The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither.Joseph's Captivity
Up to this time we hear next to nothing of what Joseph himself said or thought about the peculiar, the romantic, and the distressing circumstances under which he was placed. It occurs to me, however, to call attention to one observation of his, omitted in our last reading. You remember that Joseph had two remarkable dreams, in both of which his own prospective supremacy was broadly indicated. He dreamed that all other sheaves bowed down before his sheaf. He dreamed, also, that the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to him; and yet, whilst these dreams were in his recollection, his father called to him and proposed that he should go to see whether it was well with his brethren and well with the flocks. When Jacob made this proposition, the prospectively great man, instantly, humbly, with filial simplicity and love, answered, "Here am I." There is a lesson, in this reply, to young men, who have dreams of future greatness,—who see sheaves falling down before their sheaf, and see the host of heaven making obeisance to them. Meanwhile, if you are children, obey your parents in the Lord. If you are servants, do the day's work, not with the hireling's niggardliness, but with a servant's noble trust, with self-expenditure, with an attention which commands confidence, and with a diligence that ought to merit reward. It is always a great pity when a man's dreams destroy his strength for practical work and his interest in the affairs that are round about him. No man can live healthily on dreams. If the dreamer be not superior to his dreams, in the meantime, then he will become the victim of fancies; he will be led about under the enchantment of the most mocking delusions; and he who might, by humbly, patiently, and nobly waiting, have become a great man, will subside into commonplace, and leave no recollection for which the world or his friends in particular will thank him.
This is nearly all that we hear of Joseph's own speech. Up to this time he has been to a large extent silent. In the verse before us we hear nothing of his thoughts or of his speech. How is this? The deepest things in life are never told. When men are in their greatest sorrows they are often also in the deepest silence. There are crises in life when we cannot speak,—we are stunned, overwhelmed, dismayed. We look almost vacant to observers whose eyes are upon us. They cannot understand our speechlessness; whilst they themselves are under such great excitement, they wonder at our passivity. There is an excitement that is passive; there is a passion that is latent; there is a vehemence of feeling which is often kept under restraint. Men misunderstand us because, in our sorest experiences, we do not exclaim aloud; we do not protest against the injury which is being inflicted upon us: we are led off in silence, and we seem to justify those who injure us by want of protest, and argument, and vehement denial of the justice which is being accorded to us. Learn that there is a sublimity of silence. There are two ways of enduring the wrongs of life. An exclamatory, effusive, protesting style of endurance; and a silent, calm, dignified acceptance of trial, scourge, injury, injustice, wrong. The quiet man has suffering as well as the stormy man; and not always those who protest most loudly feel most keenly the impression which the iron is making on their souls.
"And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian" (Genesis 39:2).
There are many ways in which the Lord is with a man. Not always by visible symbol; seldom by an external badge which we can see and read. God is with a man in the suggestion of thought; in the animation of high, noble, heavenly feeling; in the direction of his steps, in the inditement of his speech, enabling him to give the right love, the right answer at the right time under the right circumstances; giving him the schooling which he could never pay for; training him by methods and processes unknown in human schools, and not to be understood except by those who have passed under them. "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God." Ideas are the gifts of God, as well as wheat-fields, and vineyards, and other fruits of the earth. Suggestions in business, delivering thoughts in the time of extremity, silence when it is better than speech, speech when it will do more than silence. "This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working." The Lord was with Joseph, and yet Joseph was under Potiphar. These are the contradictions and anomalies of life which ill-taught souls can never understand, and which become to them mysteries which torment their spirits and which distract their love. Undoubtedly this is an anomalous state of life: Joseph brought down to Egypt by his purchasers,—Joseph sold into the house of Potiphar,—bought and sold and exchanged like an article of merchandise. Yet, he was a prosperous man! Understand that there are difficulties which cannot impair prosperity, and that there is a prosperity which dominates over all external circumstances and vindicates its claim to be considered a Divine gift. Looking at this case through and through, one would say, it is hardly correct to assert that Joseph was a prosperous man, when he was to all intents and purposes in bondage, when he was the property of another, when not one hour of his time belonged to himself, when he was cut off from his father and from his brethren. Yet, it is distinctly stated that, notwithstanding these things, the Lord was with him and he was prosperous.
