Steve – Chief Steward to Zaphenath-paneah

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon was given at The Salvation Army Moonee Valley corps on Sunday 7 October, 2012. This was my first attempt at a narrative sermon, based on the story of Joseph.

Have you ever wondered what you’re supposed to be doing with your life? You’ve probably heard at some point that your entire life is in God’s hands, and that he has a path paved out for you. He has a plan for your life. But that’s kind of hard to see when things are going bad. Today, I’m going to do something a little different, and tell you a story that you’re probably familiar with, but from a different perspective. Through it all, I want you to hear how God has a magnificent plan for your life.

My name is… well, it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m only a slave, and no-one cares about a slaves name, except his master – and that’s only to call him to do something anyway. Plus, my name is probably too difficult for you to pronounce or remember. So you can call me Steve. Steve’s a nice name, and it kind of sounds like my actual name. What’s more important is my position. I am the Chief Steward to Zaphenath-paneah – though that wasn’t the name that I knew him by when I met him. When I met him, Joseph – that’s his actual name – I was being transported by some Midianites. The Midianites were a group of traders, trading in anything – gold, incense, slaves. I, of course, was a slave. We were walking along near Dothan, when some guys came up to us. They spoke with the traders, and then pulled up this boy out of a pit. He couldn’t have been more than 18, barely a kid. He didn’t deserve to be here. He was shackled up next to me, and we headed off again.

Over that journey, we got talking. The brothers who sold him were actually his brothers. He had been sent by his father to go and check on them, and when he got there, they grabbed him, tore off his coat, and threw him in the pit. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t get out. And now they’d sold him. I asked him about his coat. His eyes, his incredible, deep blue eyes, they lit up when he talked about that coat. His father had given it to him, and it was like nothing that he had ever had before. None of his brothers had one like it. I asked whether the brothers would have sold him just over this coat. Joseph said that it was more likely because of a couple of dreams that he’d had. In both dreams, he’d seen his brothers – in the form of… I think it was bales of hay, and then the sun moon and stars – they all bowed down to him. He seemed to truly believe that this would come true, because it was part of God’s plan. I thought it was a bit unlikely, wondering how that would ever happen with him now as a slave. He said he had faith in God, and that he was with him. We walked on.

In time, we ended up getting sold to an officer, Potiphar. He was very powerful – the captain of the guard – and had a beautiful wife. I mean, she was gorgeous, and she knew it too. You had to work very hard while she was around… because if Potiphar got suspicious, then bang! Off to the prison you go. I had heard bad stories about that place, and it was nowhere near the reality of it. Being a slave, you just accept your lot, and do what you’re told. You try to avoid doing anything that can make life worse for you, because that’s the only other option, to stay where you are, or to go somewhere worse.  Joseph didn’t really seem to accept that though. He worked hard, but then, we all worked hard. Yet, his work seemed to be noticed by Potiphar. He grew to trust Joseph, and ended up rewarding him. He put Joseph in charge of everything he owned. Joseph. This kid. In charge of everything that this great captain owned. Even me.

This of course, put Joseph in situations where Potiphar’s wife could notice him. Now, Joseph might have only been a kid, but he certainly didn’t get any ugly genes. Handsome, good-looking, rugged. I’d heard those words mentioned about him. And Potiphar’s wife certainly noticed him. I’d seen her make a few attempts to lure Joseph to lie with her. Yet, he was always strong, and declined. He always said that it would be a sin against God. One day, however, I found him, hiding in a corner, without his outer garment. He said that she had cornered him, and when he fled, she had grabbed his garment. No sooner had Joseph told me what had happened, Potiphar burst into the room. I had never seen him angrier. I quickly hid, and watched it unfold. Joseph was bundled up, and taken away. I thought at that time that he was a dead man. I thought of how Joseph’s dreams could ever come true now. I didn’t hear of Joseph for another few years. Then, one day, our paths crossed again.

I had been caught sneaking some extra food from Potiphar’s plate. You would have thought that having seen his rage against Joseph, I would tread carefully, but I was just so hungry. Sure enough, I ended up discovering where Joseph had been sent. I ended up in the same prison, with Joseph, and all the king’s prisoners. Joseph, again, despite the circumstances, had found favour with the Chief Jailer. All the prisoners were committed to Joseph’s care. When I talked to Joseph, I asked him, how he managed to make the best out of everything, and he said “The Lord is with me.”

One day, a couple of the prisoners were quite distraught. They’d both come from the Pharaoh’s court, and had both offended him in some way. They had had dreams during the night, and couldn’t work out what they meant. Joseph thought that he’d be able to interpret them with God’s help. So they told their dreams to Joseph. First there was the former chief cupbearer. He’d had a dream about a vine with three branches. He squeezed grapes from the vine into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed it in his hand. Joseph said that this meant that he would be restored in three days.

