The Critical non-Patriarch
Blessed — even while living in the valley
An Encouragement: I encourage you to read through Genesis 37-50 on your own, since I can only hit the “high points” of this lengthy, worthwhile portion of Scripture.
Joseph was the second-youngest child of Jacob, the third of the patriarchs (Abraham and Isaac) who were the founders of the tribe of the Hebrews. His mother was Rakhel (Rachel), one of Jacob’s two full wives. He had single full brother, Benjamin, who was the youngest in the family, but Rakhel died bearing him. He had many half-brothers and half-sisters, born to his aunt, Leah, and to his mother’s and aunt’s maidservants whom they gave to his father Jacob as secondary wives (sometimes referred to as concubines) to bear children to Jacob on their behalf, in accord with the pagan customs of the time. Rakhel and Leah were bitter rivals, Leah being the elder, Jacob’s first wife, and the mother of Jacob’s first sons, but Rakhel being the more beautiful, the one Jacob truly loved, and the one whose sons were Jacob’s favorites.
Family and marriage laws were different back then — this was before Christ, before Moses and the Law being given on Mt. Sinai, so what Jacob did was legal and not uncommon for wealthy men… but it also wasn’t Godly… or easy…. Could you imagine having two wives and two concubines, all of whom were in bitter rivalry with each other, and you having to keep them sorted out? From a Mosaic Law perspective Jacob would have been guilty of sin in this — because a man who took multiple wives was supposed to treat them equally, not openly favor one and disdain another. From an even later, New Testament perspective, Jacob, as a clan leader and man of God, should have been monogamous. As beloved as Joseph and Benjamin were, and as significant Joseph’s life was to the development of Israel, it should be noted that it was Jacob’s first wife Leah’s fourth son, Judah, who was the forebear of Jesus. Not his first born, not his favorite. God is sovereign! But nevertheless, we can only fairly judge Jacob based upon what the Lord had revealed to him to be obeyed, and Jacob was never told that he could not have Rachel, or that he should content himself with Leah, etc.
Joseph was his father’s favorite. He loved God, and God loved him and blessed him with the gift of prophecy — he had special dreams, and was given the insight from God to understand them. But Joseph as a young man lacked wisdom — knowing he was his father’s favorite he tended to be boastful and proud. He had two very encouraging dreams (Genesis 37), which he shared with his family, not thinking of how THEY would take the message:
Gen 37:3-11 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
5 Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 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.” And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to 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?” And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Joseph is still pretty young here, but we see him being active, and faithfully expecting God’s reward, but he is both irresponsible and divisive rather than a leader. He has a lot to learn.
Joseph had made himself so odious to his half-brothers — who did most of the work while he stayed home with his aged father — that they resolved to get rid of him. The next time he came from his father to check up on him, they grabbed him, tore off the flashy, colorfully striped jacket his father had given him, and threw him in a pit, undecided whether to kill him or just leave him for dead.
Two of the elder half-brothers, Judah and Reuben, eager to avoid blood-guilt, each tried on their own to save Joseph. God provided His perfect means to save Joseph — an Ishmaelite caravan (the Ishmaelites were cousins — their grandfather’s brother’s descendants) came through. The brothers sold Joseph to into slavery, knowing that he would be taken far, far away and be very unlikely to ever return. Then, they put goat’s blood on Joseph’s jacket and brought it to Jacob, allowing him to assume Joseph had been attacked and devoured by a wild beast.
You might think it odd that the beast would have attacked Joseph with all of the helpless sheep and goats around… and that none of the brothers or their servants were able to save him. You might also wonder that if God so loved Joseph, why would he save him by having him sold into slavery, instead of allowing Reuben’s plan — to secretly rescue him and return him to Jacob — to work? Imagine going from favorite son to slave in a foreign land in a few days time! Then again, think of the havoc back with Jacob at home if THAT had happened. Reuben would have been the hero, but Jacob would have been furious with the rest of the brothers. God’s plan doesn’t LOOK very good from Joseph’s perspective or even Jacob’s, but as we’ll see, what looks terrible to us may be a great blessing.
Gen 37:34-36 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.
Let’s turn now to Joseph in Egypt. He’s a foreign slave, a Semite in a land of the Egyptians. He doesn’t even know their language or their customs and rules.
[Gen 38… is a sidebar… why is the sad soap-opera tale of Judah and his Cana’anite daughter-in-law Tamar wedged into the middle of the exciting, central story of Joseph? Tamar bore twin sons to Judah, the first born of them being Perez. We don’t hear anything about Perez in the rest of the Tenakh. I grew up wondering why this weird story was in the Bible at all. But when carefully reading the Gospel of Matthew (v.1:3), one finds that Perez was in the direct lineage of King David, and thus of Y’shua HaMoshiakh. Thus Tamar, like Salmon’s wife Rahab, and Boaz’s wife Ruth, were not of Aramean or Israelite lineage, but in God’s providence, became part of a royal and Messianic lineage.]