There must be a lesson here. When men live in their circumstances they never can be prosperous. When a man has to go out into his wheat-field to know whether there is going to be a good crop before he can really enjoy himself,—that man does not know what true joy is. When a man has to read out of a bank-book before he dare take one draught out of the goblet of happiness,—that man's thirst for joy will never be slaked. Man cannot live in wheat-fields, and bank-books, and things of the present world. If he cannot live within himself, in the very sanctuary and temple of God, then he is at the sport of every change of circumstance,—one shake of the telegraph wire may unsettle him, and the cloudy day may obscure his hopes, and darken what little soul he has left. If Joseph had lived in his external circumstances, he might have spent his days in tears and his nights in hopelessness; but, living a religious life, living with God, walking with God, identifying his very soul's life with God, then the dust had no sovereignty over him, external circumstances were under his feet. This is the solution of many of our difficulties. Given a man's relation to God, you have the key of his whole life. If that relation be disturbed, unequal, distracted, unsatisfactory, never bringing light and peace unto his heart and mind, then, whatsoever prosperity (so called) may attend his outward life, it is but a gilded coating which will be worn off by time, and which cannot stand the test of the greatest crises of life. Understand, then, how possible it is to be an exile, a slave: cut off from father, and mother, and home, and friendship, and yet to be a prosperous man. The man lies deeper than the slave. The Christian is, so to speak, higher than the man. He who has the bread of heaven to eat spends his life in the very banqueting-house of God.
"And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand" (Genesis 39:3).
There is something about a religious man that is not to be found about any other man. Pagans can see whether God is with us. Heathens and idolatrous men have some notion of our religious position, our religious thinking, our religious relationships. Potiphar knew nothing about the true God, yet saw in this fair-faced youth something he had not seen before. Such is the mysterious working of the higher life in a man. How did Potiphar see that the Lord was with Joseph? Because Joseph made long religious speeches to him whenever he had a spare hour? It is not said so here. Because Joseph wrote out in illuminated characters a brilliant religious creed? hung it up in his chamber, or bound it round his forehead? It is not said so in the text. Potiphar saw that the Lord was with him because all that he did prospered. You can only get at some minds through external phenomena, through circumstances, through evidence that appeals to the senses. It was not through the deepest religious things that Potiphar came to understand that the Lord was with Joseph; but, reasoning from the outside to the interior, he came to the conclusion that, as a mysterious and unmingled prosperity attended everything this young man did, there was no solution for such a state of things but a religious one. This man is the Lord's servant, and the Lord's crown of approbation rests upon his honoured head. How far is it possible to be any man's servant, and yet to conceal from that man that we know the true God? A nice problem in casuistry! How long may a man be in the service of his employer, and his employer never have a conception that the man knows that there is so much as a God in the universe? Some of us have a very skilful way of concealing our religion. Perhaps you have been in the employment of your master seven years, and your master is surprised and startled to find that you are a member of a church, and that you take the Lord's Supper from time to time. Now, there ought to be ways of revealing the deepest life. We ought not to be all surface. There ought to be subtleties of expression, of movement, mysteries of conduct, which cannot be explained on any other ground than that we take our soul's law from the lips of the Eternal, and that we never do anything without first seeking the sanction and benediction of God. Oh, but some of us are exceedingly afraid of what we term "cant"! We can produce the evidences of our Christianity without saying a word. You cannot talk to some men without being the better, even for five minutes, in their company. It was said of one of our great English statesmen that you could not meet him under shelter during a rain-shower without being impressed with the fact that he was a remarkable man. We can understand that very well. There is influence in the expression of the countenance, in the glance of the eye, in the tone of the voice, in the little courtesies of life, in the small things which some men hold in contempt. Some men speak light. Some men bring with them the terribleness of judgment, when we are doing anything in their presence that is mean, sneaking, cowardly, or unworthy of manhood. We feel, when they get round about us, that they are like a flame—piercing, scorching at every point. Yet they never preach to us, they never lecture us, they never go over the points of their theology to us: still, it is as impossible to disbelieve their sincerity and nobility as it is to deny the shining of the sun at noonday.
