Lessons From The Life Of Joseph
As we consider Joseph, we will find our hearts drawn to the Lord.
During my university studies, I once attended a lecture presented by a brain surgeon who was attempting in one hour to describe his research on a certain seizure disorder. The subject was so broad and complex that he could have continued all day. This is the sense I have in attempting a brief essay on the life of Joseph. His life is a subject so broad that books of great length have already been written about him.
Joseph’s story contains principles, illustrations, and types which move the most scholarly Christian. At the same time, the youngest children enjoy the dramatic details which prove how God cares for His people. Because Joseph’s experiences can be examined from so many different perspectives, we will simply consider a few “snapshots” of his life, just as you might show friends photographs of the highlights of your last vacation. Perhaps these snapshots, gleaned from Genesis 37-50, may stimulate deeper devotion to God — the same God to whom Joseph was so faithful throughout his 110 years.
An Illustration Of God’s Timing
God planned for Joseph to be the prime minister of Egypt by age 30. Yet God also planned Joseph to be the eleventh brother in a family of 12 boys and a girl – not the expected birth order for a would-be prominent government official in that part of the world! Sold into slavery by brothers who despised him, at 17 Joseph ended up in the house of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. After a time of faithful service there, Joseph was framed by Potiphar’s wife, who accused him of attempted rape. This false accusation landed him in prison.
Some years later, Joseph had a brief encounter with Pharaoh’s butler and baker, who were also imprisoned. Interpreting their dreams through God’s wisdom, Joseph said the butler would soon be released, although the baker would be hanged. Joseph then asked the butler to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf and declare his innocence.
If an observer had been watching these events without knowing the end of the story, this moment would have looked like Joseph’s big break — contact with the king would be made at last! Instead, one of the most poignant verses in Genesis follows: “The chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Gen. 40:23 NKJV).
Although the observer would have thought this to be a lost opportunity, God’s time was still ripening. Two years later, when Pharaoh had strange dreams about cows and grain, the butler did remember his encounter with Joseph. After calling him from prison, Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s God-given discernment about those dreams that he set him over all the land of Egypt. Now 30 years old, Joseph was responsible for gathering food during the seven years of plenty in preparation for the seven years of famine foretold by Pharaoh’s dream. In this way, Joseph was positioned to help not only the nation of Egypt, but also his own family who came to Egypt for food during the famine.
From our viewpoint, hardly anything good happened to Joseph during the 13 years described above. Yet God’s timing connected each one of these discouraging circumstances to the next. Joseph was sold into slavery just at the time Potiphar was looking for another servant. Then, he was framed so that he could be in prison to talk with the butler. The butler first forgot about Joseph, but then remembered him at a far more critical time. Finally, Joseph’s position of influence directly contributed to the physical welfare and spiritual restoration of his own brothers. “You meant evil against me,” he said to them, “but God meant it for good, in order to … save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20; 45:5-8). Joseph was aware that God Himself was arranging these events.
We may also face circumstances that require much patience in the face of adversity and unfair treatment. Joseph’s life reminds us that God is sovereign and always in control, fitting even the darkest situations into His grand design – and at just the right time. Joseph could have tried to force any of these happenings to his own advantage, but instead he placed patient confidence in God. Never feeling rushed, Joseph even took time to shave before leaving prison (Gen. 41:14). When we look for God’s hand in our experiences, we encourage ourselves to be patient and confident: “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him” (Ps. 37:7).
A Steady, Faithful Life
A boat can remain steady in the worst storm if it has a strong anchor. Ironically, the strength of the anchor is never known until a storm comes! In the same way, Joseph’s faithfulness is all the more highlighted by his challenges. Consider how he remained solid, steady, and dependable through every circumstance, beginning with his family life. Although he knew of his brothers’ hatred for him, Joseph willingly and diligently obeyed when his father, Jacob, sent him to look for them (Gen. 37:13). It must have delighted Jacob to have such confidence in his teen-aged son.
Joseph’s character did not change in Egypt. After a time, Potiphar so trusted Joseph with the affairs of his household that “he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate” (39:6). The jailer was the next to notice Joseph’s faithfulness, for he committed all the other prisoners to his care. There, Joseph’s reliability was so solid that the jailer didn’t even bother to check up on what he did (39:23). Later, when Pharaoh finally met Joseph, he only needed a brief visit to be convinced of Joseph’s faithfulness and integrity. As a result, he made Joseph second only to himself in all the land (41:37-40). How good for us to remain steady and devoted, even when facing unsettling challenges. Our anchor of hope is supremely solid, for it reaches from our hearts into heaven itself, where the Lord Jesus is seated on our behalf (Heb. 6:19-20).
A Contrast To His Brothers
Joseph’s testimony was not only bright during dark circumstances, but also a real contrast to that of his self-centered brothers. Genesis 37:2 mentions their collective bad report, but we are also given some specific descriptions of the unfaithful character of the four oldest brothers – those who should have been the best examples to him. Genesis 34 describes the deceitful, violent Simeon and Levi when they thought to defend their sister’s honor. Jacob was so disgusted by their behavior on this and other occasions that he still recalled those qualities on his deathbed (Gen. 49:5-7). As to Reuben, the oldest son, the Scriptures record his act of sexual immorality (Gen. 35:22); and, the impure disarray of Judah’s family life, described in Genesis 38, spanned many years.
His brothers’ failures could have discouraged Joseph and influenced him to the same failure. He certainly had the opportunity to do so with Potiphar’s wife. However, his moral character and fortitude stood out all the more clearly when set against the dark backdrop of his own family. Joseph’s faithfulness encourages us to continue steadfastly and to avoid being turned aside, even if our own brothers and sisters in Christ seem to be failing. This does not mean that every difference we have with other Christians should be interpreted as a failure in stability on their part; surely there are times when different viewpoints are opportunities for us to learn from others. But if there is a problem of moral purity or spiritual discernment, this is an opportunity for Christ’s glory to shine through our faithfulness.
A Man Who Wept
As we read Joseph’s story, we notice how often he wept. But do we notice that his times of weeping are all after he was placed in a prominent position. Usually, mourning occurs when unfair things happen; but it is rarely seen in men who have come to power. Joseph displays exactly the opposite: He was faithful during times of obscurity and adversity, and he wept tenderly when he was well-known. We need more of these traits among God’s people today!
Joseph’s brothers spoke of seeing “the anguish of his soul” (42:21) when they had cast him in the pit. After that, though, Joseph’s tears were always linked with seeing his family (at least six occasions). He cried when his brothers began to repent (42:24), and then again when he saw Benjamin, his younger brother (43:30). His weeping when making himself known to all his brothers was loud enough for the whole house to hear (45:2). He cried at the reunion with his father, and again at his death (46:29; 50:1).
But perhaps the weeping that most broke his heart was when his brothers came to him with renewed fear of retribution (50:17). They still doubted whether his heart was toward them. Surely the Lord Jesus, too, is most pained when we come to Him and recount all our failures, doubting His heart. Let us never forget His constant, unchanging love.
A Picture Of The Lord Jesus
Joseph’s story presents a man of perfect integrity who was rejected by his brethren. Sold as a slave and then falsely accused, he was later elevated to a gloriously high position. As an exalted leader, he administered the kingdom for Pharaoh and also received a bride for himself. Does this sound familiar? In these broad views as well as in many small details, Joseph typically provides a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus. It does our hearts good to meditate on Genesis 37-50 to learn more of the blessed ways of our Savior. As we consider the life of Joseph, we will find our hearts drawn to the Lord; and then we will find our feet following in Jesus’ steps, as well. And His pathway is all that we desire.
By Steven Campbell
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.