Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Life of Joseph (3) - A Rapid Promotion

The Life of Joseph – Genesis Chapters 37 - 50

The story so far (Studies 1 and 2)
  • Joseph is Jacobs favourite son
  • He has 2 dreams that involve his family bowing down to him
  • His brothers think about killing him but eventually fling him down a well
  • He is sold into slavery and then accused by his master’s wife of rape
  • He interpreted 2 dreams in prison and was promised that a ‘good word’ would be put in with the Pharaoh but he remained in prison.

Themes so far:
  • God is at work even when it looks like he isn’t
  • Challenges mould and shape our character and made Joseph a better man
  • Joseph is not consumed by bitterness despite the injustice he experiences
  • Joseph is like Jesus is many different ways

Study 3
Genesis chapter 41

1.  A Unexpected Opportunity

What was Pharaoh’s dream ch 41 v 1-7?

What do you think would have been the significance of Kings dream in ancient Egypt?

Can you think of any other Biblical examples of God speaking to people through dreams?
  • Genesis 28
  • Judges 7
  • I Kings 3
  • Daniel 2, 4
  • Matthew 2, 19, 22, 27

Does God still use dreams to speak to us today?

How should we test if dreams are from God?
  • Does the dream confirm or contradict scripture?
  • Does the dream confirm something that you feel God has already been saying though his word.
  • Is the dream confirmed through providence?
  • Consult mature Christians.

Look at verse 16 and verse 25 – Who does Joseph say will interpret the Kings dream?

What does that say about Joseph?  This shows hos God centred Joseph was - God received all the glory.

What was Josephs interpretation of the Kings dream? v 25-36  Seven years of plenty followed bhy seven years of famine.

2.  A Rapid Promotion Gen 41 v 37 – 57

Look at verse 38.  What were the personal traits that Pharaoh saw in Joseph and which marked him out as a believer in a different God?  He was a man of integrity, humility and deep wisdom.

If we claim to be a Christian, what personal traits do people see in our life?

How did Joseph cope with his rapid rise to power at the age of 30?

How do you think his thirteen years as a slave and then a prisoner would have prepared him for power?

What does godly leadership look like?

3.  The Pressure to Conform

Joseph live in a culture that worshipped many gods – how do we know that he continued to worship the living and true God – v 50-52  He called his sons Manasseh (God has made me forget my hardship and my fathers house) and Ephraim (God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction).  Joseph wasn't consumed with bitterness but had forgiven his brothers and acknowledged God's hand in his suffering/

How can we live a Christ centred life in a society that hates God and everything he stands for?

What can we learn from Jesus?

Personal Application

Do you ever think that all the challenges you are going through are preparing you in the future for a God given opportunity?

Joseph seemed to move on from all the injustices he had suffered.  What are we holding on to from the past that we need to let go?

Where do you feel most under pressure to confirm to the word rather than following Christ?

Seeing Jesus in Joseph

Pharaoh saw the Spirit of God in Joseph – how does this compare with Luke 3 v 22 when the Spirit rested on Jesus at his baptism?  What did God say of Jesus?

When Jesus read from the scroll in Luke 4 he was ascribing all the Old Testament promises of a coming Messiah on himself – he was the promised Saviour.

Both Joseph and Jesus were saviours but Jesus name is above all names.


Lord thank you for the godly wisdom you gave Joseph.  Give me a similar wisdom to discern the times we are living in and to live godly in Christ Jesus.  Lord protect me from the pressures all around me that would pull me away from you and keep in a closer walk with Jesus every day.  We pray for peace in this prison and for more men to come to know the living and true God and Jesus his beloved son – amen.



The Life of Joseph (2) - Promotion and Imprisonment

This is the second Bible study used with a group of prisoners in my local jail.  You can read more about the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.  It is not meant to be exhaustive but to provoke discussion.

In our first study we saw how Joseph's brothers planned to kill him but ultimately sold him in to slavery.

1.  Success and Promotion – Gen 37 v 1-6
What do you think the Egyptian slave market would have been like?  More than likely the prisoners would have been naked and shackled as people bartered over them. It would have been humiliating and degrading.

Joseph was sold to Potiphar.  What was Potiphar’s position? Gen 39 v 1

What position did Potiphar give Joseph?
            Gen 38 v 4, 5 and 6.

How do we know that Potiphar trusted Joseph?  We are told that he gave him responsibility so that he didn't know anything other than the food that was in front of him.

How many times do we read in verses 1-6 that God was with Joseph?  Isn't it amazing how often we read that God is with saints in the Bible even in really difficult circumstances?