Perhaps we ought to pause here to point out that prosperity of the kind to which Potiphar referred is not always granted to men in vindication of their Christian sincerity and filial relation to God. Sometimes our manner of bearing adversity is the seal of our sonship: our patience under failure, our magnanimity in the time of trial, our hopefulness and chastened cheerfulness when the east wind is blowing or the clouds are thick and threatening. This may testify that we have learned of God. It is enough, therefore, to lay down this doctrine broadly, thus: When a man loves the Lord, and his ways please the Lord, there will be some opportunity of showing the man is not all surface, but that he has a deep true Christian heart, that he is a child of God, a son of light.
"And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house and in the field" (Genesis 39:5).
One man blessed for the sake of another. Here is a great law,—here is a special lesson for many. A man looks at his property, and reasons that he must be good, and approved of God, otherwise he never could have so many blessings in his possession. It never enters the man's mind that he has every one of those blessings for the sake of another man. The master blessed because he has a good servant! Would to God I could speak thunder-claps and lightnings to many thousands in our city and throughout all lands upon this very matter! Here is a man for example, who never enters a place of worship. No, no,—not he. His wife is a member of the Church, and if ever she is five minutes late in on Sunday, his mighty lordship foams and fumes, and is not going to be put upon in this way, and have his household arrangements upset by these canting, fanatical, religious people. What shall I call him? The wretch owes every penny he has to his dishonoured praying wife. If that woman—the only angel in God's universe that cares for his soul—were to cease praying for him, God might rain fire and brimstone upon him and his dwelling-place. He does not know it. No! He is shrewd, cunning, wide-awake, has his eyes open, knows when the iron is hot, and when to strike it, and he is such a wonderful genius in business. A maniac—not knowing that it is his praying wife that saves him from ruin, meanwhile from hell!
Here is another man who thinks it manly to blaspheme, swear, and use profane language upon every opportunity, and to ridicule religion and religious people. And that man prospers! His fields are verdant in spring-time, his crops are rich and golden in autumn. If you speak a word to him about religion, he laughs at you, and intimates, in a not very roundabout manner, that you are a fool. And he owes all he has to a little invalid girl, who believes in God and prays to him, and connects the house with Heaven! God blesses one man for the sake of another. The husband is blessed because of the godliness of the wife. The parent is honoured because of the Christianity of the child. The strong man has prospered in his way because of the poor weak creature in his house, who is mighty in soul towards God and truth. Yet these are the elements and the facts which are so often overlooked, when men take stock and tell what they are worth. Ten men keep the brimstone-and-fire shower back. The righteous are the salt of the earth. The true, loving, and God-fearing are the light of the world. But for them, would God be patient with the world? What would it be to him, with his great power, to crush the little world, to pulverise and throw it away on the flying winds, and forget it? It is Paul that saves the vessel on the stormy sea. It is Joseph that blesses the house of Potiphar. It is the ten praying men that save the Sodoms of the earth from the lightning-showers of judgment.
And this is God's plan all through. There is one Man for whose sake all other men are blessed. This is the principle of mediation which runs through all the Divine government of man. "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father." When we go to God with the story of our sin, and the cry of our penitence, we are heard, not for our own sake, but for the sake of Jesus Christ. It is the same principle,—the principle of interposition, the ministerial, mediatorial principle,—on which he conducts his government of human society. Does any poor guilty man want to talk to God? Here is the instruction for such a man. It will be for Christ's sake that God will hear you. And as long as Christ's name sanctifies and elevates your petitions you may pray on. There is no prayer long that gushes from the heart, and rises to God through the mediation of Christ.
