Profiles of Faith: Joseph - Faithfulness Brings Blessing

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Joseph - Faithfulness Brings Blessing

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Joseph had many uncommon experiences, to say the least. An honorable existence among honorable men is much easier than a crusade that blazes a path seldom traveled. Yet Joseph, even as a young man, was moral and honorable when those around him were debauched.

Surely a young man who strives for righteousness will immediately reap the rewards of living a godly life. Or do trials plague even the righteous? Do matters go awry when one least expects?

Joseph and his dreams

Joseph's mother was Rachel, the great love of his father, Jacob. Even working seven years to obtain Rachel as his wife seemed to Jacob as "but a few days."

In time Joseph and his brothers would become the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel. But Joseph, the 11th son of Israel (Jacob), soon became his father's favorite. Sibling rivalries and jealousies brought the young man Joseph considerable trouble.

At 17, Joseph was a delight to his father. Genesis 37 records that Jacob dearly loved Joseph, more than he loved his other children (Genesis 37:3). As a token of his affection, he gave Joseph a richly embroidered coat, a "coat of many colors" (King James Version).

The gift of the coat didn't endear Joseph to his brothers. They knew he was their father's favorite, so, seemingly inevitably, his brothers began to hate him. He contributed to their jealousy and hatred through his naïveté and inexperience. Family strife followed sibling rivalry.

God knows "the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10). God inspired Joseph to have two dreams that had a common meaning. When he revealed the first dream to his brothers, they didn't appreciate it.

"Please hear this dream which I have dreamed," said Joseph. "There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf" (Genesis 37:6-7).

The symbolism of his brothers' sheaves bowing down to his sheaf was not lost on his brothers: "Shall you indeed reign over us?" they asked incredulously (Genesis 37:8).

The second dream's imagery included not only his brothers, but his parents: "Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me" (Genesis 37:9).

When Joseph told his father and brothers of his night vision, his father rebuked him: "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?" (Genesis 37:10).

His brothers envied Joseph, but his father Jacob reflected on his son's dreams. In earlier years he, too, had received a dream from God (Genesis 31:10).

With this background, we now see Joseph's life take a turn for the dramatic.

Where jealousy leads

One day Jacob directed Joseph to seek out his brothers to see how they and their sheep were faring. Following his father's instructions, he traveled far searching for them. The brothers, seeing Joseph approaching in the distance, concocted a hasty plan: "Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!" (Genesis 37:19-20).

But Joseph's oldest brother, Reuben, immediately reacted in hopes of sparing Joseph's life: "Let us not kill him. Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him" (Genesis 37:21-22).

When Joseph arrived, he was shocked as they stripped off his multihued coat and lowered him into a pit (Genesis 37:23-24).

Seeing a caravan approaching, Judah, one of the older brothers, also saw a way to spare young Joseph's life: "Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh" (Genesis 37:27). So his brothers sold Joseph for 20 pieces of silver.

To provide themselves an alibi in the eyes of Jacob, they conceived a deception: They killed a goat, smeared some of its blood on Joseph's beautiful coat, then sent the blood-stained garment home to their father. When Jacob saw the coat, he tore his clothes and mourned many days for his favorite son. He refused to be comforted, "for I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning" (Genesis 37:35). None of the sons dared reveal the truth to their grief-stricken father.

Blessings and disasters

Sometimes a disaster can turn out to be a blessing in disguise, especially if God is working out events (Romans 8:28). Learning to trust God is to learn one of the great lessons in life.

After the caravan reached Egypt, the slave traders sold Joseph to a high officer of Pharaoh, an Egyptian named Potiphar (Genesis 39:1). Then things began to look up for young Joseph: "The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man ... And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority" (Genesis 39:2-4).

At this time Joseph's life took another unexpected turn. The Bible records that "Joseph was handsome in form and appearance" (Genesis 39:6) to the point that he caught the eye of his master's wife.

"Lie with me," she said (Genesis 39:7). But Joseph refused: "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9).

But she persisted, daily attempting to seduce the righteous Joseph. But he was steadfast in character and continued to refuse. Then one day, when Joseph entered the house, not realizing the other servants were outside, Potiphar's wife grabbed him. "Lie with me," she demanded. But he left his garment in her hand and fled from the house (Genesis 39:10-13).

The Bible elsewhere advises us to "flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). This Joseph did, setting an outstanding example to young people of both sexes of resisting such pressure.

