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Feast and Famine

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 17, 2024 12:01 am

Feast and Famine

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 17, 2024 12:01 am

Trusting in God should not lead us to idleness. Today, R.C. Sproul discusses how, during a period of great abundance, Joseph diligently prepared the Egyptians for the years of famine to come.

Get R.C. Sproul's New Hardcover Book 'Joseph: From Dreamer to Deliverer' and Teaching Series 'The Life of Joseph' for Your Gift of Any Amount:

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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When people put their trust in God to provide for their needs in times of crises, that the way God usually provides for the needs of His people is through human agencies.

And there's no piety in sitting back in the rocking chair as Jacob could have done and said, well, you know, I trust God, God's going to feed us and I'll just wait for it to rain quail from heaven. He takes the responsibility that all of us are to take in these situations and tells His Son, we're hungry, get down there, use every means that we have at our disposal to secure the necessities of life. For many of us, it can be hard to imagine the severity of the famine that struck in Joseph's day, but it was in light of this coming famine that the Lord raised up Joseph to help provide, not just for Egypt, but for the surrounding nations as well.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, a daily outreach of Ligonier Ministries, and I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. How did the Lord use Joseph to provide? And what was it like for Egypt and the nations to navigate life through seven years of famine?

Here's Dr. Sproul on the seven years of plenty followed by the seven years of famine. We continue now with our study of the life of Joseph. We're in the 41st chapter of the book of Genesis, and in our last session, we saw the incident where Pharaoh called upon Joseph to interpret his dream, and Joseph did that, and as a result, Joseph was elevated to second-in-command of the entire Egyptian nation. We read in verse 45 of this chapter, this conclusion to the matter, and Pharaoh called Joseph's name, Zapnath-paniya, and he gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Potipharah, priest of On.

So Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt. The name that was given to Joseph is unclear in terms of its exact etymological meaning, but most commentators see it to be an Egyptian name that means God speaks and he lives, which would be a powerful acknowledgment by Pharaoh that Joseph's power of interpreting his dream came from God and an acknowledgment of Joseph's God. But then we find, of course, the statement that Pharaoh gives in marriage to Joseph, his own daughter, and her name means belonging to the goddess Neit. Now, that's interesting and some have raised the question that perhaps here we find an overt sin in the life of Joseph in as much as he took to be his wife, this woman offered by Pharaoh who was named after an Egyptian goddess, a pagan goddess, and that Joseph was now violating God's laws of marriage by entering into a union with a woman who was not a believer presumably in the Jewish faith.

But we recall that in the Old Testament this was something that happened with regularity, that the patriarchs themselves in various occasions took to themselves wives from other nations who were not jurists, but who became faithful in their service to Yahweh. And our assumption is that this woman Joseph married came under the tutelage and instruction of Joseph and became a true daughter of Jehovah. But in any case, we also realize that this woman who became his wife is called the daughter of Potipharah or Potiphar, and that raises some interesting questions of speculation since the only other time we meet this name in the Genesis narrative is with respect to the lord of the army, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh whose name was Potiphar in whose house Joseph served and whose wife committed the treachery against him which ended up in his being thrown in the prison and so on. But there's no reason to assume that this Potiphar who was mentioned in this text is the same Potiphar that had bought Joseph into slavery initially, just as in our day in the ancient world there were often many people who had the same name, and this particular Potiphar is identified as a priest rather than as the captain of Pharaoh's guard. So there, as I say, we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that further irony has taken place here that Joseph is given as his bride, the daughter of Potiphar and Potiphar's wife which would now make, if that were the case, Potiphar's wife Joseph's mother-in-law.

I think that's even too much irony for God to endure. But in any case, we read in verse 46 that Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. That means that thirteen years have transpired since Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. And so it took a long time for the invisible hand of providence to rescue Joseph from the ordeals that he suffered.

We remember the story of John Knox, the great Scottish reformer who was committed to slavery on a galley ship and spent over a year as a galley slave before he was freed and rose to the position of the leader of the Reformation in Scotland. But his time of incarceration isn't worthy to be compared with the sufferings that were endured by Joseph. Of course, Joseph wasn't thirteen years in prison, but he was thirteen years in exile and in the state of either slavery or incarceration. And so we read that Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went throughout all the land of Egypt. Now in the seven plentiful years the ground brought forth abundantly. So he gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt and laid up the food in the cities.

