How to Navigate Life
Our last car had many scratches on both sides. I suspect (although my memory is conveniently vague about this) that I was responsible for most of them. They came as a result of the difficulty of steering through the very narrow entrance on one side of the grounds of our church.
Wisdom has been defined as ‘the art of steering’. As you go through life, you will need to navigate many tight situations that require great wisdom in order to avoid damaging yourself or others.
12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
13 who have left the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
14 who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.
16 Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
17 who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God.
18 Surely her house leads down to death
and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
19 None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.
20 Thus you will walk in the ways of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will live in the land,
and the blameless will remain in it;
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the unfaithful will be torn from it.
Avoid wrong turns
Unfaithfulness (vv.16–18) is an example of a wrong turn. Wisdom will ‘keep you from making wrong turns, or following the bad directions’ (v.12, MSG). Wisdom will stop you veering off course. It will stop you ‘travelling paths that go nowhere, wandering in a maze of detours and dead ends’ (v.15, MSG). Evil may look attractive, but it is perverse and leads to darkness.
Marriage is a ‘covenant… made before God’ (v.17). ‘Covenant’ is an important word describing Israel’s relationship with God – the old covenant; and our relationship with him under the new covenant. A covenant is a binding agreement that should not be broken.
To be involved in an adulterous relationship is wrong for both parties. In this case, it is the woman who has ‘left the partner of her youth’ and thereby ‘ignored the covenant she made before God’ (v.17). The man who commits adultery with her has fallen into the temptation to be seduced off the right path onto a path that ultimately ‘leads down to death’ (v.18).
Wisdom will keep you steering along the right paths (v.16a). It will ‘keep your feet on the tried-and-true paths’ (v.20, MSG). It will keep you walking with those who ‘walk straight’ (v.21, MSG).
John the Baptist Beheaded
14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.
6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a dish the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed those who were ill.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he told the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Choose the good path
Difficult times in your life can take you off course in the wrong direction. But if you stay on the right course it will lead to greater compassion and wisdom.
The book of Proverbs presents us with a choice between the way of wisdom and the way of evil. Here, we read what these two paths look like in practice, in the lives of Jesus and Herod.
The path of evil
Herod the Tetrarch was Herod Antipas (21 BC – AD 39). This was the man who rejected Jesus to his face (when Pilate sent Jesus to Herod), just before Jesus’ death (see Luke 23:8–12).
Herod had done what the writer of Proverbs warned against. He had committed adultery with his brother’s wife, Herodias. When confronted with his actions he had John the Baptist ‘bound… and put… in prison’ (Matthew 14:3) because of his own guilty conscience.
Herod’s life seemed to revolve around self-gratification: he had discarded one wife and acquired another. His focus was on his own personal pleasure, rather than the misery that his actions would have caused others – not least his own brother, Philip. Beware when your own pleasure matters more to you than the needs of others.
The fear of rejection can also lead us into trouble. Herod ‘was afraid of the people’ (v.5) if he were to have John put to death. And yet he was also afraid of rejection by the guests at his dinner party and therefore granted Herodias’ daughter’s request for the head of John the Baptist (vv.8–10). Make sure you do not allow what others think of you to matter more than what is right.
Because John the Baptist courageously spoke out, Herod wanted to kill him (v.4). In fact, evil seems to have run in the family: Herod’s niece, Herodias’ daughter, plotted with her mother to have John beheaded (vv.6–10). They were so hardened to evil that they were not even sickened by the sight of John the Baptist’s head brought in on a platter (v.11).
The path of good
Jesus was clearly deeply shocked by the news of his cousin’s death (v.12). His response to bad news was to withdraw ‘privately to a solitary place’ (v.13). He needed to be alone with God.
Yet when his plans were interrupted, Jesus did not get irritated (as I often do). It is good to make plans; but also, to allow God to interrupt your plans. Because of his compassion (v.14), Jesus had the wisdom not only to ‘go with the flow’, but also to respond actively – he ‘healed their sick’ (v.14). Even after all that, he did not take the opportunity to get away from the crowds. Instead, he fed them – or rather, he taught his disciples how to feed them miraculously (vv.16,19–20). He mobilised them.
