“The Thing is Fixed by God” – Genesis 41:1-36

by Mar 7, 2021Sermons0 comments

Hear now the word of the Lord from Genesis 41:1-36.

41 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.”
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. 18 Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, 21 but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. 22 I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 24 and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” Genesis 41:1-36, ESV

There was an article published a couple of days ago in the Wall Street Journal about the concept of happiness. You probably know that over this past year, rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed up as people have struggled to cope with everything that has gone on during this past year. One thing I learned that I didn’t know, from this article was that even before the pandemic happiness levels had already been gradually declining in the time frame from 2008 to 2019, before the pandemic started, people in the United States grew increasingly less happy with their lives. We should perhaps note that’s the exact timeline in which smartphones entered our lives, but that wasn’t the focus of the article.

The article was actually focusing on the question of how do we fix this? How do people become happy? So in this article they consulted the research of neuroscientists, economists, psychologists, biologists, and others. They asked, “do we need to manipulate brain chemistry or do we need a virtual reality life coach?” Yes, that was one of the opportunities that were suggested, as though the only thing holding us back from true happiness after a year of Zoom meetings is more virtual reality.

In this article, and perhaps this is no surprise, there was not a single word about God. There wasn’t even a general appeal to whatever kind of faith that you want to believe in. In this article there was a failure to recognize that these questions of happiness and satisfaction, these aren’t technology questions, these aren’t science questions, these are questions of wisdom.

So, from this article I think there are two important insights. The first is that people are more desperate now than ever before, or at least for a long time, to find happiness. We’re a very desperate people to find happiness. The second issue is that people are just as unwilling as they always have been to look to God for happiness. We’re more desperate now than ever, but we are still equally as unwilling to look to God for happiness as we ever have been.

What this means is that this moment in time is both a crisis, but it’s also an opportunity you see. When things are going well in our lives, the years 2008 through 2019, when things are going well we tend to keep doing whatever it is that we have been doing, even if our happiness is sort of gradually declining. Well if it isn’t too broke, well let’s not worry too much about fixing it. We keep doing what we have been doing. So, sometimes it takes a full-blown crisis to recognize that we have been pursuing the wrong things all along.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to recognize that, and this is our big idea, God alone gives true wisdom.

In this story we are looking at Pharaoh king of Egypt, a pagan king, who is facing a crisis of wisdom. So, in the three sections of the story we will see,

1. Lacking True Wisdom
2. Looking for True Wisdom
3. Learning True Wisdom

Lacking True Wisdom

41 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. 8 So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
Genesis 41:1-8, ESV

So we start in the crisis that comes up in the first eight verses, in this part where Pharaoh is lacking true wisdom. First we are reminded in the very first verse that this is a story really not ultimately about Pharaoh, but about Joseph more properly. So we read, “after two whole years” in verse one.

Well what are these two whole years after we might ask? Well the Bible is talking about the previous story in Genesis chapter 40 that we looked at last week, where Joseph had been in prison for some time, although we’re not sure how long he’d been in prison before Genesis 40 took place. While he was there he was with two royal court officials who had offended Pharaoh and been put in prison, the chief baker and the chief cupbearer.

While they were there they both had dreams, individual dreams, and Joseph interpreted each dream according to its distinct interpretation. Just as Joseph had interpreted, three days after those dreams happened the baker was put to death, whereas the chief cupbearer was promoted back to his office. We remember in verse 23 that the chief cupbearer, even though Joseph had asked him to remember him to put in a good word with him for Pharaoh, the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph (Genesis 40:23).

He didn’t remember Joseph, but also he forgot him. That repetition, did not remember and forgot, gets to something of the pain that Joseph must have felt at being not remembered and forgotten. It isn’t that this is a brief pain, this lasts two whole years, which brings us into the story that we’re looking at in chapter 41.

What starts this story is when Pharaoh has a dream of his own and we read that he has this dream in two parts. The first part has to do with a set of cows. There were seven attractive and plump cows who were devoured by seven ugly and thin cows. We’ll say more about this in a moment, but the word that keeps coming up, at least in the English Standard Version, for ugly is the word evil. These are evil cows who are devouring the seven attractive and plump cows. That’s the first part of this dream. The second part of this dream talks about seven plump and good ears of grain which are swallowed by seven thin and blighted ears of grain.