After this Joseph had to encounter the great, moral crisis of his life. He has already passed over what I may term the social crisis, the physical crisis. He has come out of that crisis calm, strong, reliant upon God. And now the great temptation seizes him,—is aimed at him, at least. Happily it cannot touch him. What is his answer to the temptation? This. God! There is no other true answer. When the tempter comes, when the enchantress stands there, what is the reply of the youth? God! And he is more than conqueror. "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" A man must go back upon his religious principles when he is tempted; he must not try to prove to the individual in question that it is inexpedient; he must not quote the example of the man who has sinned before him. He must take wing, and get away to God! And from the height of God's throne he must answer the temptation, and, when he does so, he will be more than conqueror. What are we, if we have not struggled against evil,—if we have not proved our manhood, given to us of God, on the battle-field? You are tempted to put forth your hand to steal; and ere you touch the forbidden property, you thought of God and recoiled, and you are now the stronger man for temptation overcome. There are temptations in life—temptations at every turning of the street—temptations in all the evolutions of daily circumstances—temptations that come suddenly—temptations that come unexpectedly—temptations that come flatteringly. There is no true, all-conquering, all-triumphant answer to the temptation of the devil but this,—God! Be deep in your religion, have foundations that are reliable, know your calling, and God will protect you when the time of battle, and storm, and flood shall come. He will do it, if so be we put our trust in him.
What is the cure for all that we have seen in the case of Joseph that is bad? For the envy of brothers, the malice of those who ought to be our saintly protectors from all evil-mindedness, from all worldly passion, from all selfishness, from all prejudice? What is the cure? The cure is crucifixion with the Son of God! Except we be crucified with Christ we shall have no hidden power. Except we know the fellowship of his sufferings we shall be foiled in the day of attack. There is one life that touches all other life beneficently, benignly, redeemingly,—that is the life of Jesus Christ. To those who need the exhortation, let me say:—Read that Life with an attention you have never bestowed upon it before, with special desire to know the meaning of that mysterious Life, and you will see that there is no point of human experience which it does not touch. Nothing has been forgotten, nothing overlooked. All sin, weakness, shame, fear, greatness, littleness—all man—has been comprehended within the scheme of that Life, and been redeemingly touched by the mighty power of the Son of God, who is also God the Son.
Joseph In Prison
We now know enough of the history of Joseph, to see that he had not done anything worthy of imprisonment and pain. Let us keep steadily in mind the fact that there are false accusations in human life. There is a tendency to believe charges against men, without patiently and carefully going into particulars, without making such moral inquest into them as ought alone to justify our belief in any charge that may be made against a human creature. We are prone to say, when an accusation is lodged against a man, "After all there must be something in it" We reason that it is impossible to get up a charge against a man Without that charge having, at least, some foundation. We think it charitable to add, "That probably it is not quite so bad as it looks; yet, after all, there must be something in it." Here is a case in which that doctrine does not hold true at all. There is nothing in this but infamy. May it not be so amongst ourselves, today? Has human nature changed? Are there not, today, tongues that lie, hearts that are inspired by spite? We are in danger, I think, of being very pathetic indeed over historical characters, and forgetting the claims of modern instances. There are people who will be exceedingly vehement in their pity for Joseph, who can say spiteful or unkind words about their neighbour who is labouring under an accusation quite as groundless and quite as malicious as that which ended in the imprisonment of Joseph. There are men who will preach eloquent sermons about the fall of the Apostle Peter, who will yet, in the most unchristian spirit, expel and anathematise brethren who have been overtaken in a fault. And the worst of it is, they are apt to think that they show their own righteousness by being very vehement against the shortcomings of other people.
Now, history is wasted upon us if we do but shed tears for the ill-used men of far-gone centuries. See how easy it is to do mischief! You insinuated against a certain man that there was something wrong in his case. You never can withdraw your insinuation. You lie against your fellow-creature, and then apologise. You cannot apologise for a lie! Your lie will go where your apology can never follow it. And men who heard both the lie and the apology will, with a cowardice that is unpardonable, say, when occasion seems to warrant their doing so, that "they have heard that there was something or other about him, but they cannot tell exactly what it was." So mischief goes on from year to year, and a lie is, in the meantime, more powerful than the truth. It is always easier to do mischief than to do good. Let us, then, be careful about human reputation. The character is the man. It is better to believe all things, hope all things, endure all things, in the spirit of Christ's blessed charity, than to be very eager to point out even faults that do exist. There are men today who are suffering from accusations as false as the lie of Potiphar's wife. There are other men who have been sinned against by false accusations who have received withdrawments and apologies. But such, alas! is the state of so-called Christian charity, that, though we have a memory for the indictment, we have no recollection for what ought to have been a triumphant, all-inclusive, and all-delivering vindication. Terrible is the state of that man who has a good memory for insinuations, charges, innuendoes, and bad suggestions, but no recollection for things that are beautiful, and healing, and redeeming, and helpful. That man's destiny is to wither away.
