Any preacher worth his salt could use Joseph’s life and example for at least a dozen Sundays’ worth of sermons. Some lessons are obvious, such as the good will he showed toward his brethren so many years after they had sold him into slavery (Gen. 45:1-8). One may look at his pristine record of serving his master, whether he was in the house of Potiphar (39:2-6) or Pharaoh (41:29-44), and see how God’s people should serve their earthly masters as they would serve their heavenly Master. Undoubtedly, Joseph’s decision to flee from Potiphar’s house when Potiphar’s wife tried to get him to commit fornication with her (39:7-12) was one of the best recorded to show that one can resist temptation if he so desires.
Other great lessons learned from Joseph’s life include the use of his God-given ability to interpret dreams, his wisdom and planning which saved the known world from famine, and the wonderful example of the providence of Jehovah working through him. These are surely important, but the greatest truths in the last fourteen chapters of Genesis are more about the remarkable man that was Joseph, his actions, and his relationship with his Lord.
Apparently, Joseph understood and followed the concept of “letting go and letting God.” It would be a great injustice to Joseph’s legacy to ignore the fact that in doing so he chose to be a servant: a servant of men, and a servant of his God. Letting go did not mean giving up. It meant getting up and doing all he could do, with the best attitude with which he could do it. He let Jehovah work through him, in His time, and in His way even when it meant certain personal hardship.
Yes, Joseph seemed to say things as a young man that might seem to have been better left unsaid, but he meant no harm. For example: “Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report” (Gen. 37:2, KJV). No one likes a tattletale. Combine that with the implication that Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons and the dreams Joseph had and told to his brethren of them eventually bowing before him, and it is very easy to understand why he was not the favorite brother.
The events which led to Joseph being in the position of leadership in Egypt that allowed him to be in position to save his family from certain starvation were undoubtedly due to the providence of God, but Joseph had to be a willing participant. Without the saving of his family, what would have happened to the Hebrews? Obviously, their survival was vital to God’s scheme of redemption. What would have happened to mankind? Jesus Christ came from the lineage of Joseph’s brother Judah, and the significance of that is obviously great.
Behind this incredibly important time in human history was a man who had no superhuman strength to resist temptation or to cause others to respect him. Joseph was not given a greater ability to abstain from sin than anyone born before him or after. Of course, he was not completely sinless, but one would be hard pressed to find an example of his transgression in the Bible.
Joseph is one of the very few people mentioned in the scriptures about whom much was written but none of it was overtly negative. In the King James Version, his name is mentioned some 223 times in 202 verses, but was never plainly associated with sin. What was stated about him always implied that he had strong faith and desired to live a righteous life.
The single most important lesson to be learned from the Bible account of Joseph is that we can and must trust that God will see us through, even when times seem dire. Oftentimes we humans forget that fact, even those of us who believe in and devote our lives to serving Him. Whatever trouble we may face is not really about us, or even our families. It is about God’s being in control of the situation and doing things in His time, in His way. We may not like what is happening and we may not understand it, but God is still in control.
The worst possible thing we can do is doubt Him. It can cause a myriad of problems for us, but there is never even a hint that Joseph doubted God or His ability to protect and provide for him. Even when his brothers threw him into the pit, there is no evidence that Joseph resisted, verbally or physically. How many who are reading this article would have the same said about them if they had been thrown into that pit? Admittedly, this writer would probably not.
Later, Joseph found himself in a prison for committing the unknown crime of fleeing without his garment, or his outer robe (Gen. 39:7-19). Of course the truth is that he was accused by Potiphar’s wife of forcing himself upon her, which he definitely did not do. Potiphar had Joseph put into a prison that was meant to hold prisoners of the king, or what may be considered “state prisoners” (39:20). That is where the king’s enemies would be held, and to think that the prisoners held there were treated well would be foolish at best. Still, we have no reason to believe that Joseph ever doubted God.
Although Potiphar did put Joseph in a horrible place, the situation certainly could have been even worse. It would seem that one of two things, if not both, were in his thoughts. Perhaps he had too much respect for Joseph to have him lashed, put to death, or exiled. It was certainly within Potiphar’s rights to inflict either of these upon Joseph. Or perhaps he had a good suspicion of what really happened between his wife and the young man.
