JOSEPH, OR SUFFERING AND GLORY
Chapters 37 - 50
"The afflictions of Joseph." -- Amos 6:6.
"Heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." -- Rom. 8:17.
HERE begins the story of Joseph, in whom the fairest form of human life is seen. Six stages have passed, in which we have traced how Israel, a Prince of God, grows out of old Adam. We have seen human nature, and flesh and spirit, and regeneration, and faith, and sonship, and service. Now comes the last form of life, -- a life which from the first dreams of rule, and which attains it through suffering; a wonderful change from naked Adam; and yet an outcome from him, brought forth by God's ingrafting. Joseph does not leave his home, to walk in simple faith, he knows not whither; nor can he rest in peace, a son and heir, by wells of water enjoying the sweets of sonship; nor does he serve night and day to win flocks and herds, who may be led up out of the world to Canaan. Joseph is none of these, but a life which surely follows these; never seen but where faith has brought forth sonship, and sonship service; itself the fruit of service, one of its last and fairest fruits; which from the first has dreams, not of service, but rule; which yet, spite of its dreams, is called to suffer many things; which suffers long, and is sorely tried, but at last out of suffering attains to rule all things; the world and brethren bowed at its feet, forced to confess the might of that they once ridiculed.
We have nothing like this before. In Abraham the elect forsakes the world to walk in heavenly places. At this faith stage, Egypt, so far from being ruled, is rather a snare to the believer. Nor can Isaac rule this land: the spirit of sonship is content to rest at peace in heavenly places. In Jacob or service something is done in outward things; some flocks and herds are won there. But Egypt, the ground of sense, is not subdued: service is not sufficient for such an achievement. But in Joseph, the spirit opposed, and fettered, and bound, conquers by passive power, and is at length exalted over all things. Joseph stands where Abraham falls. The ground which is a snare to mere believers, is none to patient sufferers. Suffering conquers that which tries our faith, and by it, and by it alone, the ground of sense is ruled at last.
Such as live and walk in the spirit know that we too are called with this calling, -- to rule, not to be ruled by, sense, that the kingdom may be in the earth even as it is in heaven; for Christ our Head has reached to this, and we as His members are predestined to be conformed to Him. But few get beyond faith or sonship; few reach to service, and fewer still to glory in tribulation, by the cross to rule the world, and to walk among the things of sense, confessedly superior to them all. Some unknown, yet well-known, have done it; and others, who yet are captive to sense, cannot forget the dreams, once divinely given, by which their hearts and hopes were stirred to look and wait for perfect victory. Let such abide their time. They shall shew that if we suffer with Christ we also shall with Him be glorified (Rom. 8:17). The whole path is here set forth: how it goes with man in this path, -- how his very brethren mock him, -- how the world deals with him before he rules it, -- how trials increase the more he walks with God, -- how the battle is won at length, -- all this is told, as none but God, whose own work it is, could tell it. Being is proved to be far more than doing. And, like the light, which serves us by simply being light, the spirit which beareth all things, by the virtue that flows forth from it unconsciously, commands a place and power which is felt by all to be of God. And indeed there is no service like this unconscious service, which naturally flows from what we are through the divine indwelling.
I. -- JOSEPH'S DREAMS, AND SUFFERING FROM HIS BRETHREN
FIRST, we see the reception this new life meets from Jacob's sons: -- "They hated Joseph because his father loved him more than all his sons" (Gen. 37:3, 4). All know the story: how Joseph's brethren plot against his life, and strip him, and mock him, and sell him into Egypt. The same life still is treated thus, as we may see, within, and without, and in the dispensations.
To trace it first within. We are here shewn how our purest inward life for a while is crossed and hindered, not so much by worldly things, as by other activities which are the fruit of true service. It is Jacob's sons who sell Joseph. These sons are the varied fruits which are brought forth by the elect, -- whether knowledge, or service, or rule, or the like, -- by union with Leah, that is by outward principles. (Note: See on chap. 29.) These fruits are forms of active life, and these, if ungoverned are prone to cause confusion, and to oppress and hinder the higher aspirations of that pure and passive life in us, which now begins to dream of rule. The young Christian may not understand this. He can see how the old man, as Terah, or the religious flesh, as Esau, may hinder our path; but how true service can yield any fruits which oppose the highest life in us, is at first incomprehensible. But so it is. The fruits of an active life may cross a yet more inward life, and the mind which Joseph represents be opposed, as he was, by other activities, which, though true fruits of the spirit, need to be ruled rather than to rule. Thus Joseph is sold into Egypt. And so this spirit in us for a while is sorely overborne, forced under the bondage of sense, while it is thought that some beast or evil spirit has destroyed that life, whose early promise was so lovely. But it cannot be thus destroyed. It may be bound in deepest dungeons; at last it must be free.
Such is the scene within. Without, it shews the path of souls whose passive character, so unlike the ways of Jacob's house, is for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed, judging all around them, even while they are judged, and, though sorely grieved, in the end made stronger than all. Such souls, as they hinder God less, gain power which others never know; though the same passivity, which makes them open to God, lays them open to peculiar trial from their more active brethren. First, they see evil among brethren: -- "Joseph brought unto his father their evil report" (Gen. 37:2); and this involves double trouble; he who sees the evil is judged for seeing, and hated for reproving it. This of itself is no little cross, to outrun sympathy, to grieve friends, to offend brethren. Yet such is the price which must be paid for light; such the penalty of being faithful beyond the measure of our brethren. Then a coat of many colours is given him, for which his brethren hate him more and more (Gen. 37:3), not seeing that if they too walked in obedience, they also might be adorned like him. But they feel that he is preferred, and the secret sense of their inferiority, instead of humbling, only enrages them. If we walk with God in truth, and turn from evil, not afraid to rebuke it even among our brethren, a fair robe will soon be put upon us, not only, as in Adam, to hide our shame and nakedness, but to clothe us in "garments of glory and beauty," even that "fine linen which is the righteousness of saints" (Exod. 28:2; Rev. 19:8). The "many colours" will all be there; for colours are but the various shades and reflections of light, and he who walks in the light must needs reflect it, giving back each ray that is not lost and absorbed. In the priests, the garment was perfect white; and upon the Mount, One was seen "whose raiment was shining, so as no fuller on earth could whiten it" (Mark 9:3); but the many colours, if not so heavenly, may better reveal to human eyes the wondrous fulness which there is in light. (Note: In this "coat of many colours," Bernard sees the varied gifts of the Spirit; Apol. de vit. Rel. c. 3.) The Josephs are yet thus adorned, and for this are the more hated by their brethren who are not with Jacob. (Note: It is plain, from the narrative, and from Jacob's command to Joseph to "go and see how his brethren were," that they were absent from their father; he at Hebron, they at Shechem and Dotham; Gen. 37:12-17. These places, like all the rest, are significant.) "They could not speak peaceably unto him." "They hated him yet the more, because of his words."
