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Worship Message - Detours


Since shortly after Easter, we have been thinking during the Sunday morning messages about some important questions.

To refresh our memories, the questions are

“What is God like?”

“How valuable am I?”

“What happens after we die?”

“Why does God let bad things happen?”

“What makes for good relationships?”

As has been discussed, those are questions we who are Christians might be asked by those who are not. Questions we need to be able to answer Biblically so those who ask them can have reasons for accepting Jesus.

But then what?

After those who ask us those questions have responded to our answers - that God is the Bread of Life and Light of the world, that we are so valuable Jesus offers us salvation, that after we die, those who have rejected Jesus’ offer will face eternity in Hell, but that those who believe in Jesus will spend forever in Heaven, in the presence of Jesus, that God is not to blame when bad things happen, that it is Satan who brings all that is bad, but that God can turn bad things to good, that relationships will be good when respect and love are shown - when those answers are responded to in the positive way of others joining us in accepting Jesus as the Savior He is, then what? And that goes for us, too, who are already Christians. Then what? Is life, after accepting Jesus, just peachy-keen every moment of every day of every year for as long as we live?

The answer to that question is, in a word, “no.” There are still problems to deal with and temptations to survive. Which leads to what will be talked about today and for the next two Sundays as we delve into a discussion of things that can threaten anyone’s relationship with God. Various detours that might come anyone’s way. Including some very well-known Bible people. Including the one we will talk about in this message - the Old Testament Joseph.

I hope, as we are able to answer the questions we have been discussing, the result will be that others will join the ranks of Christians. But the point of these messages - this one and the next two - is that after that, we will need to keep working with those who are new believers because, yes, there are things that have to be faced.

And not just by new believers, but by all who are believers. Even long-time believers need to know the dangers that are all around us so we, too, can be alert to overcome them so we, too, can survive spiritually and help others to do the same.

Today, Joseph and some of the problems and a temptation he faced, which are told about in a few chapters of the Book of Genesis.

We are not going to talk about all of Joseph’s life, but there are three episodes that will be highlighted. Episodes that took Joseph on what might be called detours. Not only physical, but also spiritual detours. And emotional detours. Listen for how Joseph overcame what he faced. May each of us use his example to help us if - when - we are ever faced with detours in our lives.

We will begin in chapter 37 of Genesis, picking up the report in verse 18.

Right before verse 18, Joseph, who was at home with his father, was sent by his dad to go check on his brothers - his ten older brothers - who were out in a field, tending the family’s sheep.

With even that brief setting, it is clear there was some family strife going on. The older 10 sons were working. Joseph was not with them.

Joseph was not with his brothers because he was the favored son of his father, which naturally made the other sons jealous.

In addition, Joseph had a bit of arrogance about him. That came, not only from his favored state, but also because, at times, he had dreams in which he was extra special. Dreams in which his brothers bowed down to him.

Interestingly, that did eventually happen. But Joseph was always eager to share the dreams with his brothers. They were, by Genesis 37:18, very, very tired of him.

Joseph was sent by his father to check on his brothers. Verse 18. As Joseph approached, his brothers saw him in the distance. That was not a happy sight for them, and they began to talk. “Great,” they said, “here comes this dreamer.”

The talk quickly turned to conspiring how they, his brothers, might kill Joseph, which indicates just how tired of him his brothers were.

As Joseph got closer to where his brothers were, the plan had been formed. It was they would kill him and throw him into a nearby pit, then claim a wild beast had devoured him.

That would have happened, except for Reuben, the oldest of Joseph’s brothers. Reuben did agree to have Joseph thrown into a pit. Maybe that would squelch some of the arrogance. “But shed no blood,” Reuben said. “Lay no hand upon Joseph to the extent of killing him.”

The other brothers heeded Reuben’s words. They did not kill Joseph. But they did, when Joseph arrived, strip him of his robe. A very nice robe. A robe better than anything any of the brothers had. It was one of the signs of how favored Joseph was. They stripped him of his robe. They picked him up and carried him to a pit. They cast him into it.

Then they sat down to eat. I assume they did not give any food to Joseph. I imagine he might have called out to them. Maybe he threatened them. “Boy, wait till dad hears about this!”