So one dream in two parts, and in verse eight we read that when Pharaoh wakes up in the morning his spirit was troubled. When we see that Pharaoh’s spirit is troubled, we are seeing God at work. God not only gave Pharaoh these dreams, but God is not letting Pharaoh just sort of dismiss them in the morning, to say whoa those are crazy dreams and to share it over a laugh with his royal court officials. No, he realizes that he is facing a crisis. He needs wisdom to understand these dreams, because he knows deep in his soul that these dreams are saying something significant.

So, he has a crisis of wisdom to try to understand what is being communicated to him through these more than ordinary dreams. So, Pharaoh tries to address his crisis by the science and the technology of his day. He calls to all the magicians and all the wise men of Egypt and he calls to them to try to give him some information. Whether we are appealing to neuroscientists today to solve our wisdom issues, or whether we are dealing with magicians as Pharaoh did, the goal in both cases then and now is the same; we’re trying to find some human means of controlling our circumstances of our lives. This is what Pharaoh is trying to do, but he doesn’t get a satisfactory answer.

We read that he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men, but we read Pharaoh told them his dreams but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. Now this doesn’t mean that no one tried to interpret these dreams for Pharaoh, what it rather means is that all of the explanations that were given to him, however many were given, no one was able to give him a satisfactory explanation for what he had dreamed. Pharaoh knows in his bones that this is a significant dream, but no one is answering to his satisfaction what these dreams mean.

Now we may get a hint of the disconnect between Pharaoh’s sense that he’s having a significant dream and the inability of the wise man and the magician to interpret these in verse 8. A commentator Meir Sternberg points out that most of our Bibles actually slightly mistranslate this at the end of verse 8. The sentence reads this, “Pharaoh told them his dreams (plural), but there was none who could interpret them (plural) to Pharaoh. Really what this says is, “that Pharaoh told them his dream (singular, he had one dream) but there was none who could interpret them.” Here’s where we do see the plural ,no one could interpret them to Pharaoh.

Now this is subtle, but what it suggests is that the Egyptian wise men and magicians must have seen these two different dreams as being two different dreams and having different interpretations. Just as Joseph had interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the dreams of the baker differently, so they are giving different interpretations to the dreams about the cows and the corn. In fact Pharaoh knows somehow that this is not right. He has told them his dream, but they don’t interpret it rightly because they’re trying to give it a two-fold meaning.

A couple of points that back this up. I find this persuasive, back in verse 5 notice that when Pharaoh fell asleep we read that he dreamed a second time. He doesn’t dream a second dream, we read he dreamed a second time. Earlier we read that he dreamed a dream, but now we read he simply dreamed not a new dream, but he dreamed a second time.

The other thing that supports this is that in verse 25, when Joseph finally interprets Pharaoh’s dream for him, the first thing out of his mouth is to insist that the dreams of Pharaoh are one. He is dealing with one dream that makes the same message in two different ways. At the end of the day, Pharaoh knows that whatever his magicians and wise men are giving him, they’re not able to give him the satisfactory wisdom that he needs. Among all his best advisors, he’s not able to get what he is looking for.

Now we live in a day where we don’t think too much about wisdom. Wisdom is not too much on our minds. We don’t live in the age of wisdom, we live in what we call the age of information. We think that information will save us. We’re not too worried about wisdom. I mean consider if you had a very practical important decision to make, would you want more information, and especially would you want statistical probabilities calculated for you on a supercomputer, or would you consult a learned philosopher? Probably you don’t even know where to find a learned philosopher.

So we, just by definition, are constantly looking for more and more information rather than wisdom. Our love of information, what we have to see in this, isn’t to try to sidestep the question of wisdom. Even though we downplay and devalue wisdom, it’s actually a different approach, a different attempt to find ultimately wisdom for our lives.

