The Bible gives us the theory. The Preacher gives us the theory. But then God puts us into the examination room. That's the real life situation. It's all very well isn't it to listen to sermons and go home and put our feet up. But life isn't like that. You then have to face those people at work. And they haven't the slightest love for what you believe. Or what you cherish, or what you desire to live for. Or the sudden bereavement, or the sudden news of sickness, or those other troubles, too many to mention just now, that can overtake the lives of the people of God. Why does God do this? Well, it is to prove us by the circumstances. The quick question is, are we going to apply what we know to the real life situation? That's what is meant by living by faith. It is to put into practice what we know in theory when the difficult situation arises. Are we going to compromise when the difficult situation arises? Or are we going to stand fast? Are we going to do what is right though the heavens fall? Or are we going to massage right and wrong to make it more comfortable and convenient for ourselves? It would have been comparatively easy for this handsome young man to have said yes to Potiphar's wife. But what he did say was, how shall I commit this great sin against God. How can I? Your husband, Madam, has entrusted everything in the household to me. He doesn't know anything about his own household affairs. I govern everything except for you. If I were to touch you, I would sin against God. And because of that, because he was a man of principle, and lived in the difficult circumstance in the principled way and said no to the devil, he suffered for it. Now the question is, will you and I do likewise in the evil day? When the temptation comes will you and I stand fast? and will you and I say no to the evil because the fear of God moves us to do what is right?
There is another reason, before I move on, why it is that God deals with His people in this way? It is because God loves to give His people a delightful surprise. And that's what this man got. Because he did what is pleasing to God, God gave Him a wonderful surprise. Can you picture him in the dungeon, his feet in irons? Probably his whole body was wracked with pain and hadn't slept very well the night before. In the dungeon, you don't have a feather bed, needless to say. And then he heard the cranking of key outside and wondered what was this. This wasn't the usual time of day for getting a visit. It wasn't meal time. What were the jailers coming for? And they rushed across, at the instigation of Pharaoh. And they unlocked his fetters. Hey, what's going on, says Joseph. Pharaoh has commanded that you should be summoned to the throne immediately. We must shave you and wash you and put clean clothes on you. What for, says Joseph. The King has had a dream, it's troubled him about fat cows and thin cows. We don't know what it is all about. But we hear that you can interpret dreams. You must tell the King his dream. And in one day, from being in the dungeon, this man became Prime Minister to command the nation. What a dramatic change!
I'll tell you a verse that has helped me in life, it's in Proverbs 13:12 "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life." A tree of life - I wonder why the book of Proverbs puts it like that - a tree of life. Well, I'll give you my idea, right or wrong. When Adam was in the garden of Eden, when he sinned against God, he was not allowed to eat from the tree of life. He was disqualified. But when men please God and wait patiently for God to bless them, even in difficult circumstances, when the blessing does come, it is like being given permission to eat from the tree of life. Hope deferred or postponed maketh the heart sick. We all know the meaning of that. We say when is God going to do the thing we longed for? Oh how the days and years go by, still we don't have our hearts' desire. But then when it comes, like Joseph, it is a tree of life. Joseph got more than his heart could wish in the end. He got all his brothers and his father, and all the family. He got a wife, he got children and he saw his children's children to several generations. He had all the glory of being the Prime Minister, commanding the nation and feeding the world.
God's ways are strange. If we were to read simply the first half of Joseph's life, then we would say, how disappointing, how unjust. Why did God allow all that trouble upon an innocent youth with so much promise? Ah, but that is to read the half life. When you read the whole life, it all makes sense. When you read the whole life, you see the wisdom of God and the goodness of God. And no wonder then this Psalm celebrates all that. No wonder this Psalm begins and ends like this, "Praise ye the Lord". And that's how it will be if you read your own life aright if you are a believer. You will say, "Praise the Lord". And even now, though you don't know the last chapter of your life. And though you can't read your life backward like we can read the life of these. But you know the first part of your life, yet you can say 'Praise the Lord, His covenant faithfulness is with me still. The same God who looked after the patriarchs is looking after me. The God of Joseph is with us all if we be His children.' I say God looks to His secret purpose and to His secret plan. We can't see the picture as a whole. But God sees it all the time.
And I can't close my sermon without adding this. One of the most important ways in which Joseph's life was being shaped by God was so that he might be a type of Christ, of our Saviour. Joseph is a type of Christ. I want to show you 4 ways briefly in which this must surely be so.
First of all, because Joseph's life illustrates one of the greatest principle in the Bible and that is, before honour is humility. Before God honours any man, normally, He humbles that man and puts him through trying times and difficult circumstances. Before exaltation is humiliation. Now that is so with Christ preeminently. Our Lord was a man of sorrows in this world. Our Lord went through trouble in this world, and misery in this world. But the day came when he was raised from the dead. I want to say just one thing about that before I close, at the very end of my sermon, but not yet. So I say Christ's life is reflected in this type, this shadow whom we call Joseph. He illustrates the principles that before honour comes humility. Now Hannah makes this point does she not in her famous song, in 1 Samuel 2. What a wonderful song it is! It would be good if we could go back to it and memorize what she says. She says, 'The Lord kills and makes alive, He wounds and he heals. He kills, He casts down and lifts up.' That is the same principle and it is true not only for Joseph but also I say for Christ Himself. And in a measure it's true for His people. If we suffer with Christ in this life, we shall also reign with Him. And if we could see all the picture on the canvas, I would see people sitting in front of me on the throne of God above. If I could show you your last chapter and how you would shine in the kingdom of glory, if I could show you how the angels are thankful to God that you got there and are now being glorified with Christ in heaven forever, you would count your present sufferings to be the dross and dung compared with the honour which awaits you above.
