Joseph is the last of the great patriarchs whose lives are portrayed to us in the book of Genesis. More space is devoted to speaking about him than any of the others.  The life of Joseph makes the connection between Genesis and Exodus more clear to us by helping us understand how the Hebrews flourished from a small handful of people into a large nation.  This paper is a character study of Joseph’s life and God’s dealing’s with him which were recorded for the edification of Christian’s today.

            Joseph’s father was Jacob and his mother was Rachel. When Joseph was born, Jacob was living with his uncle Laban, with whom he had a strained relationship.  Shortly after Joseph’s birth Jacob left Laban’s house.  It is at this point that significant events happen which were key to Jacob’s spiritual growth.  The reason this is important is that it helps us understand some of the differences between Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph was raised mostly after his father’s struggles with Laban were over.  His older brothers were raised during the troubles between Jacob and Laban.  Joseph grew up with a father who had  been radically changed by God.  It stands to reason that Joseph’s childhood relationship to his father may have been very different than what his brothers experienced.  It is not surprising that Joseph as a young man must have believed in and served the God of his father, which will prove to be the source of his character, wisdom and strength.

            As Joseph was growing up, it became clear to him that his brothers were not happy about the relationship he and his father enjoyed.  Genesis 37:3 says, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children.”  Jacob had even given Joseph a special coat that none of the other brothers had.  Surely the other brothers thought he would also get the best of the inheritance.  What really made them angry was that Joseph had dreams which depicted him as a ruler over his whole family, and for this they despised them.  Even his father baulked at these ideas.  So Joseph was ridiculed by his family, but somehow his heart was kept from being embittered toward them.

            It came about that his brothers were gone tending the flocks and his father was concerned about them.  So Jacob sent Joseph on a journey to find out about them.  He went to where his father said his brothers would be but they weren’t there.  Instead of turning back, he continued on until he found them.  Little did he know that his life would be changed forever.  But not only his but  the future of all of Jacob’s (Israel’s) descendants.  When his brothers saw him coming from a distance their hatred for him grew so intense that they discussed killing him.  Instead, at the advice of Reuben,  they throw him into a pit and subsequently sold him as a slave to Egyptian traders.  Then his brothers covered their tracks by slaughtering a goat and using the blood to make Josephs coat (which they had stripped from him) look as though he has been attacked and killed by a wild animal.

            So here we have Joseph rejected and sold into slavery by his own brothers, taken away from the father he loved and forced into another culture where he will be a foreigner and a slave. As awful as this situation is, later we will see that it is the providence of God at work. After Joseph is exalted in Egypt through many trials he will be able to say to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

           This concept of God using the evil of men to work out His plan is worth taking a moment to look at and contemplate the spiritual significance of it for us today.  At times in our life it seems that we face obstacles that are purely a result of wicked men.  In this part of Joseph’s life we are taught that God will work even in the deeds of wicked men.  God’s working on our behalf is not happening only when we are experiencing blessings but also when we cannot imagine anything good coming out of our present situation.  Believing this to me is part of the life of faith that scripture stresses we need to live.  This is the kind of faith that other saints such as those listed in Hebrews chapter 11 are called blessed because of.  How often do we look back on the day of our trial to see that it was no more than a link in the chain of God’s work in our lives? And not only our life but also all those whom God would bless through us.  This was exactly the case in Joseph’s life. This terrible circumstance he was in would turn out to the salvation of his father’s whole household.  This story was also destined to become part of the history of redemption through which Jesus Christ would come.

          While God was definitely at work in Joseph’s life, it was sometime before he completely realized God’s ultimate plan for him.  In Egypt Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar.  As a slave in Potiphar’s house, Joseph’s character, wisdom and managerial skills opened the door for him to become the overseer to all of Potiphar’s house.  Genesis chapter 39 reveals that the Lord was with him so that he was very successful.  Then God’s providence revealed the character of Joseph through illicit sexual temptation.  (To many Christian men this has been a model of how to deal with temptation). After Joseph successfully resisted Potiphar’s wife’s sexual advances, she (because of her anger) lied by accusing Joseph of trying to seduce her.  She was successful and so Potipher put Joseph in prison.   

