Why Am I Here? Genesis 37
Life’s Most Important Questions
Why Am I Here?
Genesis 37
 
Mark Twain said, “There are two great days in a person’s life - the day we are born and the day we discover why.”
 
One of those is easier to pinpoint than the other because on is a date in time that you either celebrate or dread each year while the other is more elusive.
 
Do you know why you are on earth?  Is there a moment or experience you can travel to in your mind when you finally figured out why God put you on planet earth?  Do you ever think about that or has it been a long time since you dwelt on the seriousness of that question? 
 
Twain is right.  “There are two great days in a person’s life - the day we are born and the day we discover why.”  The first day explains your presence on earth.  The second explains your purpose.
 
For some people, it takes a long time to discover why they were born and I suppose some never figure it out or even think about it.  And for others it happens very suddenly. 
 
Back in April of 2013, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring over 250 others. A massive manhunt put the whole city on a virtual lockdown.
 
 
Three days later, on April 18, Officer Sean Collier was assigned to a certain intersection on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. The authorities had tracked the bombers to the area around the MIT campus. Sometime after 10 PM that evening the bombers crept up on Sean Collier’s patrol car and shot him five times. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. He was only 27 years old.
 
In a statement posted on the university website, MIT Police Chief John DiFava said, "Sean was one of these guys who really looked at police work as a calling. He was born to be a police officer.”  And as tragic as it is, that is a very fitting tribute to a man who died in the line of duty.
 
There are lots of variations of that:
  
    She was born to be a mother.
    He was born to play baseball.
    She was born to be a preacher’s wife.
    He was born to be a soldier.
    She was born to help the homeless.
    He was born to lead a nation.
 
What were you born to do?  That’s a hard question.
You’ll spend the rest of your life trying to answer it.
 
Maybe the best way to answer the question is to ask a question.  One year when I was in the pastorate, I analyzed all the questions people asked me either in person or by email. After thinking about all the problems that people have, I realized that most of them boil down to one simple question:
 
“Lord, what do you want me to do?”
Proverbs 3:5-6 promises that if we will trust in the Lord, he will make our way straight. How exactly does he do that?
 
Here are seven fundamental facts about God’s guidance:
             
1. He can put you exactly where he wants you to be.
2. He can arrange all the details years in advance.
3. He can open doors that seem shut tight.
4. He can remove any obstacle in your way.
5. He can take your choices and fit them into his plan that you end up at the right place at just the right time.
6. He can even take your mistakes and bring good out of them.
7. He can take tragedy and use it for your good and his glory.
 
This is what Proverbs 16:9 means when it says that “A man’s heart plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps.”  He can open doors that seem shut tight.
 
So let me ask you a crucial question: Do you know why you were born?
 
Sometimes we find our calling early.
Often the revelation doesn’t come until late in life.
Sometimes others see it before we do.
Often the circumstances of life reveal it to us.
Often others sense our purpose before we do.
 
I am thinking of a man who fits that last category. He never knew his purpose for many years of his adult life. It was only after a series of events unfolded, nearly all of them outside his control, and many of them quite painful, that the plan of God for his life became evident.
 
This is the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.  Listen to how Genesis 37 introduces him:
 
Verses 1-2
 
These verses tell us three facts about Joseph:
 
1.     He’s 17.
2.     He’s working in the family business.
3.     He doesn’t have a clue about his own future.
 
Life is like that. If we said to Joseph, “Do you know why you were born?” he would have no idea. He would no doubt presume that he was destined to be a shepherd like his father Jacob, his grandfather Isaac, and his great-grandfather Abraham.
 
But in truth he has no idea of the events that are about to unfold. This strikes me as a crucial point because when we read his story thousands of years later, we know how it all ends. And that colors our estimation of these early events.
 
Sometimes I am asked how to “discover” God’s will? I’m not sure you do.  I think much more than us discovering God’s will, God’s will discovers us. 
You don’t find it.  It finds you.  Ours is not to discover it, but just to do it.
 
