The story of Joseph has been told in many ways from the Broadway musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat to children’s movies like Joseph: King of Dreams. Each adaptation focuses on the themes of going after your dreams, the dangers of jealousy and favoritism, and sibling rivalry. While all of these are very prevalent in the story, to me it is a story of redemption pointing straight back to Jesus.
Joseph’s is a tale of suffering, rejection and exaltation—foretelling the ultimate Christ who would suffer and be rejected to ultimately be elevated to the right hand of God. BUT there are some distinct differences between Joseph and Jesus, the most poignant being Joseph’s arrogance and pride which, if we’re being honest, were at the root of his suffering and rejection. Whereas Jesus’ rejection was entirely unwarranted.
And boy can I relate to Joseph! If I had a nickel for every time my pride and arrogance led to negative consequences, well, let’s just say I could probably quit teaching. Like my junior year of high school, for example. I was the ultimate band nerd and I wanted so bad to be the drum major, not because I had a deep love for all things band—I really didn’t—I can be honest with myself now, though I still hesitate to type (all that pride). I wanted to be drum major because I wanted people to admire me. I wanted the attention and the satisfaction of knowing I was the winner…and I wanted to spend time with a boy I liked prior to the audition. On the other hand, my friends who also tried out had much more musical aspirations. I won the competition, but it cost me a lot in my friendships and I had to deal with some bullying I probably wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t been so proud.
Back to the point, who exactly is Joseph? Biography tells us he’s the first son of Rachel and Jacob, but the 12th born to the family (Leah had 6 sons and a daughter, Bilhah had two sons and Zilpah had two sons before Rachel had her first—Genesis 35:23-26). The dysfunction in his background was just the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t reality TV, but it sure could be the inaugural episode of Sister Wives!
Genesis 37:1-4 and 12-14 begin the story, highlighting Joseph’s position in the family as the baby. Verse 4 is our narrative hook (lit-speak) introducing a pretty powerful conflict:
When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.Genesis 37:4 NIV
Joseph may be one of the youngest, but he is the favorite. And that doesn’t sit well with these grown men who have been trying to gain the favor of their father pretty much their entire lives. And we’re not talking about a couple of years between these brothers. Rueben, who was born firs, was at least a decade older, maybe even two. The dysfunction in the family is palpable in this interaction and sadly, Joseph isn’t mature enough to handle it in a way that would bring peace rather than more conflict, which we see in Genesis 37: 5-11.
Okay, so you have a dream that’s kind of interesting and you want to share it with your besties; that I get. What I don’t get is why Joseph thought this dream would be a good idea to share with people who already kind of hate him. Twice. And not with any kind of humility
Listen to this dream I had…
Listen, he said, I had another dream…Genesis 37:6b; 9b
Note the command in Joseph’s voice as he approaches his brothers. He’s just a kid, but he’s been treated as though he is special his entire life. Probably pampered and a little spoiled. It seems as though he expects his brothers
I don’t know about you, but in my experience, there is nothing like the kind of jealousy that comes with sibling rivalry. It burrows into your heart and then spreads like a cancer destroying the good from the inside out. Joseph either didn’t see the jealousy and hate of his brothers, or he didn’t want to see it. I guess we could call it naivete, but I’ve worked with teenagers long enough to know that a good looking seventeen-year-old (Genesis 37:2) knows what buttons to push and is just arrogant enough to believe himself invulnerable to harm.
One of the most humbling verses in the Bible comes in Daniel 4:37b which says:
Everything He does is right and He does it the right way. He knows how to turn a proud person into a humble man or woman (Msg).
These verses in context are spoken by King Nebuchadnezzar after his seven times of crazy wandering the desert–a direct result of his overwhelming pride. He speaks these words about God, recognizing the importance of humility in the face of th Almighty.
God had big plans for Joseph, but Joseph wasn’t ready to walk into his destiny at 17. He was proud and arrogant, perhaps as a result of his father’s favoritism. There is a big difference between confidence and cockiness. God wanted Joseph to be confident of his position, but Joseph needed a little humbling before that purpose could be fulfilled.
God uses everything in our lives to a good and fulfilling purpose. Sometimes that is hard to understand or even accept, especially when the things happening to us are terrible and unfair. Genesis 37:18-36 outlines the process by which Joseph was humbled and it came in the form of years of enslavement, punishment, and a sense of abandonment. Whether or not you agree with the brothers’ anger, I think we can all agree that they over-react! Note that there are several different plots going down here, so I’m thinking this might not be pre-meditated, but I do think they’ve been chatting about this, maybe joking, for a while until it’s not such a joke anymore.
Regardless of what the brothers hoped to get out of their evil plan, they didn’t earn their father’s favor. As with most sin, instead of gaining what they’d hoped for, they lost pretty much everything. Because that’s what sin is: a lie. We tell ourselves it’ll be worth it, but in the
Fortunately, there is always hope even in the midst of our mistakes. Over and over again in scripture, we see this story of redemption playing out in God’s people. Proof of Romans 8: 28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,Romans 8:28 NIV
who havebeen called according to his purpose.
