Week 6 – Joseph

Scripture: Genesis 21-36

God made a sovereign promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. God promised to make Abraham into a great nation and that this nation would arise from his son. Genesis 21-36 tells the story of a God who is faithful to keep His promises! Isaac arrives on the stage of history 25 years after God makes His promise to Abraham. Years pass, and Isaac becomes old enough to get married. Isaac marries Rebekah. Rebekah gives birth to two twins, Esau and Jacob. After describing instances that occur in this dysfunctional family, God’s story of rescue hones in on Jacob.

Jacob eventually marries two women, Leah and Rachael. The story behind Jacob’s arrival to a polygamous marriage is equally as interesting as the chapters explaining how Jacob became the father of twelve sons. After Jacob reconciles with his brother Esau, God tells Jacob to return to Bethel and settle. Once at Bethel, God appeared to Jacob again, renewed the Abrahamic covenant with him, and changed his name from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 35:9-12). After God gives Jacob a new name, the Bible’s storyline takes another turn and now focuses on Joseph, the next to youngest of Israel’s twelve sons.

Joseph’s story unfolds in Genesis 37-50. Joseph’s story is too large to write in detail here, but the central theme of these chapters is that God is faithful! These chapters teach us that God will do what He says He will do. We can be sure of this statement because God is omnipotent. Omnipotent means that God is all-powerful or sovereign over everything, so nothing can prevent Him from doing what He has set in His heart to accomplish. The events of Joseph’s life show us that God will see His plans through despite human sin. Joseph shows us an example to emulate when life goes every way but right, even though we are doing our best to live for our Lord.

I love that the Bible provides examples for us to follow and avoid. I find this fact even more comforting when I see things to copy and things to stay away from in the same person’s life. For example, Israel, then Jacob, made an effort to reconcile his relationship with Esau, whom he had deceived, thus challenging us to humbly go to others that we have wronged in repentance with hopes of restoring the fractured relationship. But here, as the Genesis narrative focuses on Joseph, we see Israel favoring Joseph more than his other sons.

As believers and parents, we ought to avoid this habit of Israel (Ephesians 6:4; James 2:1). Showing favoritism does not reflect the worth of all people stemming from being image bearers of their Creator. Having favorites or treating some better than others breeds resentment among family members and church members. Finally, we should refrain from displaying favoritism because it does not accurately represent God to others (Romans 2:11). Despite the dangers of playing favorites, Israel adds fuel to the already burning fire of jealousy and resentment that Joseph’s brothers had toward him by giving him a coat of many colors as a gift.

This lavish gift for Joseph was the tipping point for Joseph’s brothers because they were willing to kill him when the opportunity presented itself. If Reuben hadn’t been present, Joseph’s other brothers would have wasted no time in murdering him. Yet, despite Rueben’s good intentions, the other brothers sold Joseph to Ishmaelite traders while he was away! After being sold into slavery, Joseph arrives in Egypt (Genesis 15:13) and becomes a servant of Potiphar. Even amid the brothers’ sin, God is still sovereign and working out all His promises for unknown to all at this point in history, Egypt would be the nation that enslaved Abraham’s descendants for 400 years. By placing Joseph in Egypt, God was setting the stage for this part of His promise to transpire. Our Heavenly Father often protects us from harm and the consequences of others’ sins. However, there are times that He will instead work in injustices and harm that He chooses not to keep us from experiencing. Yet, even in the midst of suffering and sin, God can still bring blessing, and we see Him do this in Joseph’s life!

Genesis 39:2-6

The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. All his household affairs ran smoothly, and his crops and livestock flourished. So Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn’t worry about a thing—except what kind of food to eat!

Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man,

Things turned for the better once he settled in Potiphar’s household. Because the Lord was with Joseph, he succeeded in all he did and was promoted by Potiphar to look over everything that was his. Joseph is an example for God’s people in our relationship with our employers. Joseph’s respectful attitude towards Potiphar as his employer and effort towards his tasks should be ours towards our employers and superiors in the workplace (Colossians 3:23-24). However, this is not the only thing we can learn from Joseph’s time in Potiphar’s household because Moses tells us that he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife tried to entice Joseph to sleep with her several times until she accused him of trying to rape her after another failed attempt at seducing Joseph. Joseph models both the reason we are to pursue sexual purity, a love of God and our neighbor (Genesis 38:8-9), and the way we are to respond to sexual temptation – flee – removing ourselves from the source of the temptation (38:10-12; Proverbs 6:27-29)!

Potiphar believes his wife’s accusations against Joseph, and Joseph suffers for doing the right thing by being imprisoned. I often try to imagine what it would be like to be people in the Bible when reading about the things they experienced for their faith and obedience to God and His commands. The older I get, the more I cringe at some of the sufferings of the righteous, like Joseph experienced despite his best efforts in living to honor God in his daily life. I wonder if Joseph had one of those candid moments with God where he asked God questions, awakened from his less-than-pleasant circumstances because of experiencing another injustice because of another’s sin. Maybe Joseph asked God, “Isn’t it enough that I’ve been separated from my family?” Perhaps Joeseph asked if this was the reward he got for maintaining his sexual purity. We are not privy to know if he asked God questions like these or if he trusted that God would again bless him despite his unjust suffering. Still, we know that God once again proves faithful to His promises to Abraham’s descendants and personally blesses Joseph in prison to make good on His promises.