I heard someone say that God’s will is more like a sunrise than a sunburst. Out of the darkness and chaos of life, God’s will slowly rises over the horizon. It’s not so much that we see the sun. It’s that by the sun we see everything else. So it is with God’s will. That reminds me of another common metaphor, the “blueprint” of life.
 
Does God have a blueprint for your life?  Yes, he does.  But there’s only one copy, it’s locked up on the third floor of the Administration Building in heaven, and I don’t know of any way you can get a copy.
 
God’s will is revealed to us a little bit at a time, like the sun slowly rising or like a blueprint unrolling before our eyes.  Think about how Joseph’s life illustrate that.
 
First he was Jacob’s favorite son.
Then he was betrayed.
Then he was sold into slavery.
Then he was purchased by Potiphar.
Then he rose in Potiphar’s house.
Then he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.
Then he was thrown in prison.
Then he met the baker and the butler in prison.
Then the butler forgot him.
Then he stood before Pharaoh.
Then he became the prime minister of Egypt.
Then he met his brothers.
Then he gave his family a home in Egypt.
 
All of that ended up saving his family and preserving the line of promise.
 
Talk about a roller coaster!  Joseph rode it.  But for now, we’re at the front end, just in the loading gate with Joseph and I want to try to keep that in mind as we move along.  When we first meet Joseph he is tending flocks.  He doesn’t have a clue about the roller-coaster ride his life is about to become.
 
To back up a bit, there is a 21st-century word that perfectly describes his family. It’s a word that you won’t find anywhere in Genesis, but it fits nonetheless.
 
Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional family.  His father Jacob had four wives.  Two of them are sisters and the other two are servants to the sisters.  From these four wives, Joseph had 11 brothers.
 
Leah has six sons, Rachel, Joseph’s mother, had two, the other one being Benjamin who was the youngest child of all of them.  Bihah and Zilpah each had two also.  So with all of that, it’s not hard to imagine there is s bound to be some family friction and there was. 
 
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is a disaster waiting to happen. Trouble is brewing right under the surface in Jacob’s complicated family.  Eventually, it all works out okay, but we would never see that coming in these opening verses. 
 
I emphasize that only to make a very important point. Whatever your background or family situation, it is no impediment to your service for the Lord.
 
Joseph came from a family that was as dysfunctional and messed up as any you will find in modern-day America. 
It was not this neat, clean one man-one woman all-American family. He was born into a family where jealousy, comparison, and distrust were the rules of the game. It was not a happy family. Yet God chose Joseph and used him in amazing ways.
 
But when you think about it, who else would God use?  None of us come from perfect families because no such thing exists.  And the reason they don’t exist is because we are messed up as humans. 
 
The real problems we face are not “out there.” They are always “in here,” on the inside. That’s where we fight our greatest battles.  More than two decades before he died, that great theologian Michael Jackson sang these lyrics:
 
    “I’m starting with the man in the mirror
    I’m asking him to change his ways
    And no message could have been any clearer
    If you wanna make the world a better place
    If you wanna make the world a better place
    Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”
 
There is wisdom here, and a lesson we all need to learn. This world is a messed-up place, and the most messed-up part lies inside the human heart. That’s one reason we know the Bible is true. It speaks the truth about the human condition.
 
It doesn’t lie to us about our “unlimited potential” or tell us that we are basically okay the way we are at the moment.  It says we are all sinners, separated from God, dead in our sin, spiritually blind and unable to help ourselves.  This is where the gospel becomes so incredibly relevant.
It doesn’t make us feel good and then say, “Just try harder and you will be okay.”
 
Most all of us can quote Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall of the glory of God.” But who can tell me what the last phrase of verse 22 is?  It’s important because the last phrase of verse 22 is the first line of the sentence found in verse 23 and the key to understanding verse 23 is found in verse 22.
 
Verse 22 says, “For there is no difference”.  All have sinned. . .
 
No difference between rich and poor.
No difference religious and pagan.
No difference between Jew and Gentile.
No difference between young and old.
No difference between housewife and harlot.
No difference between criminal and choirboy.
No difference between American and Kenyan.
 
We’re all in the same boat, and unless God does something, we’re all going to sink together.  We are all broken people. Some of us know it, some of us don’t.
 
