Individual character

Jacob, who was later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), his sons and their families numbered seventy persons when they came into Egypt (Genesis 46:27). Exodus 12:37 tells us that 400 years later, when the people of Israel left Egypt, there were about “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” At the time of Jacob’s death, his twelve sons and their families were referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49:28 states, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” Jacob’s blessing was transferred to his sons on an individual basis. He blessed each of his sons with a blessing that was suitable to him, meaning that the blessing was appropriate for that individual son. The Hebrew word that is translated tribes in Genesis 49:28, shebet (shayˊ-bet) means “to branch off” and literally refers to “a stick” or “the ‘rod’ as a tool used by the shepherd (Leviticus 27:32) and the teacher (2 Samuel 7:14)” (H7626). Jesus told his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6).

Jesus talked about branches in the context of discipline and productivity. The example that Jesus used of a vine that was intended to bear fruit was a universal theme that he used throughout his ministry to describe the process of salvation and was consistent between both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Jesus indicated that individual branches could be pruned or might be taken away if they did not bear fruit. This seems to be the case with regards to the tribe of Simeon, Jacob’s second oldest son. Simeon was left out when Moses’ pronounced his final blessing on Israel (Deuteronomy 33).

Simeon was the second son of Jacob’s first wife Leah. Genesis 29:31-33 states, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon.” The name Simeon means “hearing” (H8095). Simeon is derived from the Hebrew word shamaʿ (shaw-mahˊ) which means “to hear intelligently” (H8085). Shama is associated with discernment and understanding and refers to hearing that is both intellectual and spiritual. Simeon and his younger brother Levi responded to the rape of their sister Dinah by killing all the men in the city of Shechem. Genesis 34:13-15 and 24-31 tells us:

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised”…On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Simeon and Levi were outraged by the rape of their sister Dinah and took vengeance by killing all the men in Shechem. Their father Jacob was upset because their method of retaliation put his family in danger. Later, Simeon was singled out by Joseph to remain in prison while the rest of his brothers returned to Canaan to get their youngest brother Benjamin to verify their identity (Genesis 42:18-20). During this incident, Joseph’s brothers acknowledged their guilt for selling him into slavery. Genesis 42:21-23 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen (shama). That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen (shama). So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood (shama) them, for there was an interpreter between them.

The Hebrew word shama (the root word of the name Simeon) appears three times in Joseph’s brothers’ brief admission of guilt. The repeated use of shama emphasizes its importance in the message that was being conveyed. It was as if Simeon’s name and his absence were providing the other brothers with a clue about the cause of the circumstances they were experiencing (no hearing).

The names of Jacob’s twelve sons were all chosen because of the circumstances of their births (Genesis 29:31-30:24, 35:16-18) and may or may not have been a reflection of their individual character. As was the case with Abram who God renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob who became Israel (Genesis 32:28), Jesus gave some of his disciples new names after they became his followers (Mark 3:16-17). The connection between a person’s name and his individual character seems to be important from the standpoint of God becoming involved in the lives of individuals. The Apostle Paul referred to individual character as your inner being and said, “For this reason I bow my knee before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). Paul indicated that God strengthens or empowers us in our inner being. The strengthening that occurs doesn’t happen as a sudden influx of power, but as a gradual increase in energy over time (G2901).

The idea that we can grow stronger and be more energetic as we get older is contrary to the way that we usually experience life. Typically, a person will slow down and accomplish less in their later years. Caleb, one of two individuals that was delivered from slavery in Egypt and survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, gave this testimony afterward:

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. (Joshua 14:6-11)

Caleb indicated that he had wholly followed the LORD and that Moses had promised him an eternal inheritance as a result of it (Joshua 14:8-9). The meaning of the name Caleb (kaw-labeˊ) isn’t completely clear, but it may have been a contraction of the Hebrew words qadesh (kaw-dasheˊ) which denotes “a (quasi) sacred person” (H6945) and leb (labe) “the heart” (H3820). Qadesh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ). “This word is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942).