This point is was made really clear to me when I was watching an advertisement for a master class on skepticism by Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He is a prominent agnostic, he is an astrophysicist. If you really had to ask him what is he looking to for wisdom? He is looking to for the answers and the information that science can tell us. The reason he doesn’t believe in God is he sees no scientific evidence for this. But he is offering a masterclass, and I’m not sure why this was marketed to me, but I watched the advertisement. Here’s the line that caught my attention. He says, “by the time we’re done you’ll be equipped with some of the methods and tools, so you can turn data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge” and here’s where the music swells and he has a dramatic pause, “knowledge to wisdom.”

Understand the world offers us a path toward wisdom and it’s the path of science and technology. Still we are trying to control our circumstances just as much as Pharaoh was when he called the scientists and the technologists of his day, the magicians and the wise men. Whether you’re looking to science or statistics or philosophy or the Bible, those can answer some questions in various ways. But ultimately we are all seeking wisdom. The only question is where can you find true wisdom? Is it in the Bible or is it some other human source of information?

Looking for True Wisdom

Well, because Pharaoh cannot get true wisdom by the science and technology of his day, he’s open to other options. This is in fact the moment that God has been preparing for Joseph. This crisis becomes an opportunity for Pharaoh to learn true wisdom. So in our second section we see that Pharaoh is looking for true wisdom in verses 9 through 13.

9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.” Genesis 41:9-13, ESV

We read that the cup bearer, who formerly did not remember Joseph in 40:23, now he says, “I remember my offenses today”. Now this is a risky thing for the cup bearer to do, to remind the one who can still throw him into prison, who can still hang him like the baker had been hanged, it’s a risky thing for him to remind Pharaoh of his previous offenses. However this leads into the story of how he met a young Hebrew there in prison who was able to interpret his dreams.

What we should notice then is that in the providence of God, the sovereignty of God, this delay of two whole years has actually worked out in Joseph’s favor. I mean think about if two years previously the cupbearer had come fresh from prison and say, “Pharaoh you have got to meet this Egyptian slave who is a convicted criminal. He’s awesome! He can interpret with wisdom!”

Now Pharaoh would have been in his good years, this would have been like 2008 to 2019. He would have had no need for the wisdom. He may have though, “I may be getting less happy, but I don’t need to fix anything because nothing is all that broken.” But now there’s a moment where Pharaoh is desperate for wisdom. He is troubled in his spirit, his best advisors cannot find him at true wisdom. So he’s willing to submit to the scandal of consulting for wisdom from a Hebrew slave convicted of a crime.

The reason that crises can be opportunities for God to get through to us is that the Lord must always bring our pride low to prepare us to receive the scandalous message of the gospel itself, the message of Jesus Christ crucified. In our pride we don’t want God’s wisdom. We don’t want Christ crucified. So the Lord must reduce our pride by all manner of suffering and troubling of our spirit to make us desperate to look for true wisdom.

Well in verse 14 Pharaoh immediately sends and calls for Joseph. He’s not worried about the scandal, he just wants the truth. In verse 15 we see that Pharaoh he thinks Joseph might be able to help him but listen to what he says. He is really putting a lot of confidence in Joseph the human being. He says

15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Genesis 41:15, ESV

He’s looking at Joseph as just a more talented wise man, a more talented magician, like he’s offering a more sophisticated wisdom product for Pharaoh to make use of. Joseph immediately responds with a rejection of this notion, he says in verse 16,

16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”Genesis 41:16, ESV

God alone is able to speak to Pharaoh’s peace and well-being.

Well after this Pharaoh takes it for what it’s worth and he begins to recount his dream in verses 17 through 24. Now we’ve already seen this dream because we were brought into the original dream earlier in chapter 41. But here what’s interesting, John Sailhamer points out that there are two additions that didn’t show up in the original narration of the dream that led us into Pharaoh’s own thinking and reflection on his dream. This is where we need to remember what I said earlier; that the word ugly is a word here that literally means evil.