Joseph certainly trusted God while he was imprisoned. Again, the Lord was with him as He had been all along. God caused the prison warden to show favor toward Joseph (Gen. 39:21). The scripture does not tell us how he caused it, only that He did.
Being that the warden did favor Joseph, he charged him with seeing to the everyday operation of the prison (Gen. 39:22). This was a tremendous honor for Joseph and a credit to his character. It shows that the warden saw the same wholesome qualities which Potiphar had also found in him.
Two of the prisoners who were placed under Joseph’s watch were of the house of Pharaoh: his chief butler and his chief baker. Each of them, on the same night, dreamed a dream that was different than the other, yet somewhat similar in that each dreamed of three branches. The details after that were not the same. They could not understand their dreams and needed an interpreter.
Enter Joseph and his God-given ability (Gen. 40:8-19). The butler’s dream, as interpreted by Joseph, was one that provided wonderful news for him. In three days he would be restored to his former place in Pharaoh’s house. Joseph asked the butler to remember him when this thing came to pass, so that he too could be brought out of the prison. The baker’s dream, on the other hand, was a vision of his swift death at the behest of Pharaoh just three days later.
Both interpretations were proven correct when three days later the chief butler was restored by Pharaoh and the chief baker was hanged (Gen. 40:20-22). “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (40:23). After Joseph had given him such hope, the man did not remember him for “two full years” (41:1-13). Still, there is not a passage anywhere that overtly implies that Joseph grew bitter because of it.
After those two years, and when the butler finally remembered him, Pharaoh called for Joseph to interpret his dream. Pharaoh’s dream had actually come in two parts. The first part featured seven skinny cows devouring seven fat cows. The second featured seven thin ears of grain devouring seven healthy ears.
Joseph was not content with just correctly interpreting the two-part dream as being seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. He gave Pharaoh further advice about how he should appoint a wise man who would oversee the task of storing grain harvested in the seven years of plenty so that it could be used in the famine years (Gen. 41:25-36). Pharaoh recognized that the qualities of man he needed to complete that task were in the man who told it to him.
Like Potiphar and the prison warden, Pharaoh also perceived that there was something special about Joseph, something other than his miraculous ability to interpret dreams. This is a point which we should pause to consider. This is the third man of authority in Egypt who recognized the wisdom, integrity, and discretion of a Hebrew slave. What makes this even more remarkable is that Joseph was probably at the ripe old age of thirty when he was made governor (Gen. 41:46), the second most powerful man in Egypt. These facts alone provide adequate insight into his humble character.
Pharaoh was very wise to appoint Joseph to the task. Eventually the fat years were replaced by the famine and the people of Egypt began to be in need of food. Pharaoh sent them to Joseph for he had plenty of grain to sell. Not only were his people able to have enough grain to eat, but Pharaoh even profited from it.
Egypt was not alone in suffering through the famine. Every other nation in the known world at that time was also experiencing it. None of them had Joseph. So they were all in need, including Jacob and his remaining sons and their families. Hearing that there was grain to be bought in Egypt, Jacob sent ten of his sons down to buy some for them. Only the youngest son, Benjamin, remained at home.
When the sons of Jacob arrived in Egypt, they bowed before the governor who alone had the authority to sell them grain. He alone had the choice of whether or not he would sell them life sustaining food. Here one of the most amazing accounts of the providence of God is recorded. The same brother whom they had desired to kill because he told them they would one day bow down to him, whom they threw into an empty pit only to later sell him into slavery, was the one before whom they now bowed!
Their lives were now completely in his hands. Joseph recognized them, but they did know him. Following a series of quests for the brothers in which Joseph seemed to orchestrate in mischief, his brethren were invited to his house. The reader is encouraged to study about the entire account found in Genesis 42-44, but suffice it to say that he played them for all they were worth.
Finally, when he could stand it no longer, Joseph introduced himself to his brothers, and then to his father. Because Joseph allowed himself to be a servant, he was elevated to near royalty and he was reunited with his family. The Hebrew people survived and eventually thrived in Egypt because Pharaoh allowed them to settle in the most fertile part of the land. It was all part of God’s plan, and Joseph allowed God to use him in executing it.
Even as a very young man, Joseph made a tremendous difference by letting God work through him. Studying about Joseph teaches us that we each can make a difference in the world simply by letting God work through us. Like Joseph, we can make a difference by having humble hearts and servile minds. God will take care of the rest.