Sure, the brothers made a mistake, even Judah and Rueben who attempted to save Joseph went along with the plan instead of standing up to their brothers. And let’s face it, a half sin
Because that’s what sin is: a lie. We tell ourselves it’ll be worth it, but in the end
,all we get is heartache and usually a whole lot of guilt and shame.
Work in Progress
Genesis 39 picks up with Joseph’s new life. Having been sold into slavery, he thought the worst was behind him. He settled into Potiphar’s household as a humble servant…or did he? He was definitely a slave, but Joseph seventeen…maybe eighteen by now and a total babe (Genesis 39:6b). Charismatic, young, and smoking hot–not at all a dangerous combo (*sarcasm*). No wonder he needed a little humbling. While I admire beautiful people in this world, I’m not entirely sad that I am not a part of this club. Beauty comes with
A quick run down of the story: Joseph is Potiphar’s trusted servant, and puts him in charge of the household. Potiphar’s wife sees this yummy new slave in her home and gets the hots for him. She makes her move, and he rejects her. BUT, here’s why I believe Joseph was still fighting the sin of pride even as a slave in Potiphar’s household:
- Genesis 39:10 says she came to him day after day. Yes, he rejects her, but I think he might like the attention. Why? Because she keeps coming back day after day. Ladies, track with me here, I don’t know about you but when I am truly rejected by a man I don’t typically continue to pursue it. Now I’m not the kind of woman who would cheat on my spouse, but rejection stings no matter what. I don’t know that she would be quite as persistent if he had really rejected her firmly.
- Joseph knows she has the hots for him, and when he enters the house and there are no other servants present, alarm bells do not go off in his head (Genesis 39:11). He’s not stupid. He knows what’s up, and he should have gotten the heck of dodge before he even came into contact with her, and yet he gets close enough to her that she can grab his cloak…AND she rips it off of him…a woman is able to take off the cloak of a built eighteen-year-old? Something fishy is going on here.
- He never tells Potiphar about the advances. I know it’s not easy to take these kinds of situations to the person in authority, but it might have solved a lot of problems if Joseph had manned up and told Potiphar of his concerns from the
get go. Communication is not at the top of a proud person’s to-do list. Do you know why? They think they can handle it all themselves. And usually, they can’t.
Now I’m not trying to disparage Joseph’s reputation here, but I would like for us to recognize that he is human, and he’s still a kid. God has a purpose for all of us, and sometimes that requires that he breaks something in us before he can build us into what he wants us to be. Through it all, though, he is with us, just as he was with Joseph (notice the bookends of chapter 39: verse 2 and verse 21).
In Genesis 40, Joseph is in prison, but he has risen to a position of power (again) within the hierarchy of the prison because the Lord was with him and gave him success. When two men are cast into the prison by pharaoh, it comes to light that Joseph has been given the ability to interpret dreams.
The chapter recounts the significance of the interpretations, mostly that the cupbearer will be restored in three days and the baker will be killed in three days by the pharaoh. But I note a significant difference in the dreams from the beginning and the dreams from this chapter and the difference
Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams”Genesis 40:8b
No longer commanding that others listen to him, Joseph gives all the glory to God and God alone.
Unfortunately, when the dreams come to pass,
The chief cupbeaer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.Genesis 40:23
Those three words, aside from “Jesus wept” might be the most devastating in the Bible. Being forgotten is the WORST. Feeling forgotten is just as bad. It would be two years (Genesis 41:1) before he was remembered and that’s a long time in prison when you had a little hope that was snatched away from you at the last second. And let us remember–he was in prison. Even an elevated position in prison is still prison and an ancient prison would not have been a great place to be.
Genesis 41: 46 gives us a clearer indication of how long this humbling process lasted–he was 17 when he was sold into slavery and 30 when he entered the pharaoh’s service. That’s 13 years. And his response to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:16 proves the process was a successful one.
“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “But God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”NIV
Although Joseph was in a season of waiting, he was under God’s protection and authority throughout those many years. The story ends in Genesis 41:39-40 with the fulfillment of Joseph’s original dreams. As the man in charge of 7 years of abundance, he becomes a good steward of God’s blessings and as such during the 7 years of famine he ensures the kingdom will still prosper, which leads to his brothers bowing before him in Genesis
42:6. It was a long process before we get to Joseph’s declaration and forgiveness, but it is clear that Joseph believes God is at the center of everything: trials and blessings. A true story of suffering, redemption,
Having been in a long season of waiting myself, I can relate to Joseph and his 13 years of waiting and wondering if anyone will ever remember him. Although his attitude left much to be desired, he did nothing wrong to be enslaved and imprisoned, and honestly, that’s how life works sometimes. Life is not fair. But God never promised that life would be fair. However, he did promise to work things out for our good and for His purpose. The reality is we think we know what is for the best, but He always knows what is best. Even if we can’t understand it.