So, in verse 19 we read Pharaoh’s reflection and I want to give you a very literal translation of this. He’s talking about these evil cows, these ugly thin cows, and he said, “I had never seen such as these in all the land of Egypt. For evil I’d never seen such evil cows in all the land of Egypt.” Then in verse 21 he says, “when they had eaten them, when the ugly cows, the evil cows had eaten the plump cows, no one would have known that they had eaten them for they were still as ugly, as evil as at the beginning. Then he awoke.” What Pharaoh is reflecting on is the great evil that is symbolized in his dreams. Evil, it’s important to note, can often mean a moral evil.

So in Genesis 37 when Joseph brought an evil report about his brothers to his father, he was talking about their being morally evil. However evil can also mean something like disaster, something that is disastrous as evil. So when Jacob saw Joseph’s bloody coat that the brothers had doctored and given to him, he made the leap to imagine that it must have been a wild animal that had devoured Joseph and torn him to pieces. That word for wild is literally the word evil, there must have been an evil animal. Animals cannot be moral creatures, they’re not made in the image of God, but it was a disastrous animal who tore Joseph to pieces, so Jacob, Joseph’s father, thought.

What’s happening then in this passage here is that there is a distinction between, on the one hand, seven good things. We see the word good come up in verses 5, 22, 24, 26, and 35. Then we see that there are seven evil years coming. We see the word evil appear in 3, 4, 19, 20, 21, and 27. This is where we get to the key wisdom question reflected in this passage. This idea of good and evil, and discerning and understanding the difference between good and evil, appeared at the very beginning of Genesis in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Those are the two words that were used the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

These two words will also appear at the end of Genesis, in Genesis 50:20. Joseph himself will reflect on everything that he has gone through and he will speak to his brothers and say,

20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20, ESV

The issue that Pharaoh is facing, the issue that Joseph is facing, is this key wisdom question of how do we discern between good and evil? Ever since the original sin when our first parents sinned, we human beings have sought to discern true wisdom on our own apart from God. We don’t want God’s help, we think we can do this on our own. In Genesis 3:6, part of the reason that the woman took the forbidden fruit was that she saw that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. She didn’t think she needed to consult, she could make that determination on her own because she could be wise like God.

Joseph, and Joseph alone, is able to discern between the evil things that Pharaoh has seen in his dream and the good things that Pharaoh has seen in his dream; the years of plenty, the good years of plenty, and the evil disastrous years of famine, because he alone rejects the possibility that the answer would be in him. He’s not looking to his own wisdom, he’s not looking to his own strength, rather he is demonstrating true wisdom as it is everywhere commanded in the Bible, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

God alone gives true wisdom. Wo unless our first step toward wisdom begins, not by consulting our favorite smartphone application, not by consulting the magicians and wise men of our court, but instead with the fear of the Lord, we will not ultimately find our way to true wisdom.

A couple of years ago Allison and I went with my brother and his wife to an escape room. If you’ve ever been to an escape room, they’re super fun, especially if you take my brother because he’s fantastic at puzzles and things like that. In an escape room everything is a clue. The time that the clock is set at, the signs on the walls, you’re getting all of these clues and they’re all arbitrary. You can’t logic, common sense your way out of the room. You have to find and put together all of these arbitrary clues. To find the combination to that lock, which unlocks further clues, which you then assemble in other arbitrary ways, to put those together, to unlock the next set of padlocks. Plus you’re timed, you have only an hour to do this, to find your way to the last door to escape out of the room.

Now as we were doing this, somewhat early on we became convinced that one of the critical clues was missing from our escape room. The staff members have to reset it every time. We were just convinced that the person who had set this up had had somehow, purposefully or not purposefully, removed the key critical clue from the room. The issue was we were given a radio to ask and to inquire, “hey can you give us some help” and they’re creepily watching us on the security cameras to be able to give us that information. Now in fact we were just missing something that was straight in front of us.

Understand that life in this world is like trying to make your way out of an escape room without a critical piece of information. If you just look around at creation, you can learn a lot. Uou might be able to solve several of the puzzles, you might make extraordinary advances in science and technology that can do a number of wonderful things for people. Ultimately you won’t be able to open that last door to find true wisdom unless you have all the information and the information we have is not in this world.