But then the report turns even more negative for Joseph. You see, Reuben’s plan had been that Joseph would stay in the pit until the fun of demeaning him had worn off. Reuben then planned to rescue Joseph, and that would be the end of it.

But sometime during the meal, Reuben stepped away. It was at that time the rest of the brothers looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders passing by, their camels carrying gum, balm, and myrrh to Egypt.

Seeing that, another of the brothers said, “What profit is it if we kill our brother? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelite's. That way, we will be rid of him, but not by our hands. After all, he is our brother. He is our own flesh. Let’s just sell him.”

The rest of the brothers still at the meal agreed. They called out to the traders, who stopped. The brothers went to the pit. They pulled Joseph out of the pit. A deal was made. Joseph was sold for 20 shekels of silver. Joseph was on his way to Egypt.

Talk about a detour.

A physical detour for Joseph as he was taken away from his home to a foreign land.

A spiritual detour as he was taken away from a land that worshiped God to a land that featured idol worship.

Do you suppose an emotional detour as well? Interestingly, the Bible never gives the moods of Joseph, but don’t you suppose he was discouraged about what happened? Depressed? Upset? I mean, his whole way of life was suddenly changed, Through no design of his own, but at the hands of his brothers.

How did Joseph respond to what happened? Did he try to run away? It is not recorded that he did. Did he drag his feet? Did he yell and scream? We don’t know. Did he withdraw into depression so much he was no good to anyone?

He might have done that last part for a while. Including when he arrived in Egypt and was put on the trading block where slaves were purchased. How demeaning that must have been. How scary.

But listen. If withdrawing is what he did for a while, it is not what he kept doing, which takes us to chapter 39 of Genesis.

What happened was this. From the trading block, Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh - Potiphar, maybe the #2 in authority in all of Egypt - the captain of Egypt’s leader’s guard - bought Joseph.

Guess what. Right away, Joseph became a successful man. Which means he did not allow the physical, spiritual, emotional detours he had faced to ruin him.

Of course, as the wording has it, God was with him. But Joseph allowed God to continue to work with him. Even in Egypt. Even after being sold by his brothers.

How successful was Joseph? Well, he stayed in the house of Potiphar. Everything Joseph did for Potiphar prospered. So much so, Potiphar appointed Joseph overseer of his house. Joseph was put in charge of all Potiphar had. With Joseph in charge, God blessed Potiphar’s house. The blessing extended even to Potiphar’s fields.

But then, another detour.

It is reported Joseph was handsome and good-looking. Which happened to catch the eye of Potiphar’s wife, who tried to seduce Joseph. Actually, there was not much intrigue involved. “Lie with me,” she said.

Joseph refused. Why? Because, he explained to her, to betray the trust of Potiphar would be unfair to his master, and it would be a sin against God.

Think of it. Joseph was handsome and good-looking. He was young, so the hormones were raging. And hey, God had allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery and taken to a foreign land. I suppose Joseph might have considered God not worthy of being obeyed anymore.

But none of that affected what Joseph did. His decision was not to betray Potiphar or sin against God. Joseph refused Potiphar’s wife’s invitation. Her demand.

Unfortunately for Joseph, Potiphar’s wife was reluctant to take no for an answer. So it was that day after day, she kept inviting him to lie with her.

Then one day, Joseph happened to be alone in the house. Before, there had always been others at least in the vicinity. One day, he was alone.

Potiphar’s wife saw that. She went to him, grabbed his garment, and again said, “Lie with me.”

Yet again, Joseph chose to not betray his master or sin against God. He simply turned around and fled out of the house.

Again unfortunately for Joseph, he was in at least a bit of a state of undress as he fled. Unfortunately, Potiphar’s wife still had his garment in her hand. Unfortunately, this latest rejection sent the woman into a rage.

A rage that caused here to lie. She lied when she called to the other men of her house to enter and accused Joseph of trying to attack her. She had cried out, she said, and he had run away - unclothed. But shat shame - what insult - the foreigner had brought.

That is what Potiphar’s wife reported, not only to the others in the house, but also to her husband Potiphar.

When Potiphar heard his wife’s report, his anger was kindled, which resulted in the order that Joseph be arrested and put into prison.

Talk about a detour.

A physical detour as he was taken away from a position of authority in a nice house.