          In prison we see Joseph in a situation where the wicked deeds of others have again put him in a situation where he is being treated unjustly.  The same principle is at work here as was when his brothers put him in the pit. God again is working in the life of Joseph for His glory and Joseph’s good.  This is partly what the apostle meant in 1 Peter 1:6-9 when he said that trials are necessary, for they produce a purity of faith and result in the praise and glory of God.

          At this point it may look like the better choice would have been to agree with Potiphar’s wife. Had he done that, he would still be enjoying the position of overseer and the pleasures of an illicit relationship with her.  Yet this act of faith and obedience to God was the thing that set him up for the promotion that would be the fulfillment of the dream God gave him in his childhood.  This concept should motivate us in our struggles.  Joseph’s life teaches us that if we have a dream to do something mighty for God, we must be willing to go down the path God has set for us.  We must be willing to suffer in the training grounds of  our faith.  All of Joseph’s trials were but temporary tests of his faith which he passed with flying colors.

            Joseph’s prison is not the kind we imagine today.  This was a dark, dirty place with none of the amenities of normal life.  Surely he had opportunity to despair, to become depressed and embittered toward the world, yet God was with him and instead he soon became the head trustee.  Here we have more evidence of Joseph’s character.  What was it within him that kept him hoping and believing that this wasn’t the end?  The answer to that must have been thoughts of the God of his father Jacob.  Surely Joseph at this low hour of his life remembered the stories his father told him of the God of Abraham and Isaac (we would also do well in our dark times to remind ourselves of the promises of God).

         While in prison, the chief jailer trusted Joseph to the extent that he didn’t worry about the things in his care.  Then, two new prisoners show up who were in the court of Pharaoh (namely his cupbearer and his baker).  The jailer put them in Joseph’s care and he waited on them. This is another example of Joseph’s character, in that at the lowest point of his own life he is still ministering to others.  One night the cupbearer and the baker tell Joseph of their dreams to which he says, “Do not the interpretations belong to God?” (Gen. 40:8)  (Here Joseph shows himself to be the man of faith he is).  Joseph then proceeded to interpret them, the interpretation was favorable for the cupbearer, but for the baker it was not.  The dreams come to pass exactly as Joseph interpreted them; the cupbearer is restored to his position but the baker is hanged.  Before the cupbearer is brought back into Pharaoh’s court, Joseph asked him to remember him to Pharaoh, which he says he will do.  Some would say that his asking the cupbearer to talk to Pharaoh was an act of unbelief, in that he wasn’t trusting God for his deliverance.  But he may have been so sure that God was already at work in this situation that he somehow knew that the cupbearer would be the key to his release?  In any case, it was two years before he got any word from Pharaoh’s court.  Pharaoh himself had a dream which none  of his counselors could help him understand.  It was this that jogged the cupbearer’s memory about the Hebrew in prison who interprets dreams.  Thus Pharaoh called Joseph out of the prison to see if what he had heard about him was true.

        Through all of this, God had not forsaken Joseph, but in fact had ordained his suffering to prepare him for Pharaoh’s court.  Joseph had endured it patiently and silently while  God was putting the finishing touches on his character.  This is very encouraging.  James 1:12 puts it this way, “Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”  Sometimes God’s loving hand deprives us of some outward support so that we will lean more heavily on Him.  God was working in Joseph’s life to conform his heart into an image that will bring tremendous glory to God.

          God gave Joseph wisdom to interpret Pharaoh’s dream through which he found such favor in Pharaoh’s sight that he was given not only his freedom but was promoted to the second highest position in the land; only Pharaoh himself was higher than he was in rank.  Now, according to Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream there would be seven years of fruitful harvest followed by seven years of famine.  So Joseph went to work to devise a plan to store grain from the fruitful years in order to sustain them through the years of famine.  He applied all the skills and experiences he learned from working in Potiphar’s house and from his time in prison to manage the huge undertaking God had set before him.

            Joseph was successful in building and stocking the granaries in Egypt. As Pharaoh’s dream had predicted the famine came.  This famine was far reaching and spread even to the land of Canaan where Joseph’s family lived.  Here again we have a picture of God’s providence. God’s plan was to fulfill his promise to Abraham and from his seed raise up a mighty nation.  In God’s providence the famine forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt, and thus to reunite them with their brother Joseph.