"But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison" (Genesis 39:21)
What a poor compensation! The man's character is taken away, and the Lord gives him favour in the sight of a jailer! There are honours in life which are aggravations. My name is blasted, my home is broken up, my whole life is withered right away down into the roots, and on either side there is a turnkey somewhere who says he has great confidence in me! Why not have vindicated the man before Potiphar? Why not have withered up the accuser who took away his dear fair name? That would have been compensation. If, when the woman's mouth had opened to tell the lie, God had locked her wicked jaw, that would have been vindication. Instead of that, Joseph has the wonderfully good luck of being thought well of by a jailer This is the danger of our criticism. We mistake the process for the result. We rush at the semicolon as if it were a full stop. We judge God by the fraction, not by the integer. I am prepared to grant that if the whole scene had ended here—if this had really been the culminating point, the completion of the sad romance—the favour which Joseph received of his jailer would have been a mockery, and he might have thrown such favour back in the face of God, as a poor compensation for the injury which had gone like iron into his soul, for suffering which had destroyed his sleep, and turned his days into wintry nights.
The difficulty of the critic is to be patient. He is so anxious to make a point that he often ruins himself by his own sagacity. He jumps in upon the way of God with such impetuosity that he has to spend the remainder of his days in apologising for his rudeness, his want of patient saintly dignity in waiting until God himself said, "It is finished." Still, the point of the favour accorded to Joseph by the jailer ought not to be forgotten in making up our view of life, for this reason:—We shall redeem ourselves from much suffering, help ourselves towards a nobler, stronger, manlier endurance, by looking at the one bright point which remains in our life. Is there any life that has in it no speck of light? any day that has not in it one blue spot? What is the moral use and purpose of a glint of light and speck of blue? It is a reminder that there is still light; that the blue morning may come back again; and that God hath not—though the day be dark and cloudy and the wind be bitterly cold—forgotten to be gracious. Our honours may chafe us. We may reason from them that having so much, we ought to have more. What we require, when such impatience has reached us, is a devout, urgent desire that God will tame our impetuosity, and teach us the sweet mystery and the mighty power of childlike waiting.
"And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound" (Genesis 40:1-3).
No man liveth unto himself. There is a little upset in the king's house, and, somehow or other, that will be linked with all these events that are happening a little way off. You run against a man in the dark; he remonstrates with you in a vexed tone, and, in that vexed tone, you hear the voice of your own long-lost brother. You go over the street without knowing what you have gone for, and you meet the destiny of your life. A child tells you its little dream, and that dream awakens a blessed memory which throws light upon some dark and frowning place in your life. Some people do not believe in dramas, not knowing that all life is an involved, ever-moving, ever-evolving drama. Life is a composition of forces. The chief butler gives Pharaoh the cup with a fly in it, and the chief baker spoils his baking. These things are to be added to some other things, and out of this combination there is to arise one of the most pathetic and beautiful incidents to be found in all the treasure-house of history. We do not know what is transpiring around us, and how we are to be linked on to collateral processes. There is a main line in our life; there are also little branch lines. You jostle against a man, and get into conversation with him, and learn from him what you would have given gold for, had you known where it was to be found. Everything in life has a meaning. Mistakes have their meanings. Misunderstandings will often lead to the highest harmonies. No man can do without his fellow-men. It is a very sad thing, indeed, that we have to be obliged, in any sense, to a butler or a baker. But we cannot help it. It is no good attempting to shake out of the sack the elements we do not like. We cannot colonise ourselves in some fairy-land, where we can have everything according to our pick and choice. The labourer in the streets, the child in the gutter, the poor suffering wretch in the garret,—all these, as well as kings and priests, have to do with the grand up-making and mysterious total of the thing we call human life. God is always coming down to us through unlikely paths, meeting us unexpectedly, causing bushes to flame and become temples of his presence. We go out for our father's asses; we may return crowned men. There are some people who do not like religion because it is so mysterious, not knowing that their own life is a constantly progressing mystery. Whenever they would deliver themselves from the presence of mystery, they must deliver themselves from their very existence.
