This Week’s Reading: Genesis 39-47
Joseph was the favoured one in his family.
When Joseph was born, Jacob bypassed his boys and reached for that child above all, a child born in his old age by beloved Rachel (Genesis 37:3). Jacob made Joseph a rich tunic of many colours, a symbol for the whole family that Joseph was beloved above all others, just for being born.
All his life, Joseph enjoyed privileges by his father and suffered the scorn of his brothers. Born into a dysfunctional family even for ancient times, his father, Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah, two concubines, twelve sons and one daughter. By the time Joseph was seventeen, everyone knew their status in the family: First and foremost were the sons born of Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin, then came Leah’s sons, (though she was first wife and should have had firstborn status, but that’s another story!), then came the sons of the Jacob’s concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, each given to Jacob by his wives in a fierce baby competition for his favour. It was a home rife with competition and pain.
As the chosen heir, Joseph learnt the family business at his father’s hand and was often sent to check on his brothers who worked hard in the fields. This tattletale supervision infuriated his older brothers, especially those concubine boys, who were always last in line with dad, however they performed.
Joseph couldn’t relate to their pain. He enjoyed food from his father’s hand and was trained in the family business, with the full expectation that dad would someday give him the double portion, though Reuben the firstborn, was supposed to be given that gift.
By seventeen, God started giving Joseph big dreams. When Joseph boasted to his family how he was destined for greatness, that his brothers and even his father would bow down to him someday, his family roared their outrage, and even Jacob rebuked his son who could do no wrong.
Soon, envy consumed his brothers (37:11). The opportunity came when Joseph tracked his brothers down to Dothan when they should have been in Shechem as per Jacob’s instructions. Jealousy overwhelmed the hearts of men passed over and Joseph reaped his ill-timed provocations with sudden retribution:
Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, “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!” (37:18-20)
Reuben delivered Joseph from death by his brothers’ hands, though he had the most to gain by Joseph being taken out. “Toss him a pit and leave him there”, he suggested. Quickly, Joseph was stripped of his favoured coat and tossed in a waterless pit, crying out for mercy to brothers’ whose ears were stone deaf to Joseph after long years of their father’s favoritism.
Once Reuben left, the men had a feast, then opportunity arrived once more. Travelling Midianites paid twenty shekels for the boy as the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. For the boys of Israel, the problem son was no more.
Psalm 105: 17-19 recounts: “He sent a man before them– Joseph–who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.”
Years passed with great testing for Joseph. Slowly, Joseph mastered Egyptian and brought great prosperity to Potiphar, captain of the guards and all his household. The Lord was near Joseph at Potiphar’s, for it states in Gen 39:2-3, 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. The term, “The Lord was with him” in Hebrew suggests a close relationship, a tight fit 1. God walked with Joseph and moved heaven and earth to prosper Joseph as Potiphar’s slave.
Life interrupted again. Potiphar’s wife was in intent on conquest and Joseph refused her advances. With false screams of rape, Joseph was framed by his master’s lustful wife and tossed into another pit, an Egyptian prison, guilty until proven innocent.
The Scriptures describe that despite all the pain, Joseph found God. Stripped of all his legitimacy as favoured son and then as favoured slave, Joseph prospered in prison, promoted to chief prisoner, as the jail keeper delegated and dumped responsibility on the favoured Hebrew slave. Even in prison, God was there. Scripture again carefully records heaven’s position:
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 (39:21-23)
In jail, Joseph became famous for his dream interpretation. The jailer even brought before the royal baker and wine tester to interpreter their dark nightmares in jail. Two full years after Joseph interpreted the dreams of the royals, Genesis 41:14 states “Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon.” After over a decade of prison, Joseph was quickly brought before the king of the land, not to plead his innocence, but to speak for Almighty God.
All of Egypt wanted to hear what God had to say through this despised Hebrew. Joseph breathed deep and prophesied: God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires . Carefully, Joseph heard the dreams of the most powerful man in the ancient Arab world and boldly declared: God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do
Pharaoh’s response was unexpected:
Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “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.” (41:38-40)
Suddenly, Joseph was free. The prisoner in rags was robed in fine linen and established as second in command of the country. After one unexpected conversation with Pharaoh, Joseph was hired. Pharaoh knew the benefit of having one of God’s favourites handling the family business.