We see the extraordinary wisdom of Jesus as he navigated through this day. It was a day that started very badly, but Jesus managed to heal many sick people and miraculously feed ‘five thousand men, besides women and children’ (v.21). That day would be remembered throughout history and has affected millions of lives.
The Cupbearer and the Baker
40 Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.
After they had been in custody for some time, 5 each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.
6 When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”
8 “We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”
Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”
9 So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10 and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”
12 “This is what it means, ” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”
16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favourable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17 In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”
18 “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”
20 Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand — 22 but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.
23 The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
41 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven ears of corn, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other ears of corn sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin ears of corn swallowed up the seven healthy, full ears. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
8 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.
9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.”
14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “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.”
16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 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. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 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.
22 “In my dream I saw seven ears of corn, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other ears sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin ears of corn swallowed up the seven good ears. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.”
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears of corn are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless ears of corn scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.
28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Navigate through the challenges of life
Have you ever been rejected, treated unjustly, let down by a friend or found yourself in some other frustrating situation?
‘Great faith is a product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials,’ said Smith Wigglesworth. We see this exemplified in the life of Joseph.
At the age of thirty (41:46), Joseph was put in charge of the entire country of Egypt. Pharaoh was looking for a wise and experienced person and he recognised that there was no one as qualified as Joseph (vv.33,39).
But first Joseph went through a very tough time. It was all part of his training. He had been rejected by his brothers, treated unjustly and put in prison. Yet his suffering was still not at an end.
God gave him the interpretation of the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the cupbearer and the baker. He was given a clear and accurate interpretation. The baker was executed but the chief cupbearer was released and restored to his position. All Joseph had asked of him was that when he was released, he would remember to mention him to Pharaoh and get him out of prison (40:14).
However, the chief cupbearer forgot all about Joseph (v.23). This must have been so difficult and discouraging for him. It is never easy when friends let you down. In Joseph’s case, it meant two more years languishing in a dungeon (41:1).
Prison must have been an extraordinarily frustrating place for a man of Joseph’s talents. He was in his twenties, in the prime of his life. He did not know whether he would ever be released. I am not a very patient person. I think I would have gone mad with frustration.
Yet, in fact, God was preparing Joseph for something great. It probably did not feel like that at the time. By feeding fellow prisoners in a jail, God prepared Joseph to feed the nations from a palace.
Finally, when Pharaoh had dreams that he was unable to interpret, the chief cupbearer said, ‘Today I am reminded of my shortcomings’ (v.9). Joseph was called in to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.
Joseph said, ‘I cannot do it… but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’ (v.16). We see how Joseph has grown in wisdom. The self-confidence and swagger of his youth have been replaced by a reliance on God. He acts here with an extraordinary mixture of humility and confidence (two qualities that do not often go together). This is the humility and confidence we need when faced with the challenges of life: ‘I can’t… but God can and will.’
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams (vv.25–32) and tells him how he should respond to them (vv.33–36). Even Pharaoh recognises the great wisdom that has grown in Joseph. He asks his officials, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’ (v.38). Because he recognised that there was no one as ‘discerning’ and ‘wise’ as Joseph, Pharaoh put him in charge of his whole empire (vv.39–40).
Through all your suffering, trials and tribulations, God is also preparing you. Joseph had grown in wisdom. As a result, he came up with a plan that enabled the people to navigate through a period of great economic recession and turmoil. As a result of the global pandemic, many of us face all kinds of economic difficulties at the moment. God’s help and wisdom may not always change the situation, but they will help you navigate through the struggles you face.
In Genesis 40, we see how impressive Joseph is. Apart from being a little bumptious as a child – and that was his father’s fault for spoiling him – Joseph doesn’t put a foot wrong. Well, maybe he needed a little more tact with the baker!
But despite all the wrongs done to him by others, there is not a hint of bitterness or doubt in God. He is respectful of Pharaoh, but he makes it clear that it is God, not Joseph, who interprets dreams. His childhood bragging has gone and all the glory goes to God. He doesn’t even try to bargain for release. No wonder Pharaoh is impressed. Now Joseph stands before him humble, confident and ready to be used by God.
Verse of the Day
‘I cannot… but God will.’
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Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.