The story of Joseph caught my heart from a young age. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I more fully understood the themes and lessons involved. Moses spends quite a lot of time (14 chapters of the 50 in Genesis) on Joseph. I’m quite sure there is a reason God saw fit to inspire the author of the Pentateuch to spend so much time with this one person.
These chronicles rival that of Esther’s as being the most providential story of the Old Testament. Had it not been for the sufferings of Joseph, Jacob and all his house would have perished in the famine. On the other hand, it rivals the story of Job in the suffering aspect. It is this suffering that I’d like us to examine today. Joseph suffered, but he still lived righteously.
If I had to choose only one word to describe Joseph, I’d say integrity. Webster’s dictionary gives this definition for integrity: “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” There is no doubt about it, Joseph had a firm adherence to God’s code of morality. Let us look at each event in Joseph’s trials:
At first, we find the most favored son of Jacob showing his integrity at about 17 years old. Genesis 37:2 tells us that Joseph brought an evil report of his brethren. Presumably, the brothers were doing something they shouldn’t and Joseph ‘tattled.’ Even at this early age, Joseph saw the need for abiding by the authority placed over them all: their father Jacob.
Besides this, there were two other things that set the brothers against Joseph. Jacob, showing his preference among his sons gave Joseph a special coat of many colors. Also, Joseph began having dreams (Genesis 37). Like any good prophet, he tells his dreams to others. I’m sure young Joseph at this time in his life didn’t fully understand what these dreams meant. Despite the troubles that it causes, he still tells the message he received from God—not once, but twice with two different dreams. This causes the first troubles in Joseph’s life—his father and brothers resent him. They think that he sees himself as better than them and that he will rule over them.
One day all this anger and resentment catches up with Joseph. His father sends him out to check on his brothers who are feeding their flock (Genesis 37:13-14). Joseph finds his brothers in a different field than where his father sent him to, and they are angry with him. They want to kill him in Genesis 37:18. Reuben stands up for Joseph and encourages them not to kill him. They take Joseph, rip off the colorful coat that was given him by his father, and throw him in a pit. It is at this point that Judah comes up with a devious plan. “Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh” (Genesis 37:27). The brothers accept this plan and sell Joseph for twenty pieces of silver. They dip the coat in blood and show it to Jacob. He assumes that Joseph was eaten by a wild animal.
Through all of this, we know nothing of what Joseph does. He doesn’t appear to beg, plead or fight back. His attitude was mirrored some three or four thousand years later by Jesus. “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before his shearer is dumb, So he openeth not his mouth” (Acts 8:32; Isaiah 53:7). From all appearances, Joseph is unjustly mistreated and yet he does not fight against it. In this he is acting righteously.
Imagine now, you are among strange people. They talk differently, they act differently. There are strange customs. Joseph is now among the traders being carried to Egypt, another strange place with a different language and customs. He is sold to Potiphar at the opening of Genesis 39. Either the language isn’t too much of an issue or Joseph adapts quickly. Genesis 39:3 tells us that God made all Joseph did to prosper. He soon becomes indispensable to Potiphar and is placed over his entire house (Genesis 39:4). The writer goes on to tell us in the next verse that Joseph is over not only Potiphar’s house, but also all he had in the house and the field. Joseph is being blessed for his righteousness.
Trouble again is brewing. Potiphar’s wife is a temptress. She “cast her eyes upon Joseph” and tried to seduce him. Here again, we see Joseph’s integrity. He now has a choice. He has everything else of Potiphar’s, why not his wife also? Or he could take a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Which would this man of integrity take? He knows the power Potiphar’s wife had. She, of course had the ear of her husband, for good or for ill. Could he lie with her and please her into allowing Potiphar to give him more or would she poison the heart of her husband against him? I am quite sure these things were running through his head at this moment. His answer is this: “Behold, my master knoweth not what is with me in the house, and he hath put all that he hath into my hand: he is not greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife; how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9).
Joseph knew that committing this sin would be breaking God’s plan for marriage. This plan was from the beginning. Even in this time of temptation, Joseph’s thoughts were on God and pleasing Him, not about pleasing his employer or the wife of his employer. Sin, while it does have earthly consequences, is ultimately about hurting our relationship with God. Joseph knew this and in this case it seemed to have helped him do the right thing.
As is the case many times, doing the right thing can bring negative consequences. In this case, Joseph was falsely accused of doing the very thing he fled from doing and he was thrown into prison. I could easily see one throwing a pity party in prison. Many people would sink into a depression and do nothing. Some would cry, begging and pleading for release. There is no mention of Joseph doing that here. He seems to have gone back to his “lamb” persona.
Even in prison he is diligent in doing all things well. God helps Joseph find favor with the jail keeper (Genesis 39:21). I am reminded of Esther and her finding favor with the keeper of the women (Esther 2:8-9). So Joseph again works diligently (and with God’s favor) until the keeper committed to Joseph’s hand “all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it” (Genesis 39:22).
It was here that the chief baker and chief butler of Pharaoh’s house were thrown. The truth of who belonged there is never revealed. However, they each had a dream that Joseph interpreted. One came true, the other did not. Again, Joseph obeyed by giving the interpretation of the dreams. The chief butler was returned to his former position and Joseph told him to remember him. Joseph was forgotten, but he did not despair. He continued on doing his work well.
Two years later, Pharaoh dreamed two puzzling dreams (Genesis 41). The chief butler remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh of Joseph’s ability. Pharaoh demanded that Joseph be brought from the prison. Again, Joseph was obedient and revealed the secret of the dream to Pharaoh. In doing so, he revealed a prophesy which would enable him to create a plan that could save all of Egypt. Pharaoh sees the wisdom in this plan and places Joseph second in command over the entire country—an amazing feat: going from prison to palace in one day. The significance of this is not missed by Joseph. He continues being obedient to God and follows through on this plan of gathering food in the time of abundance and then selling it out in the time of famine.
I won’t pretend to understand fully the next series of events. The brothers, hungry during the famine, come bowing before Joseph asking for food (Genesis 42:6). They don’t seem to know it is a Hebrew, much less their own flesh-and-blood brother. Joseph seems to be testing his brothers’ loyalty to Benjamin. Would they treat him as they had Joseph? Would they allow him to be imprisoned?
The brothers appeared to pass the test and Joseph welcomed them with open arms. Israel was saved from the famine and Jacob laid eyes on his beloved son once more. It was God’s providence working through Joseph’s integrity that brought them to this place. It was his righteousness—his obedience to God—that saved God’s people from destruction.
Joseph lived his life with the same integrity that Job showed. Job said, “Surely my lips shall not speak unrighteousness, Neither shall my tongue utter deceit. Far be it from me that I should justify you: Till I die I will not put away mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: My heart shall not reproach me so long as I live” (Job 27:4-6).
Through all his trials, all the way to the end of his life, Joseph remained faithful to God. And so, dear sisters, must we also endure to the end. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Let us be found righteous and faithful to receive our reward.
By Dawn Pasley
Dawn Pasley and her husband have been married for 20 years. James preaches for the Ferriday church of Christ in Ferriday, LA. Together they have 5 children: Xander (12), Abigail (9), Julia (3), Keturah (2) and Kezia (2). Dawn spends her time teaching them at home. She has taught ladies and children’s classes, spoken at ladies days and volunteers her time with various writing projects. She enjoys sewing, crocheting and spending time with family and her dog, Shadow.