Character must be tested inwardly and outwardly before service can begin.
Joseph’s Life: God At Work
A man’s true character is not developed in ease, but adversity. The Divine Refiner separates the gold from the dross in the crucible of tribulation, always using circumstances to bring out what He is looking for in a man. Regarding Joseph’s life, nothing in his birth and upbringing indicated the greatness to which he was destined; but God had great things in mind for him and deep waters to go through before attaining them.
The family into which Joseph was born was wracked with strife. Jacob, his father, worked seven years to marry Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her sister Leah. Then he worked seven more years for Rachel. When Rachel proved barren and Leah fruitful, Rachel compelled Jacob to have children through her servant Bilhah. Leah, not to be outdone, compelled Jacob to have children by her servant Zilpah. In this situation of discord, God blessed Jacob and Rachel with the birth of Joseph.
Three features stand out in Joseph’s story (Gen. 37-50). The first is marked by these words: “And Joseph brought unto his father their evil report” (Gen. 37:2 KJV). Joseph did not take part in the strife and dishonesty which characterized his family. He did not get involved with the chicanery of his older brothers, but did what he was supposed to do — he fed the flock. The content of Joseph’s “evil report” about his brothers was not given, but honesty and integrity were consistent features in his life.
The second feature is that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite child and he demonstrated it by giving Joseph a splendid coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3). This favoritism became the seed for the betrayal and deceit later played out by his brothers. How much Joseph flaunted his honor we do not know, but the blame for the initial hatred must be laid at Jacob’s feet.
The most important feature, however, is Joseph’s dreams relating to his destiny as lord in the family. These dreams heightened the enmity of his brothers toward Joseph, while eliciting surprise from Jacob. Such will always be the case since the natural mind cannot enter into God’s plans, but will either scorn or oppose them. Faith is always needed to enter into God’s purposes. Whether Joseph was wise to tell his dreams to his family is debatable. It is not Joseph who gave an interpretation of the dreams, but his own family, who saw in them the meaning of lordship. Rather than receiving this “message” from God for their good, hatred and jealousy led them to sell Joseph into slavery – to put him in the place of death.
Can we see the parallels with the Lord’s life? John’s gospel reads, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (Jn. 1:11). Yet He said of Himself, “They hated Me without a cause” (Jn. 15:25). He who was without sin was rejected by His brethren and delivered up to be crucified at the hands of Gentile accomplices. They said, “Away with Him … We will not have this man to reign over us” (Jn. 19:15; Lk. 19:14).
Though his brothers thought they were finished with Joseph, God was not. What an important message: God is not finished! We might give up on someone as hopeless, or consider the circumstances too dark, but God is still there. It isn’t over until God says so! So God took up Joseph’s cause.
Joseph had no power to change his life. He was completely in the hands of others. How could God allow such cruelty, particularly after “promising” so much? This is where faith comes in. It was not Joseph’s life, but God’s. It is not for mere clay to question the judgment and skill of the Master Potter. What went through Joseph’s mind we can only speculate; however, what we see is dependence upon God and integrity.
These two themes are brought out in Genesis 39. Joseph was sold to Potiphar who quickly noticed that the Lord prospered all that Joseph did. God received the credit, not Joseph. When faith and dependence on God are in a believer’s life, He receives the honor from that life. When self-will is present, the individual seeks the honor for himself.
Next we see Joseph’s integrity. When tempted by Potiphar’s wife to engage in sexual immorality, his answer was “God forbid!” — evidence of his holiness. Joseph did not say, “What if I get caught? How far can I go?” Holiness does not just avoid evil, it abhors it. Before God entrusts responsibility to a man, his integrity must be tested. Sometimes this is done openly, but God usually refines character in private.
Such was the case with the Lord. Brought up in obscurity, when His time of service came He was driven into the wilderness and tempted for 40 days. Character must be tested inwardly and outwardly before service can begin. For our Lord, there was no dross to separate, since all was perfection, yet as man he was tested to show that perfection.
Hated and rejected by his brethren, then falsely accused and thrown into prison, Joseph entered his darkest days. Certainly no one would fault him for self-pity. But what do we read? “The Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen. 39:21). What a double portion Joseph received in prison — the presence of the Lord and the display of His mercy! No amount of earthly blessing is fair exchange for God’s presence. Joseph learned this in prison.
In our Lord’s darkest hour in Gethsemane, with the cross before Him, He placed Himself in His Father’s hands saying, “Not my will but thine be done.” What self-surrender! Some of this was typified in Joseph’s life.
Dreams and their meaning played a role in Joseph’s rejection by his brothers: “Behold, this dreamer cometh … we shall see what will become of his dreams” (Gen. 37:19-20). Little wonder that dreams would also play a key role in his exaltation. As marvelous as his interpretations of the butler’s and baker’s dreams were, the spiritual lesson for Joseph was that “interpretations belong to God” (Gen. 40:8). If a dream has an interpretation, its meaning comes from God alone. Joseph had to learn continued dependence upon God alone.
