a dream within the dream

Christ Covenant Church
Marq Toombs
Series — Joseph: Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Text – Genesis 37:1-11
A Dream within the Dream

May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

One of my favorite paintings is the Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh struggled with mental illness and admitted himself to an Asylum at Saint-Remy in 1889. It was during his stay at the Asylum that he painted the Starry Night.

It is well known that in his younger years Van Gogh wanted to dedicate his life to evangelizing those in poverty. That has led many Van Gogh scholars to believe that his religious interests and impulses show up in some of his paintings. For example, it is said that the eleven stars portrayed in the Starry Night are a tribute to a story told in the Book of Genesis where the following statement is made:

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.

In 1971 American folk singer Don McLean released a song called Vincent, a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh and his works. McLean sings:

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue.

Colors changing hue,
Morning field of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free

They would not listen
they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now

And perhaps you’ll listen now to the living and active word of God.

Our sermon text for today is Genesis 37:1-11.

Listen to the word of God by faith, with hope, in love.

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 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.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word.

+ DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY

As I said last week, Joseph did not appear out of nowhere or just drop out of the sky. Joseph was born of a woman and raised up in a dysfunctional family.

His family was just about as dysfunctional as a family could get. His father Jacob was a God-fearing man, yet he had two wives and two concubines. He was a devout worshiper, yet he was not a disciplined father. He did not make disciples of his children in the Lord. His sons were rough and rowdy — always causing trouble or getting into trouble. On one occasion Joseph’s half-sister sister was date-raped. And even though the young man and his father apologized and tried to make things right, some of Joseph’s half-brothers took the law into their own hands and in an act of Cowboy justice they murdered the men who treated their sister like a prostitute.

This shocking event was a wake-up call for Jacob. So he called his whole household together and charged everyone to repent — to put away their strange gods and foreign idols, to change their clothes and worship the Lord.

Thereafter, everywhere they went Joseph’s father built an altar and pitched his tent. And the Lord blessed him and changed his name to Israel, which means “he struggles with God.”

But his family was still a mess.

Joseph’s mother died giving birth to his brother Benjamin. Then one of his half-brothers slept with his mother’s servant who was also his father’s concubine. Then his grandfather Isaac died and was gathered to his people.

All these things happened before Joseph was 17 years old.

The point is that Joseph grew up in a broken yet “religious” family that worshiped God yet engaged in sexual immorality, violence, greed, envy, rivalry, abuse, deceit.

I know some of you can relate to that. Your family life and experience was similar if not worse than that. And yet despite everything here you are in the household of God. Why? How? As Gandalf the Grey once reminded Frodo: “There are other forces at work in this world besides the will of evil.”

By other forces I mean the Holy Spirit.

As you will see over the next few weeks the Spirit of God was with Joseph wherever he went, and you know what the Lord finally brought about in his life and for his family. Who knows what he will ultimately bring about in your life?

+ DREAMWEAVER

Well, this past week many people celebrated MLK day. In one of the greatest speeches ever delivered Martin Luther King Jr said that he had a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. When Joseph was 17 he also had a dream. Not a dream deeply rooted in the American dream, but a dream that was deeply rooted in the eternal purpose and promises of the Lord God. A dream within the dream.

He dreamed a dream, and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to him.

When he shared the dream with his family everyone understood what the dream meant. But they didn’t like it one bit. The dream seemed pretentious and narcissistic. It portrayed everyone in the family bowing down to Joseph. So his father rebuked him and his brothers hated him for his dreams and his words. And they were even more jealous of him.

Most — if not all of you — already know whether Joseph’s dream was fulfilled or not. But few of us know where the details of the dream come from, or where they are going, or why it matters.

And that’s what I want us to focus on today.

For the sake of time, we will focus our attention on the second dream, the one about the sun, moon, and stars. Especially the stars.

+ DESCENDANTS

The word “stars” is only mentioned a few times in the Book of Genesis.

First, in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them he made God made the two great lights—the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night—and the stars. (Gen 1:16)

So that gets us looking upward and outward. That gives us a better frame of reference.

Stars are mentioned again later on when God called Joseph’s great-grandfather Abraham and made certain promises to him. And he brought him outside his tent and said, “Look toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to number them.” So Abraham “looks at the stars, and sees how they shine” (Coldplay, Yellow). Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Gen 15:5)

Later on God said to Abraham, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen 22:17)

Finally, God said I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 26:4)

Abraham believed God’s promises and his faith was counted as righteousness. (He was justified, declared right with God, by faith apart from works).

And these promises were repeated to Isaac and Jacob.

So you see, when Joseph dreamed a dream about stars bowing down, he was not just dreaming about his brothers, as so many assume. He was dreaming about them and all the descendants of his father Abraham.

How do we know that?

After Joseph died and was buried in the land of Canaan, God spoke to the people through Moses and said, “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” (Deut 10:22)

Later on, when David was king over Israel he called for a census, but he did not count those below twenty years of age in the census, for the Lord had promised to make Israel as many as the stars of heaven. (1 Chr 27:23)

After that, when God’s people were sent into Babylonian exile an angel of the Lord comforted Daniel with these words: Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)

And when God’s people returned from Exile, back to their homeland, the priests reminded the exiles that God is a promise-maker and promise-keeper. And they praised God in prayer, saying:  “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you … You multiplied the children of Israel as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess.” (Neh 9:6, 23)

And for those who are willing to accept it, Jesus is the true and better Joseph before whom the sun, moon, and stars fell down. At the coming of the Son of Man there were signs in the sun, moon, and stars (Jews) and there was perplexity among the nations (Gentiles).