He laid up in every city the food of the fields which surrounded them. Joseph gathered very much grain as the sand of the sea until he stopped counting for it was immeasurable. So we see the fulfillment of the dream that Pharaoh had that indeed seven years of bountiful harvest followed after this dream.

And during that seven-year period, as Joseph had suggested, he ruled over the nation and established store cities and built up enormous reserve supplies of grain to guard against the impending famine. Then the text goes on to say, and to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came whom Asenath the daughter of Potipharah priest of On bore to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh, which means making forgetful. He said, For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house and the name of the second he called Ephraim.

For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. Now again critics of Joseph have raised serious problems about this incident and episode of the naming of his two sons. And let me just say by way of a little excursion here that these two sons become extremely prominent in biblical history. For you recall that Joseph's father Jacob had twelve sons, and from those twelve sons descended the so-called twelve tribes of Israel. When God numbered the people and divided the land after the exodus and he apportioned certain territories according to the tribes to which the people belonged. But you recall there was no tribe of Joseph, but rather Joseph's portion was divided between his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. And if you follow the subsequent history of Israel you will see that those two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim, become two of the most important tribes in the whole history of the people. And so their births are noted here in the text, but with respect to the names we are told that Joseph called his firstborn Manasseh, which means making forgetful. Quote, for God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house.

Now here's the problem with that. Is Joseph saying, now because of this great boon that I have received from Pharaoh and the new life to which I have been given and exalted to the position of authority, now I can forget my former troubles and it's time for me to forget my family and my father's house and my heritage. The worst case analysis would be that Joseph now has abandoned his faith in the promises that he had received from God as a boy. And I think that that would be an extremely jarring surprise in light of everything that we've learned so far about the character of this man, and certainly the rest of the narrative of Joseph's life belies that conclusion. I think simply what Joseph is saying here is I now can forget that I am cut off altogether from my family because God has given me a family of my own. Now I have a son.

I am not alone and completely isolated from all of my family. So that God is giving him a new family. It doesn't mean that he's repudiating his old family, but his old family prior to this time was the only family that he had, and that was troublesome to him because during his years of suffering he had no family present.

Now he does. He has a wife, and he has a son, and he's going to have another son as the text indicates. And so the name of the second he called Ephraim, meaning fruitfulness, for God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction. Right then and there we could say that sentence summarizes and crystallizes the whole life of Joseph and the whole significance for us of his personal history because it is the history of affliction upon affliction, which ends in divine reward and divine grace, divine mercy, and he names his son honoring the grace of God in that God has allowed him to have fruit in the midst of this barren life experience. And out of the affliction comes great fruitfulness and so in a sense the highest way that Joseph can show his gratitude towards God for vindicating him and giving him sweet fruit out of what had been nothing but a bitter providence is seen by the name of his second son. Then we read in verse 53, then the seven years of plenty which were in the land of Egypt ended and the seven years of famine began to come as Joseph had said. The famine was in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, go to Joseph, whatever he says to do, you do. And the famine was over all the face of the earth and Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians. And famine became severe in the land of Egypt, so all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain because the famine was severe in all lands.

Now we remember that when Joseph stored up the grain, he did so without measure. So that when the famine came, as severe as it was, there not only was enough grain to feed the people of Egypt for this period, but also people were coming from other countries that had no reserves, that had no provision stored up, who came to buy whatever they could buy from the Egyptian reserve supply. Now that little detail is there as a literary device to set the stage for explaining why it is that Joseph's brothers would subsequently migrate south, come down into Egypt in order to try to buy some of this food because it became known throughout the world that there was one nation that was able to survive the famine. Now the other thing we have to understand about this famine is that it was a seven-year famine, and the people didn't know when the famine first started, obviously, that the famine would last that long. And obviously the other nations did not take the elaborate measures that Egypt had taken to store up reserves. But if you just assume that there was a modicum of judicial responsibility in other lands, you can't assume that they just completely consumed all of their resources that they had received over the seven years of plenty because there was abundance in other nations as well, that they would have simply just all of a sudden in the first six months of the famine have everybody starving in these other nations. They would have, just naturally speaking, a certain amount of reserve, not to the degree the Egyptians had, so that there would be a gradual intensification of the experience of hunger in Egypt and in the other lands. And so we can't assume that the first day of the second seven years Joseph went and opened up all the storehouses and started distributing the grain.

But he had to manage this in such a way that he would distribute this reserve fund over a seven-year period. And keep in mind that the famine was in an increasing dimension of severity. One year of famine is one problem, but you compound it exponentially when you see that the year following the lean year of famine is another year of famine, and then the third year, and the fourth year, and the fifth year.