A spiritual detour as it at least appeared he was once again forsaken by God. Of course, God had helped Joseph to recover from being sold by his brothers. But now here he was, thrown into prison. And hey, he was being punished for something he did not do. In fact, he had done what was right, according to God. He had done what was right, though all of nature must have been working on him to betray Potiphar and sin against God. He had done right, and here he was in prison. What happened had to have been very unsettling spiritually.

Do you suppose this was another emotional detour as well? As mentioned earlier, the Bible never gives the moods of Joseph, but don’t you suppose he was discouraged? Depressed? Upset? I mean, this was another big, very unhappy change in his life. Another change that came through no design of his own, but this time at the hands of a lying, seductive wife of another man.

How did Joseph respond to what happened? Did he try to run away from prison? It is not recorded that he did. Did he drag his feet? Did he yell and scream? We don’t know. Did he withdraw into depression so much he was no good to anyone?

He might have done that last part for a while. But listen. God was with Joseph. He was with him, showing him steadfast love, doing that by giving Joseph favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Resulting in the keeper of the prison committing to Joseph the care of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, Joseph was the doer of it.

Genesis 40. In his position of authority, Joseph befriended two fellow prisoners. Prisoners who, before their imprisonment, had been the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh. They had done something to offend Pharaoh. He had become angry with them. He had ordered them to the prison where Joseph was in charge.

One night, the butler and the baker each had a dream. The dreams were bothersome. The next day, Joseph noticed they looked troubled and asked what was wrong. They each told him of the dreams. Joseph, by the power of God, interpreted the dreams for them.

When the baker told his dream - a dream about three baskets of bread on his head, the topmost one being surrounded by birds eating the bread in it - Joseph gave a very disturbing interpretation. It was that in three days, Pharaoh would lift the baker’s head - as in, lift it off his body - as in, being beheaded. The baker was then to be hung on a tree. The birds would eat his flesh from him.

Wow. Wouldn’t that be horrible to hear? Especially after the glowing interpretation the butler received first. When the butler had told his dream to Joseph - in that dream there was a vine, on which were three branches, which budded, its blossoms shooting forth and turning into clusters that ripened into grapes, which the butler pressed into Pharaoh’s cup, which he placed in Pharaoh's hand - the interpretation was this. In three days Pharaoh would lift up the butler’s head - not off his body, but to his former position as chief butler. He would be restored to the position he had enjoyed before his imprisonment.

That  would   have  been  good  to  hear. But then Joseph had a request. It was, “Remember me.” Joseph said, “When it is well with you - when you are restored - please do me the kindness of making mention of me to Pharaoh so that I, too, may be released from this prison.”

Three days later, it was Pharaoh’s birthday. During his birthday party, he called for both the baker and the butler to be brought to him.

Just as Joseph had interpreted, the baker was hanged. What a strange way Pharaoh had of celebrating. But also just as interpreted, the butler was restored. He was reappointed chief butler.

What a great thing that was for the butler. But guess what. As soon as he was reappointed, he forgot all about Joseph’s request. Because of that, he did not make mention of Joseph to Pharaoh. Which means Joseph continued to be in prison.

Talk about a detour.

A physical detour as he was not released from prison. Of course, even if he had been released, he would still have been a slave. But he would not have been stuck in prison.

A spiritual detour as it at least appeared he was once again forsaken by God. And yes, God had helped Joseph recover from being sold by his brothers. God had helped him recover from the shock of being sentenced to prison. But now, when he had helped a fellow prisoner and had made a very simple request for a favor in return, he had been forgotten. God had again let him suffer. Though not reported, that had to have been very unsettling spiritually.

Do you suppose this was another emotional detour as well? One more time, the Bible never gives the moods of Joseph, but don’t you suppose he was discouraged? Depressed? Upset? I mean, being forgotten kept him in prison, which was another big, very unhappy change in his life. Another change that came through no design of his own, but this time at the hands of an ungrateful fellow prisoner who had been released.

How did  Joseph respond to what happened? Did he try to run away? It is not recorded that he did. Did he drag his feet? Did he yell and scream? We don’t know. Did he withdraw into depression so much he was no good to anyone?

He might have done that last part for a while. But if he did, it did not last. We know that because, according to the first part of Genesis 41, two years later, a very amazing thing began.