The connection between the process of sanctification and the development of individual character as demonstrated in Caleb’s life may be related to what Paul described as “being joined together” and “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:21-22). Paul talked about believers being members of the household of God and identified Jesus as “the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21). Paul indicated that we are growing into a holy temple and being built together into a dwelling place for God. The original temple that was built by King Solomon, was referred to as “the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 6:1). The Hebrew word that is translated house, bayith (bahˊ-yith) “denotes a fixed, established structure made from some kind of materials. As a ‘permanent dwelling place’ it is usually distinguished from a tent (2 Samuel 16:21, cf. v. 22)” (H1004). 1 Kings 6:7 tells us, “When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” The large stones that were used to build the temple were chiseled into shape at a quarry so that they would fit together perfectly when they were placed in their designated spot. In the same way that the stones were prepared beforehand at the quarry, so are individuals prepared by God through the process of sanctification so that they can be joined together and built into a dwelling place for God.

The analogy of the potter and the clay is used throughout the Bible to describe the process of sanctification. It was first introduced through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Paul used the analogy of the potter and the clay to explain God’s sovereign choice. Paul said:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.”

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:14-33)

Paul referred to Jesus as a stone of stumbling rather than the cornerstone that orients the building in a specific direction in order to point out that faith in Jesus is what tripped up the Israelites. The people of Israel were unable to shift the focus of their attention from their own individual acts of righteousness to the sacrifice that was going to be made by Jesus so that their sins could be atoned for.

Simeon’s exclusion from Moses’ blessing (Deuteronomy 33) demonstrates how free will and God’s sovereign choice work together to produce the final outcome in an individual’s life and the legacy that is passed on to future generations. A similar example can be found in the life of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:63-71)

Jesus later linked Judas’ betrayal with the process of sanctification and what Paul described as the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). After Jesus had washed his disciples feet, he said, “’The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you’” (John 13:10-15). Jesus differentiated between the initial spiritual birth of a believer and regeneration when he said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). Paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis), by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus told his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). It seems that anakainos is not just a process that God engineers to build individual character, but a joint process that all believers participate in for the collective benefit of everyone. From that standpoint, the twelve tribes of Israel modeled the type of community that the body of Christ is expected to emulate. Just as Simeon’s absence created a noticeable gap in Israel’s family structure (Genesis 42:36; Deuteronomy 33), so does the absence of individual members of the body of Christ. Paul said, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have not need of you’…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Transformation

One of the most clear indicators that God is involved in a situation is that the timing is perfect. That’s why it seems strange that Joseph remained in prison for two whole years (Genesis 41:1) after he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief baker and cupbearer. Genesis 40:23 states that the chief cupbearer “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream didn’t seem to have any impact on him. Even though Joseph predicted the exact day (Genesis 40:13) that the chief cupbearer would be released from prison, the cupbearer ignored Joseph’s desperate plea for help (Genesis 40:14).

It seems likely that the two years Joseph remained in prison after he had interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s officers was a period of time that God used to transform his inner character. Genesis 41:1 indicates that two whole years passed before anything else happened in Joseph’s life. The Hebrew word that is translated whole, yowm (yome) usually refers to complete cycles or measured periods of time like 24 hours (1 day) or 365 days (1 year) (H3117). The first biblical occurrences of yowm are found in Genesis 1:15-31 which indicates that God completed his cycles of creation in six 24 hour time periods. Genesis 1:15 states, “and the evening and the morning were the first day” .

The reason why two whole years passed after Joseph interpreted the chief baker and cupbearer’s dreams may have been because that was how long it took God to transform Joseph into a new person. The Apostle Paul described the process of transformation that occurs in believers as the renewing of the mind. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated transformed, metamorphoo (met-am-or-fo’-o) means to change into another form, to undergo a complete change and the present continuous tense of this verb indicates a process” (G3339). Metamorphoo is used in Matthew 17:2 to refer to Jesus’ transfiguration. It says, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-2). The transformation of Jesus’ outward appearance may have been intended to show his disciples that his glorified state wasn’t the result of being crucified and resurrected.

Unlike human transformation, Jesus’ transfiguration was not a process that had to be completed. John’s gospel indicates that Jesus was in a glorified state before the world existed (John 17:5). Apparently, what happened when Jesus was transfigured was that his glorified state was manifested or you might say revealed to his disciples Peter, James, and John. The physical change in Jesus’ appearance was likely just an outward expression of an internal adjustment that caused his deity to temporarily eclipse the physical constraints of his body. One way of describing what happened might be that Jesus’ glorified state burst through the physical constraint of his body and was able to be detected by the visual perception of his three disciples.