So if you come from a dysfunctional, messed up family with a bunch of stepbrothers and half brothers and step moms, the story of Joseph is speaking your language.
 
If you come from a broken home, this story is for you.
If you don’t get along with your brothers and sisters, this story is for you.
If you were abused, this story is for you.
If your friends lied to you, this story is for you.
If you’ve done jail time, this story is for you.
If your family doesn’t understand you, this story is for you.
If your friends lied to you, this story is for you
 
So how did God’s will unfold? At the beginning of Genesis 37 Joseph is tending the flocks with his brothers in Canaan. By the end of the chapter he’s a slave in Egypt, his life having taken what appears to be a massive turn in the wrong direction.
 
But here’s what we don’t know and Joseph didn’t know.  God needed Joseph to be in Egypt because God’s will has determined Joseph will become prime minister in Egypt.  So how does a 17-year-old Hebrew shepherd become the prime minister of Egypt?  It takes some unusually events to get him there. Let me walk you through the story.
 
Our first clue is found in verse 2 where Joseph, after spending the day working with Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher comes home one day and tattles to his father about his brothers. 
 
To complicate matters, we also discover that Joseph is his father’s favorite. 
 
Genesis 37:3
 
Rachel was the love of Jacob’s life and her first-born son is his favorite. And everybody knew that. 
And to make matters worse, according to verse 3, Dad gives him better clothes than the others.  He wears Nikes while everyone else bets Converse.
 
The phrase “robe of many colors” translates a difficult bit of Hebrew. It at least means that the coat was richly embroidered, most likely with long sleeves.  That means it was the kind of robe a son of royalty might wear.
 
It may not have been the wisest thing to do, but we are not told there was anything wrong with him giving this coat to his son. But the fur really hits the fan when Joseph starts wearing this coat.
 
It signaled to his brothers that his father believed him to be destined for greatness.  The long sleeves meant he couldn’t work in the fields the same way his brothers did.
 
About that same time, he has two very interesting dreams. 
 
Verses 5-8
 
Not too hard to figure that one out is it?  Needless to say, his brothers weren’t happy with what he shared.
 
The second dream was even more difficult to take.
 
Verse 9-11
  
And just so we can appreciate what is going on in the family, notice the downward spiral in these verses.  Four times we are told of his brothers hatred for him.
 
In verse 4, his brothers hated him.  Verse 5: They hated him even more. Verse 8, they hated him even more and in verse 11 His brothers were jealous of him.
After that, things begin to transpire very quickly
 
  • The brothers conspire to kill him (v. 18)
  • They begin to mock him (v. 19)
  • They plan to kill him and throw him in one of the nearby pits (v. 20)
  • They ended up throwing him alive into an empty pit (v. 24)
 
Then comes the most callous act of all:
 
  • They ate a meal while he was in the pit (v. 25)
  
While he was screaming for help, his brothers ate a meal, no doubt laughing at their little brother’s shouts from the pit.
 
About that time, along come some desert traders and Judah comes up with a clever plan that will make some money off their brother’s distress:
 
Verse 27
  
So the deal was done.
Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver, the price of a slave.  If that reminds you of someone else sold for 30 pieces of silver, it should. Jesus who was betrayed by Judas was a distant descendant of Judah who sold his own brother.
 
The only thing left to do now is tell the old man.  So they take the coat of many colors, dip it in goat’s blood, and tell their father that a wild animal had killed Joseph.  And Jacob believed it.  And even more callous than eating while their brother is in a pit, they left the family believe Joseph is dead for the next several years.
Meanwhile, Joseph ends up a slave in Egypt.
 
Verse 28, almost as an incidental detail, tells us what happened next.
 
Verse 28
 
Is that not a messed up story?  And did you notice
God is not mentioned in the entire chapter? His name is nowhere to be found. Does it mean he has abandoned Joseph to his brothers’ evil schemes?
 
Not at all!  In fact, Joseph ends up exactly where God wanted him to be.  Even though everything seems to be spinning out of control, at every point Joseph is exactly where the Lord wanted him to be:
 
    In the field with his brothers.
    Reporting to his father.
    Telling his dreams.
    Looking for his brothers.
    Thrown into a pit.
    Sold as a slave.
    Marched off to Egypt.
  