Genesis 39:21-23

But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. 23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

Once again, we see God being faithful and sovereign in helping Joseph succeed in all that he did, and as a result, Joseph received a promotion. While he oversaw the prison’s logistics, he met the Pharoah’s baker and cupbearer, who had also been sentenced to some time in prison. One morning he saw that both of them were upset and asked what was bothering them. The men told Joseph they both had dreams the night before, but neither understood what they meant. In Genesis 40:8, Joseph tells them that interpreting dreams was God’s business. Even after all that he had been through, Joseph was still concerned with God receiving glory in all things. With God’s help, Joseph interpreted their dreams for them. Both dreams’ interpretations came to pass, and the cupbearer was reinstated to his position (though the baker’s outcome wasn’t desirable, it still happened). Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him since he had helped him by interpreting his dream in hopes that he would be released from prison because of his request to Pharoah. After being reinstated to his position, we discover that the cupbearer forgets about Joseph (40:23).

The cupbearer forgets about Joseph until two years later, when the most powerful man in Egypt, the Pharaoh himself, has two dreams that shake him to his core. After Egypt’s wise men were left dumbfounded by Pharoah’s dreams, the cupbearer remembers Joseph and mentions him and his ability to interpret dreams to Pharoah. Joseph is sent for and brought before Pharoah and asked to tell Pharoah what his dreams meant. Even after being forgotten by the cupbearer and serving two more years in prison, Genesis 41:16 still shows Joseph’s faith in God and desire to point others to Him.

“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”

Joseph explains that God has given Pharoah foresight to what will soon occur. There will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph then advised Pharoah to task a wise man to lead the nation in preparation for the years of scarcity. Pharoah and his officials are pleased with Joseph’s advice. Once again, we see God’s hand of sovereignty and blessing on Joseph’s life as He continues to prepare a way to provide for Abraham’s descendants and preserve their lives during the extended famine by elevating Joseph to national leadership.

Genesis 41:37-40

Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. 40 You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”

God provides for and blesses Joseph again! God has blessed Joseph and carried on His work despite the messiness of human sin and injustice. After seven years of plenty, the seven years of famine began. As the famine progressed, Joseph’s brothers back in Canaan needed to make a trip to Egypt to buy grain so that they and their families could survive. Since Joseph was over the distribution of food, it was he that they would see to purchase the needed supplies. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. After a series of events testing his brothers, Joseph eventually revealed his identity to them during their second trip to Egypt for food.

As Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he didn’t neglect to point out their responsibility and sinfulness for selling him into slavery. He told them that they sold him into slavery, and they sent him to Egypt. At the same time, pointing out his brothers’ evil intentions, he pointed to God’s sovereignty over everything, informing them that God used their wicked intentions to position him to preserve their lives and families (Genesis 45:1-8). Joseph then sent his brothers back for his father and their families. Once Joseph’s relatives arrived in Egypt, they settled in the land of Goshen. Since time couldn’t help but march on, Israel (Jacob) nears the end of his earthly life. Before Israel passes, he speaks blessings and cursings over his sons. Genesis 49:23-24 preserves the blessing that Israel said over Joseph.

Archers attacked him savagely;
    they shot at him and harassed him.
24 But his bow remained taut,
    and his arms were strengthened
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
    by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.

In Israel’s blessing over Joseph, he recognizes that Joseph is solid in his faith. Despite all the injustices experienced due to others’ evil intentions, Joseph remained firm in his relationship with God without becoming bitter towards God. He worshiped God because of who God was and not dependent upon what God did or did not do for him. Yet, Israel is quick and wise to point out that Joseph cannot take credit for his unwavering faith or for not giving up during his struggles. No, Joseph would be who He was spiritually or professionally if it had not been for the Mighty One of Jacob, the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, strengthening him throughout his entire lifetime. For us to remain faithful to God and not become bitter towards God, we, like Joseph, must remember that God is omnipotent, faithful, and will work things out for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28-29). While He is working all things out, Joseph challenges us to continually trust God even when we suffer injustices that result from other people’s sins by humbly walking with Him and pointing others to Him. May we wait on the Lord like Joseph and others of old to carry out His plans in patient expectant faith so that we can be strengthened by Him.

If the story of Joseph doesn’t convince you that God can faithfully work out His promises and plans despite people’s evil acts and intentions, let me briefly point you to the cross. What men intended for evil, the crucifixion of Jesus out of jealousy and self-preservation, God used for good! In Acts 4, Peter addresses the Sanhedrin about him and John healing a disabled man the day before. Peter holds no punches as he declares that,

Acts 4:10, 12

…he (the cippled man) was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead…There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

In humanity’s darkest hour, through their most gruesome act, the crucifixion of their Creator, the Triune God provided the only way for rebellious sinners to experience restoration to the very Creator they crucified. Since God worked out His plans and kept His promises through the cosmic suffering and injustice of Christ’s crucifixion, we can, in confidence, know that He will, like He did for Joseph, do the same for us. Like Joseph and Jesus, we must humbly walk with and trust the Father’s plan and person even when suffering unjustly. If we do, we too, like Joseph can say, because of God’s strengthening during those times that, what was meant to harm us, God used for His glory, our good, and the good of others.

See how Jesus’ suffering is used by God for good by watching the video below!

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