Like Joseph, Jesus predicted that the stars would fall down from the sky in his presence – that his brothers would fall down before him. Jesus predicted that there would be signs in the sun, moon, and stars (that is, among the Jews) and there would be perplexity among the nations (that is, among the Gentiles) at the coming of the Son of Man. (Notes on Genesis 37:9; Luke 21:25-28; Mat 24:39-30; Mark 13:24-27)

Finally, the apostle Paul picks up on this starry starry theme and describes the members of Christ’s Church as lights shining in the universe like citizens of heaven. (Phil 2:16; 3:20-21)

So again, when Joseph dreamed a dream about stars bowing down, he was not just dreaming about his eleven brothers. He was dreaming about all the descendants of Abraham who walk by faith.

+ DISTANT STARS

A few days ago NASA has released a single image of the Andromeda galaxy. (Many of you saw it on facebook.) They say it is the largest picture ever taken, with more than 1.5 billion pixels. It was created by combining 411 pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA said it would take 600 HiDef monitors to view the entire thing, so they released a browser-based tool that lets you easily zoom in on different parts of the image. It is one of the most beautiful and mind-blowing things I have ever seen on the interwebs. (Source: Relevant Magazine)

While looking at the image and zooming in to get a closer look at different stars I thought of a line from an old song by Rich Mullins (“Sometimes by Step”). It goes:

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me

And as I gazed all those stars it struck me that there are more stars in the heavens than we are able to count; there are more descendants of Abraham than we are able to number. Taken together that means there are more people saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ than we can even imagine.

So the next time you look up at the stars, remember the promises of God for you – promises like God will never leave you or forsake you; promises like God will forgive and forget your sins; promises like God will be your God and you will be his people; promises like you will all know God from the youngest to the oldest, the least to the greatest.

And when you remember, believe the promises with your heart and confess Jesus is Lord with your mouth and you will be saved.

Hopefully by now you see that when Joseph dreamed a dream about stars bowing down to him, he was not just dreaming about his brothers. He was dreaming about all those who believe God’s promises and bow to his power.

He was dreaming about you.

True, his dream was already fulfilled on a small scale when his eleven brothers came and bowed down before him in Egypt.

But his dream is not yet totally fulfilled on a large scale.

There is much more yet to come.

+ DELIVERER

Joseph was a great man, but now one greater than Joseph has come,

One who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.

Joseph was a great man, but now one greater than Joseph has come,

One who was highly exalted by God,
and on whom God bestowed the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue confess “Jesus Christ is Lord”
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11)

Jesus Christ is the true and better Joseph, the son who became slave, the slave who became a savior.

You might begrudge him for being the son whom the Father loves above all sons; you might be jealous of his righteous and glorious coat now; and you might not be able to speak a peaceful word about him now;

You might even hate the idea of Jesus reigning and ruling over you now; you might even hate his gospel of grace and the word of his truth; or you might be plotting and scheming ways to get rid of him from your life.

But know this: Jesus is the one before whom the sun, moon, and stars will bow down;

Jesus is the one whose name every star will sing and shout for joy (Job 38:7);

Jesus is the one before whom every man, woman, and child in heaven and on earth and under the earth — including you — will bow the knee and confess with their tongue “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Sooner or later we will all do it, from the least to the greatest.

Those who are wise enough to call on the Lord and confess his name in this life will shine like stars in the universe.

But those who are foolish enough to cast him aside in this life will be cast away in the life to come.

+ DESTINY

Recently the band Coldplay released a new album called “Ghost Stories” and Chris Martin explained why he wrote the song “Sky Full of Stars.” He said:

There’s stuff going on in the world which you can’t imagine why it is happening — it’s crazy — I don’t know what the answer is, but if you don’t have faith in the Universe that somehow something great will emerge at the end then we’d all just give up and that would be a waste of everyone’s time. That would be terrible. (Source: MTV)

In a way he’s right. There are many crazy and unimaginable things going on in the world — some which are hard or impossible to explain. And I agree that we must have faith and not give up no matter how dark and bleak and strange things may get.

But the answer to all the craziness is not to have faith in the Universe; rather, it is to have faith in the Creator of the universe and the Savior of the world.

Something great has already emerged, and will emerge again at the end — his name is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Like Joseph, he is a beloved son and faithful shepherd who was sold as a slave and became a lowly servant in order to become a mighty savior.

+ DECISIONS

So, what is the answer? How shall we live in a crooked and crazy world, without giving up faith or giving up?

First, we must bow our hearts and minds to Jesus in humble faith, and confess Jesus is Lord with our mouths from the heart.

Next, we must live and move and do all things in this life joyfully and thankfully, without grumbling or disputing. Why? So that we may be blameless and innocent — children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.

Finally, we must shine as stars in the world as we hold fast to the word of life for ourselves — and as we hold out the word of life to the world. (Phil 2:14-16) Anyone can curse the darkness; but we must light the way and point others to Jesus.

As God sent Joseph on mission in the power of the Spirit, so he sends us on mission in the power of the Spirit, to share the gospel of grace with others for the life of the world.

Pastoral Prayer:

O triune God, I give thanks to you with joy, because of your people at Christ Covenant Church, and their partnership in the gospel over the past several years until now. And I ask that you who began a good work in this church will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. And it is my prayer that our love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that we may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Amen

Starry-Night

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