Finding the Heart of God: Joseph’s Story
Expository Sermon as Part of Bible Year plan
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 1/15/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch

Please open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 37.

This morning we’re going to take something like a helicopter ride over the life of Joseph. Joseph not only understood the heart of God – but he also reflected that heart in several ways. I’d like us to discover four of the ways Joseph reflected God’s heart.

Joseph’s story happens not too long after 2000 BC. Though he doesn’t know it, over in Britain, Stonehenge has become the center of religious worship. The kingdom of Babylon has already developed a system of geometry, and knows the signs of the zodiac.

Joseph lives in Palestine. He’s the next-to-youngest son of Jacob, and he and Benjamin are their father’s favorite sons, because they were born to his best-loved wife Rachel, who died in childbirth as Benjamin was born.

And if you know something about the Bible, you know that this was no ordinary family. Jacob’s grandfather was Abraham. God had called Abraham all the way over from what is now Iraq, over to Palestine, where God wanted him to locate his family and show other people in the area what it looks like to worship the true God.

Abraham gave this news to his son Isaac, and Isaac told it to his 12 sons, including Joseph. The 10 oldest sons, however, didn’t always take this very seriously. If you’re reading along with our Bible year plan, you may be rolling your eyes at the way some of the people who were supposed to belong to God behave.

But Joseph does take this connection with God seriously. Watch what happens when we first see Joseph.

Genesis 37:1 – 2 [NKJV]: Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father.

So, was Joseph a tattletale or not? When I was a kid, being a tattletale was frowned upon by your fellow children. And that was because I tattletale often “hold on” other kids either to get them in trouble or two try to curry favor with the teacher.

But Joseph is 17 years old. A better way to think of Joseph would be a “whistleblower.” Being a tattletale is a childish practice. But being a whistleblower is a grown-up, thoughtful response to people who are getting away with evil that does damage.

Joseph has heard how his great-grandpa Abraham was called by God to be an influence on a widening circle of people. God promised Abraham that his descendents would be numerous. Joseph had heard his father Isaac repeat the very words God had spoken to him, Isaac, in Genesis 26:4, 5: “And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

So Joseph knows – with absolute certainty – that God thinks it is supremely important for people to obey His voice, His commandments, His statutes, and His laws.

So naturally, when he sees his brothers behaving in a much different way, naturally Joseph is going to blow the whistle. So he goes to dad, who heard those important words from God’s own lips, and make his agonized report.

So let’s lay down Sermon Point One, if you happen to be taking notes. I mentioned that we are going to be watching as Joseph reflects the heart of God. God requires people to behave righteously, like Abraham did. And Joseph believes this too.

So what’s our first sermon point? Here it is:

Reflecting God’s heart, Joseph hated evil.

Did Joseph really hate evil? We know very definitely that he did. Over in Genesis 39, when Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him, he backs away in horror. After reminding her that she is married, and that her husband trust him implicitly, he asked her, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)

There’s a good chance that if Joseph’s older brothers had been tempted in this way, they wouldn’t have had the same gut-reaction. But Joseph knew that what Mrs. Potiphar was suggesting was adultery, and he knew that adultery is a great wickedness and the a against God.

So, reflecting God’s heart, Joseph hated evil.

So what do we do with this, now that we know it? I believe we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the same visceral reaction two evil. I believe we need to pray our way through the Sermon on the Mount, starting in Matthew 5. The Sermon on the Mount talks about what happens inside you, your motives and emotions – and in Jesus insists that if these motives and emotions are not dealt with and modified by the Holy Spirit, they might work their way out into physical actions. And even if they don’t, the soul will shrivel.

Now let’s hunt for another way Joseph reflected the heart of God. Jacob sends Joseph out to see how his brothers are doing. They are shepherding their father’s flocks many miles away. Joseph is very unpopular with his brothers. Not only did he blow the whistle on them, but he dreamed a couple of dreams which prophesied that they would eventually bow down to him. Also, his father showed his favoritism to Joseph by making him a beautiful coat, and Joseph wears it proudly.

