Over thirty years ago, a friend gave me a framed charcoal drawing that has haunted me almost daily ever since. The drawing is that of a man who appears to be looking right past you toward something in the distance. Whatever he is looking at seems to have captivated him. Beneath the drawing are these words from the Book of Genesis: “Behold, this dreamer cometh” (Genesis 37:19).
These words were spoken of Joseph, one of the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob/Israel, as he approached his brothers in the pasture one day. The brothers said this because of two dreams Joseph had shared with them. In the dream, the twelve of them were out in the field harvesting wheat and binding it into sheaves. Suddenly, his sheaf rose up and the others bowed down to it. In the other dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to him. Not surprisingly, they were offended by the implication that Joseph would reign over them. They threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, and put goat’s blood on his his beautiful multi-colored robe ("amazing technicolor dream coat"), and took it home as evidence that he had been devoured by a wild beast. (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28)
In time, we see that all of them misinterpreted the dream’s meaning. The bowing was actually in gratitude to Joseph for actions that spare his family from famine in spite of what they had done to him – an act of mercy and grace, an experience of salvation, a story of providence that has been retold for a thousand generations.
Our lectionary gives only two Sundays to the story of Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel. In the Genesis account, the story is spread over twelve chapters (Genesis 37-49). It is the story of God’s mighty acts demonstrating how God preserved the family of Jacob/Israel and explaining how they came to find themselves in Egypt where later on they would become slaves. I hope you will take time to read the entire epic story.
There are several parallels with the story of Jesus in the story of Joseph that we might notice if we read it carefully. Both had a unique status “sonship” status. Their betrayers had the same name. They were put in a hole from which they emerged to become saviors. Being a dreamer may mean becoming a savior of others. But to accomplish that feat, one most likely will have to experience death, exile in a strange land and culture, and be far more generous, merciful, and forgiving than can be imagined.
That’s because God’s plans are not our plans and God’s ways are not our ways. Trusting God’s plans and ways leads us into new territories. Things happen along the way that we don’t like and we have to continue to live trusting in God to get us through to where God wants us to be. And when we look back upon the journey, we may be able to say with Joseph that what others meant for harm, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20).
The world described in the Bible’s first book is one in which characters were understood to walk and converse with God and who received dreams from God that shaped their lives and resulted in the salvation of others. God-given dreams take time to mature in us and for their full meaning to become clear.
God still gives dreams and the world needs dreamers who are receptive to them. So, ask God to give you dreams. But be aware that dreams have power in our lives and decisions. Understand that others may not like your dreams, but pursue them anyway, trusting in God and attempting to be patient with yourself and with those around you.