Then comes the well-known dream of power one day to be enjoyed (Gen. 37:6-10); for the passive life, which lives near God, from its very nature is prone to dream, and can receive far more than active souls of heavenly mysteries. And for this they who live this life are always reproached as "dreamers," enthusiastic mystics, and I know not what else. Are not many dreams uncertain, and are not many of the things which this dreamer sees, or professes to see, just such uncertainties? Who can with confidence speak of a dream, or prove that these mystic views, so derogatory to the glory of those who now are strongest, are anything but fancies? "Art thou greater than our father Jacob?" Can any new form of life be superior, or accomplish more than has been already done in the good old path of service? So ask the elder sons, and not waiting for an answer at once they mock the "dreamer." They "will see what will become of his dreams" (Gen. 37:19, 20). And they do see, though not at all as they expected.
Meanwhile the Josephs are fettered and bound. Instead of ruling or serving, they are shut up where they can help no one; while Ishmaelites, the carnal seed of men of faith, are used to do the dirty work, which the elect have planned but dare not perpetrate (Gen. 37:28). (Note: The Ishmaelites and Midianites were those sons of Abraham whom he sent away from Isaac. See Gen. 25:6. Ishmael was Hagar's son; Midian, Keturah's. We see from Judges 8:12, 24, that the Midianites were called Ishmaelites, or confounded with them, in Gideon's days.) Their coat is dipped in blood, and a tale is told, as if some wild beast or devil had overcome them; a falsehood which in itself is trial, as some have learnt who have suffered under false reports, by which their best friends are deceived. Such suffering at the time looks despicable enough. All martyrdoms are said to have looked but meanly, when they were suffered. For stripping and bonds are ever shameful; and the elect are stripped and bound; -- "when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." But though cast out, they yet are blessed, some eyes discerning that the Lord Himself is with them, if brethren are not; while within there is the peace of God, for none can rob the true soul of that inward satisfaction which the truth itself ministers. This a the appointed way, the high road of the holy cross, -- suffering first, and then a kingdom; to be wronged, misrepresented, punished, cast out; and then to have every secret wrong redressed, and every deed of truth and love manifested; -- this is yet the royal way, the end of which is assured even from its beginning: while to do as others do, even of the elect, (for where is worse sin than among the sons of Israel?) though they who walk thus may be "saved so as by fire," involves sure chastening, self-reproach, and humiliation.
The dispensations too reflect the scene. We know how the sons of the first wife rejected the second wife's First-born. How the sons of Israel mocked the Heir, -- how Egypt, that is the Gentile world, received its future Lord, -- how, spite of all, He could not be hid, but was exalted to be head over the kingdom, while His brethren believe Him to be dead, -- all this, and much more, is figured here of the life of Him who was "separated from His brethren;" who said, "They hated me without a cause" (John 15:25); "Me they hate, because I testify against them that their works are evil" (John 7:7). He came unto His own (John 1:11), toiling in the field of this world, finding no rest there, yet seeking lost brethren. And He found them, and was rejected. He uttered similitudes of His kingdom, but His words to them were as dreams. Their answer was, "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14). They that passed by railed on Him, wagging their heads (Mark 15:29). They stripped Him of His robe (Matt. 27:28), and sold Him for silver (Matt. 26:15), and sat down to eat, even while they prepare to make away with Him (John 18:28). (Note: The Fathers are full of allusions to Joseph as a type of Christ. Ephrem Syrus, De laud. Patr. Jos., traces at length the application of the history to the first and second comings of Christ. So too Ambrose, De Joseph, passim; Tertullian, Adv. Judaeos, c. xi.; Augustine, Qu. in Gen. l. i. n. 123 and 148, and Ep. ad Hesych. cl. 3, n. 199; Chrysostom, Hom. 62, in Gen.; and many others. But this figure speaks for itself.)
So must His members suffer; and though at times the way seems long, He, who hath begun the good work, will surely finish it (Phil. 1:6); for One in a certain place has testified of man, "Thou hast put all things under his feet;" and this covenant cannot be broken (Heb 2:8).
II. -- JUDAH'S HISTORY
AT this stage in Joseph's course, while that pure life, spite of its dreams of rule, is yet rejected, Judah's path is shewn in contrast, in whom we have the whole story of rule as it springs out of the first and natural principle. If the spirit of service produces fruit in us, the mind to rule will in due time be developed. Other fruits will first be seen, such as Reuben, and Simeon, and Levi, but then comes Judah or rule; (Note: See on chap. 29.) a mind in us which attempts some rule, but which, being the fruit of Leah, is outward rather than purely spiritual. I feel that words are lacking here; yet some must know how at a certain stage a mind is born in us, which seeks to rule our other powers. Here, as ever, the natural comes before the spiritual. Joseph is Rachel's son, in whom we see that rule which springs out of the spiritual principle; and which, "by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by love unfeigned" (2 Cor. 6:6), shews that a passive life is indeed of all the strongest. Judah is rule as it springs out of Leah, that is, from first and outward principles; strong at first, but forced to bow to Joseph at last; for though "Judah prevailed over his brethren, and of him came the first ruler, the birthright was Joseph's" (1 Chron. 5:2). Yet for a season Judah prevails, while Joseph must wait in weakness till Judah's shame is seen.