How could God still be with Joseph after all that happened?
  • Attempted murder
  • Flung down a well
  • Sold into slavery
  • Ripped from his country and family

Why do you think God allows suffering?  Check out Gen 45 v 7-8

God was working out his eternal purposes through the life of Joseph.  We see many examples in the Bible like in Job and David of how, through great suffering, God was still working.

2.  Accused and Imprisoned Gen 39 v 7 (b) – 20

Joseph has the chance to sleep with Potiphar’s wife – how persistent was she? 39 v 10

What arguments did Joseph use to resist Potiphar’s wife in verse 9?
  • Marriage to Potiphar
  • Breaking of God’s law/code of conduct

What is the Bible’s view of marriage and how seriously should we take this commitment?
What are the benefits of a good marriage?

What does Potiphar’s wife accuse Joseph off in v 11-18?
  • How would Joseph have felt given that he was still a slave?
  • Notice how once again his coat is used in a conspiracy against him.
  • Notice how she shifts the blame onto her husband v 14.

How do you think Joseph would have felt as he was flung into prison?

Where was God v 21?  He was there all the time.

In what way was God with Joseph in prison?

3.  False Hope

Why did the Cup Bearer and Baker end up in jail?  40 v 1

Did Joseph claim to intemperate dreams v 8?  He gave all the glory to God.

Read v 23 – how do you think Joseph would have felt?

Personal Application

Have you ever been falsely accused?  How did you react?

Was God more with Joseph when he was promoted, when he was falsely accused or when he was in prison?

Why do you think we sometimes feel nearer to God when everything is going wrong?

What can we do to feel nearer to God?

Why do we find it so hard to ‘wait on God?’

Seeing Jesus in Joseph

Christ was exalted like Joseph was in but then falsely accused imprisoned and ultimately killed.
Isaiah 53 v 4-9
Just like Joseph God was with Jesus in all his trials and temptation
John 17


Lord, thank you for the story of Joseph.  Thank you that you remained with Joseph through promotion, false accusation and imprisonment.  Even in the midst of great evil and darkness we thank you that you showed him your steadfast love and favour.  Please show that love to me today.  Help me to put all my faith and trust in your son Jesus.  Thank you that he was accused and condemned so that I can be declared innocent from my sin and set free to live a life of obedience and truth.  Help me to stay closer to you as I resist sin and live the way you want me to live.  For Jesus sake Amen.

Dr Thomas Guthrie: The Apostle of Temperance

In daily pastoral visitations, Dr Thomas Guthrie needed no convincing about the devastating effects of alcohol on his parish in Edinburgh.  He often visited homes without a stick of furniture after everything had been sold to buy alcohol.  Children were left starving and homes devastated in the pursuit of addiction.  As Guthrie says: ‘Believe me it is impossible to exaggerate, impossible even truthfully to paint the effect of this vice either on those who are addicted to it, or on those who suffer from it – crushed husbands, broken hearted wives, and most of all those poor innocent children that are dying under cruelty and starvation, that shiver in their rags upon our streets, that walk unshod the winter snows, and with their matted hair and hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes, and sallow countenances, glare out upon us, wild and savage like, from these patched and dusty windows.’

The determination with which Guthrie pursued the temperance cause was all the more remarkable when we understand how unusual this position was in the first half of the 19th century.  In his Autobiography and Memoirs, Guthrie reckoned that there was not a single student in Edinburgh University who was an abstainer. Perhaps even more remarkably Guthrie was unaware of any minister in the Church of Scotland who was a teetotaller. Undeterred by this, Guthrie established the Free Church Temperance Society along with Horatius Bonar and William Chalmers Burns.

When the Scottish Association for the Suppression of Drunkenness was formed in 1850 they turned to Guthrie to write their first booklet entitled A Plea on behalf of Drunkards and against Drunkenness. As Guthrie says in the booklet: ‘On principles of patriotism and Christian expediency, we think that the evil has arrived at such a pitch, that it were well if, instead of either attempting to muffle or even muzzle the monster, the country would agree to put a knife through its heart, in the entire disuse of intoxicating liquors.’  Other booklets followed and Guthrie was instrumental in bringing about the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1853 or the Forbes Mackenzie Act, as it is better known. This Act forced public houses to close at 10.00 pm on weekdays and all day on Sundays.

Guthrie’s appeal for temperance was articulated in his book on Luke 19 v 41-48: ‘The City its Sins and Sorrows’.  The four sermons in this volume teach us much about the man. Guthrie preaches like the Saviour he loved. His words are full of love, pity and pathos. His heart had been broken by the sights he had seen in his pastoral visitation of the Cowgate and this is reflected in his sermons. As Christ wept over the state of the people of Jerusalem, Guthrie was broken over the drunkenness he saw ruining lives and destroying families across Scotland. 