First, Pharaoh had a dream, which he did not understand. He was troubled by that, which came to the attention of the chief butler, who said to Pharaoh, “Wait. There is a man named Joseph, who is in prison, who is able to interpret dreams. He did that for me. Oh, no,” the butler added. “I was supposed to mention him to you two years ago. Oops. I guess I forgot to do that.”

Very quickly, Pharaoh called for Joseph to be brought to him. That happened.

Pharaoh told his dream. Actually, two dreams. In the first, there were seven healthy cows and seven sickly ones. The sickly ones ate the healthy ones. In the second, there were seven full ears of corn and seven thin ones. The thin ones swalled up the full ones. Pharaoh told his dreams, which Joseph interpreted.

By the way, Joseph, just as he had done earlier with the baker and the butler, gave God credit for his ability to interpret dreams.

Joseph interpreted the dream to mean that after seven wonderful years of agricultural plenty, seven horrible years of devastating famine would follow.

Joseph ended his interpretation with some advice. Joseph  counseled  Pharaoh  to  select  a  man  who was discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. That man would oversee the taking of 20% of what would be produced in Egypt during the seven plenteous years. He would oversee the storing of that amount in various cities of Egypt. That is what would be used during the seven years of famine that would follow the seven good years. That is what Joseph recommended so Egypt would not perish during the famine.

Pharaoh agreed with the advice. And guess who the discreet and wise man was who was selected. Yep. It was Joseph, who overtook even Potiphar in ascending to the #2 position of authority in all of Egypt.

And yes, it was because of Joseph’s work that when the famine did happen and continued year after year and affected not only Egypt, but all the surrounding nations, including where Joseph’s brothers - his older brothers - the ones who had sold him into slavery - along with a younger brother who had been born after the selling of Joseph - it was because of Joseph’s work that not only did Egyptians survived, but so, too, did Joseph’s family survive.

*       *       *       *       *

Detours. Joseph certainly faced them. Physically as he was sold into slavery, as he was sent to prison, as his release from prison was delayed. Spiritually as he must have felt forsaken by God, especially when he was sent to prison after obeying God’s teaching on purity. Emotionally. Again, though the Bible never gives the moods of Joseph, I suppose he was discouraged, depressed, upset, at least at times. I wonder if he ever doubted his faith in God.

Detours. Do you - do I - will those new to the Christian faith - ever face them physically, spiritually, emotionally? They can come when plans do not materialize as we foresee. Plans of where we will be and what we will do with school and jobs and even ministries. They can come when we have difficulties after being obedient to God. Difficulties including rejection because of our obedience. They can come because it is easy to feel forsaken and forgotten.

But again listen. We can try to run away from God’s plans. We can drag our feet or yell and scream when bad things happen to us. We can withdraw into depression so much we are of no good to anyone.

Instead, may we do what Joseph did each of the times he faced detours. Each time detours were forced upon him. He kept allowing God to work in his life. An allowance that led to maybe the most famous words Joseph ever spoke. Words spoken to his brothers many, many years after they sold him. Words recorded in chapter 50 0f Genesis in verse 20. “As for you, you meant evil against me.” That might be said concerning most of the bad things that happen to us. “But God meant it for good.”

Detours. Yes, they do come. But along whatever physical, spiritual, emotional detours we encounter - whatever detours we are forced to follow - may we know and may we trust that God is still in control and will work things out for our good. He will do that if we will let Him do so. May we know that and live by it. May we share that with others.

Today’s closing song is a hymn that will remind us God is loving and present wherever we are - even when we are on detours. The hymn is None Is Like God Who Reigns Above.

None is like God, who reigns above,

So great, so pure, so high;

none is like God, whose name in Love,

And who is always nigh.

In all the earth there is no spot

Excluded from His care;

We cannot go where God is not,

For He is everywhere.

He is our best and kindest Friend,

And guards us night and day;

To all our wants He will attend,

And answer when we pray.

O if we love Him as we ought,

And on His grace rely,

We shall be joyful at the thought

That God is always nigh.

Detours. They come along the way for everyone. Including those who are Christians - new Christians and old Christians alike.

When detours come our way, may we look to people like Joseph, who, though he might have been bothered, at least from time, did not give in to discouragement. Instead, he continued to trust God. He continued to let God work things out. To the point that whatever was intended for evil did turn out for good. God’s good. Joseph saw that. May we experience it as well. Amen.

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