The story is full of shame, so much so that some look upon its insertion as a blot in Holy Scripture. But a mirror contracts nothing of the uncleanness which it reflects. The sun is not defiled by shining alike on stye and palace. Besides, "in a great house there are not only vessels of gold, but also of wood and of earth, and some to honour, and some to dishonour" (2 Tim. 2:20). And Judah's life is one of these, which as much as others, perhaps above all others, contains a moral never to be forgotten.
Like all the rest, this story must be fulfilled, within, and without, and in the dispensations.
Within, we see in Judah, that mind intent to rule, which springs up in us from outward principles. Such a mind, if we could see within, yet refulfils all Judah's course. It "goes down," and "turns aside," and "takes to wife the daughter of a certain Canaanite;" that is, it embraces some mere formal and outward principle (Gen. 38:1, 2; and compare Gen. 10:6; 12:6). But such an attachment to outward forms does little in ruling the elect; the fruit is judged as evil, though an attempt is made to improve it by union with Thamar, who, as the second wife, is the figure of spiritual principles (Gen. 38:6-9). (Note: Respecting the younger or second wife, see on chapters 16 and 29.) This attempt does not succeed. The fruits of such forms are evil, and ere long come to their end; while spiritual truth is regarded with fear and suspicion, as if it were the cause of the judgment on what is evil in us. Yet after all this very truth bears fruit, and by it, through awful corruptions, another form of life is brought forth. Who can tell what confusions and falls within accompany the first attempts we make to rule ourselves? We may know perhaps that forms are first embraced, and that these bear wretched fruit, which God in mercy takes away; but who can tell the confusions which then are wrought within, and all the profanation and adulteration which the eye of God witnesses? Yet out of this too can He bring forth good, and by Judah's fall prepare the way for purer rule and better discipline.
But this inward view is "hard to be uttered." We may perhaps learn more by tracing the outward fulfilment.
In this view we see in Judah's course the story of rule in the Church, as it grows from outward principles; for Judah is Leah's son, and Leah is the outward Church, that is, the form of outward principles, which to her other children adds rulers also, whose ways, though they may be "praised by brethren" (Gen. 49:8), demand the deepest self-abasement. This is their course: -- they take a Canaanitish wife, that is, the principle of mere external worship, (Note: Respecting the Canaanite, see on chap. 10:15-17.) thereby to build up the kingdom. By this they bring forth sons, whom God judges, after an attempt has been made to improve them by introducing a younger wife, that is, the spiritual principle. But this line have little love for spiritual truth: ere long it is an object of fear and suspicion, if not of loathing, to them. Rulers of this stock instinctively feel that there is in spiritual truth and in a spiritual Church something which does not suit them. At first they hoped better things from it, but they have tried it, and in their hands at least it does not answer. Yet even while they reject it, they speak it fair: it would not do to declare their thoughts to all on such matters. They promise therefore that it shall again be tried, but at present Judah's sons are not prepared for such a help-meet. Spiritual truth therefore is put away. Meanwhile the old system of formal worship is found to be lifeless (Gen. 38:12); to console themselves for which the rulers turn to "sheepshearing:" for this comfort remains to them, that, let what will be dead, the fleece at least remains theirs. And here, not knowing what they are doing, the rulers of the outward Church accidentally meet and lay hold on spiritual truth; and against their will the succession of rule is continued, as the fruit of those more spiritual principles, which they themselves had put away. God knows how often this has been done, -- how often the true Church, which is the body of spiritual truth, has erred, just as Thamar erred here. She feels her rejection by that old line, out of which men looked to see the kingdom. She likes not to trust in God alone, continuing as a widow night and day in prayers and supplications; but seeks by carnal policy such a connection with the old rulers, as may make her sons their heirs and true successors. The result is, Judah has seed by Thamar, that is, the old line of rule is continued in connection with spiritual principles. Thus does the rejected Church get apostolic succession, and bear in the line of rule the twofold seed again; though in this case there is a special mystery; something of the younger being seen, even before the firstborn is brought forth (Gen. 38:27-30). In other cases the carnal seed comes fully first: in outward rule, when it is brought forth from spiritual principles, the spiritual just appears, and then is forced to give place to what is carnal. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. He that hath eyes, let him look around at the fruit of outward rule by spiritual principles; and he shall see that there is yet always first a glimpse of the spiritual, and then the firstborn or carnal seed breaks forth and supersedes it. (Note: Ambrose, at very great length, goes into the mystery of this birth by Thamar; In Luc. l. iii. § 20-29. He only traces the fulfilment, as it is seen in the dispensations; but of course it has its manifestation on every platform. Irenaeus, also, Contr. Hoer. l. iv. c. 25, al. 42, gives the same interpretation.) But the old line of rulers disown the offspring. The mother shall be burnt. As for the children, they know nothing of them. But their wrath is vain. Proofs are forthcoming, whose the seed is. The "signet, and bracelets, and staff" (Gen. 38:25), spite of the rage of the old rulers, declare the parentage. The lineage is very manifest. Those spiritual churches which have desired the "succession" of the outward kingdom, and have got it, though not legitimately, can shew by indisputable proofs, by the very ornaments which are in their possession, the stock from which their children spring.
