Humility

Humility

Genesis 41:15

Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “The answer is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”  

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be one of Joseph’s brothers? When I think of Joseph, my mind goes to that verse that says you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve may people alive (Gen. 50:20).  Joseph could look back and see how God had been working through his life and be content.   

But what was it like living with this kid growing up? Joseph was the favorite son.  The division created in the family by Isaac’s favoritism of Esau and Rebecca’s favoritism of Jacob did not teach Jacob anything.  He repeated the failure with his wives first, for Rachel was favored, and then with his children, showering a lavish gift on Joseph in the form of a coat of many colors.  How would it feel to be one of the non-favored sons?   

Joseph also had dreams about his future ascent over his brothers. There was nothing wrong with the dreams.  They came from God.  But what was gained by telling his brothers about it?  It would only exasperate their disdain for him.  Even his father took exception to his dreams.   

There was more than the dreams and the coat too. There was the bad report Joseph brought about his brothers (Gen. 37:2).  In every part of life Joseph was at odds with his siblings.  I am not justifying his brothers’ actions in any way.  They probably deserved the bad report and their response was wrong no matter what Joseph did or said.  But it must have been hard living with the guy.  After all, he went to go see his brothers, whom he knew resented him, wearing the very coat that was a visual reminder of his father’s favoritism.  

Once in Egypt, Joseph is immediately elevated in the house of Potiphar. Yes, he was a slave, but his life appears to be pretty good. Granted, Potiphar’s blessing came because he could see that the Lord was with him, but Joseph still has it reasonably good.  

But then life takes an even worse left-hand turn. Wrongly accused of rape, Joseph is thrown into prison.  Again, God’s favor elevates him to the top of the social ladder, but that’s not saying much when the social ladder is in Pharaoh’s dungeon.  Joseph clearly does not want to be there.  When he interprets Pharaoh’s servants’ dreams, he asks them to help him get out, only to be forgotten for over two years.   

Yet God brings about circumstances that again bring Joseph to the forefront of things. But there seems to be, for the first time in the Joseph narrative, a measure of humility.  Gone is the multi-colored coat.  Dreams of exaltation over friends and family are a distant memory.  The prestige of ruling Potiphar’s house has been replaced with a dungeon home and prison clothes.  But what is immerging is a man ready to fulfill God’s purposes.  

Pharaoh has had a dream, and no one can interpret it. Recognizing his transgression against Joseph, the cupbearer finally puts in a good word for him, and he is brought to Pharaoh.  Pharaoh looks at this prisoner and says I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.  Here was his opportunity to elevate himself again…but he didn’t take it.  Instead, he recognized that the power to interpret dreams lay with God.  He was only a tool in accomplishing God’s purposes.  

It appears that God’s servant has learned a valuable lesson in humility through his suffering. No longer is Joseph sporting a coat indicating his father’s favoritism, nor is he relating his dreams to his Egyptian masters.  Instead, he humbly recognizes that if he is able to do anything good, it is because God is working through him.  

In John 15 Jesus uses the illustration of a vine and its branches to describe the relationship between Him and His followers. As He teaches us what it means to abide in Him, He tells us that apart from Me you can do nothing. As Joseph went through the refining fires of suffering, he came to realize that apart from God, he could do nothing.  Because of this attitude of humility God was delighted to exalt him to the position He had promised him many years before.  

Joseph is not the only leader to have to learn humility. Moses tried to liberate the Jews by his own efforts, which resulted in murder and spending 40 years tending sheep in the wilderness.  David spent years running from Saul before God elevated him to king.  Peter denied Christ and had to be restored before being used by God to initiate the church.  

Humility is a crucial attribute for God’s leaders, for we are not the ones who produce fruit for God’s kingdom. Joseph said it is not me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.  Humility recognizes our dependence on God and seeks to point the glory back to Him.  Great leaders and great saints do what they do for the glory of God, and the ones who really have success are those who realize that they have nothing to do with the fruit, for apart from Christ they can do nothing.  This is a healthy, humble dependence on Christ that God delights to produce fruit through.  

James 4:10 says humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.  Peter, that great saint whom God had humbled greatly before using greatly, says the same thing: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.   

Humility stems from our realization of our utter lostness in sin coupled with the realization of the work God has done to free us from our sin independent of any work of our own. Realizing this causes us to say Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory (Ps. 115:1)!   

We will do well to learn the lesson of humility on our own, as James and Peter exhort us to do. If we don’t, God very well may take us through the refining fires like He did with Joseph.  God wants to use us to bear much fruit for His kingdom, but He also wants to world to know where the power comes from and where the glory should be directed.  When we learn humility, we have learned an important attribute that God will delight to use. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6).