Potiphar's wife then devised a plot to protect herself, accusing Joseph of attempted rape and holding his garment as supposed evidence. Joseph found himself thrown into the Pharaoh's prison (Genesis 39:14-20).

Things now looked bad for this righteous young man. Although Joseph obeyed God, he had gone to prison. First his brothers had sold him into slavery, and now he had again lost his freedom. But God does not abandon those who trust in Him.

"But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph's authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper" (Genesis 39:21-23).

One might observe that Joseph could not stay out of trouble for long. But we could also note that Joseph could not stay away from blessings, either. Joseph was blessed almost immediately after being imprisoned.

And he wasn't finished with interpreting dreams.

The butler's and baker's dreams

Two of the Pharaoh's servants, a butler and a baker, offended the Pharaoh and were also imprisoned. Both had troubling dreams while there. The day after their dreams, they appeared sad. Joseph noticed their fallen countenances and spoke to them. Both explained they had had dreams but didn't know what they meant.

Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please" (Genesis 40:8).

The butler told Joseph his dream; Joseph recognized that the dream meant the man would be restored to his former position in just three days.

The baker, hoping to hear similar good news, told Joseph his dream as well. But the baker was to hear bad news: In three days he would be hanged (Genesis 40:19).

Knowing the butler would be released, Joseph asked him to remember him to Pharaoh so he could be freed from his unjust imprisonment (Genesis 40:14). But the butler soon forgot about Joseph (Genesis 40:23), and Jacob's son spent another two years in prison (Genesis 41:1). God, however, had not forgotten His righteous servant.

Sometimes our problems are not resolved just how and when we expect. If disappointments occur, we have to learn to exercise faith and patience.

Pharaoh's dreams

Pharaoh himself then had two dreams. The first involved seven fat cows and seven gaunt cows. The gaunt cows ate the fat ones (Genesis 41:1-4).

In his second dream Pharaoh saw seven heads of healthy, plump grain and seven thin, blighted heads of grain that grew up after and devoured the healthy grain (Genesis 41:5-7).

Pharaoh was troubled by his dreams, but none of his staff could interpret them. Then the butler remembered his experiences with Joseph and recounted them to the ruler. Pharaoh immediately had Joseph brought from the prison and recounted both his dreams. Joseph explained that God, not he, could reveal the dreams' meaning: Egypt would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

Joseph advised Pharaoh to plan well: "... Let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt ... to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain ... Then that food shall be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine" (Genesis 41:33-36).

Pharaoh recognized the wisdom of Joseph's advice. It didn't take him long to decide who should become his new administrator: Joseph himself. "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?" (Genesis 41:38).

Thus Joseph went from prisoner to second in command in the kingdom of Egypt!

Pharaoh told him: "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you" (Genesis 41:39-40). Joseph, now 30, was chief administrator over an extremely rich and powerful kingdom.

Joseph the governor

Joseph made an extended trip throughout all of Egypt, surveying the land and its resources (Genesis 41:46). As God had revealed, there were seven plentiful years. Crops were so bountiful that he stopped recording the grain brought in for storage, "for it was immeasurable."

During this time of abundance, two sons were born to Joseph and Asenath, the wife given him by Pharaoh. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh ("causing to forget"), "for God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house." In choosing a name for his second son, Ephraim ("I shall be doubly fruitful"), he thought: "For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction" (Genesis 41:51-52).

Joseph's two sons were to figure prominently in Israel's history because Jacob, their grandfather, counted them as his own sons: "And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine" (Genesis 48:5). From then on they would be counted with the tribes of Israel.

After the seven years of plenty, famine struck Egypt and the surrounding lands. Because of the measures instituted by Joseph, Egypt had food after the surrounding nations' supplies were depleted. "So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands" (Genesis 41:54-57).

At this point, Joseph's life took yet another unexpected turn.

Joseph the reconciler

Through these twists and turns, God had not lost sight of Joseph or his family, whom He had determined to spread far and wide on the earth (Genesis 28:10-15).

As the famine worsened, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain. They came to the official "who sold [grain] to all the people of the land," not knowing that this man was the very brother they had sold into slavery more than a decade before. "And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth" (Genesis 42:6). Joseph's earlier dreams of his family bowing to him (Genesis 37:10) were coming to pass, as was his desire to be reconciled to his family.