Gen 39:1-5 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. 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. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field.
God blessed Joseph, so that whatever work he was given was incredibly successful. Potiphar was no fool — captain of the Pharaoh’s guard was a position of great responsibility and power. He recognized the Joseph was blessed, and that Joseph was reliable, so he first promoted Joseph to a house servant, and then let Joseph handle his household — he made him steward of his home and property — and was able to concentrate on his job of protecting Pharaoh.
Now comes the next challenge — God’s blessings had elevated Joseph to a very comfortable position. Satan wasn’t amused — he knew that Joseph was blessed by God, and wanted to foul things up for him, to deny God the glory that Joseph gave him. The Egyptians were not believers in God — with their idolatry and pagan ways, they were easily manipulated by Satan to do his dirty work. Joseph had a blessing that was to become a curse — he had sex appeal — he was a hunk. Now, his master’s wife became obsessed with him….
Gen 39:6b-20 Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
10 So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.
11 But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.
15 And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.” So she kept his garment with her until his master came home…. [Potiphar’s wife then told him the same story.]
20a Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
Out of the frying pan, and into the fire, and none of it his own fault! Joseph was a bit proud, but he was a good boy, his father’s favorite — but then his half-brothers almost killed him and sold him into slavery. God lifted him up to a comfortable position again — but then his boss’ wife, due to her own weakness and evil lust, got Joseph in trouble, and he’s thrown down again. Now he’s in jail, in a foreign country, with no likelihood of release, because as a foreign slave he has no rights. He remained loyal to God, but it didn’t seem to help him. But did God abandon him? Why did God allow this second disaster to befall him, despite his love and faithfulness to God and his obedience to God’s wishes? How does Joseph rate now, as an adult? He has matured well. He continues to be active and faithful to God, but now also accepts responsibility for his actions before God even when it hurts.
Gen 39:21-23 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.
God allowed Jacob’s favorite son Joseph to be nearly killed by his jealous half-brothers, sold into slavery, and now imprisoned. Yet in everything Joseph did, God was with him, and caused him to prosper and be successful in every situation — whether at home, as a house slave, or even in prison. God certainly did not abandon Joseph, but He didn’t prevent him from having serious problems, either.
The most successful of Jacob’s sons who set the stage for the future of Israel; Israelites, not yet Jews (the basis for that distinction was 600 years in the future).
In Genesis 40, Joseph has the opportunity to use his God-given wisdom to interpret the unusual dreams of Pharaoh’s recently fired cupbearer (butler) and baker, pointing out to them that their dreams foretold their fates — the baker to be executed, the butler to be restored to his former favored position. Joseph’s only request was that the butler would remember him to Pharaoh and get him released and returned home. But once the butler was out of jail, he forgot all about his promise to Joseph.
As with his successors during the first Diaspora to Babylon — Daniel, Azariah, Meshael, and Hananiah [see Daniel chapters 1-4] — Joseph started out as essentially a captive, became a trusted servant, and then aroused the envy of those around him, who betrayed him. At least Joseph wasn’t subjected to a fiery furnace or a lion’s den!
Joseph remained imprisoned — chief trustee to be sure, but in prison nonetheless. But was it God’s will for Joseph to get released and perhaps return to his father in Canaan? Was God’s plan for Joseph bigger?
As Genesis 41 begins, we learn that two years passed after the butler’s release. Now, Pharaoh has troubling and perplexing dreams that his magicians and so-called wise men cannot interpret from science or their superstitions and myths. The butler then finally remembers Joseph and his God-given ability to interpret dreams. Joseph is brought up from prison, groomed and dressed, and brought to stand before the most powerful monarch in the world — as God’s messenger.
Gen 41:15-16 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have dreamed a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.” 16 So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
In verses 17-22, Pharaoh tells Joseph his two dreams, dreams none of his magicians and wise men could interpret. As with Daniel a millennium later, Joseph humbly and wisely glorifies God, not himself, as the source of understanding of dreams and visions.
Gen 41:25, 29-43 25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: …
29 Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; 30 but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land. 31 So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe. 32 And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. 33 Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. 36 Then that food shall be as 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.”
37 So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 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.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, “Bow the knee!” So he set him over all the land of Egypt.
So, Joseph has now gone full circle — from favorite son, to slave, to Potiphar’s head-servant, to prisoner, to head trustee, and now to prime minister of Egypt (riding about in Army 2, as it were) — all within 13 years! Even Pharaoh, who thought himself to be the son of a god, recognized the true spirit of God in Joseph.
He goes on to successfully implement his proposal to prepare for and respond to the literal “feast-and-famine” challenge facing Egypt and the surrounding lands.