Jesus referred to his transfiguration as a vision and commanded his disciples to “tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). The Greek word horama (hor’-am’ah) means “something gazed at” (G3705) and is comparable to the word optomai (op’-tom-ahee) which means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable)” (G3700). Dreams and visions such as the one that Jesus’ disciples had of his transfiguration may be related to one another in that they both tap into the spiritual realm where the past, present, and future seem to coexist. The dreams that Joseph had at the age of 17 connected him to a future that was very different from his current reality, but they instilled in him a belief that the events of his dream would one day take place.

Joseph had been a slave in Egypt for approximately eleven years and likely a prisoner in the king’s prison for much of that time when two men in his custody each had a dream the same night that caused them to be stirred up inside (Genesis 40:5-6). God may have used the dreams of Pharaoh’s officers to remind Joseph of his own dreams and to focus his attention on what what going on in the world outside his prison. After the chief baker and cupbearer were taken from the prison, Joseph was left to contemplate his own future for two whole years.

The human mind is intended to make meaning of things and when left to its own devices can be a very powerful weapon in Satan’s hands. During the two years that Joseph remained in prison, he may have experienced doubt and confusion and wondered why God had allowed him to suffer for so long. Joseph told the chief cupbearer, “I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit” (Genesis 40:15). The pit where Joseph was imprisoned was a dungeon, a large hole in the ground that was probably used for storing water before it became a prison. The Hebrew word that is translated pit in Genesis 40:15, bor (bore) is also used in Genesis 37:20 to describe the pit that Joseph’s brothers cast him into before they sold him into slavery. The similarity between these two places where Joseph lost his freedom may have caused him to think of both his imprisonment and being sold into slavery as one long, continuous cycle of unpleasant change.

The thing that Joseph never seemed to lose sight of that likely led to the transformation of his inner being, was the knowledge that God was in control of his circumstances. The Apostle Paul identified the source of personal transformation as renewing the mind. The Greek word anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis) refers to “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). Joseph demonstrated an adjustment to the mind of God by being loyal to Potipher and refusing to sleep with his master’s wife (Genesis 39:8-9). Joseph was concerned about the well-being of Pharaoh’s officers (Genesis 40:7) and asked the cupbearer to be merciful to him after he was freed from prison (Genesis 40:14) rather than demanding that he be repaid for interpreting the chief cupbearer’s dream. Perhaps, the greatest testimony to Joseph’s willingness to do things God’s way was his hard work and responsible behavior in spite of being a slave in Egypt.

Genesis 41:1-8 indicates that after two whole years had passed, Pharaoh had two dreams that troubled him and his magicians and wise men were unable to interpret the dreams. “Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my offenses today. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.’ Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit” (Genesis 41:9-13).

Psalm 40:1-3 may reflect what was going through Joseph’s mind when he was released from prison. It states:

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

The phrase waited patiently “stresses the straining of the mind in a certain direction with an expectant attitude…a forward look with assurance” (H6960). Waiting patiently for God to do something usually involves the discipline of silence and a restraint from activity. It seems that Joseph’s transformation was a direct result of him doing nothing other than continuing to expect that God would one day deliver him from prison.

The Apostle Paul described the process of spiritual transformation as putting off your old self and putting on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Similar to changing the clothes that we wear, spiritual transformation or what Paul referred to as sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30), is an intentional effort to change the way we appear to others. The old self which is characterized by dulled spiritual perception (G4457) has to be replaced by a new self that is under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who directs its bent and energies Godward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (G365).

When Jesus was transfigured, a bright cloud overshadowed his disciples, “and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him'” (Matthew 17:5). God’s reference to Jesus as his beloved Son was meant to convey the special relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father. It could be that Jesus’ transfiguration had something to do with the close connection he had established with God through intimate prayer. God said that he was “well pleased” with Jesus even before he had completed his assignment of dying on the cross for the sins of the world. The Greek word that is translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’) stresses “the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (G2106).

One way of looking at eudokeo is to see it as a commitment that cannot not be broken. God being well pleased with Jesus meant that he would not change his opinion of his beloved Son regardless of the circumstances that might effect his viewpoint. Jesus’ assignment of bearing the burden of sin changed the way he appeared to his Father, but God was just as well pleased with Jesus after he was scarred and broken by the weight of sin and human depravity as he was before. Jesus’ transfiguration was evidence that his eternal state and status with God had already been secured before he died on the cross and was resurrected.

