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The Story of Joseph: A Profile in Faith

Genesis 37 – 50

Of all the Patriarchs, the one the Scriptures most attention to is Joseph, a type of Christ in so many ways. Joseph was the son of Jacob’s old age and therefore a favorite. As the favored son, Joseph was given expensive gifts, reflected in the coat of many colors. In the ancient world, dye was extremely expensive. To have one color was expensive. To have a coat of many colors was an extraordinary gift, which drove his brothers to jealousy. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors.” (Gen. 37:3)

It is instructive to note that the heroes of Hebrew Scripture are portrayed “warts”, and all. There is no attempt to hide the harm they did to themselves, and to others, while being virtuous in other areas. There is no idealized presentation of the Biblical heroes. If there is an exception to this, it is found in Joseph, who is consistently found faithful to the Lord.

When Joseph is first introduced, he is seventeen years old, and not fully mature in social graces. When he had a dream that exalted himself, Joseph shared that dream with others, much to their chagrin. “And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.” (Gen. 37:5) Insensitive to their hostility towards him, or perhaps because of it, Joseph shared two dreams, with the implications being all too clear. One day his brothers would bow before him.

The Dream of the Sheaves. “For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.” (Gen. 37:7)

The Dream of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. “And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.” (Gen. 37:9)

While the dreams were prophetic, at the time they were delivered they sounded prideful. It was all too much for the brothers of Joseph. With jealous rage they were determined to kill Joseph. Joseph went to visit his brethren, and found them in Dothan. “And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.” (Gen. 37:18) In their hatred for Joseph, his brothers were willing to violate the basic laws of society. They were ready to kill. They were ready to lie. They were covetous of the position their brother Joseph held. Covetousness leads to other sins, such as murder. The brothers of Joseph devised a plan to take the tunic of Joseph, smear it with the blood of an animal, and then tell their father, Jacob, Joseph had been killed by a wild beast.

Only in the providence of God was this plan changed. At least part of the plan was changed. Joseph was not killed, but sold into slavery to the Midianites for twenty pieces of silver. However, his tunic was taken, smeared with blood, and presented to father Jacob with the narrative that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. “And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood; 32 And they sent the coat of many colors, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no. 33 And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. 34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.” (Gen. 37:31)

While Jacob grieved, believing his son was dead, Joseph was taken by the Midianites to Egypt, where he was resold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard. Potiphar puts Joseph to work as his private slave.

The LORD was with Joseph to the point that he prospered inside the house of his master. Joseph was placed as overseer, or steward, in Potiphar’s house, and over all that he had. As a result, Potiphar had more time and freedom to serve the Pharaoh.

While Potiphar was engaged in official court business, he left his wife alone at home. Bored and lustful, Potiphar’s wife began to cast her eyes upon Joseph with the intention of seducing him. “Come lie with me,” she coaxed. (Gen. 37:7)

Being a man of honor, as well as great organizational skill, Joseph refused. He did not want to sin against God. He did not want to sin against her husband. He did not want to violate his own righteous conscience. He did not want to sin with her.

But evil is militant and the wife of Potiphar was not to be denied. One day when there were no other men in the house, she grabbed Joseph in an overt way saying, “Lie with me.” Tearing himself from her grasp, Joseph fled the scene leaving his garment in her hand. (Gen. 37:23)

When Potiphar came home, his wife had a fantastic story to tell, for hell knows no fury like a woman scorned. The lust of Potiphar’s wife led her to tell a vicious lie about Joseph after he spurned her illicit advances.

Because the best defense can be a strong offense, Potiphar’s wife went on the offense, and told her husband that he had made a big mistake by bringing a Hebrew into the household, for the impudent servant tried to seduce her, and she had tangible evidence in the form of his garment. (Gen. 39:14-19)

Poor Joseph. He was in trouble again over a cloke. This was the second time that a cloke has gotten him into trouble. In anger, Potiphar took Joseph, and put him into prison for two reasons. First, the providence of God protected Joseph. There was much work for him to do, and so no angel from heaven or hell could harm him, and no man on earth could kill him. Second, it is like that Potiphar did not completely believe his wife. Husbands know their wives, as wives know their husbands. If his wife had been indiscreet with Joseph, no doubt she had been seductively involved with others before Joseph. So Potiphar did not even try to kill Joseph, but had him placed in the imperial prison where political prisoners were held (Gen. 39:20)

The placing of Joseph in the place where political prisoners were held is significant, for in the providence of God, two other political prisoners would serve to liberate him. One of those prisoners was a baker. The other was the cup bearer for the Pharaoh. (Gen. 40:1-3) How long Joseph remained in prison is not known. What is known, is that God was with him and Joseph found favor with the keeper of the prison. (Gen. 40:4)

One night, during their prison term, the two officers of Pharaoh in prison had a dream. They were not able to interpret their dreams which perplexed them, and made them sad. Their sadness was noticed by the sensitive soul of Joseph. (Gen. 40:4-8)

Joseph encouraged the chief butler to tell him the dream, which he did. In the butler’s dream he saw a vine with three budding branches that blossomed producing ripe grapes. The scene shifted. The chief butler saw Pharaoh’s cup in his own hand. The butler took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and handed the cup to Pharaoh. There, the dream suddenly ended. (Gen. 40:9-11)

What did it all mean? Joseph gave the interpretation. The three vines represented three days. In three days Pharaoh would restore the cup bearer to his former place before the king, and he would once more place a cup of wine in the hand of the king. (Gen. 40:11-13)

Having given a proper and hopeful interpretation of his dream to the chief butler, Joseph made a personal request. “Think on me when it shall be with thee, and show kindness, I pray you, unto me, and mention me before Pharaoh, and bring me out of this prison. I am unjustly in prison.” (Gen. 40:14=15)

When the chief baker heard the wonderful interpretation of the dream of the chief butler, he asked that his own dream be interpreted by Joseph. (Gen. 40:16-17) In the dream of the chief baker, he saw three white baskets on his heard. That was good, until suddenly hungry birds swept down from the sky, and started to eat all the freshly baked items out of the top basket upon his head. What did it all mean? Joseph gave the answer. In three day, Pharaoh was going to cut off the head of the chief baker, hung his body on a tree, and leave it there for the birds of the air to feast upon his flesh. (Gen. 40:18-20)

Just as Joseph foretold, it all happened. On the third day, following the dreams, Pharaoh made a feast, and restored the chief butler and the chief baker. The butler gave a cup of wine to Pharaoh, just as Joseph had foretold. But then, something terrible happened in the kitchen area, for suddenly the king commanded that the chief baker be hanged, just as Joseph had interpreted would happen. Gen. 40:20-22) In all of this, the chief butler forgot about Joseph, and so the son of Jacob languished in prison. (Gen. 40:23) Once more, those who were the closest to Joseph had betrayed him. He had helped others, but there was no one to help Joseph out of his dungeon.

These were difficult years for Joseph. From the time he was sold into slavery, at the age of seventeen, to the time of his release, was thirteen years. Thirteen years is a long time to suffer an injustice, and yet, it was the will of God. In that time, the character of Joseph was being developed, and history was in the making. The years were difficult, but not wasted.

The key to Joseph’s survival was his complete devotion to the LORD. Despite being sold into slavery, despite being in a foreign land, despite being separated from his father’s love, despite being falsely accused, despite being place in prison on false charges, despite being forgotten by those he helped, Joseph never lost his faith in the LORD. Joseph believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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