"And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison" (Genesis 40:5).
The chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it. There are dreamers and there are dream interpreters. There are men who live by their ideas. Men who seem to be able to do nothing, and yet society could not get on without them. You see fifty men building a great house, and there is a man standing amongst them with his hands idle, and a black coat on. You say the fifty men are building the house, and a lazy man is standing there with his hands in his pockets, and your notion of political economy is that such men ought to be put down. Put them down, and you will have no more building. The man that is standing there, apparently doing nothing, is the inspiration of the whole thing. Men in the world—poor, poor men—who have nothing but ideas! If they were to sell bricks, they would eventually retire to detached villas and tennis lawns. But, if they have nothing but ideas, they retire into the workhouse. A man builds a bridge, and he is a great man; another man puts up a cathedral, and he, too, is a great man. I will not take away one iota from the just fame and honour of such men. We cannot do without them. We should be poor, if we had not such men amongst us. They are the glory of civilisation. But is it nothing to give a man an idea that shall change his life? to tame the tiger-heart and make it gentle as a lamb's? to put into man thoughts, and stir in him impulses, that shall heal him in his sorrows, chasten him in his joys, interpret to him the darkest problems of his life, and hold a light over his way when he passes into the wonderful dark Unknown?
The preacher does not build stone cathedrals. But does he not build temples not made with hands? He cannot say, "See in these mighty stoneworks what I have done"! But he may be able, through God's mighty grace, to say, "Look at that man: once he was the terror of his neighbourhood, the torment of his family, and now he is a strong, pure, kind man." Is that nothing? Stoneworks will crumble; time will eat up the pyramids. But this man, this soul, shall be a glorious unfading light when the world, and all the wondrous works upon it, shall be burned up. Be cheered, then, preacher of the gospel, teacher of the young, obscure one who can only work in the family, giving direction to young thought and young feeling, dropping into the opening heart seeds of Divine truth! Thou art doing a work which, though it cannot be valued by any human figures or by any arithmetic, is prized, and shall be rewarded, by God, who is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and your labour of love.
Life is a dream, a riddle, a mystery, a difficult problem. But there is one Interpreter. What is his name? Where can he be found? His name is Jesus Christ, and he can be found wherever there is a heart that wants him. You have a dream—you cannot call it by any other name—about sin. You know there is something wrong somewhere. You cannot explain it; you cannot set it down in order, proposition after proposition. It is as unsubstantial as a dream and impalpable as a vision. Yet it haunts you, and you want to know more about it. Christ is the Interpreter, and he alone can explain what sin is: show it in its reality, and give the soul to feel how terrible a thing it is. You have dreams about truth. Sometimes you see an image that you think is the very angel of truth herself. Sometimes that angel comes quite near you, and you are almost on the point of laying your hand on the glittering vision. You cannot quite do so. It leaves you, escapes you, mocks you! Jesus Christ is the Interpreter of that dream. He knows truth, he reveals truth, he sanctifies man by truth, he enriches the human mind with truth, and he alone has the truth. Why? Because he is the truth. It is one thing to have a truth. It is then a possession, something to be pointed out and described. It is another thing to be the truth. Christ himself had not the truth in our poor sense of the term, for he was the truth. He did not so much preach the gospel as be the gospel. You are conscious of glimmerings of objects: dreamings about better states of things. You have a moral nature that now and again gives you hints about right and wrong, and truth and falsehood. You have an imagination that will go out beyond the present and the visible. Are you content to be tormented and mocked by these dreamings, half visions, spectral revelations, and tempting fancies? Why not take them all up to the Son of God, and say, "We have dreamed this! We cannot make anything of its harmonies,—anything truly beautiful. Yet we think it ought to be made into something beautiful, because look what glittering pieces there are here—what wondrous shapes, what marvellous adaptations we think there are to be found amongst these pieces." If you go up to him so, he, more readily than ever Joseph or Daniel did, will show you the interpretation of the dream, and will bless you with revelations of what is in yourself, as well as what is in God.