The dispensations even more clearly reflect this scene. In this aspect, Judah, the son of Leah, sets forth the fruit of the Jewish dispensation, regarded as a kingdom. Leah, the first wife, was that dispensation, which, after law and priesthood, bore Judah, that is, the kingdom, also. This Judah took a Canaanite to wife. "Thy birth," said the prophet to Jerusalem, "and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan" (Ezek. 16:3). That kingdom was allied to forms, and grew, loving an external worship in which was no spirit. An evil seed was the result, who either could not or would not have fruit by spiritual principles, when these were offered to them. For even of old the spiritual Church was offered to the Jew. In prophets and righteous men it came near to them, but they would not receive it. (Note: Just as, in the type of Jacob, Rachel was loved long before she was fruitful, and, during all the years while Leah had her children, was, though without children, yet in Jacob's house; so here Thamar lives and is introduced to Judah's house, before she has any fruit by Judah or his sons. See Augustine, Retract. i. 13 and Contr. Faust. l. xxii. c. 84.) So Thamar, the younger wife, was put away: the sons of the first wife would not be built up by her. Then Judah's wife, that is the old dispensation, died and came to its end; her sons having first been cut off for sin by sore judgments. Then by Judah's fall the Church is made fruitful, not without some failure perhaps on her part, from a too great looking to Judah as the only source from which the kingdom could be continued. (Note: How little the early Church at Jerusalem saw of the distinct glories of this dispensation, how it clung to circumcision and the law, might be shewn from many scriptures. It was some time before even the Apostles were clear respecting the call of the Gentiles. Their thoughts still hung upon the Jewish line. See Acts 11, 15, &c.) Yet Judah knows it not. As Paul declares, "God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day. And David saith, Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and bow down their back alway" (Rom. 11:8-10). But "their fall is the riches of the world." "Through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy" (Rom. 11:11-17). A seed has sprung out of Judah, which, when it is conceived, Judah judges, not suspecting that it is his own offspring. Yea, he is ready to destroy it with the mother; but proof is at hand that it is Abraham's seed. The "signet" and "staff," though Judah may rage, will prove beyond all contradiction the lineage of the Church's children. Then again appears the twofold line, which in this case, as the fruit of rule, is developed with certain remarkable peculiarities; something of the younger or spiritual line being seen here for a moment before the first-born or carnal breaks forth and supersedes it. (Note: Augustine goes at great length into the dispensational fulfilment of this story, Contr. Faust. l. xxii. cc. 84-86. Chrysostom also, Hom. 62 in Gen., refers to the mystery here.) But I have said enough of this. The story is throughout a mystery of the kingdom; and as such is alluded to in that Gospel, which is peculiarly devoted to set forth our Lord in connection with the kingdom (Matt. 1:3), shewing how the line of heirs should change, while yet the kingdom should be continued to Judah's sons and Abraham's seed.
Such is Judah's course. And yet in every age Judah's sons have been ready to boast, "We were not born of fornication" (John 8:41). The Jew said so, and since then the Church has been forward to repeat the boast with just as little ground for glorying. Those who know her story best must own, that, if the true seed of the kingdom has sprung out of her, there have been also most awful confusions. I know God's grace can master all; and Judah's fall, even as Adam's, may give occasion to bring in better things. Out of the adulterer's lust may grow the living child, in its bodily perfections displaying God's wisdom, and in its soul's salvation His love, which delights to save to the uttermost. But in each case sin is judged as sin. Our place is, not to boast, -- for God knows, we have cause for deepest self-abasement, -- but to walk humbly with God, that He may forgive and deliver us from our own and also our fathers' sins.
III. -- JOSEPH IN POTIPHAR'S HOUSE
THE fruits of outward rule having now been seen in Judah, we return to that more inward and spiritual life, which at last attains to rule all things. Joseph, rejected by his brethren, is here "brought down to Egypt" (Gen. 39:1). That pure life, oppressed and crushed by other more outward fruits of true service, that is, by Jacob's elder children, is now enslaved in things of sense, for Egypt is the ground of sense, and Joseph is now brought down here. (Note: Respecting Egypt, see on chap. 12.) The tree is destined to be both high and wide; its root is therefore laid deep in the earth: it is to bloom in bright sunshine, but it is first reared in deep shadow; and at this stage shade is safer than sun, while the very shadow proves that there is sunshine not far off. So the mind which dreams of rule must serve, and first know the bondage to sense in all its bitterness. In this way, and thus alone, does our spirit obtain the longed-for power over natural things. Those only who have felt the bondage ever reach the true deliverance.
First to trace the scene within. That mind in us which waits to rule by pureness and long-suffering, already crossed by other fruits of service, now feels the power of the things of sense, and ere long is sorely tempted by them. Against its will it is brought down to Egypt, and there is bound and sold as a slave, like Joseph (Gen. 39:1). The sensual mind overrules the spirit; and sense, instead of being governed, still holds the spirit captive. Can the spirit hope for rule after this? Is not such bondage a token of the final triumph of the flesh or natural man? Not so. God Himself appoints this way: -- "It was not you, but God, that sent me hither, to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Gen. 45:7, 8). He first empties, that He may fill; for the spirit to the end requires such discipline. Joseph does not, indeed, like Jacob, use carnal means to gain his ends; but his way of telling his dreams shews that as yet he lacks that self-despair and brokenness which God waits for. Besides, God loves the world. He will have the kingdom in our earth even as it is in heaven. Egypt may be Egypt to the end, yet in it the Lord will shew what He can accomplish. Our spirit therefore is brought down and bound, and made to feel how little, spite of faith and sonship and service, the ground of sense is overcome; that at last the evil there, having been felt, may be subdued, the spirit meanwhile by the trial being yet more chastened and purified.
This state is open to special trial. The spirit cannot feel the power of the natural man, without being subject to temptation through its affections. So the Egyptian's wife sought to corrupt Joseph (Gen. 39:7-12); that is, some natural affection, the exact character of which we are not told, for her name is not given us, is felt within, seeking to seduce the spirit. Some affections of nature may indeed be won and blessed: Joseph himself at a later stage has an Egyptian wife, who bears him good fruit (Gen. 41:50-52). The evil here is that this affection, which now tempts the elect, is wedded to the natural man, and as such seeks only to corrupt the spirit, not at all to obey or serve it. Very sifting is this trial. Secret, repeated, even violent are the solicitations, which assail us in the very duties we owe to the natural man, tempting us to embrace some worldly principle, and so to give up the narrow path of holy separateness. But the seductions of natural affection by grace are overcome, though it costs us a struggle to escape their importunity. Then the immediate result is worse bondage. The spirit, like Joseph, is charged with acts for which the flesh is answerable; and there is that within us, like the Egyptian, which believes the charge, and at once condemns the spirit as an evil-doer.