God instructed Jesus’ disciples to “listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). The Greek words akouo (ak-oo’-o) and autos (ow-tos’) mean more than just tuning into what someone is saying. It implies that there is a spiritual aspect to what is being said and a need for spiritual discernment to make sense of the message. Many of the things Jesus told his disciples didn’t make sense to them at first. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected that the disciples realized Jesus was going to establish his kingdom on earth by means of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of believers, revealing and confirming the truths of God’s word (Matthew 16:18). Paul described this capability as “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18).

Joseph demonstrated spiritual enlightenment when he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief baker and cupbearer (Genesis 40:12-13, 18-19). As a result of his correct interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, Joseph was brought before Pharaoh and asked to interpret two dreams that caused him to be troubled in his spirit (Genesis 41:8). Pharaoh’s astrologers and wise men were unable to interpret his dreams because of their unregenerate condition. The only way the dreams’ meaning could be deciphered was to open them up or you might say to unlock the truth that was contained within them.

Joseph’s preparation for the task of interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams was likely the long period of silence he endured after successfully interpreting the dreams of the chief baker and cupbearer. Two whole years of nothing happening while Joseph waited patiently for the LORD to deliver him from the pit may have been a type of spiritual exercise that strengthened Joseph’s faith and helped him to understand things from God’s perspective. Psalm 40:4-5 states, “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!” The Hebrew word that is translated makes, siym (seem) has to do with the act of placing something in a permanent or secure location. In the context of making the LORD our trust, siym means to invite the Lord into our heart or to be saved.

Joseph’s inner transformation was followed by an external transformation that began when he was summoned from his prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Genesis 41:14 states, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh.” “Egyptians were normally smooth-shaven, while Palestinians wore beards” (note on Genesis 41:14, KJSB). This seems to suggest that Joseph was required to conform to Egyptian customs in order to speak to the king of Egypt, but it could be that Joseph voluntarily changed his appearance so that he wouldn’t offend Pharaoh out of respect for his position.

Pharaoh greeted Joseph with the statement, “‘I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (Genesis 41:15). Joseph could have taken credit for his interpretation of the cupbearer and baker’s dreams, but instead he let Pharaoh know that God was communicating with him. Joseph said, “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:16). The Hebrew term that is translated favorable, shalom (shaw-lome’) means peace and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war” (H7965). Joseph spoke these words before he had even heard Pharaoh’s dream, suggesting that God had already been talking to Joseph about the message he was going to relay to Pharaoh.

After Pharaoh told him his two dreams, Joseph said, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:25). Pharaoh’s dreams contained information about the future, but he wasn’t able to utilize the information because of his unregenerate state. Paul described this condition as the futility of the mind (Ephesians 4:17). The Greek word mataios (mat’-ah-yos) “denotes communication that is devoid of force, truth, success, result; it is useless, of no purpose” (G3152). Nous (nooce), which is translated mind in Ephesians 4:17, means the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining” (G3563). Contrasted with Pharaoh’s dulled spiritual perception, Joseph’s ability to accurately interpret the dreams and provide guidance about how to utilize the information (Genesis 41:28-36) made him an extremely valuable resource to the king of Egypt.

Joseph’s plan to store up grain during seven years of abundant crops and then, distribute the grain during the seven years of famine that would follow may sound like he was just using common sense, but Pharaoh’s response showed that he could never have devised such a plan on his own. “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God'” (Genesis 41:38). Pharaoh’s reference to God’s Spirit being in Joseph was a unique distinction. Before Jesus was born, the Holy Spirit didn’t dwell inside believers. Essentially, what Pharaoh was saying was that Joseph’s knowledge and understanding of God was so close to his actual character that what he was saying sounded like it was coming directly from the mouth of God. In other words, during the thirteen years Joseph had suffered as a slave, he had been transformed into the image of God.

Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the thrown will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” This he set him over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:39-43)

Joseph’s mental acuity was recognized by Pharaoh as a divine gift from God. The fact that Pharaoh made him second in command, showed that Joseph was not only discerning and wise, but also a loyal servant that could be trusted with a great deal of responsibility.