We can’t fault him for wanting to be released and imploring the butler to mention him to Pharaoh once released, but he had to learn another lesson: God will not be rushed. There was a greater dream to be interpreted and a much greater elevation than mere freedom from prison. Though he had to wait two more years, the result of waiting was far beyond anything Joseph could have imagined. So it is also with the Lord: “For the joy that was set before Him, (He) endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Do you want the greatest joy? Allow God to bring it to pass.
Pharaoh had two dreams that distressed him, so he called his magicians to interpret. When they could not, he placed them under guard. When the world’s most powerful man was confronted by the total inadequacy of the world’s knowledge, faith shined forth. The butler remembered Joseph and recommended him to Pharaoh. Due to the gravity of the situation, Joseph was “hastily” cleaned up and brought to Pharaoh.
And what did Joseph say to Pharaoh? “It is not in me. God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen. 41:16). This was not false humility, but an honest acknowledgement of reality. The magicians were forced to see that it was not with them. Joseph does not even take credit for being God’s channel for the interpretation. Joseph learned to abandon self and trust God during those two more years in prison.
Prepared For Service
Pharaoh’s reaction was swift and overwhelming. Joseph was exalted to second in command in Egypt: “Thou shalt be over my house, and according to thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou” (Gen. 41:40). In this high place, while rejected by his brothers, he is given a name and a bride. So it is with our Lord. Rejected by His brethren, “God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9) and a bride (Eph. 5:22-32).
So Joseph began the work for which God had prepared him. It would be nine more years before the Lord would bring about the second exaltation in Joseph’s life. Joseph used seven of these years to store up enough food to feed the world. When the famine wore on, and all the peoples’ personal storehouses were empty, Joseph began to sell the grain. Given his position, he had tremendous opportunity for corruption, favoritism and graft. What power over life and death he had when his betrayers arrived.
Among the hoards that flocked to Egypt during the famine, these 10 men were not particularly unique — just another hungry bunch with mouths back home to feed. Joseph personally oversaw the selling of grain (Gen. 42:6), so he was in a position to immediately recognize his brothers, though they did not recognize him. What was Joseph’s first thought? Revenge would have been natural, but Joseph had God’s thoughts: “He remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them” — dreams the Lord had given him of dominion over his brothers (Gen. 42:9; 37:5-10).
We must never consider ourselves the center of God’s plans; Jesus is always the center. Joseph, now with the power to compel his brothers to fulfill those dreams of 13 years ago, knew that much more was at stake. He knew the great work God had done in his heart. Did he have the faith to believe God could do a great work in theirs? How would he know when God had done it? The key was in how they felt toward him — and Benjamin.
Speaking through an interpreter, he required them to bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt before they got more grain — and he placed them in prison. Releasing them three days later, he overheard what he needed to know: “We are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear” (Gen. 42:21). God was at work! How Joseph wept to hear this. Not yet a confession, but at least an indication that their hearts were not harder, but softer.
Back home, Jacob was livid that they told so much about themselves and that Benjamin had to go to Egypt. In asking for Benjamin, Joseph may have been thinking of his brothers and their hearts, but God had a final work to do in Jacob’s life. So little faith had been exercised by Jacob! How could he entrust to God his most precious possession? Judah, whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery in the first place, stepped forward and pledged himself as surety for Benjamin. Then Jacob let them return to Egypt.
When Joseph saw his brothers all together, he had no idea what it took to get Benjamin to Egypt. But what was their heart attitude towards Benjamin? Was it jealousy or love? When Benjamin was given the place and portion of honor there was no hint of jealousy. When Joseph contrived circumstances to require Benjamin to remain behind in Egypt, the brothers were completely broken. They loved their father, and did not want him to suffer the heartache of not seeing Benjamin again! So Judah told Joseph the whole story of what it took to even get Benjamin to Egypt. He even offered to stay behind as a slave so that Benjamin could go home free: “For how can I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? Lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father” (Gen. 44:34).
Joseph, completely broken, could contain himself no longer. He found what he was looking for: God had changed his brothers. No longer did he need to conceal himself. He abandoned any thoughts of vengeance or bitterness. He told them that God had brought him to Egypt, not their machinations. God had a purpose and had brought it to pass (Gen. 45:8).
Fully realizing what was done and in their acknowledgement of it, Joseph was free to come forth in love to his brothers. In this we see the two sides of forgiveness. On the one hand, Joseph forgave them and was freed from resentment and bitterness. On the other, after they confessed and demonstrated that their confession was real, Joseph could treat them as brothers again. When Jacob died 17 years later, Joseph reminded them: “Ye thought evil unto me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
All the circumstances of Joseph’s life developed his integrity, dependence and faith. He stands as a picture of the Lord and an example for every believer. At 110 years and near death, Joseph made one final request. Never losing sight of God’s purposes, he exhorted his brethren to take his bones with them when they were delivered from Egypt. For the next 430 years his bones stood as a silent reminder that God was not finished — that great things lay ahead for them. May every believer’s life be a constant reminder that God’s best is yet to come.
By Gib Warrick
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.