Genesis 37; 39-45: Joseph's Life

Can God accomplish His perfect will in the life of someone treated unfairly and abused? We would expect such experiences to cause such deep scars, that the person could never do things quite as well as the more privileged. Joseph was an abused teenager. His older brothers beat him, stole his designer clothes, and sold him to slave traders headed for Africa. When he resisted the sexual advances of his owner's wife, he ended up in prison. However, Joseph's faith and bond with God surpassed that of all those around him, so much so that he caught the attention of even the Commander and Chief of the Egyptian Empire.

In Genesis 37, Joseph at seventeen lacks tact in family relationships. His father favoring him over his older brothers did not help. Joseph told his parents and brothers his dreams without considering the impact on them. Even his father rebuked him. His brothers' jealousy exceeded their reason. When Joseph went to check on his brothers, they plotted to kill him. Reuben, the oldest, talked them into putting him in a cistern instead of killing him. He planned to rescue him later. Apparently, Reuben was a poor leader. All the brothers had plenty of time to scheme about Joseph while Reuben was busy probably taking care of the sheep. Maybe this was the source of the bad report Joseph had made earlier. While Reuben was gone, Judah came up with the idea of selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites going to Egypt. Reuben was terrified when he returned and Joseph was gone.

At this point, the Biblical account continues from the perspective of the older brothers. Consider what happened from Joseph's perspective. He knew nothing about the plot to make his dad think that he was dead. Surely, he expected his father to come looking for him in Egypt to buy him back. We would not expect a boy treated as unfairly as Joseph to have made a very trustworthy servant. We would expect him to have tried to escape, but Genesis 39 gives quite a different picture. Joseph served Potiphar so well that Potiphar trusted Joseph with everything he had. You would think that a boy rejected and abandoned by his family would be susceptible to the advances of Potiphar's wife. However, Joseph stayed true to his convictions. Note the contrast between this account and the previous account of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38). If Potiphar believed his wife's story, we would have expected him to have Joseph executed. He had Joseph imprisoned to avoid confrontation with his wife.

Imprisoned unjustly for being a faithful servant when he did not even deserve being enslaved (Genesis 40:15), we would expect Joseph to be bitter and resentful. While God gave Joseph success in everything he did, Joseph must have had a firm conviction that God would work out His will through the circumstances of his life. This confidence overcame any bitterness and resentment. Joseph must have had firm convictions that God would accomplish what He had told Joseph in his dreams. Joseph interpreted the dreams of the pharaoh's chief cupbearer and baker in prison (Genesis 40).

After pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph until Pharaoh had a dream two years later (Genesis 41). After Joseph interpreted pharaoh's dreams, pharaoh put Joseph in charge of storing up the grain during the seven good years and dispensing it during the drought. In Genesis 42 Joseph brothers went to Egypt to buy grain and stand before Joseph though they did not recognize him. Joseph kept his identity secret. Perhaps he wanted to know how his brothers felt about him. When he learned about the intense guilt his then mature brothers had about their immature actions toward him, he wept in private (Genesis 42:21-24). He set up the situation where they would have to take his younger brother Benjamin the next time they came.

When Jacob's household was in danger of starving, they finally took Benjamin with them (Genesis 43). When Joseph saw Benjamin, he cried in private. Joseph played one last trick on the brothers that showed Joseph the feelings of his family (Genesis 44). When they found Joseph's cup in Benjamin's sack and vowed to enslave Benjamin, Judah, who came up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery, pled to take the place of Benjamin. Judah explained in detail his father's grief for Joseph and his worry about Benjamin. Joseph then knew that his father did not look for him because he thought Joseph was dead. When he saw how Judah protected Benjamin, Joseph knew the sincerity of Judah's repentance for what he had done to Joseph. Joseph could no longer contain his feelings privately and cried in front of everyone (Genesis 45).

Joseph's statements that showed his faith in God and His ability the control are as follows:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:4-7, NIV)

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:18-21, NIV)

We can look at the story of Joseph and see God's work back then in the patriarchs. However, God revealed Himself in the Bible not just to tell us past history, but to show us how to live (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We should learn to have the same confidence in God's purpose that Joseph had. How does a Hebrew shepherd boy become an advisor to the Egyptian Pharaoh? Only God could work out such as unlikely chain of events.

Not only does this story tell us to have confidence when life seems unfair, but also when we willingly sin as was the perspective of Joseph's brothers. When we try logically to understand God's sovereignty and our freedom to choose, the two seem to conflict. However, the stark reality is that they are interdependent. We can choose because God chose to give us that ability. If it were not for God fulfilling His purpose even when we fail, our past decisions might have trapped us so that we could no longer decide to do God's will. If it were not for God's sovereignty, other people's decisions might keep us from doing His will. Because God is accomplishing his will in the events of the past, present, and future, there is nothing to prevent us from doing his will now. God has provided the means (Romans 8:28-39).