In Genesis 41 Joseph rises to unimaginable power over Egypt, being second only to Pharaoh, and through his wise governance as Egypt’s grand steward, Egypt is saved from famine, as is the whole known world. This rise to power, however, is not a tale of selfish ambition; rather, it is a tale of Joseph’s faithful service to God and man through the application of his God-given gifts. In the same way, as we work, we must ensure that our heart is set on honoring God and not on selfish ends.
I intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and I have quickly uncovered these two distinct and possible motivations. Although they may express themselves in different ways, throughout the history of man’s struggle to walk with God on earth, they are always the same. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Here on earth, every day we must choose the object of our heart’s following: the Lord or other ‘gods,’ whether they be money, reputation, power, or anything else. In practice, working for a Senator, I can choose: will I “work unto the Lord,” faithfully applying my gifts for the sake of service to my boss and his constituents, or will I work diligently, with the exact same results, in order that I might be seen and known as a hard worker, for the sake of my own self promotion. This latter motivation is always tempting. I feel the tension in my heart.
How did Joseph rise to power? In terms of Biblical law, the means always matter. The means may in fact be what God most values. In Numbers, Israel sojourns in the wilderness. Their end is the Promised Land, assured in God’s covenant with Abraham. Unfortunately, along the way, Israel falls into sin, distrusts the Lord, and grumbles about wanting to return to Egypt, even in spite of the magnificent light of God’s redemptive act of the Exodus and His ongoing provision of manna and water in the desert. But Israel did not remember the Lord, nor trust Him as a good God. The result: 40 years of semi-nomadic existence in a trackless waste.
In the narrative of Jacob and Esau, the Lord tells Rebekah that Jacob, the younger, “shall be stronger than the other [Esau].” Despite this promise, Rebekah, impatient to see fruition, encourages her son, whose name means ‘he cheats,’ to pretend to be Esau in order to receive Isaac’s blessing on the firstborn. God all along had desired to bless Jacob, but Jacob, as the narrative amply attests, repeatedly acts on his own to get what was going to be given to him anyway. The result: a long struggle with Esau and with God, a great wrestling, but at last a new name.
In Genesis, there are numerous other examples: Sarai and Hagar, the Tower of Babel, and of course Adam and Eve. By devising our own means to achieve what God has promised, we demonstrate our lack of trust in God —and the result can only be futility and increased difficulty for us. Whether the end is the Promised Land, or Old Testament familial blessing, God desires that we walk with Him and continually trust in His promises. Faith is the proper means.
In the Joseph narrative, Joseph demonstrates his full faith in God through actions that lead him to be in charge of Egypt, a ‘promise’ of God foretold in Joseph’s prophetic dreams as a youth. Even in the halls of power in Egypt, Joseph does not turn away from his Maker. He does not forget. As an alien in a foreign land, Joseph refuses to be tempted by Potiphar’s wife and remembers that it is the Lord who has given him the power to interpret dreams. Joseph walks with faith. The result: Joseph images Christ. He blesses his family and all the nations, delivering the whole world from famine. In the halls of power in the Senate and in any other work situation, we must also consider how we choose to walk.
God has not promised me worldly success: I have not had a prophetic dream in which the Hollywood sign, New York skyscrapers, and the 435 Congressmen and 9 justices bow down to me. However, just as He did for Joseph, He cares about the state of my heart as I work. Will I chose to trust Him along the way and trust that He will provide for me, however it be, or will I chose to anxiously maneuver my own success, with a heart of distrust. Will I serve God or will I serve worldly success?
Joseph probably did not know what his early dreams meant. In the pits of the dungeon, Joseph probably would never have thought that he soon would be second in command in all Egypt. But the means are always clear, even when the end is not. The Lord was with Joseph. By trusting in the Lord and working diligently, Joseph, highly responsible, was used by the sovereign God in a miraculous way.
Where am I tempted to create “short cuts” to get to God’s plan?
Tommy Kent interns on Capitol Hill and is a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.
Images: FreeImages.com/Sharon Baseman, Daniel Diaz