I want to jump ahead to Genesis 47, so we can look at some details on how Joseph implements the divinely-inspired plan. In Gen 47: 13-26, It is interesting to note that Joseph’s plan is working, but after 5 years of buying grain from Pharaoh’s storehouses, the people are destitute. In desperation, they exchange the title to all of their livestock for another year’s food. All livestock in Egypt is now property of the Crown — essentially, this is nationalization of a significant source of income for many Egyptians. In the seventh year, the Egyptians are again without means to buy grain — and are forced to sell their land and themselves to Pharaoh for food. Rather than provide food on credit or without cost to the people, Joseph, acting in Pharaoh’s interests, imposes collectivization on all of Egypt. While freeholders were not necessarily a majority in Egypt, they are now essentially eliminated. All lands, all livestock, and all people are the property of the Crown. Joseph tells the people that they will be required to provide a fifth of their produce — the same percentage that they’d paid in taxes during the seven good years to fill the storehouses — to Pharaoh forever.
>> The Personal Restoration
Joseph’s appointment as prime minister of Egypt in Genesis 41 completes the roller-coaster of alternating threats, trials, elevations, and successes that had characterized his life from childhood to age 30. But at the end of Genesis 41, there is still some “unfinished business,” some important loose ends left over from his earlier life. While Joseph had reached the pinnacle of success thanks to his stalwart faith in God’s providence, there had been no comparable resolution of the broken relationships with his family. As far as his father, brother, and other family back in Cana’an were concerned, Joseph was dead. Some of his half-brothers may have known that he hadn’t been killed by wild beasts, but they didn’t know why or how he’d disappeared, either.
Genesis 42-47:12 provide the dramatic conclusion to the story, with Joseph learning of his half-brothers’ guilt over what they had done to him, and of his father’s grief and obsessive concern for his younger brother Benjamin. Note that in Genesis 46:1-7, God blesses elderly Jacob’s desire to go down and see Joseph before his passing out of the world. This relocation ends the first portion of the covenant people’s presence in the Promised Land of Cana’an, to which they would not return for over four centuries.
When Joseph was cast into the hole by his brothers, had God abandoned him? NO. When Joseph was sold as a slave, had God abandoned him? NO. When Joseph was thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit, had God abandoned him? NO. When Joseph’s good counsel to the butler was forgotten and he remained in prison, had God abandoned him? NO. As Joseph later told his brothers in Gen 45:4b-8: “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 But now, do not therefore be grieved nor angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 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. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
In Gen 50:19-21, after Joseph has a bit of revenge on his brothers in the process of arranging to get his entire family to come down to Egypt from Cana’an (which Jacob would never have done voluntarily), 19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones. And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
Ultimately, all of Israel, some seventy souls, came down to settle in Egypt, where they would multiply from a small clan into a nation of 12 tribes. At the end of his life, and the end of the book of B’reshis (In the Beginning), Gen 50:24-25, Joseph tells his family that God would surely visit them one day, and return them to the land promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and even has his descendants take an oath to bring his bones up out of Egypt and back to the Holy Land at that time. This final prophesy and request was mentioned in the New Testament.
— New Testament Links —
In Acts 7:6-18, Stephen’s proclamation of Christ to the Sanhedrin devotes a considerable amount of attention to Joseph, recapping his career of faith and to the connection between Joseph’s life and the development of the Children of Israel from a small clan of Semites living in Cana’an into a nation ready for God to deliver out of Egypt four centuries later. Acts 7:19-44 then describes the ministry of Moses and God’s moving to bring Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land.
Hebrews 11:22: “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” Joseph had complete faith that God would bring His people back to the promised land to fulfill His covenant with Joseph’s great-grandfather Abraham. In his closing words to the little tribe of Israelites, he reiterated God’s promises to the Children of Israel.
Joseph never griped about his life being unfair, never yelled at God in anger or resentment, never forgot to honor God, and never gave up. As a result, God was able to use him to save hundreds of thousands of Egyptians — and his own family — from famine.
So, how did Joseph hold up under the temptations of royal attention, imperial authority and virtually unlimited power? He continues to be forward-looking, faithful in counting on God and His power and wisdom, has accepted responsibility for (and forgiven) his family and also accepted responsibility for the entire nation of Egypt, which he rules firmly but effectively to ensure their survival.
So — no matter what misfortune has befallen you, no matter how your situation may be unfair and miserable, be a R.E.A.L. Man like Joseph. Put your faith and trust in God, and let HIM guide your words and your deeds. He has plans for you that you cannot even guess at — do you think that nice 17 year old Jewish mama’s boy Joseph ever even expected to be a slave in Egypt, much less become its prime minister by the time he was 30?
R — REJECT PASSIVITY
E — EXPECT GOD’S REWARD
A — ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY
L — LEAD COURAGEOUSLY