The dreams of Pharoah teach us something powerful about God Almighty: He cares for the world. His kindness is evident when He gave Pharaoh a dream to alert this global leader that a crushing famine was coming to an ancient world which depended solely on agricultural for food. Always generous and good, God spoke to the pagan king through dreams. Psalm 104:27 states “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things”. God had a plan for sparing the world from death. He brought His wisdom through Joseph, readied in pits and prisons for the stewardship of His global salvation plan.
If you read the rest of Joseph’s story, you would see how Joseph carefully stored the grain of the land and stewarded Egypt through tremendous gain and deficit. You could watch as Joseph used grain to establish Pharaoh as sole landlord over Egypt, when desperate hungry Egyptians sold their land to Pharaoh in exchange for food in the long famine.
You may have held your breath when the boys of Jacob trudged up the hand out line, desperate to buy food for their starving family in Israel, as the drama of Joseph’s struggle between revenge and forgiveness unfolded. I expect you were moved deeply by the joy of reunion between Joseph and his dad, marvelling as Joseph settled his family carefully in the rich plains of Goshen, his family bowed in submission like Joseph had once dreamed.
Joseph suffered much and prospered much as one who walks with God often does. The tension of life in God is extraordinary favour and grace which abounds to children of the King, as does turmoil and suffering and even injustice extracted by His enemies. Since Christ found me and drew me to Him, I have suffered some extraordinary loss and extraordinary favour. Yet like Joseph, I can testify, God never left my side.
I expect Joseph wrestled with God over injustice, plenty. As he begged for mercy in that cistern, you know his prayers would have been desperate. When the Midianites cuffed and roped him, when his own brothers sold him for twenty coins, Joseph must have gone from shock to fury in seconds, his life starkly interrupted by his brothers’ malice. When Joseph struggled and then prospered as an Egyptian slave, I wonder how his faith survived the intensity of the transition from pampered Hebrew prince to indentured servant. When Joseph was trapped by his master’s wife’s lust and then falsely accused of rape, when he was bound with irons and fetters and tossed into prison, I wonder how he stayed sane. Did his dreams of greatness mock him in that dungeon? Did Joseph ever crumble with moans of “How could you, God?”
Jacob, in his last words to his twelve sons, prophesied the truth about Joseph, that all through his life, God was near:
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob. From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel. By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers ( 49:22-26).
Joseph stands as a champion in Genesis. Just as Adam walked with God, and Noah who did the same, so Joseph lived close before His God despite brutal losses and famous gains.
The pattern of God never budging from his side remains. Love came down to Joseph. In their journey together, Joseph and God saved the whole world from destruction, including his own family who had tossed him aside. Joseph was blessed to bless, a true son of Abraham, a warrior of grace and a story of survival to which we can all relate.
Let’s pray: Father God, walking with You as Your child is the greatest gift. Help us to cling to Your goodness in the hard times and to seek Your Grace when circumstances imprison. Lord Jesus, Joseph’s life was easy compared to what you did to save us all. Thank you, Lord Jesus for your ultimate sacrifice, your very life, given to spare even those who had called for your death penalty! Holy Spirit, teach us to live in the expansive truth of our Father’s goodness, through the glories and pits of life. Help us to expect Your suddenlies. Help us live a testimony of Your greatness in our smallness. O God, how we love you and how You love us in so many ways! Amen.
1. Strong, James. Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, 1890, H854.
1. When life has knocked you down, did you get bitter or better? What choices did Joseph make to keep him from becoming bitter?
2. All of us have glory stories and horror stories. Which do you like to share? Can you see God’s hand on your life? Can you appreciate the journey or are you struggling to make sense of your life or both?
3. Joseph is often compared to Jesus Christ. Can you see the similarities and differences? How does your journey compare to Joseph’s? Can you see where God has been near?
4. Favoritism, both good and bad, dominate Joseph’s story. He experienced favour in many settings with huge consequences. Do you have favour in your life? From God? From people? From both?
5. Envy and jealousy almost destroyed Joseph’s life. At the end, though, he told his brothers: 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. (Gen 50:20). Do you have a God perspective about your life, like Joseph? Or do you still only see the events of your life through human eyes? Ask the Lord to give you His perspective.
Next week’s reading: Genesis 48 – Exodus 8