While this chain of events must have seemed dark and chaotic to Joseph, it was all leading exactly where God intended it to go from the beginning.
 
I draw two timeless lessons from this chapter: 
 
1. God’s Work Always Has Opposition
 
Interestingly enough, Joseph’s worst enemies came from the people who should have been closest to him—his own flesh and blood.
 
What started as hatred . . .
Congealed into envy . . .
Which resulted in conspiracy . . .
Which led to violence . . .
That was compounded by callous indifference . . .
And ended in a shocking betrayal . . .
Which was covered with an evil deception.
 
Jesus warned that a man’s enemies will be those of his own household (Matthew 10:36). Let us then not be surprised when people we thought we could trust turn against us. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, the results are devastating.
 
2. God’s Enemies Can’t Stop God’s Will
 
This is the other side of the story.  I don’t know how much Joseph understood and scripture doesn’t give us any details, but from our perspective it is easy to see that behind all the stuff that happened, including the hatred and betrayal and favoritism and dreams
stood the God of the universe, working his will.  And nothing anybody could do would derail the will of God.
 
In fact, years later Joseph would say, “You meant it for evil against me” (Genesis 50:20), and that was no exaggeration. They first meant to kill him and only spared his life because they saw a way to make money off his disappearance. It was evil through and through.
 
Didn’t God know about the betrayal?
Didn’t God know about the slavery?
Didn’t God know about Potiphar’s wife?
Didn’t God know about the false accusations?
Didn’t God know about the prison time?
God knew all those things and a lot more besides.  But Joseph was God’s choice and God led him through all of the slop in order to get His will done. 
 
At the beginning of Genesis 37, Joseph is tending the flocks with his brothers who already hate him. At the end of Genesis 37, he is a slave in Egypt.  If you didn’t know any more of the story of Joseph than that, would you say is he better off or worse off?
 
It depends on your point of view and how much you trust God and how big your God is.
 
That brings us back to the words of Mark Twain:
 
    “There are two great days in a person’s life - the day we are born and the day we discover why.”
 
It took a long time but Joseph eventually discovered why he was born.  He’s not there yet, but everything is just details.
 
Do you know why you were born? Perhaps the right answer should be,
 
“I was born to serve the Lord. Everything else is just details.”
 
When you look at it that way, the real hero of Joseph’s story is not Joseph. It’s God. The whole story illustrates how God accomplishes his purposes for us even when we are clueless about the big picture.
 
That encourages me because I rarely feel like I see the “big picture” of what my life is supposed to mean.
And what little I do understand happens as I look back and see how the pieces fit together.  I have no special knowledge about tomorrow or the day after, much less what the next five years will hold for me. I do believe God has a “blueprint” for my life. I also believe I don’t have access to it. I only see that “blueprint” as it unfolds before me a little bit at a time.
I told you recently about the death of Matthew Warren, the son of Rick and Kay Warren and aI shared with you a letter written by Kay regarding that. 
 
After his son’s suicide, Rick stayed out of the pulpit for almost four months, returning on the weekend of July 27-28.  Because he is so well-known, the event garnered huge media coverage. Rick and Kay both spoke to the Saddleback congregation, thanking them for their love and support. In trying to explain how his Christian faith helped him through this tragedy, Rick said,
 
    “God knows what it’s like to lose a son.”
 
Then he added,
 
    "When you go through a difficult time, you automatically start to try and find an answer. But explanations never comfort. You don’t need explanations; you need the presence of God.”
 
When Elizabeth Dias filed her report for Time Magazine, she ended her article with these words:
 
Then, as the service closed, Rick joined the worship team in singing a favorite evangelical hymn, “Blessed Be Your Name.” He lifted his Bible high above his head and declared boldly to the God he serves: “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.” 
 
Only a man with a big God can talk like that. A small God will never do when tragedy strikes.  We need a big God and the good news is we have one because the God of Joseph is our God too.
 
Stay tuned. Much more to come.
 
You won’t believe what happens when he gets to Egypt.
 
Let’s pray.
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