Dominion in Genesis, Part 5/8: Joseph’s Rise to Power

In part 4, I explained how pietism led evangelical Christians to retreat from the world with the thought that they only needed God in their hearts, not in the public sector. As the world situation seemed to deteriorate from the Civil War to World War I, Christians became increasingly despondent about the future. They adapted their end times theology to match the mood. Even though the times have greatly changed, that pessimistic theology remains pervasive in churches today.

 

How Christians Can Overcome Our State of Depression

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Puppy Belle courtesy of Tostie14 on Flickr

Did it please God when Christians withdrew from the world and lost hope? Was this a positive, healthy development in any sense? Think of it this way… Would you consider it healthy if your pet dog or cat withdrew from everyone and looked sad?

The answer to all these questions is, “Of course not!”

We all need a certain amount of optimism just to get out of bed every morning and go to work. On balance, Christians should be the most optimistic people of all. After all, God has revealed His love and faithfulness to us, and lavished His grace upon us. It’s never God’s will for Christians to disbelieve His Word and become discouraged!

For centuries, optimistic Christians settled, civilized, and ruled America. When they protested against British tyranny, King George declared them to be “rebels” and “traitors.” We know the rest of the story.

We know equally well that America is no longer predominantly Christian. Increasingly, it’s being secularized. The current circumstances raise many challenges and questions, but they shouldn’t change our core beliefs about who God is or what the Bible teaches.

The prerequisites for regaining Christian optimism are the same as those for returning to biblical Christianity:

  • Believe that God reigns in this world, not only in places with angels, harps, clouds, and resurrected saints.
  • Know that God has granted us the ability to joyfully serve Him and glorify His name on the earth.
  • Accept responsibility for making this world more heavenly, as is commanded or expected in the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:26-28, cf. 9:1-5), the Lord’s prayer (Mt. 6:10), the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20, cf. Acts 1:6-8), and elsewhere.
Dominion in the Life of Joseph
    This brings us to the topic of dominion, which is a primary theme of Genesis. Nowhere is that theme more apparent than in the story of Joseph. After many peaks and valleys, Genesis crescendos with Joseph’s rise to power. We tend to miss the dominion-related aspect of this story for reasons such as the following:
  • Joseph’s story is so entertaining and motivational that we may be satisfied to view it merely as a kind of “chicken soup for the soul.”
  • Anticipating the enslavement in Exodus 1, we know in advance that the Hebrews’ time of prosperity and freedom wasn’t going to last long.
  • We don’t think much about the historical significance of this event.
  • We fail either to recognize or think much about the underlying symbolism.

This story practically leaps off the pages, not only because of Egypt’s prominent role in ancient history, but also with regard to the symbolic meaning. Even biblical literalists find it hard to deny the existence of allegorical or typological meanings in this story. Some of the more important ones are as follows:

Symbol Representing
Egypt The world
Pharaoh God the Father
Joseph Christ
The Hebrews (Israel)* The Church
Joseph freed from the dungeon Resurrection
Joseph raised to the Pharaoh’s throne Ascension

*Some people mistakenly refer to Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel as “Jews,” and associate them with modern Israel. However, the Jewish people are descended almost exclusively from the tribe of Judah. The Hebrews were physical Israel, which was symbolic of spiritual Israel, the Church. Paul explained this in Galatians 3-4 and 6:16. The topic is further discussed in chapter 5 of Return to Genesis, and by Michael Marlowe here.

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Joseph Presents His Father and Brothers to Pharaoh by Francesco Granacci (1477-1543)

Before proceeding further, let’s briefly review Joseph’s life story…

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt because they envied and hated him. Joseph served his master Potiphar faithfully, only to find himself imprisoned on a false accusation. While in prison, Joseph became known for his ability to interpret dreams.

God caused the Pharaoh to have dreams that troubled him. Upon hearing about Joseph, the pharaoh summoned him. Joseph interpreted the dreams as meaning there would be seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. The Pharaoh was so impressed that he made Joseph responsible for the storage and distribution of grain in Egypt.