Some can trace all these confusions within. We ask our Lord that we may know the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings. He draws us by His Spirit thus to pray. A dream of power over self and sin flits before our inward man. We think a few short stages will bring us to the end, -- that His love, who has promised, will quickly give us victory. Instead of this, we discover fresh evil. The flesh, in forms strange and as yet unknown, assails and holds us captive. But we will not yield to nature and its affections. What then? Our sorrow is increased. We are thrust still lower, and a voice within untruly blames the spirit, charging its bondage on it as the result of its unfaithfulness. Could we then hear the Lord, He would tell us, all was well, -- that this discipline, painful as it is, is really indispensable. Had Joseph been happy with the Egyptian, he would not so soon have ruled Egypt. Were the flesh never to rise against the spirit, its evil would remain undiscovered, and therefore unsubdued. In men whose nature is rough and strong, how often the very strength of the flesh forces the spirit to rise to overcome it; while weaker natures, whose evil comes out less, remain less changed, because less conscious of the evil. The elect therefore must feel the evil. Only thus do they obtain the full deliverance.
But let us look now at this scene without. Here is set forth a stage of the early experience of those who by patience and pureness look for spiritual power. Such souls have many griefs. Not only are they rejected by their brethren, they also must suffer in the world. They are there, but not by choice. Far rather would they abide in heavenly places. But the sin of the elect forces them away; and the very world, bad as it is, is kinder to them than brethren. Then in the world such souls are made a blessing: -- "The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake" (Gen. 39:5). Their character makes itself felt. Ere long they exercise some power even in that worldly circle. Then comes the temptation to swerve from holy separateness. The principle (women are principles) of that society in which they are forced to move becomes a tempter to them; or, to put it more outwardly, that body, which is the outward form or expression of some worldly principle, seeks with open arms to gain and lead them astray. What peculiar form of worldliness this is, we are not told; for, as I have already observed, the name of this Egyptian woman is not here given us. It may be any worldly principle, whether that which animates the literary world, or the musical world, or the fashionable world, or the mercantile world, or the scientific world, or any of those other many minor worlds, which, like the households of Egypt, are all constituent parts of the one great world of sense which Egypt represents. That body, to which the elect stands in nearest contact, will be his tempter; assailing him peculiarly while he is engaged about his business in the world. It would make our outward calling an occasion to undo us. It is very urgent, and will not be denied. But a voice has said, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world: if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2:15-17). The Josephs therefore will not be drawn aside: in holy truth they reject all those advances which would seduce them from their integrity; and for this the world now hates them more, and, to save its credit, stirs up its acknowledged masters to judge what it cannot corrupt. The elect are accused of wishing to loose the bonds of society, and under this false charge for a while are shut up as evil-doers. But "in all things they approve themselves, in much patience, in afflictions, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the word of truth, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left; by honour and dishonour; by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, yet well-known; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Cor. 6:4-10).
Dispensationally too this scene has been fulfilled. The Spirit of Christ, as a patient sufferer in the world, suffered, served, was blessed, and made a blessing. The world, with its offers of love, sought to seduce it in vain. The Spirit of Christ in His true Church could not be thus corrupted. So it was basely slandered and falsely accused; and the lords of this world, misinformed of the elect's acts and purpose, opposed and grieved and bound them. Those, who know the story of the coming of this Spirit into the world, will at once recognise the details of this dispensational fulfilment. (Note: On the spiritual sense of this chapter I have found but little in the Fathers. Ambrose, (De Joseph, c. 6, § 31,) and Gregory the Great, (Moral. in Job, l. ii. c. 36, § 59,) just allude to Joseph's temptation here, as a figure of what Christ suffered on earth. It is, however, but an allusion.)
Thus journey on the Lord's beloved. Happy are they who have learnt, not only to trace these journeys, but to be partakers of them. Then, while they look to the things unseen, the light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Faithfulness cannot go unrewarded. The blessing may seem to tarry, but for every delay there shall be the largest interest.
IV. -- JOSEPH IN PRISON
HERE follow yet further temptations, through which the spirit in us is yet more perfected. If it resists the solicitations of natural affection, the natural man is stirred up against it, and the spirit is more than ever straitened. Like Joseph, it is sorely bound. Then, in its bonds, it is brought into contact with certain servants of Pharaoh, that is, certain forms or powers of the natural man, which by it are served, and even in some degree disciplined. Inwardly, we see here how certain natural activities are subdued, while the spirit is yet shut up in grievous bondage: outwardly, how certain natural men are schooled and taught by the elect while the world neglects or frowns upon them.
Of this work within I can say but little here, because of our dim perception of that immense complexness of thought and being, which go to make up man. Adam's path may be clearly seen by us, and some of the earlier stages of man's development; while the later steps, which are more inward and deal with the many varieties of the carnal and spiritual mind, may be beyond our vision. Even if seen, the nice distinction between these varied forms of thought and life is hard to be uttered, in our present state and with our imperfect language. Without, our eyes can see the immense variety of tribes which have come forth from Adam, all of which are but various forms or manifestations of man or human nature. But within, though secret and hidden, the outcome is the same. Old Adam in us brings forth as many different minds, each of which throughout this book is figured and set before us in some son of Adam, or Noah, or Shem, or Ham, or Japhet; some outward, some inward, some sensual, some natural, some spiritual, and this in different measures; the elect all representing some form of the spiritual mind in us; the non-elect, some form of that mind which is earthly, sensual, devilish.
Now Egypt is the ground of sense, and Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the highest part or ruling power of the natural man; (Note: See on chap. 12.) his servants being those inferior or subordinate activities, whose office it is to serve this natural man. I do not pretend to interpret with perfect precision here, but we shall not be far wrong if we regard these servants as the senses; for the natural man (I do not mean the body) imbibes, receives, and digests the things the senses give him. But these senses at a certain stage are felt to need restraint. They have been useful in their place, but something occurs which makes the natural man perceive that they require discipline. He finds that his servants are not wholly trustworthy: their fallacies begin to be discerned. Hence they are restrained, and thus brought into contact with the spirit, which in its bondage instructs them, and so prepares them to instruct the natural man. For now they learn that there is a power to know God's mind above their own; their lot too is shewn, that some will be restored to serve the natural man, and others must be mortified; while a way is thus opened by which the natural man, through its own servants, may in due time receive an intimation of that higher faculty, which as yet is shut up and bound within.