Dr Guthrie should act as a challenge to all of us as we seek to once again win cities for Christ.  We need to be challenged by men like Guthrie to have a vision for our cities that are so ruined by drink and drugs.  A vast amount of family breakdown, abuse and neglect of children has its root in addiction. If ever there was a time for coordinated and concerted Christian action it is now.  As Guthrie said: ‘Let each select their own manageable field of Christian work. Let us embrace the whole city, and cover its nakedness, although, with different denominations at work, it should be robed, like Joseph, in a coat of many colours. Let our only rivalry be the holy one of who shall do most and succeed best in converting the wilderness into an Eden, and causing the deserts to blossom as the rose.’

The City its Sins and Sorrows by Dr Thomas Guthrie is available as an e-book from Amazon with a Foreword by Andy Murray.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Dr Guthrie the Social Reformer

Dr Guthrie was no ivory tower minister.  He was the embodiment of salt pressed against the decaying flesh of the world around him.  This came at a heavy price with Guthrie's future health problems.  He became a magnet for his parishioners seeking temporal and spiritual help on a daily basis; 'My door used to be besieged every day by crowds of half-naked creatures, men, women, and children, shivering with cold and hunger; and I visited many a house that winter, where there was a starving mother and starving children, and neither bed, bread nor Bible - till, with climbing stairs my limbs were like to fail, and with spectacles of misery, my heart was like to break.'  So how did Guthrie respond to all the challenges around him?

His starting point was that man is made in the image of God.  The half-naked child sleeping on the streets of Edinburgh was, to Guthrie, as precious in the sight of God as the Queen on the throne. In his first plea for Ragged Schools in 1847 he compared what some regarded as 'rubbish' as shining jewels; 'Yes it is easy to push aside the poor boy in the street, with a harsh and unfeeling refusal, saying to your neighbour, "These are the pests of the city."  Call them, if you choose, the rubbish of society; only let us say, that there are jewels among that rubbish, which would richly repay the expense of searching.  Bedded in their dark and dismal abodes, precious stones lie there, which only wait to be dug out and polished, to shine, first on earth, and hereafter and forever in a redeemer’s crown.'  

Secondly, Guthrie took sin seriously.  He was no socialist.  He knew that little is achieved by the mass and indiscriminate distribution of money or food.  Sinful nature often makes a bad situation worse as Guthrie found on his many pastoral visits.  Poor families with little we're ravaged further by a drunken or profligate parent.  This was the time of the 'dram houses' and 'gin palaces'. Indiscriminate (however well meaning) compassion often compounds problems rather than solving them.

Thirdly, Guthrie believed in the 'almost omnipotent power of Christian kindness'.  Our response to poverty needs to be gospel centred.  Guthrie knew that compassion without the power of the gospel would change little.  Only the grace of God can truly change the human heart.  We get a flavour of Guthrie's view of poverty in his great work 'Seed Time and Harvest of Ragged Schools' (published 1847, 1849 and 1860).  Having outlined the plight of thousands of 'ragged children' on the streets of Edinburgh he famously said 'These Arabs of the city are as wild of those of the desert, and must be broken into three habits, - those of discipline, learning, and industry, not to speak of cleanliness.  To accomplish this, our trust is in the almost omnipotent power of Christian kindness.  Harsh words and harder blows are thrown away here.'  Unlike today's welfare state the Ragged Schools did not crush people under the weight of a faceless and unresponsive bureaucracy.  Christian compassion needs to be personal, genuine and it needs to go 'above and beyond'.

Fourthly, Guthrie's response went to the root of the problem.  His response to poverty was what might be termed today 'tough love'.  He sought to restore self-respect, hard work and sobriety.  While he had all the time in the world for the innocent victims of drunkenness and poverty he was very outspoken against those who perpetuated their poverty through vice.   Welfare must always be a hand up not a hand out.  This is surely the principle of 2 Thessalonians 3 v 10.  If a man is able to work, and work is available, our whole system of welfare should be focussed on helping him work.

Finally, Guthrie wasn't interested in 'harm minimisation' or 'risk management'.  His focus was on transformation. This final quote perhaps best sums up Guthrie's views.  It encourages us to have a 'wise' response to the poor.  
'Blessed is he that wisely doth
The poor man's case consider'

'So run the opening words of the 41st Psalm, in the Scottish Psalter.  Wisely?  He wisely considers the case of the poor who, wherever it is possible, supplies them with work rather than money; who helps them to help themselves, who encourages them to self-exertion, and teaches them self respect; who patronises not indolence but industry, not the intemperate but the sober; who applies his money to relieve the misfortunes that come from the hand of Providence, rather than such as are the divinely ordained and salutary penalties of vice.  And who thus goes to the work of Christian benevolence will meet with many cases to cheer him on, and keep him up to this mark, "Be not weary in well-doing."