So when the brothers see Joseph coming toward them, they first decide to kill him – and thus snuff out those dreams for good. But the cooler heads among them decide this isn’t a good idea. So instead, they toss him down into a pit which he can’t escape from. The idea is to let him die of hunger.

Ruben, the oldest brother, secretly plans to get Joseph out of the pit and send him home, but for some reason he’s not around when the brothers see a caravan of Ishmaelites heading toward Egypt. They pull Joseph out of the pit and sell him to the Ishmaelites. Then they take Joseph’s coat, dip it in some blood, and take it back to Dad. Jacob assumes that Joseph has been killed by a wild beast.

And as he travels toward Egypt, Joseph knows that slavery isn’t something you graduate from. Humanly speaking, there’s a good chance that he will always be a slave, and die a slave.

But watch what happens.

Genesis 39:1 – 6: Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. . . .

Ready for Sermon Point Two? Here it is:

Reflecting God’s heart, Joseph not only hated evil, but Joseph could be trusted with matters big and small.

And you you know anything about Joseph’s story, this faithful pattern repeats itself again and again. On Captain Potiphar’s estate, Joseph is given all the keys. Joseph takes charge of everything. Nobody has to delegate any detail whatever to somebody else. Joseph probably doesn’t do all the work, but he finds and trains trustworthy fellow-servants, and together they get the job done. Potiphar quickly realizes that Joseph will handle everything.

Then comes Mrs. Potiphar’s false accusations, and Joseph ends up in prison. But once he’s gathered his wits about him, he doesn’t seem to have dwelt too long moaning and groaning about how his life as a young adult is not going well. Doors of opportunity are slamming shut. In those days they don’t seem to have had prison sentences. You just got locked up in prison until somebody got good and ready to let you out.

But notice what Joseph does:

Verses 20 – 23: Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.

Joseph could be trusted with matters big and small. Jesus highly approved of this attitude. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus quotes the owner of another estate, who has given three of his servants some money and the opportunity to do some investing. The third servant simply goes and hides the money, then digs it up when the master returns, and the estate owner dismisses him with annoyance. But to the first two servants, who have each worked hard and doubled their money, the owner says, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” Matthew 25:23

And I have a strong feeling that “the joy of the Lord” is exactly what these servants – and Joseph – have been doing: investing their whole hearts and lives and energies and brains in making things go smoothly and profitably.

But does this reflect the heart of God? No doubt about it. Jesus claimed that God is able, at a moments notice, to provide an inventory of my hair follicles. God not only created the sparrows, but provides for them.

So as we look ahead into the weeks beyond, what do we do with what we just learned?

Well, I believe God wants us to be trustworthy no matter what task we are doing. Whether it’s a school assignment, or a work task, or a volunteer role we have, Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” If you look at the context, Paul is talking to bond servants. At age 17, Joseph became a bondservant, and a little later he became a prisoner. But whatever he did, he did it well and completely.

Not too long ago, Shelley and I finally refinanced our mortgage. The main person we worked with seem not to be as interested as she could be in us. But then we were contacted with another person, and he was the ultimate in quick and efficient service. And I remember thinking, “Well, I suppose the first person might’ve had a lot on her plate. But the second person goes above and beyond to care for me and respond to me.” This man was a real Joseph.

So what is “in your lane,” this week? What are the fun things to do, and what are the not-so-fun things to do? If they are legal and moral, do them as though you are doing them for the Lord in person. Be God’s servant even as you serve another human being or organization. And the next time you see a bird fly, remember that God is breathtakingly a God of details.

Joseph’s story is an exciting one, and takes up quite a bit of the last part of Genesis. But I can find at least one more way in which Joseph reflected the heart of God, a very important way.

It’s sad to have to hurry over the dramatic details, but the bottom line is that while Joseph was in prison, he got the chance to interpret a couple of dreams which to other prisoners had had. He very clearly told them that interpreting dreams can only be done by God, and it turned out that both of Joseph’s predictions came true.

Later, Pharaoh the king of Egypt had two dreams which really bothered him. As he was fretting about them, one of Joseph’s former fellow-prisoners heard him, and remembered that Joseph had correctly predicted his own dream.