You cannot get on without the interpreter of dreams, without the man of thought, without the inspired teacher, without the profound interpreter of God. I know very well that when you get among your day books and dust of various kinds, you are apt to think you can do without ideas, imaginings, and dreams, and mere thinking. But there are times in your life when you begin to feel that without thought, idea, impulse, emotion, life would be but a mockery, and death itself would be the welcomest guest that ever crossed your threshold. Ho! every one that desires to know the highest thought, and the highest feeling in the universe,—this can be found only in the book of God and in communion with the Holy Ghost.
"But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house" (Genesis 40:14).
The first touch of humanity we have seen in Joseph: human nature is in this little plea. He would have been far too great a man, if I had not seen this little trace of human nature coming out after all. I have wondered, as I have read along here, that he did not protest and resent, and vindicate himself, and otherwise come out as an injured man. He has been almost superhuman up to this point. Now the poor lad says, "The chain is very heavy, this yoke makes me chafe. I cannot bear this any longer." And he tells the butler, who has good luck before him, that he would like to be taken out of the dungeon. There are times when we want to find a god even in the butler; times when our theism is too great for us, and we want to get hold of a man,—when our religion seems to us to be too aërial, afar off, and we would be glad to take hold of any staff that anybody could put into our poor trembling hands. This is natural, and I am not about to denounce Joseph, nor to reproach him, as though he had done some unnatural and unreasonable thing. I am glad of this revelation of his nature; it brings me near to him. Though God will not substitute himself by a butler,—but will give Joseph two more years' imprisonment,—yet God will make it up to him somehow. He shall not want consolation. It was very human to seek to make a half-god of the butler to get out of that galling bondage. We shall see, in the course of our reading, whether God be not mightier than all creatures, and whether he cannot open a way to kingdoms and royalties, when we ourselves are striving only for some little, insignificant, and unworthy blessing.
After this the baker told his dream. He was a long-headed man. He waited to hear how the case would go with the butler, and when he heard all that the butler could know about his vision, he went and told his dream, and Joseph told him, "Within three days thou shalt be hanged." The interpreter of dreams must not always tell good news. The interpreter must not tell people's fortunes according to his own ideas. He must do as Joseph did. He must say, "Interpretations are with God. I am but the medium on which the Infinite Silence breaks into language. It is not in me to tell the meaning of the mystery. It is in God, and with God alone." This is a lesson for preachers of the gospel. It would be a joyous thing to say to every man, "You are right; you are on the road to glory; nothing can stand between you and heaven." That would be a very gracious thing to say. But if I fail to warn the ungodly man, to tell him that God is angry with the wicked every day, and yet that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked,—that the Son of God has died for the sins of the world,—that there is no man too vile to be received and to be redeemed by the Great Sacrifice,—then shall I fail in my mission, and my word of joy for a moment shall be a mockery and a cruel thing, and your pale and reproachful countenance, on the last day turned upon me, would be an everlasting punishment. No, we must be faithful. There are interpretations that are favourable and helpful; there are interpretations that mean ruin, punishment, death.
May God make his servants faithful, that they may speak the cheering, the life-cheering word; and that they may speak the terrible word with self-restraint and with heart-breaking pathos, that men may begin to feel that there is something in the message that ought to make the heart quake, and turn their minds to devout consideration. To every man's dream, and thinking and scheming about life there is an answer in One alone, and that One is Jesus Christ, son of Mary, Son of God, God the Son, Emmanuel, God with us! He never refuses to have long, long talk, either by night or day, with the man who goes to him tremblingly, devoutly, penitently. Try if this be not so.