Much of Genesis traces the story of Joseph, the second youngest son of Jacob (of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fame), and Chapter 50 records his final days. It is an amazing story, one full of infighting, deception, and heartache, but perhaps what is most amazing about it is the man Joseph himself. While not a perfect man, his insight, wisdom, and integrity are almost without parallel. There is much we can learn from him.
To say that Joseph was a thorn in his brothers’ side would be a serious understatement. Jacob had multiple wives, but he loved Rachel more than the others. Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn, and Jacob loved him more than his brothers. He was a true daddy’s boy. Jacob provided Joseph with nicer things than the others, leading to jealousy and dissension in the family.
One day Joseph had a dream that implied that his brothers would one day bow down to him, and he thought that would be a good thing to share with them. Then he had another dream that implied his whole family, including his parents, would bow to him and once again felt the need to share. As you can imagine, that didn’t exactly endear him to the rest of the family.
A while later when his older brothers were off taking care of the sheep (you know, being shepherds and all), Jacob sent Joseph to check up on them to see what was going on with his flock.
That was pretty much the final straw. Joseph’s brothers saw him as spoiled, arrogant, and a tattletale. They couldn’t take it anymore. They decided to kill him, but his oldest brother, Reuben, intervened and saved his life. They ended up selling Joseph into slavery to some merchants who were headed to Egypt.
I know what you’re thinking: so far Joseph seems to be providing a lesson in how not to act, but I’d like to think we can chalk most of that up to youthful ignorance. When Joseph gets to Egypt his character begins to shine.
Joseph was sold to a man named Potiphar, a high-ranking official, but even in his slavery God was with Joseph. Before long Joseph rose to be head of Potiphar’s household, managing all of his affairs. Obviously, Potiphar trusted Joseph completely, and Joseph proved himself worthy of that trust, even when it cost him dearly.
Joseph was a handsome man, the kind of guy that made the ladies swoon, even the married ladies. One day Potiphar’s wife came on to Joseph when they were in the house alone. Joseph, being a man of integrity, fled the house. He wasn’t about to get involved with his master’s wife, but unfortunately, Mrs. Potiphar had a hold of Joseph’s coat when he ran out.
When Potiphar got home his wife showed him the coat and claimed that Joseph had tried to have sex with her and ran away when she cried for help. Potiphar was understandably angry and had Joseph thrown in jail. Egypt didn’t have a modern judicial system. If one of Pharaoh’s officials wanted you in jail, you went to jail.
But God was still with Joseph, and he prospered even in prison. The warden put him in charge of the rest of the prisoners. After a while the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were imprisoned. Pharaoh was upset with them, and again, that was enough to throw you in jail in ancient Egypt.
Joseph got to know the cupbearer and baker while they were there and even interpreted a dream that each of them had. Unfortunately for the baker, his dream predicted his death. The cupbearer, however, got better news; he was soon to be released.
The cupbearer told Joseph that he would remember him after he was released, but he failed to follow through. It wasn’t until two years later when Pharaoh had a dream that needed to be interpreted that the cupbearer mentioned Joseph to Pharaoh.
Joseph told Pharaoh that his dream foretold seven years of abundant harvest followed by seven years of famine. To his credit, Pharaoh believed Joseph and placed him in charge of storing grain during the abundant years so that the country would make it through the famine years.
More than that, Pharaoh actually put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt. He was his right hand man, his chief of staff running day-to-day operations in the country.
After the famine hit, not only Egyptians but people from the entire region came to purchase grain from Joseph. Eventually his brothers, the same brothers who had sold him into slavery over twenty years earlier, came to buy grain.
Joseph’s brothers came before him, but twenty years and a difficult life separated them. They didn’t recognize Joseph. But he recognized them.
Some would have taken the opportunity to punish them, to pay them back for their misdeeds, but Joseph took the opposite approach. He blessed them. He brought them to Egypt so that they could share in the good favor and abundance that God had provided for Joseph. Joseph’s response to abuse was one of love.
A shrewd manager, Joseph continued to sell grain during the famine and made Pharaoh a very rich man. It is arguable that he was shrewd to a fault, forcing people into indentured servitude after they had run out of money to buy grain.
Joseph lived to be 110 years old and was survived by countless relatives, living to see the birth of his great-great-grandchildren.