So as the time passes, the problems of hunger and starvation around the world become intense and severe. And so we are told then that after a period of time, people are coming from other nations seeking relief from the Egyptians. The last verse of chapter 41, so all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain because the famine was severe in all lands. Now chapter 42 begins with these words, when Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, why do you look at one another? And he said, indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt.

Go down to that place and buy for us there that we may live and not die. Now here are some rather harsh words that the father is giving to his sons. His sons, you remember, who had worked the family homestead. They had been out taking care of their flocks when Joseph was sent out to check them earlier on in the narrative, as we recall. And we have to ask the question, what happened to the flocks? It's not just the people who suffer from the loss of grain, but the livestock become really the first casualties when you have this kind of severe famine and this kind of severe drought.

We've seen it right now as I speak, there's such a drought going on in New Mexico, and cattle ranchers are having terrible problems with the loss of their livestock because of the drought. No people are dying yet of hunger, but the first ones to go are the animals. And remember that Jacob had flocks and flocks, and so I'm assuming that his flocks are perishing and leaving his sons with little or nothing to do because they're not running around taking care of the flocks, and Jacob looks at them and says, what are you guys doing just standing around here? There's a severe famine, and we're all going to die if we don't get any food, and you are doing nothing about it. Jacob is up in years. His sons are responsible for providing the household with food, and they're doing nothing. And so Jacob takes charge of the situation, and he said, I've heard there is grain in Egypt.

Why do you look at one another? Indeed, I have heard about this grain in Egypt. Go down to that place and buy for us there that we may live and not die. Obviously, Jacob still had money, and what he didn't have was food, and that's something we need to realize you can't eat money. I remember hearing horror stories of the Dutch people who under the five years of occupation by the Nazis in World War II were reduced to eating tulip bulbs in order to survive. They still, you know, had money, but they couldn't eat their money, and there wasn't any food available because the Nazis were taking all of their produce and their crops to feed their soldiers for the war effort.

And so all that was left for the people to live on were tulip bulbs, and suddenly tulip bulbs became exceedingly expensive. Jacob now says go down to Egypt. Go down there, buy the food, and bring it back or we're all going to die. So this sets the stage for the dramatic encounter that is going to come to pass between Joseph and his long-lost brothers. We mentioned earlier how that when people put their trust in God to provide for their needs in times of crises, that the way God usually provides for the needs of his people is through human agencies. Now there had been or there would be in the future an occasion where God would provide food for His people supernaturally, immediately, and miraculously from heaven with the giving of the manna. But those extraordinary measures, those miraculous measures were not the ordinary way in which divine providence provided, as the word providence suggests the needs of the people.

The people were still required to do their due diligence. And there's no piety in sitting back in the rocking chair as Jacob could have done and said, well, you know, I trust God. God's going to feed us, and I'll just wait for it to rain quail from heaven. He takes the responsibility that all of us are to take in these situations and tells His Son, we're hungry, get down there, use every means that we have at our disposal to secure the necessities of life, take the money, buy the food. Now we need to learn from that, that trusting in God does not mean idleness, sitting around waiting for God to do something miraculous for us.

Now it doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that God helps those who help themselves. That's Benjamin Franklin. But there is a truth contained in that aphorism that we are to do diligence in all things, and having done all, then we stand.

That was R.C. Sproul on this Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we spend a week considering the Lord's work in and through the life of Joseph. This story provides wisdom for planning, encouragement when we're discouraged by trials, and confidence to know that the Lord of Providence reigns. Request this complete 20-part series today when you give a gift of any amount at or when you call us at 800 435 4343. We'll also send you the new hardcover book from R.C.

Sproul, Joseph from Dreamer to Deliverer. It's only just been released, so be among the first to read it when you give a donation of any amount at Your support is helping combat the famine for the Word of God that is evident in so many places, so thank you for sending trusted teaching to the nations. One way we're using your support is by hosting youth conferences to help equip junior and high school students with faithful answers to the questions that they're asking or their peers are asking them. We call them Always Ready Events and we're hosting one tomorrow in Columbia, South Carolina. Please pray for those teenagers and that this event and the teaching they hear would produce generational fruit. Learn more about upcoming Always Ready Events and other conferences from Ligonier at slash events. Joseph's story began with his brothers. It has been over 20 years since they last met, so join us tomorrow for the dramatic reunion here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-17 02:17:44 / 2024-04-17 02:25:44 / 8

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