The story of Joseph in Genesis turned on dreams. And, as a result, so did the history of Israel and all of human history for that matter.
First, Joseph dreamed of his brothers bowing to him and then of his brothers and parents together bowing to him. He was 17 and not yet mature in the area of tact and decorum. He couldn’t keep these night visions to himself, and his broadcasting of them roiled the family.
The brothers, driven by envy at the favoritism shown to Joseph by father Jacob, dumped Joseph into a pit and seriously contemplated murder before choosing a path of lesser evil. They determined to sell him into slavery.
The dreamer was dealt with now. They stripped Joseph of his fine, many-colored cloak and smeared it with goat’s blood. This, they showed Jacob to cover their crime. The ruse worked, and Joseph was far away and presumed dead for more than a decade.
Later, Joseph, while imprisoned in Egypt through false accusation, heard the dreams of two fellow prisoners – the chief cupbearer and chief baker from the court of Pharaoh. These handlers of the drink and the bread of the ruler were troubled – their offenses against Pharaoh were serious. Both men feared for his life and for good reason. Their dreams would prove true, just as Joseph interpreted them. The baker was put to death, the cupbearer restored to his place.
Joseph begged the cupbearer to remember him, and the cupbearer did – two whole years later.
Visions for Preparation
The next dreams in the story are Pharaoh’s dreams. Most unusual visions, they were. Egypt’s leader saw seven ugly skinny cows swallow seven fat cows, but remain ugly and skinny as before. Then, he dreamed seven blighted, thin ears of grain swallowed seven plump, ripe ears.
Joseph, now remembered by the cupbearer, was summoned from prison and brought before Pharaoh to explain the dreams. God gave Joseph the interpretation – years of bounty were coming for Egypt, but also dire years of famine. “Prepare, “ Joseph advised Pharaoh, who not only heeded the advice but also set Joseph over his house and his kingdom.
There’s more to the story, which concludes with Joseph’s father and brothers and their families joining him in Egypt in the midst of the famine years. It’s one of the great accounts of God’s providence and sovereignty in action over the children of Israel.We can swallow things – big, plump things even -- that do little to change us. Click To Tweet
The point of God sending such a dream to Pharaoh was to get his attention. He got a message from the Lord and he heeded it, and saved his people. Fat times were coming for Egypt and many in that empire probably grumbled at the preservation system instituted under Joseph. Pharaoh stayed the course; he let the Joseph plan go forward and it worked.
The interesting pieces of the story to me, however, are the skinny cows and how they picture famine. Cows eating cows? Just the image is incredible, as we know that cows eat grass, not each other.
This imagery shows us that we can swallow things – big, plump things even — that do little to change us. By appearances, these are fat times for Christianity in our nation. But could famine be on the way?
A Need for the Word
The prophet Amos predicted of a time to come for Israel, a time of famine. It would be a famine unlike others – it would be a famine not of bread, but of the Word of God. The people would long for words from the Lord and such words — and men to speak them – would be scarce (see Amos 8:11).
We are getting to that place in America, I fear. But, you say, don’t we have multitudes of Christian bookstores stacked to the ceilings with publications? Yes, we do. Aren’t there mega-churches dotting every major city? Yes, there are.
It seems to me that we’ve entered the era of fast food Christianity. Too many believers are attempting to subsist on diets that consist of prepackaged portions that fail to provide proper spiritual nourishment. They seem to like their doctrine smothered in a sauce of illustrations and seasoned with sprigs of psychology.
These are days when we should chew on Truth; we need to take the time to meditate and assimilate the meat of the Bible. The key is preparation, as it was in the days of Joseph in Egypt when grain was stored up for the trouble to come. Then, the surrounding nations trekked to see Joseph and get what they needed to survive the dearth.
Our resources from God make a difference; they do so now and they will then. Let’s not feed on the plump things of the world. Rather, let’s allow the Word of God to dwell richly in our hearts, our families, and our churches. Our witness is Christ and His sufficiency – it’s a winner; the Bible tells us so.
For more on skinny cows and our place in the world, check out “No Skinny Cows in God’s Economy,” a message preached by Thomas Schaller, pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.