So Pharaoh called for Joseph. After telling Pharaoh that dream-interpreting is God’s business, Joseph interpreted these dreams as well. They had to do with Egypt’s economic future. There would be seven good agricultural years, and then a seven-year famine. Joseph promptly suggested what needed to be done, and Pharaoh put Joseph in charge. And the same pattern happened again – Pharaoh turned everything over to Joseph, and didn’t need to micromanage him because he knew that Joseph was trustworthy.

And then comes the absolutely delightful story of how Joseph’s brothers, after 13 years, come down to Egypt to buy grain, because the famine is happening up in Palestine too. They have no clue that this clean-shaven, imperious official is Joseph, and step by step he walks them through a terrifying time of soul-searching.

But finally, as his older brother Judah desperately pours out his heart to the one he thinks is a suspicious Egyptian prime minister, Joseph realizes how repentant Judah and the other brothers are.

Watch what happens:

Genesis 45:1 – 8: Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Make everyone go out from me!” So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

Reflecting God’s heart, Joseph not only hated evil, and not only could he be trusted with matters big and small, but reflecting God’s heart, Joseph was merciful.

Notice how Joseph says that God had worked this out all along? How long had Joseph known this? This of course is amazingly true, but when did Joseph catch on. We know it wasn’t right away, because after Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s butler’s dream, and once he knew that the butler would be going back to the palace, Joseph makes an urgent request of him:

Genesis 40:14 – 15: But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon.”

At this point, Joseph was in his late 20s. He’s been in prison for several years. Yet after the butler leaves, it will be two more years before Joseph is released.

When did it “click” in Joseph’s mind that all this was God’s doing? We don’t know. But we do know that Joseph had worked this so completely that when he reunites with his brothers, he is able to explain to them that this was God’s plan, and show them mercy. What his brothers had done was wrong—but God is a genius at bringing good out of bad.

Was Joseph’s mercy a reflection of God’s heart? If course. One reason we know this is that “merciful” is God’s favorite word to describe Himself. How do we know that? Because of something you’ll read in a couple of weeks in our Bible reading plan. When Moses begged God to show him His (God’s) glory, God started repeating a description of Himself.

In Exodus 34:6, God said, ““The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.” Sure, truth is great, and so is goodness, and so is longsuffering. But what’s the first thing God called Himself? “Merciful.”

Which means that if you and I are to reflect God’s heart, we need to be merciful too. And we need to be merciful in the way Joseph was. Joseph could have snarled to his brothers, “Okay, guys. I’ll let you off the hook just this time. But you’d better not step out of line again. Got it?”

But Joseph showed them mercy in a way that brought God’s own mercy into the picture. And that picture was a “big picture.”

I have always loved cartoons – the comic strip kind, the kind that show up in the New Yorker magazine. For a while I started buying books on cartooning, and practicing with pen and ink.

And one of the things I learned from one of those books was that you can’t always see your own drawings the way other people can. You need to put a little distance between what you’ve done, so that you can see it as part of the larger picture.
What I’m holding in my hand is a tool that does exactly that. It’s called a “reducing glass.” It looks like a magnifying glass, but it does the exact opposite. It has a concave lens rather than a convex one. And when you hold this and look at something through it, it pushes what you’re looking at further into the future and gives you a wider view of it.

As I understand it, artists used to use these all the time. It might not be as useful nowadays with digital art, but I always kept it as a reminder that I need to see things in life as part of a bigger picture.

Even though Joseph’s entire young adult years were disgusted, first by slavery and then by incarceration, all along the way, Joseph seemed to have been able to see a bigger picture than the people around him.

And the reason, of course, was that he was acquainted with God, and God’s plans. God can see the biggest picture of all. God does what He does with eternity in mind, and the more acquainted we become with glimpses of His bigger picture, the more merciful we will be.

Joseph knew God’s promises to his great-grandpa Abraham, and no matter what happened, Joseph stood firmly on those promises. And this helped Him reflect God’s heart.

How about you? Do you want to join me this year finding out more of the big picture which God displays before us as we read His Word? Do you want to discover its many promises we can claim, so you can mirror God’s heart to the people in your life? Raise your hand if that’s your desire.