God Has a Dream for You
Dr. Jim Denison
William Ernest Henley was born in Gloucester, England, in 1849, and was crippled since childhood. His most famous poem captures the spirit which drove him past his challenges:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
Henley captures the spirit of our age. We can do anything if we try harder, get up earlier, stay up later, work longer hours, pay the price. God helps those who help themselves; fortune smiles on hard work; luck is the residue of design; and so on.
Has that been your experience? Have you found no obstacle insurmountable, no problem impossible? Or are you like the rest of us—discouraged by struggles which won’t go away, weighted down with burdens you can’t unload, followed into worship today by worries which tug at your soul all morning long?
“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:3). Do you have a dream today?
Do you have a dream?
We live in a world which is hard on dreams. 2,000 dead in Iraq, and the number is climbing. Another hurricane in Florida, the earthquake in Pakistan, spreading bird flu, the AIDS epidemic. A Supreme Court nominee withdrawn as political tensions escalate. We live in a state that has to vote whether or not a marriage is a man and a woman. Others have already decided that it’s not.
The pessimist Martin Heidegger seems right most days: you’re an actor on a stage, with no script, director, or audience. Courage is to face life as it is. I don’t look around and see much purpose to our world. Wars and rumors of war; nations rise and fall; we cure polio and face AIDS; we get the Internet and internet pornography. Nothing seems to change much. When Joseph has a dream, you can count on his brothers to quash it. Some of us don’t believe much in dreams.
Others of us used to have a dream for our lives, but now we’re not so sure. Maybe you thought you had a great vision or empowering purpose for your life, but things haven’t worked out the way you thought they would. Life has discouraged you, thrown you into a cistern and sold you to the Ishmaelites. People you thought would understand, don’t. Things you thought would have happened by now, haven’t.
So you’ve pretty well given up on such idealism, and you’ve settled for making the best of life as you’ve found it. You’re getting along from day to day, task to task. Your life has ups and downs, joys and sorrows. But there’s no overarching vision or inspiring purpose. You wouldn’t say you have a dream this morning. Or that life really offers such. Dreams are for 17-year-old shepherd boys. But you’re past all that now.
If you don’t have a dream for your life, or have given up on one, I have a word from God for you today.
Where did Joseph get his dream?
“Joseph had a dream,” the Bible says. Not, he “discovered” a dream or he “defined” a dream, but he “had” a dream. Passive. Something he received. Something given to him from somewhere else.
What was his dream? “Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf” (v. 7).
In the ancient world, people didn’t bow to acknowledge applause or indicate passing respect. “Bowing down” was a sign of great veneration and submission. Standing before the Lord, “Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence” (Josh. 5:14). The Psalmist calls, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6). Joseph dreamed that his brothers would do that before him one day.
Then he had a second dream: “Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (Genesis 37:9). In Joseph’s world, the heavenly bodies represented rulers. In this case, the sun was his father; the moon, his mother; the eleven stars, his other brothers. And all of them would bow down in submission before him.
What audacity! What egotism and pride! In the ancient world it just wasn’t done, the parents and older brothers bowing down before the younger. Except that everything Joseph dreamed came to pass:
“Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground” (Genesis 42:6).
“They bowed low to pay him honor” (Genesis 43:28).
After his father’s death, “His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said” (Genesis 50:18).
Joseph must have developed a remarkable strategic plan to bring his dreams to pass. Listen to it:
He was thrown in a cistern, a dry hole dug to catch rainwater, by his brothers. He was then sold as a slave to a passing band of Ishmaelites from the east. They in turn took him to Egypt, where they sold him as a slave to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard (Genesis 37:36).
Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. When he refused, she accused him of assaulting her and he was thrown into prison. There he met two men who had their own dreams. God gave him the ability to interpret their dreams; one was restored to his position as Pharaoh’s cupbearer, and the other executed, both as Joseph had predicted. The cupbearer promptly forgot about Joseph.