            When his brothers arrived (all except Benjamin).  His thoughts must have gone back to his childhood dream where they bowed before him.  Joseph having realized they didn’t recognize him accuses his brothers of being spies, had Simeon bound and imprisoned the rest of them.  Joseph held them for three days, during which time his brothers were saying to each other, “this is happening to us because of how wickedly we treated our brother.” (Gen. 42:21) After three days Joseph had their sacks filled with grain and hid the money used to purchase the grain in their sacks. Joseph continued to hold Simeon and charged the others to bring their youngest brother back to him for verification of their story.  This gives us a glimpse into the thinking and heart of Joseph that we haven’t seen in him yet. Outwardly he seems hard and deceptive towards his brothers but inwardly there is a heart of love and forgiveness for them.  At least once he needed to leave the room to weep.  In these scenes Joseph deals with his family in a manner in which we see the likeness of our heavenly father.  Many times the sternness with which God deals with us in our rebellion is to bring us to a place where He can shower his grace upon us.

            Jacob’s heart sunk when he heard that Simeon was still bound in Egypt, and that the lord of Egypt was demanding they bring Benjamin to him.  Jacob, still grieving for Joseph, forbade them to take Benjamin back to Egypt; but the famine finally forced Jacob to send his sons with Benjamin to Egypt.

            When his brothers reached Egypt Joseph brought them into his house and fed them. Joseph favored Benjamin by giving him a larger portion of food than the others.  As Joseph had their bags filled with food and sent them on their way he also had his cup secretly placed within Benjamin’s bag.  As the brothers were on their way home Joseph sent his servants after them. When they came upon them they asked, “why have you returned evil for good,” (Gen. 44:4) for they were saying that one of them had taken their masters cup.  The brothers protested this but the cup was found in Benjamin’s bag.

            On their way back to Joseph in Egypt their worst possible fears had come to pass; “What would the lord of the Egyptians require of Benjamin since the cup was found in his bag?”  What would become of their father Jacob if they did not return to him with Benjamin.  Surely he would disown them and the grief of Benjamin’s loss would add to the grief of  losing Joseph.

            When they reached Egypt Joseph told them for this evil Benjamin will remain in Egypt as his slave.  Judah, one of the brothers pleads with Joseph to take him as a slave instead of Benjamin.  He says if they return without Benjamin their father will die.

            Finally Joseph can not contain himself any longer so he reveals himself to them.  He tells his brothers not to be angry with themselves over selling him into slavery because God had sent him down to Egypt before them to preserve life.  He lavished his love on them, and told them of his plans for their whole family come live in Egypt with him, where there will be food until the famine is lifted.  Subsequently Joseph is reunited with his father and thus they live out their days together in Egypt.

            In these last instances we have looked at in Joseph’s life we see in him a wisdom which surpasses ordinary intelligence. Here we see in Joseph an intuitive wisdom, a spiritual understanding of how to proceed with the reuniting of himself with his family.  His patience is a character trait that has been greatly exorcised in his life through his many trials.  He is concerned with exposing the nature of his brothers hearts.  He realizes the pressure he is putting them under will be that which brings out the truth of their thoughts and motives.  No doubt this is something Joseph learned through the many trials he himself had endured. This, I might add is a reflection of our Father God who before lavishing his grace on us brings us low by showing us our inability to escape his wrath without His kind favor in Jesus Christ.  But there comes that moment when the hard frowning exterior is set aside to reveal a heart of love and forgiveness which is ready to give every good and perfect gift to those for whom it seeks.

            In this study we have looked at several significant events in Joseph’s life, his childhood, his being sold into slavery, Potiphar’s house, his imprisonment, his promotion by pharaoh and his reuniting with his family.  The story of Joseph reveals to us many aspects of his character, the loving son, the man of wisdom and integrity, patient when wronged, persevering under trials and as a loving forgiving brother. But to me the most important aspect of his character which is an underlining factor to all we have said is that he was a man of faith in God. All that he endured and all that he did was due to being convinced that there was one overruling just God who was working on his behalf to cause His will to come to pass in fulfilling the promise made to Abraham.  These are the spiritual principals at work in Joseph’s life that affect me the most.  The way he persevered thru trials and temptations. When all things seemed to be against him he kept his faith in God.  Even when it looked like God had forsaken him he continued to be faithful, resisting the temptation to sin.  Joseph is a shining example of a man of faith who fully commits his future to God.  Joseph obeyed God in the midst of his struggles believing that God would bring to pass what he had promised.