But this fulfilment within can hardly be uttered. Let us therefore look at the same scene as it is very manifestly fulfilled in the wider sphere of the outward world around us.
In this view, we see here the griefs and works of those, who, while looking for spiritual power, because they will not be corrupted by the world, are for a season shut up from outward usefulness. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob, ever suffered thus. Faith, sonship, and service, with all their trials, are not so pressed as the pure and loving soul which dreams of rule. The Josephs are mocked and sold even by brethren. Then, in the world, they are first tempted, and, if they will not yield, are made to suffer grievous bondage. What the elect feels at this stage, none know but God. To get even a glimpse of this sorrow needs an instructed eye. Such a path may appear to be free from all doubtings, a course which throughout shall be so plain as to cost us little exercise. In vain we read the Psalms: in vain we see "John in prison" doubting what "John baptizing" never questioned. (Compare Matt. 11:2, 3 with John 1:28, 29.) We too at last are shut up. Till we have felt it, we cannot conceive that sickness of heart, which at times will steal upon the patient sufferer; that sense of loneliness, that faintness of soul, which comes from hopes deferred and wishes unshared, from the selfishness of brethren, and the heartlessness of the world. We ask ourselves, If the Lord were with me, should I suffer thus, not only the scorn of the learned and the contempt of the great, but even the indifference and neglect of those whom I have served, who yet forget me? So Joseph might have asked; and so till now may the elect ask, as they stand alone without man's encouragement or sympathy, not turned aside by falsehood or scorn, with their face set as a flint, yet deeply feeling what it costs them.
In this trial the elect meets other men (Gen. 40:1-4). The spiritual are not the only sufferers. The world at times must judge its own children, and worldling and Christian may both be under its frown. Here, as on Calvary, we have before us three sufferers, alike rejected by the world, though most unlike each other. God's elect fall in with just two sorts of men, both Egyptians, and both sufferers, whose end is very different; the one after a brief term of bondage being released and blessed; the other remaining in bondage, till suddenly they are cut off. To outward eyes there is little difference between them. The world, if it think of them, passes one common judgment on all. Those who are shut up must doubtless deserve punishment. Besides, who has not heard of the attempts of the elect to loose the bonds of society, and thus to subvert the world's happiness? So the precious are mingled with the vile. Then some, who in their prosperity would never have met or thought of Joseph, in their sorrow learn the might of truth and grace, as they see a man of like passions with themselves, and in the same affliction, shedding the sunshine of his own peace on all around, bound, yet free, and poor, yet making many rich, without a murmur, forgetting himself and his own griefs, in loving efforts to serve and comfort others.
But Joseph does more. He interprets their dreams, and makes them understand the thoughts of their hearts and what the Lord is saying to them (Gen. 40:5-7). Not in their bright days, but in hours of darkness and grief, does the Lord's voice come home with power to the men of this world. Some dream, -- it may be of the day, -- some inward consciousness of a voice from God, -- reaches even sensual men, when all is dark around, which, with an authority which cannot be stifled or silenced, though they cannot explain it, with strange light flashes in upon them, forcing them to feel that God Himself is speaking. Then they need an interpreter to expound to them their thoughts; and God's elect, long schooled to know God's voice, help the perplexed ones to solve their own secret. They declare that if He speaks, He will also interpret (Gen. 40:8); and that worldlings, though often they cannot understand, are never left without a witness; for He speaks not only to His own, but to all, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. The word differs indeed to each, for the revelation must be according to our state, but to each the Lord has some message; which in our sunny days may not be heard, but will come with power to our souls in our dark hours and nights of heaviness. To Jacob there is a dream of protection in service, a ladder uniting the rough and untilled earth to highest heaven, testifying that God and His angels come down from highest to lowest, and that true servants with Him may go anywhere. To Joseph, dreams of glory and might; to the butler, a dream of restoration and blessing; to the baker, of losing what he had wrought. And as the dream is, so is the fulfilment. I cannot but think, that, to a degree few suppose, the impressions which reach us from another world, are often true forebodings to men of what is about to come upon them. Doubtless Satan, as an angel of light, in this as elsewhere to discredit God, seeks at times to deceive us with wrong and false suggestions. But I speak of the settled and growing conviction, which makes to some their calling and election sure, and to others seems already to forestall the day of judgment. Be this as it may, revelations from the Lord depend upon our state, and each receives that message which is best suited to him. The faithful sufferer has visions of glory, well understood; Egyptians have visions of mercy or judgment, both awhile a riddle to them, till the elect, without fear or favour to either, interprets to each their deep and awful significance.
As to these dreams, which are of everlasting truth, they shew the fate and end of those two classes, into which the slaves of this world may be divided. In this view, worldlings make up two classes, and but two, the saved and lost. The thoughts and ways, may I not say, the inward life of each, is here remarkably displayed. Before the one, a vine is set, which appears to bud, and blossom, and bring forth clusters. He does not plant it or make it to grow; but his eyes are turned and feast upon its beauty. As he looks it seems to grow. Then he takes of its fruit, and, not content to have it for himself alone, he ministers it to others near him. Thus one class of worldlings, in their hour of trouble, have an eye opened to behold Christ as "the Vine which cheereth God and man" (John 15:1; Judges 9:13). As they look, the Vine they are intent on seems to grow before them; one beauty after another opens out to their astonished view; first the blossoms, and then the clusters, and then the precious wine, which with glad hearts they take and give to other worldlings. What can they render to the Lord for all His mercies? They will take the cup of salvation, and confess they owe their all to Him. And yet, with an eye open to see the Vine, and a hand stretched out to grasp it, and to give its cheering blood to all around, the man is yet in sadness and fear, not seeing that such a vision is the certain pledge of life and liberty. Then God's elect explain the dream. If such things are seen, the prisoner may be of good cheer. He that sees this Vine on "the third day" shall go forth free. Soon shall his bondage cease, and in the power of the resurrection he shall live to serve others (Gen. 40:20). (Note: The "third day" is always connected with resurrection. See on the third day.)