The Bible tells us that. Job 28 is a great reflection on this where can wisdom be found. It’s not in this world, it’s the fear of the Lord, that’s wisdom. Now it’s not that God has withheld this critical piece of information as we sort of grope our way blindly through these escape rooms. It is that in fact God freely offers us wisdom and we don’t want it. God has given us wisdom in his word, but when our lives are going pretty well, when it’s 2008 to 2019, even though we are becoming progressively unhappier, it’s not that broke why fix it, we can only get wisdom from him.

Learning True Wisdom

Now Pharaoh is at a point where he’s desperate. His heart is troubled, and he is ready to learn true wisdom from a Hebrew prophet and a wise man. So we come now to this third section of learning true wisdom. This is the first time that Joseph speaks on an extended basis. In all the story of Joseph so far he’s been largely silent, he just gives short answers or short statements and then he retreats back into silently suffering in the way that he has been appointed for him.

Now here Joseph opens his mouth, and speaking as he does so, he speaks as both a prophet and as a wise man. Not someone who is consulting human arts to find wisdom, but as someone who is fully dependent upon God. So the first thing in his mouth is again to say that the dreams of Pharaoh are one. You haven’t seen two separate distinct dreams, you have seen one dream twice.

So, the first thing that Joseph does in verses 25 to 32 is to speak as a prophet by foretelling telling the future about what God is about to do. He says that there will be seven good years of plenty and then there will be seven evil years full of disastrous famine. He says in verse two that the doubling of your dreams, the reason you’ve had this same dream twice, is that the thing is fixed by God and God will shortly bring it about. So, Joseph speaks as a prophet to interpret the word of the Lord through these dreams.

The second thing that Joseph does in verses 33-36 is then to begin to speak as a wise man. He is better than the wise men of Pharaoh, he is one who is truly wise. Now he doesn’t foretell, he forth tells. He speaks into the situation to tell Pharaoh what Pharaoh should do in response to this crisis that is facing him.

He advises Pharaoh to set aside one-fifth of the produce of the land during the good years of plenty, so that Egypt will have grain stored up for the seven coming years of famine. Now what’s interesting about this famine he said this famine is not a judgment. We don’t read that this is coming because of any evil that Egypt has committed, this is not the evil of a judgment. This is the evil of disaster, this is part of living in a broken world. Verse 36 offers a warning, at the end of verse 36 Joseph says, “all of this you should do so that the land may not perish to the famine.”

Well that word for perishes is the word the land may not be cut off. The idea of being cut off, that’s a word of judgment. If you read through the Old Testament law those who have sinned in some way are then cut off from the people of the Lord and from the presence of the Lord. So what you’re seeing here is that this famine is not in itself a judgment, but the consequences of failing to heed wisdom, failing to listen to true wisdom would then incur a judgment. Failing to listen to what Joseph had said would bring about judgment, the land would be cut off.

Now Pharaoh’s crisis then is not unlike the crises that we face and how do we deal with our crises? Well as we talked about last week we have to remember the end of the story. We have to remember what God has foretold what is coming, that the victory is coming through Jesus Christ when he returns one day. We have to live in total confidence in the midst of our suffering, but that day is coming but

The second thing is that we need wisdom. We need wisdom forth told into our lives, spoken into our lives to help us discern between good and evil, moral evil, disastrous evil, as we try to make our way through this life.

Application

So here are three ways then that we can apply the wisdom of this story to our lives.

1. Honestly evaluate the quality of your wisdom. We are so easily deceived into believing that we are wise. The Bible even has a phrase for this when it says that we are wise in our own eyes. In our confession of sin today from Proverbs 16:2 we confess that we think that our ways are pure in our own eyes. When the Bible says things like that, it’s a two-fold judgment. There are two parts to it. First, on the one hand, this means that we are blind to thinking that we have wisdom when in fact we have foolishness. We’re blind our foolishness, we’re wise in our own eyes.