Joseph stored grain during the years of abundance, then fed Egypt’s citizens and neighbors during the seven years of famine. He even provided for his family members when they came from Canaan to seek food. Thanks to Joseph and his connections with the Pharaoh, the Hebrews were allowed to settle in Egypt’s land of Goshen.

Unquestionably, God wants believers to learn from and follow Joseph’s example. He served God faithfully while suffering unjustly, and blessed many people through his wise leadership. Joseph demonstrated great faith and commitment to refrain from sin and compromise, not only as a slave and a prisoner, but also as a powerful ruler.

In case there is any question, the story upholds political service as a commendable career path to which God may call a believer. Christians should seek to enjoy harmonious relationships with government authorities instead of despising them (2 Pet. 2:10). We are commanded to pray for leaders so that we may lead peaceful, quiet, and godly lives (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

Again, the symbolism is highly significant. The Church is the body of Christ, and Christians are to represent our Lord in the world. God gave Joseph wisdom and a servant’s heart so that he could become a blessing. Similarly, God wants every believer to be a blessing in this world (Jn. 17:14-18). Yes, we should preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, but “ministry” can include any good work.

 

The Kingdom of Christ

Since God fulfilled Joseph’s dreams and blessed the known world through him, we can be sure that He wants to do much more through Christians as we serve Jesus Christ, Who is infinitely greater than Joseph. The Bible repeatedly describes Jesus as the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords,” and assures us that He reigns over the nations (Ps. 103:19, Rev. 1:5, 19:6).

Most “Bible prophecy experts” mistakenly project Christ’s kingdom reign to a future time, on a re-created Earth. They teach that God won’t bind Satan until after Jesus returns, meaning the devil is still reigning in Christ’s stead. Presumably, Jesus is incapable of ruling until, following the example set by many third world dictators, He forcibly removes all opposition. These teachings are entirely unscriptural!

The term “new earth” appears in the Bible, but it wasn’t meant to be taken literally (Return to Genesis, pp. 263-65). In the same manner, while it’s true that every believer is a “new creation,” it doesn’t imply that God remade our physical bodies after we believed in Christ.

Oddly enough, many Christians oppose the biblical teaching that we’re responsible for helping to establish Christ’s reign in this world. This attitude seems reminiscent of Joseph’s brothers when they derisively asked him, “Shall you indeed reign over us?” (Gen. 37:8). We find the same spirit of envy and hatred in Cain, Ishmael, and Esau, and that’s only in Genesis. I’m not accusing anyone of hating and envying Jesus, but for practical purposes, I don’t see much difference.

Even as Christians, we all struggle with the “fleshly” or sin nature (Gal. 5:17). This can definitely interfere with our attempts to understand the Bible (1 Cor. 2:14). One way the sin nature manifests itself is in the desire for a kind of self-rule that mostly confines God to Sunday worship, and puts ourselves in charge of every other aspect of life.

The Bible tells us in Joel 2:28 that when God poured His Spirit out, old men would dream dreams and young men see visions. The oldest man in the Bible was Methuselah. However, when he passed away at age 969, the Flood came and destroyed that society. Jesus has a better future for us than that which Adam left for his descendants. God wants old men to dream of a glorious future, not only in the clouds (or wherever), but on this earth.

The cherishing of hopes and dreams is a commendable trait in people of any age. Joseph was at fault for having boasted, but not for having believed in his dreams. God purified him through suffering, and helped him become a faithful steward and a humble prisoner. The Lord further taught Joseph that ultimately, He controlled every circumstance in life.

In part 2, I explained that Christians shouldn’t only ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” We should also seek to follow the examples of Old Testament heroes who prefigured Christ, as well as the New Testament apostles who knew Jesus. The Lord Himself learned from the heroes and heroines of the Old Testament, beginning with Adam in his pre-fallen state. Jesus was like Adam, only without sin. In part 6, we’ll learn how Joseph was also like Adam, and what it means for us in this age. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.