At first Joseph didn't make things easy for his brothers. He accused them of being spies (Genesis 42:9), then used this ruse to force his brothers to promise they would bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, to him (Genesis 42:15). The brothers began to argue among themselves as they realized this sudden turn of events might be divine retribution for the way they had treated Joseph years earlier.

They argued in Hebrew before Joseph, thinking he was an Egyptian and wouldn't understand their language. Watching their fear and anxiety became unbearable for Joseph, who "turned himself away from them and wept" (Genesis 42:24).

Joseph gave his brothers the grain they sought and sent them on their way. Nine brothers returned home, leaving Simeon behind to guarantee that they would return to Egypt with Benjamin. They remained there until Jacob instructed them to return to Egypt for more grain (Genesis 43:1-2).

This time Judah pleaded with Jacob to allow Benjamin to accompany them to Egypt. Jacob reluctantly gave in, realizing this was the only way they could get Simeon back and buy more grain.

When the brothers arrived in Egypt, they once again found themselves before Joseph. When they presented Benjamin to him, Joseph was again overwhelmed with emotion and retreated to his private chambers before returning to his brothers (Genesis 43:29-31).

The plot thickened when Joseph gave his brothers as much food as they could carry back to Jacob. But this time Joseph had his servants place his personal silver cup in Benjamin's sack (Genesis 44:2). After they left, Joseph sent his servant to overtake them and examine their sacks of grain and foodstuffs.

When they found Joseph's silver cup in Benjamin's sack, the brothers were horrified! All they could do was to return to Joseph and plead for their lives (Genesis 44:14-34). They explained to Joseph that, if they didn't return with Benjamin to their father, their father would surely die.

Finally, after Joseph was satisfied that his brothers had learned the lesson of their former treachery, he was unable to keep his identity a secret any longer. He commanded his servants to leave the room and began to weep openly. He revealed his secret to his brothers: "I am Joseph; does my father still live?" (Genesis 45:3).

But his stunned brothers didn't know how to react. They were, after all, still in the Egyptian official's home and presence, and Joseph could have punished them however he chose.

One sent ahead

The forgiving Joseph reassured and comforted them. "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God ..." (Genesis 45:4-8).

It was God, through Joseph, who brought about the reconciliation of Jacob's father and brothers, preserving their lives. In the process, God used him to save many thousands of Egyptians, as well as peoples from surrounding countries, from hunger (Genesis 41:56-57).

Joseph the restorer

Now reconciled to his brothers, Joseph turned his attention to his father, Jacob. "Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph: "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me,... you and your children, your children's children, your flocks and your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty; for there are still five years of famine"'" (Genesis 45:9-11).

So Joseph's brothers set out for home. When they came to their father, they told him some shocking news: "Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt" (Genesis 45:26). Jacob was overwhelmed that his favorite son was not only still alive, but governor of Egypt!

Jacob and his family loaded up their belongings and headed to Egypt. On the way, Jacob offered sacrifices to God.

Appearing in a vision, God told Jacob not to fear to go into Egypt, that He would make of him a great nation there (Genesis 46:2-4). In Egypt Pharaoh welcomed the members of Jacob's family. He also offered them the choicest property in the land of Goshen (Genesis 47:1-6), the part of Egypt in which they settled.

God used Joseph to reconcile Jacob's family and their descendants, allowing His purpose and plan for the children of Abraham to be carried out. This plan had begun with Abraham and was passed on through his son Isaac and then in turn to the grandson Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel.

God's promise was that Israel would become a great nation bearing his name. The sons of Israel became a prolific people within a powerful gentile nation. From the 70 who came to Egypt with Jacob, "the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:1-7).

But Joseph's life had much in common with someone much greater.

Joseph and Jesus

Joseph's experiences were much like those of his coming Savior, Jesus Christ. Like Jesus (John 8:42-47), Joseph was persecuted for telling the truth. Like Jesus (Luke 22:2), Joseph was marked for death, as Joseph's own brothers plotted to kill him. Like Jesus (Ezekiel 37:15-28), Joseph was a reconciler and restorer. And, like Jesus (Isaiah 11:1-5; Amos 9:11-15), Joseph was a skilled and wise administrator.

Like Joseph, but in a much greater way (Genesis 45:5), Jesus was similarly sent ahead to save mankind: "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly ... While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).

Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Joseph's role as reconciler, restorer and the one sent ahead "to preserve life," to "preserve a posterity for you in the earth" and "to save your lives by a great deliverance" (compare Genesis 45:5-7 with Romans 9:27-29; Romans 8:20-21; John 3:16-17).