The second thing is that this means that we are blind to true wisdom that can come from God alone. Some of you are here today trying to understand what Christianity is and this passage doesn’t give us all that Christianity is, but this gives us a critical foundational part of what Christianity is and must be. That is that Christianity begins with true wisdom, with the fear of the Lord, with looking to God alone for true wisdom. To understand Christianity we’ve got to start with this question, how does our wisdom, how does living in a way that is right in our own eyes, eyes how’s that working out for us? How does our wisdom help us to navigate our life’s crises?

Are you prospering in your life or are you continuing to struggle? Even if you’re prospering, maybe like Pharaoh you’re in the midst of good years before the famine, this is 2008 through 2019, do you have a sense that something isn’t right? Is your spirit troubled by something you can’t put a finger on even though you’ve consulted all the means of human intelligence that you possibly can?

Christianity begins, there’s more to it than this, but Christianity begins where human beings come to an end of our own wisdom. Christianity offers something that is more and different and better than human wisdom because Christianity holds out the word of God, which transcends human understanding. This leads us into our second application point.

2. Not only must we honestly evaluate the quality of our own wisdom, but we must humble ourselves by looking for true wisdom. Understand the wisdom of Christianity is a scandal. That’s not my word for it, that’s the Bible’s word for it. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 Paul says

23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV

That word for stumbling block means a scandal or something that trips someone up from belief. Christianity is a scandal because we preach Christ crucified. Think of the scandal for Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, and here he is consulting a Hebrew slave who is in prison because he has been convicted of a sex crime.

Now we know that Joseph is wise, and we know that Joseph is innocent to the crime that he had been accused of, but put yourself in Pharaoh’s shoes. You have to be pretty desperate to call this Hebrew slave out of prison to advise you on wisdom. But the scandal of consulting Joseph for true wisdom is nothing compared to the scandalous wisdom of Christianity.

In Christ crucified what we are saying is absolute foolishness in the world. We are proclaiming that God’s power was revealed not through strength and power, as we think of it, but through weakness. The weakness of God’s only Son crucified bleeding and dying. It’s with God’s power, because he died in the place of sinners, we’re proclaiming that God’s wisdom was revealed. Not in wisdom as we think of it, but in the foolishness of Christ’s death on the cross because by his death he defeated death once and for all.

The message of Christ crucified is a scandal, but the Bible tells us that Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God. 1 Corinthians 1:30

30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
1 Corinthians 1:30, ESV

Have you come to the end of your own wisdom? Are you desperate enough even to embrace the scandal of Christ crucified in order to find true wisdom? Are you willing to let go of your own wisdom, your power, your reputation, your standing in order to submit humbly in faith? Bowing down before a crucified convicted Hebrew man? In Christ you find true wisdom, but you must humble yourself scandalously to embrace him as your God, your Lord, and your Savior by faith. Humble yourself by looking for true wisdom.

3. Live in the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. The old testament is filled with wisdom literature. In fact the Joseph story is largely considered to be a story of wisdom literature, teaching us the wise way to live through the real-life story that Joseph had to walk through.

On the one hand all of the wisdom literature in the Bible rejects outright human ability to discover wisdom on our own. On the other hand this wisdom commends the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. What would that mean, to begin with the fear of the Lord? It would mean not taking a master class on skepticism of what the Bible has to say, but taking a master class on skepticism about our own thinking, our own attitudes, what we think, we know about the world, and how the world works. It means checking and evaluating our attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and plans, and not finding them to be wise in our own eyes, but to check those against the wisdom that God has revealed in his word. It means looking to the Bible, not only as information but as wisdom from God.

The question that this crisis poses to us is how will you respond to your crisis? Will you chase after the next book, seminar, or smartphone app? Will you consult neuroscientists, psychologists, magicians, and wise men? Or will you look for true wisdom by responding to this opportunity of your crisis by humbling yourself to receive true wisdom from God through faith in Jesus Christ?

Let’s pray. Father we pray that you would give us true wisdom through faith in Christ. That you would help us to look to Jesus Christ crucified not as a scandal, not as a stumbling block, not as foolishness, but as the wisdom of God unto salvation. We pray this that Christ may be glorified and for our good. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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