Now a Second thing which is illustrative of Christ is this, Joseph was rejected by his brethren. And that clearly is a sign in which he is like Christ. Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver. Christ was sold for 30 pieces of silver. My friends, it is all part of the shame that good people go through in this life. They are sometimes rejected by their brethren. It was true of Calvin. He was rejected by his brethren at one point. It was true of the great Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest man who ever adorned the pulpits of his country, America. It was true of the Wesley brothers, they were both thrown out of the Church of England. It was true of Spurgeon, there was never a greater Baptist preacher than Spurgeon, ever in any country, probably. And yet they voted him down at the Downgrade. Now, my friends, you must be content to be rejected even by professing Christians in this life. Our Lord was. It was not Pontius Pilate that took the initiative to the crucify Christ. It was the Jewish Sanhedrin, which is the Jewish supreme religious council. Joseph was rejected by his brethren so was Christ. You must remember it's all part of the hidden plan.
Then Thirdly Joseph is a type of Christ like this. God called for famine on the land and yet God also raised up this man to feed the world. The granaries of Egypt were under Joseph's control and the food was given out through Joseph. He was the mediator of the food for the whole world. So in a much, much higher sense, of course, is our blessed Jesus Christ. He is that true Bread that came down from Heaven. He feeds the world. O, if only we knew it, every soul on earth from Hawaii in the Pacific to the Western coast of America. All the souls that live and are spiritual today, and any day, they all been paid by Christ. There is no reason a Christian should ever say, my soul is famishing. Christ has bread enough to feed the world. To feed 10 million worlds, if there were such worlds. Christ was typified by this Joseph.
Now the Fourth way in which Joseph typifies Christ is the way in which in the end Joseph gathered all his family together. Not one was missing. He sent, you remember, for his father, and all his family to come to join him and they came to live in the land of Goshen which is a district of Egypt. And all the family were together. Now so will Christ on the canvas of His glorious purpose, it is intended that all his children shall at last be gathered into one. One flock under one Shepherd. I will that they also that thou hast given me be with me where I am, cries Christ, at the right hand of God. That they may know the love wherewith thou hast love me. And the glory which thou has given me, I have given to them. Is it no small comfort to know that in the end of a Christian's pilgrimage, when all his wondering are done, when all his tears are shed, when all his disappointments gone through, and his miseries finished, he is to end up in eternity in the family of God. And sitting round the table with Christ. There is to be a table you know in Heaven and all the people there will sit round it. Just as Joseph took the brothers and made them sit down to a meal. And the brothers looked to one another in amazement because Joseph seated them in the order of their ages. And they looked at each other and said how can he know the order of us all. But we know how. He was their brother. And so it will be in heaven. There will be an order for all those who sit at the table of the Lord in glory. And there will be a place for everyone. There is a table of the Lord on earth. That's very precious. But sometimes for all kinds of reasons, we cannot be there. But there will be a table of the Lord in the plan. Everyone who loves Him will be there.
So I say, try to learn to read life backwards. And then when you do, and remember the last chapter of your life, you will understand why the Bible says, that all things work together for good to them that love God. Not today or tomorrow, or the next day. But in the end, all things will work together for good to them that love God. Now I must close but I promise to tell you one thing before I do. It is a story I heard years ago. I was touched by it. And the story is this of a Jewish lady who had not heard about Jesus Christ. She was living, I think, in England at the beginning of the century. And the Christian gave her a copy of the Gospel of I think, Matthew. And she being unfamiliar with the life of Christ, being a Jewish person, she began to love this gospel of Matthew and she was deeply impressed by it. She said, what a wonderful man! How is it the Rabbis never told me about this wonderful Jews called Jesus? And she read about His life, His sermons, His miracles, His teachings, His inspiring example and then she came to the end and then she discovered they hated Him and rejected Him. And killed Him on the cross. And at that point she closed the book and began to weep her eyes out. O, she said, to have treated such a wonderful man so cruelly, how could my fellow countrymen do it? Now when she met the Christian person who gave her the Gospel of Matthew a few days later, he said to this lady, have you read the Gospel? O, yes, she says, what a terrible story. And then she explained that she closed the book at the crucifixion. She didn't want to read anything more. What a terrible ending to such a wonderful man's life! And the missionary said, have you not read the last chapter? Oh no, she said, I couldn't bring myself to read that. I couldn't bring myself to read that, I couldn't bear it. Read it, he said. Read the last Chapter. So she went back and she read chapter 28 of Matthew. He rose again from the dead! He's alive in glory! He is mine forever! My friends, that's what comes home to us. From the life of this Joseph. And we have a greater than Joseph awaiting His people at last.
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