How different the scene before the other's eyes. He sees himself, carrying on his head baked meats, the work of his own hands. He has toiled to make "all manner of things for Pharaoh," but none for God. Carelessly he exposes the produce of his toil where it may be stolen from him. It is "on his head," not in his hands; "in baskets full of holes," (Note: Heb. saliy choriy [H5536, H2751], translated in the text of the authorised version "white baskets;" but in the margin "baskets full of holes." The Hebrew root, chor [H2352 or H2356], is a hole or perforation, evidently expressing the holes or interstices between the twigs, of which the baskets were made. Jarchi explains it of wicker-baskets, made of twigs which were white from having the bark peeled off.) whence the birds of the air can come and steal away his labours. While some poor worldlings in their fears behold the Vine, others are occupied and burdened with what they themselves have wrought to please the world. They see their work, not for God, but for the world. As they look, they see their treasure is in danger, for it has been "put into a bag with holes" (Haggai 1:6); and ere long evil spirits, (so our Lord Himself explains the "birds," Matt. 13:4, 19,) deprive them of the fruits of all their labour. One would have thought that such things would need no interpreter. But it is not so. The poor prisoner looks with fear, but he understands not. What must the elect say to such? Can he say, Peace, Peace, where there is no peace? What can he say, but that, if no change comes, "the end of such things is death" (Rom. 6:21).
Thus even in his bondage does the elect shew out God's thoughts, cheering some of the slaves of this world, if he can only warn others. Those he comforts in due time are freed, and in their joy forget the man through whom the comfort reached them (Gen. 40:23). The Lord's prisoners differ greatly. Some there are, who hear the truth, and go forth from bondage, and yet are not spiritual. Such men never suffer like purer souls. They could not bear it; therefore it is not laid upon them. For the vessel of wood, it is enough that it be washed with water: the precious gold can bear, and therefore must be purged by, fire; for it is written, "Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean; and all that abideth not the fire, ye shall make go through the water" (Numbers 31:23; Lev. 15:12). Thus, while these are freed, the beloved of the Lord remains in bonds; fitted for service or rule, and yet cut off from it. It seems as if Joseph thought the butler would help him; but many weary days elapse before he remembers Joseph. Let spiritual souls understand their calling. They may comfort others: let them not think they shall therefore be remembered in the world.
Dispensationally too this is fulfilled. In this view, Joseph in an Egyptian prison is Christ come into the world, where He can meet the two peoples, that is, the Jew and Gentile. The Jews, even as we, need many figures to represent all the different aspects or relations in which they may be seen. As the brethren of Christ in the flesh, who reject and sell Him, they are again and again set forth in the sons of the first wife. As the line of the kingdom, they are seen in Judah and his sons. As a sensual people, uncircumcised in heart (See Jer. 9:26), and ignorant of God's secrets, even when He speaks, an Egyptian captive awaiting judgment is their appointed figure. Christ, the true Joseph, meets these two peoples, Jew and Gentile. In former days they had each served Egypt or the world with meat and drink in different measures. When He comes, they are shut up, unable to serve others. God has spoken to both, but they cannot understand. (Note: Those who are familiar with the early Fathers know how confidently they spoke to the Gentiles, as men who ought to have had better thoughts of God, even from their own poets, and the voice of nature. See Justin Martyr's Cohortatio ad Graecos, § 14, and the following sections; also his De Monarchia, § 2, &c. The Pedagogue of Clement is full of this thought throughout, that the Divine Word was the invisible teacher of men at all periods and in all lands. St. Paul seems to express the same thought, Acts 14:15-17; 17:23-28; Rom. 1:19, 20.) For the book of prophecy and God's purpose, though given by Him to men, was not opened rightly till the Spirit of Christ opened it. In these visions or dreams, one people saw a vine, and gathered, and then presented, its precious juice to others. This people, which is the Gentile, though for a while shut up, shall be released, and bear forth the cup of blessing to the world; while the other people, though burdened and toiling, shall be robbed of the bread they have prepared, -- this is the Jew, -- and then be judged and cast out. But the Gentile people, though freed, ill requite Joseph. In their joy they forget that, though they are free, He does not rule yet where He surely must rule. They seem to think their service to Pharaoh will suffice, till, by the discovery of their own impotence to solve his difficulties, they are forced to remember Him to whom all in heaven and earth shall bow. When will Gentile Christendom awake to the fact that there is One, who has served them, and waits to rule? When will they welcome Him to judge all things? (Note: The Ordinary Gloss sums up the substance of this chapter. -- In loco.)
V. -- JOSEPH EXALTED OVER ALL EGYPT
WE come now to the exaltation of the elect. After long suffering, first from the ungoverned violence of activities which spring from true service (Gen. 37), then through temptations from the affections of the natural man (Gen. 39), then through bondage and pain (Gen. 40), the spirit is freed and glorified. All Egypt bows to Joseph. He counsels its prince, and in due times arranges all its doings.
Of the inward fulfilment I can write but little, though in each detail this scene deserves the closest attention. This, however, I may say, that we are here shewn how the natural man is subdued at last, and in all its parts is governed by the spirit. The steps detailed are briefly these. Pharaoh, that is, the highest faculty of the natural man, (Note: See on chap. 12 and 40.) is now greatly disturbed by visions. He dreams that all his strength is swallowed up. He sees lean kine devouring fat ones, while the lean are none the better for it. He sees thin ears consuming the full, till nought remains. He feels assured, though he cannot read the riddle, that it portends evil (Gen. 41:17-24). Cattle and corn are two great gifts for man's blessing, namely, the animal faculties which may be used or abused, and the fruits which are the result of the cultivation of the creature. (Note: See on chap. 8 and 9.) Here the natural man begins to perceive that these may perish, and leave their present possessor in utter misery. By the elect these creatures were offered to God; but in Egypt they are never so offered, but beast eats beast, and none is better for it. The fruits of the earth, too, (and where is it cultivated as in Egypt?) are seen now consuming one another. Surely it is an awful sight. In this juncture the wisdom of Egypt is summoned to aid, but it can render no assistance. Then from the butler, that is, some sense which serves the natural man, (Note: See on chap. 40.) the natural man himself learns of one who is near and can unravel such difficulties. The spirit's witness is heard with awe, and its counsel at once is obeyed through fear of coming judgment. Wherever the natural man is to be governed, this must be known. It invariably occurs wherever the spirit is destined to be the ruler. Egypt's pride must bow. Troubles, therefore, which it is not able to avert, press on it. The natural man is brought into perplexity, that it may submit itself and hear the spirit's teachings. The details I cannot open here; for it is one thing to see, another to utter such mysteries. I will only note that Joseph now receives a wife (Gen. 41:45); that is, certain natural affections or principles are embraced and rendered subject to the spirit; while some of the riches which God so wondrously bestows are treasured up, as a means of at least abating and better meeting the impending judgment (Gen. 41:47-49).
