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Lessons from the Dungeon (Alistair Begg on Joseph in Genesis 40)

June 27, 2019 2 comments

While looking at some Kindle deals several weeks ago I came across a book from Alistair Begg on the life of Joseph, The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances, (originally published in 1999, and republished in January of this year), and from that found the original audio files, which are an excellent study on Genesis 37 through 50, the life of Joseph.  The audio files are two sets of 12 lessons each, volume 1 and volume 2, at the Truth for Life website.  I have often heard of the Truth for Life site, read quotes from Alistair Begg, and listened to a few conference lectures from Begg (from more recent years), but had not previously listened to his actual sermons or sermon series.

Done in the mid-to-late 1990s, this series is an in-depth look at the doctrine of Divine Providence–from the life of Joseph, with great application of life lessons to us today.  In Joseph’s life of extreme situations (from slavery to the dungeon to an exalted position in Egypt, always attaining to the “second in command” position but never first), we can all relate to the life trials and difficulties and the emotions and relational issues.  In a similar style as the Genesis patriarch Tabletalk devotional lessons I studied last year (reference this previous post), Begg’s series looks beyond the surface level to how these people felt and how they coped with life’s disappointments and difficulties.  Volume 1 starts with the family and childhood experiences of Jacob’s family, the events that Joseph would have experienced as a young boy, through the traumatic event of Genesis 37, followed by the repeated pattern of suffering and exaltation (first as a slave in Potiphar’s household, then in the Egyptian dungeon), through the end of Genesis 41 when Joseph has just come out of the dungeon and been exalted by Pharaoh.

I’m now listening to volume 2, which starts at the end of Genesis 41, through Genesis 50, which brings additional lessons in God’s Providence and life experiences.  Here I want to highlight two messages from volume 1:  Lessons from the Dungeon, a two-part lecture from Genesis 40 with six lessons:

  1. Having a God-centered Focus
  2. Delivering the Truth Clearly, Without Ambiguity
  3. Preparing for Death
  4. Celebrating Life and Birthdays
  5. Handling Life’s Disappointments
  6. Learning to Rest in God’s Faithfulness

The lessons from the dungeon include Joseph’s interaction with the chief cupbearer and the baker and the interpretations of their dreams.  The God-centered focus was what kept Joseph going on a day by day basis in that dungeon, where he had ended up after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife.  From the number 2 item (delivering the truth), Joseph clearly told the good news (to the cupbearer) and did not hold back the bad news from the baker.

That moves us along to the third lesson, an important one not usually addressed in sermon expositions from this passage.  As Alistair Begg noted, the baker was given advance notice of his death, a privilege that very few people have.  (Given the actual way that the ancients kept time – from the time Joseph interpreted the dreams, the fulfillment came on “the third day” — two days later — the timeline would have been somewhere around 48 to 56 or so hours notice, not 72 hours as Begg described it.)  The baker had the opportunity, whether or not he took advantage of it, to admit to Joseph, “hey, I’m scared to death,” and the possibility of discussing death and what happens after death, in conversation with Joseph during those two days.  The reality of our future death is something that we all need to prepare for, as for each of us it could come at any time.

The fourth lesson takes us past preparation for death, with how we are to live and celebrate life (until death comes).  Birthdays are an excellent, once a year time to reflect and give thanks to others:  to God, then to our parents and their special role in our lives, and to friends.

Concerning the last two lessons, of handling disappointments, and resting in God’s faithfulness:  after the many previous disappointments that Joseph had experienced, this incident provided yet another, as we are told that the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.  Here again Alistair Begg provides great dramatic effect:  it could very well have been that the cupbearer as he left the dungeon was telling Joseph, ‘I’m your man’ and being real nice to everyone; and Joseph could have been thinking, for the first few weeks after the cupbearer left, that some news of his deliverance would be coming ‘any day now’—and then it was two more years that passed.  As has been often noted by so many, when we have our hope and trust in other people, even in particular people for particular situations, we can be greatly disappointed when they let us down–and as we ourselves do with others, not remembering them and letting others down.

This 2 volume, 24 part series is very helpful and instructive, the life story of Joseph described in a very down-to-earth way in terms of our day to day life, relationships with other people, and the hardships including betrayal.  As noted above, this material is also in a book (The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances), for those who prefer it in that format.  For any study of the doctrine of Providence, this is a great study series to include.