The Baker went next, and his dream was about three cake baskets, with all sorts of baked goods, stacked on his head. There were birds eating all the bread out of his baskets. By this time, quite a crowd had gathered around Joseph, to hear what this dream could possibly mean. Unfortunately, Joseph said that it meant that the baker was going to be beheaded in three days. I couldn’t believe it. Two dreams, so very similar, yet so very different. I didn’t think anything of it – dreams are just imaginary, aren’t they? Yet, in three days, the baker was beheaded, and the cupbearer was restored to his position.

Soon after that, I was released from the prison, and put to work in the Pharaoh’s court. Nothing high and mighty – I couldn’t really bake – but there I was, in the Pharaoh’s court. A couple of years later, I ran into Joseph again! The Pharaoh had a dream, and no-one could be found to interpret it. Eventually, the cup bearer remembered that Joseph had interpreted his dream correctly, and suggested his name. I was there when Joseph came before Pharaoh. He explained his dream, and asked Joseph to interpret. Pharaoh had dreamt about 7 plump cows on the banks of the Nile, and then 7 thin and ugly ones, and even though the thin ones ate the plump ones, they were still thin and ugly. In a second dream, he dreamt of seven plump ears of corn, and seven thin, withered ears, which swallowed up the good ears of corn.

Joseph then explained how Pharaoh’s dream was a vision from God, showing that Egypt would have 7 years of bumper crops, followed by seven years of famine. He then had the audacity to suggest that Pharaoh should appoint someone to look after the land of Egypt, and gather one fifth of everything that was produced during the seven plenteous years. Can you imagine it! A prisoner, telling the most powerful man in the world, what he should do! I couldn’t believe it. I was sure this would be the last I’d ever see of Joseph. But then, something that I certainly didn’t see coming. Pharaoh liked Joseph’s plan, and put him, yes Joseph, in charge of all his land, and people, to prepare for the famine. He gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah, and he selected me to be his chief steward. Joseph, whom I had met as a boy, barely of age, was now 30, and there was no-one above him but Pharaoh. I got to talk with him, and asked him how he had the audacity to tell the Pharaoh what to do. He just gave me that smile, and said “The Lord was with me.”

One day, some men came to buy some food from us. This wasn’t an odd thing. We had worked the land well over our seven years of plenty, and Joseph was strict with what he handed out. But this time, something was different. I thought I recognised them, but I couldn’t quite place them. When Joseph went out to them, he asked them where they came from. “From the land of Canaan” they replied. All of a sudden, Joseph flipped. He accused them of being spies, to see how barren our lands were. No matter what the men said, Joseph would not relent. He threw them all in prison for three days. After that, he kept one of them, and sent the rest of them back. But, before they were sent back, he ordered us, his servants, to fill their bags with provisions, and to return their money to their sacks. This was odd – Joseph didn’t give away food very often, and to men that he’d just accused of being spies? But, it’s not a servants place to ask questions, we did as we were told.

It took a little while, but eventually, the men returned, this time, with another, a younger man – maybe a younger brother. Joseph reacted very differently this time. He told me to make preparations for them to dine with him at lunch. I brought them to his house, and boy, were they nervous. They came up to me, and told me how they had discovered their money still in their sacks. I told them that it would be ok, and that their God must have put treasure in their sacks. I brought out the brother who had been kept, brought them into the house and made the preparations.

After they had eaten, Joseph commanded me to fill up their sacks as I had last time – with as much food as they could carry, with their money in the top of the sack. He also commanded me to put his silver cup in the sack of the youngest. Joseph was acting weird, but again, who was I to argue? I did so, and sent the men on their way. Yet, no sooner as they had left, Joseph tells me “Go, follow them,” so I went, found the cup in the youngest’s sack, and brought them back to Joseph. They fell to the ground, scared as can be, and pleaded for mercy. Joseph ignored them, claimed the youngest as his slave, and let the others go. But Judah protested. He told of how he had pledged to his father to protect this boy, because the father had already lost the other son.

All of a sudden, Joseph told everyone else to leave the court. He allowed me to stay, and he wept. He wept so loudly, I’m sure that it was heard in the courts of Pharaoh. Joseph revealed himself, and it was then that I realised that these men were his brothers, the ones who had sold him all those years ago. But his brothers couldn’t answer him. Maybe they had been overwhelmed with the guilt of what they had done. But Joseph reassured them. He told them that God had sent him there to Egypt, to preserve life. That God had sent him there to preserve all of them. It wasn’t them that sent him, it was God. By this time, Pharaoh had arrived, and seeing that it was Joseph’s brothers, he told them to go back to Canaan, and bring their whole household to come and live in Egypt with Joseph. So they went, and Joseph and his father were reunited.

Looking back, over the time that I knew Joseph, it’s amazing how even though he went through all sorts of horrible stuff – getting sold as a slave by your brothers, having charges laid against you falsely – God was always there, working in the background. All Joseph had to do was to play his part, to remain faithful to God, and reunite his family and help them survive. It makes me wonder. You know, All I have to do is follow God’s plan, and he will help me survive the trials in my life. He has a plan for my life, and I reckon that he has a plan for your life too. All we need to do is play our part in God’s magnificent plan.

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

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