As fulfilled without, this scene is open to all; and in this view we are here shewn the means by which worldlings are brought to allow the exaltation of the spiritual. Sooner or later the great of this world stand by their river, that is, watch the transient course of earthly blessings, and thereby are grieved with sad visions, as they see the good destroyed and preyed on by the evil. But they cannot understand their own riddle, much less devise a remedy which shall suffice to meet the crisis; till, at the suggestion of some who have already profited by their wisdom, the Lord's beloved are found, not mere men of faith, or sons of God, or zealous servants only, but men who have long since dreamt of rule, and then for their truth and grace been separated from their brethren, and falsely charged, and sold, and shut up; who by all this have been prepared of God in due time to enlighten and guide and help many. By such both blessings and judgments are used to save the world. Egypt does not become Canaan, but a wondrous change is effected through its length and breadth; while some are united to them by a nearer and dearer tie, as a beloved Church, in which children are begotten who shall inherit Canaan. I do not care to dwell on historic applications; but I may say, that the christianising of Europe, through the influence which saintly souls exercised on a violent age, is one example of the outward fulfilment here; after which came that awful famine of the word of the Lord, which, had not abundant treasures been laid up, would have consumed the world. (Note: See Gloss Ord. in loco.) But the same story is fulfilling every day; and those who at one stage are mocked as dreamers, and misrepresented, and shut up, and cast out by brethren, end by ruling those whom their brethren cannot rule, and by saving and serving those who mocked them.
Dispensationally the fulfilment here concerns us much. We saw how in this view the saved butler prefigured Gentile Christendom. (Note: See on chap. 40.) Here we see how this liberated people, whose eyes were opened to behold the Vine, even while ministering it to the world, unfaithfully keeps to itself the secret of what the true Joseph has done for it. But a tine comes, in the providence of God, when the rulers of this world, represented in Pharaoh, begin to be sorely troubled. Visions haunt rulers, of weak things destroying strong, of hungry creatures eating up the fat and flourishing. The oxen strong to labour are seen to be consumed; and, what is worse, the thin and hungry ones are none the fatter for it. The seven good ears, of which it is twice noticed that "they came up upon one stalk" (Gen. 41:5, 22), (Note: Nothing like this is seen in "the thin ears.") are devoured by the poor and weak, in whom is seen no bond of union. The strong and good, having union among themselves, are destroyed by those who are alike in misery, but have no bond of fellowship. Surely it is an awful dream, which the world's rulers are beginning to see, and not without perplexity. What does it portend? Such is the question this day with some to whom the butler has given the cup, but who do not know Joseph. It portends a trouble, which the world unaided cannot meet; one for which the learning and counsels of Egypt will find no remedy. For God Himself shall bring all Egypt to such self-despair, as will render the need of His Elect Servant's presence and help plain to all. At this day a million men in Europe are needed to keep order; to keep, while it may be so, the weak and hungry from devouring the strong before them. Sooner or later, spite of all its boastings, the world will discover that it needs Christ; that neither its present rulers nor magicians can solve their own riddle. Sooner or later they must confess their own weakness, and admit that a power not in them, -- the government of Christ and His Spirit, -- alone can save the world. Blessed be God, the day is at hand, when the Despised One shall rule: the night has been dark, but the light of day cannot be far off. When the night is darkest, the morning is at hand; and the child is born, when the travail pains are sharpest. The world has long travailed and been in pain, waiting for the manifestation of the Son of God, and the redemption of the body. His day shall surely come. Then, while earth bows itself, shall His Virgin Bride be given to Him. Then shall the earth be glad, for He cometh to judge the world with equity, and the people with His truth. Through judgment shall the world be saved. His wisdom shall rescue it, even while it passes through "the consumption which is decreed on all the earth" (Isa. 28:22). (Note: Ambrose, (De Joseph, c. 7 § 40,) and Augustine, (Enar. in Ps. lxxx. § 8,) both allude to this dispensational fulfilment.)
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, who is like unto Thee, who dwellest on high, yet humblest Thyself to behold the things which are in heaven and in earth; who takest the poor from the dust, and the needy from the dunghill, to set them with princes, even with the princes of Thy people? The whole earth shall be full of Thy glory. Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High.
Here, for the present, I conclude these Notes, unable to write of that glory which shall ere long be manifested. The works of Christ cannot be fully written yet. If they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. But the part of His work here written, (for it is He who works in us,) may shew how great is that transformation, which He is able and willing to perform in those who yield their will to Him. Only let us give ourselves to Him, and wait for Him. For it is love which keeps us so long waiting for the powers of the world to come, lest being used in self-hood they should be a curse, and so increase our condemnation. There have been some, who, having received some special gift or energy, have in self-will denied the gift its true development, and, substituting their own hasty purpose for that of Him who called them, have used the spirit to their own private ends, thus injuring themselves unspeakably. Therefore let each humbly submit himself in all things to God, that He may fulfil His will and work as He pleases. O Lord, through life and death fulfil Thy work in us, that to us to live may be Christ, according to Thy pleasure, that so Thou mayest be seen and rest in us, and we be hid and rest in Thee, for ever. Amen.
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