gps (global positioning system) January 28 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today's Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Genesis 40-41

God’s Providential Care

Have we ever lost direction and couldn't find out where we were going? Many people rely on a GPS (Global Positioning System) to help them. Sometimes, however, a GPS will steer us wrong. God is not like that. The LORD will help steer our course when we are in trouble, even when his directions don't make sense. It is at this time that we may be tempted to panic, get bitter, or try to find our own way. Today, let's draw some encouragement from Joseph while we learn of God's providential care. Providence is God's direction in the course of our lives.

As we have seen in our chronological Bible reading, Joseph, a youth of excellent character and favored by his father Jacob, was in trouble. His brothers hated him and sold him to Ishmaelite slave traders. The merchants re-sold him in Egypt, and he became a slave in Potiphar's household. Potiphar was “an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 39:1, NIV). Joseph gained much favor in the eyes of his master and was trusted with all the affairs of his household. Unfortunately, he also gained much favor in the eyes of Potiphar's wife, and she wanted to go to bed with him. After her constant advances were refused, one day she screamed for help and claimed he tried to rape her. Joseph was arrested and put into prison for many years. Joseph was now twenty-eight years old. Didn’t God care? Yes. As we observe in today's Bible reading, God was providentially working behind the scenes.

How did God work for his glory on Joseph’s behalf? “It just so happened” that the Pharaoh of Egypt was angry with his baker and cupbearer and had them assigned to the same ward where Joseph supervised prisoners (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the Old Testament edited by Walvoord and Zuck, © 1985, p. 90 says that this Pharaoh was probably Sesostris II, who reigned from 1897-1879 B.C.).

One night the Chief Baker and the Cupbearer each have dreams which Joseph, with the help of God, interprets. In exchange, Joseph asks the Cupbearer to remember his kindness and mention him to the king. Both dreams come true just as Joseph prophesies. The Chief Baker is beheaded and his body impaled to a pole, where the birds pick his body clean. Meanwhile, the Cupbearer is restored to his former position. Unfortunately, Joseph is forgotten. Two more years pass. Joseph could have given up but continues serving in the prison to the glory of God. If God wanted us to do that, could we? We need to be faithful stewards wherever he places us.

One night Pharaoh has two disturbing dreams. “In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him” (Genesis 41:8).

Then the Cupbearer remembers Joseph. When he tells Pharaoh that Joseph interpreted dreams accurately for him and the Chief Baker during their imprisonment, Joseph is summoned from the prison. He is shaved, cleaned up, and freshly clothed. He appears before Pharaoh, and Pharaoh says to him,

“I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires”(Genesis 41:15-16, NIV).

Notice—Joseph does not seek glory for himself—he gives God glory for everything. Do we do that?

Pharaoh shares his two dreams.

In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows came up-- scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.

In my dreams I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads sprouted-- withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads (Genesis 41:17-24, NIV).

Why did God give these dreams to Pharaoh? He did this to show him that Joseph's God is Sovereign and gracious. He also did this to prepare people for a catastrophe and thus save all of Egypt and the entire known world, including his own people. God's providential care is demonstrated through Joseph's interpretation of the emperor's dreams.

Joseph tells Pharaoh that his dreams of the cows and the grain are one—there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of severe drought and blight. Because Joseph has the wisdom to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he is appointed to be second in the kingdom to prepare for the coming years of bounty and want. His plan of saving back twenty percent of the grain to feed people in the lean years provides a good financial principle we might follow today.

During the years of plenty, Joseph has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Manasseh means “forget” because God made him forget all his troubles and the troubles with his brothers. Ephraim means “fruitful” because God made Joseph fruitful in the land of his suffering (Genesis 41:50-52). God was gracious in Joseph's trials. By naming his sons “forget” and “fruitful” Joseph was sharing the grace of God with his sons. What trials have we gone through with God? How has the LORD been gracious to us? Let's make sure we share his grace with the next generation so their faith may grow.

Lessons to Live By

  • God directs the course of our lives for his glory and our benefit.
  • We need to be faithful stewards wherever he has placed us.
  • God can use our gifts and abilities in dramatic ways to help people if we will give him the glory.
  • Have we received the grace of God found in Christ Jesus? He can give us forgiveness, peace, and spiritual life (more...)
  • Let's share God’s grace with the next generation.

Focus Verse

Proverbs 20:24 (NIV) “A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?”

praying hands Write a private prayer response to today’s Bible study:

Please send your comments to

A Look Ahead: The famine affects Joseph's family in Canaan. They come to Egypt and he tests their character to discover if they have changed. Find out more about Tests of Genuine Character in our Next Lesson.

Previous Lesson  |  Next Lesson

Back to top of page
Return to Chronological Bible Studies main page
Go to Scriptures main page
Go to Topics main page
Go to Home page

Contact Us