JOSEPH – FROM SLAVE TO PRIME MINISTER
In the life of Joseph we recognize the elements of a noble character— goodness, pure and high morality, simplicity, calmness, loyalty, patience, perseverance, an iron will, and unconquerable spirit.
Joseph was the eldest son of Jacob and Rachel, born while his father was still serving Laban (Genesis 30:22-25). After his birth Joseph is mentioned in connection with his father’s flight from Laban (Genesis 33:2, 7) and then no more until he was seventeen years of age.
Position in the Family. As the child of Rachel, “son of his old age” (Genesis 37:3), and doubtless also for his excellence of character, his father loved him more than all his brothers. This, together with the fact that he reported to his father the evil conduct of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, caused his brothers to hate him. Their jealousy was aggravated by Jacob’s showing his preference in presenting Joseph with a coat, probably a long tunic with sleeves, worn by youths of the richer class (Genesis 37:2-4). A still greater provocation was the telling of his dreams, which seemed to foreshow his preeminence in the family (Genesis 37:5-11).
Sold into Slavery. Such was Joseph’s relation to his brothers when his father sent him from the valley of Hebron to Shechem to inquire concerning their welfare. They were not at Shechem but were found by Joseph in Dothan. His appearance aroused their hatred, and, with the exception of Reuben, they resolved to kill him. Reuben interfered on Joseph’s behalf and persuaded them to cast him into a pit, intending “to restore him to his father.” This they accordingly did, after stripping him of his tunic. While they were eating a company of Arabian merchants (Ishmaelites) appeared, and, at the suggestion of Judah and in the absence of Reuben, Joseph was sold to them for twenty shekels of silver. Dipping Joseph’s tunic in the blood of a goat, they sent it to Jacob, so that he might believe that his favorite had been torn to pieces by some wild beast. Their trick succeeded, and Joseph was mourned as dead. The merchants sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, and he became an Egyptian slave (Genesis 37:12-36).
Slave Life. Joseph behaved himself so discreetly in the service of Potiphar, and was so led of God, that he found great favor with his master, who gave him the direction of all his affairs. Refusing, however, to gratify the improper request of his master’s wife, he was accused by her of inappropriate sexual activity and thrust into prison. Here, also, God was with Joseph, granting him favor in the eyes of the governor of the prison, so that he entrusted all the prisoners to his care, leaving everything to his supervision (Genesis 39:1-23). While in prison Joseph interpreted correctly the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners—Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and baker—disclaiming any human skill and acknowledging that the interpretations were of God. These interpretations were fulfilled three days afterward, on the king’s birthday (Genesis 40).
Exaltation. After two years Pharaoh had two prophetic dreams that the magicians and wise men of Egypt were unable to interpret. The cupbearer, calling to mind the service rendered him by Joseph, advised his royal master to put his skill to the test. Joseph was sent for and interpreted the dreams as foretelling seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine. He followed up this interpretation by advising Pharaoh to “look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.” This counsel pleased Pharaoh and his ministers, who believed that Joseph possessed the spirit of supernatural insight and wisdom. Joseph was appointed ruler over Pharaoh’s house and over all the land; in other words, becoming next to Pharaoh in authority in Egypt. Pharaoh called him Zaphenath-paneah (“savior of the world”) and married him to Asenath, daughter of Potipherah, the priest of On. This promotion took place when Joseph was thirty years of age. During the seven years of plenty Joseph prepared for the years of famine to follow by carefully husbanding the grain, which was so abundant as to be beyond measurement. During these years his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were born (Genesis 41:47-52). When scarcity began, Joseph was in a condition to supply the wants of Egypt and also of surrounding nations. He put all Egypt under Pharaoh—first the money, then the cattle, the land (excepting the priests’), and eventually the Egyptians themselves became the property of the crown. The people were distributed according to the cities in which the grain was stored and were instructed to pay a tax to the crown of one-fifth of the product of the soil (Genesis 41:53-57; Genesis 47:14-26).
Joseph and His Brothers. Early in the time of famine the brothers of Joseph, except Benjamin, went to Egypt to buy food. Applying to Joseph, who had supreme control over the stores of Egypt, they did not recognize him, but he knew them and seems to have resolved to make them feel and acknowledge the wrong they had done him. He acted as a foreigner toward them, spoke harshly to them, inquired whence they had come, and accused them of being spies. This charge they denied and told him specifically about their family. After putting them in prison for three days he sent them home to bring back their youngest brother as proof of their veracity, keeping Simeon as hostage. Having with great difficulty secured Jacob’s permission, they returned with Benjamin and double money to repay the sum placed by order of Joseph in each man’s sack. The presence of his younger brother assured Joseph of the truth of his father’s welfare, and, yielding to his natural impulses, he made himself known to his brothers. He inquired again concerning his father; told them not to grieve because of the sin they had committed in selling him, as God had overruled it for their welfare; charged them to return to Canaan and bring Jacob and their families to Egypt, saying that he would provide for them during the five remaining years of famine. These events reached the ear of Pharaoh; he approved all that Joseph had done and commanded that Jacob and his family should forthwith come into Egypt (Genesis 42:1-45:24).
Young Joseph was not privileged to know the master plan. In fact, it wasn't until he was about thirty years old that he realized what God had in mind for him. Yet he knew there was one and determined to fit into it.
God's timing always is perfect and he always has a person in place to accomplish his purpose. In Esther 4:14, Mordecai told Esther: "And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" She had.
Paul explained God's timing like this: "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son ..." (Galatians 4:4).
All the hardships Joseph had faced were used by God to get him in the right place at the right time. He was poised to fulfill God's promise to Abraham: "And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3b). Famine was coming to the world. Without God's provision, all the families of the earth would be cursed.
What if Joseph had not endured the hardships? What if his brothers had just ignored him instead of selling him into slavery? What if Mrs. Potiphar had not lied about him? What if Potiphar had arranged for his death instead of his imprisonment, which was the normal punishment for rape? What if Joseph had finally had enough in prison and totally shut down? What if ... what if ... what if? Our God is Lord of the "what ifs."
As Joseph was moved by God from the position of a slave to that of a prophet and ruler, so we can see in him the image of Jesus' exaltation before his humiliation. As all were to bow before Joseph, so all shall bow before Jesus: ...When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave and became human! He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death---and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth---even those long ago dead and buried---will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.