When I was a kid in Sunday school and church, whenever people talked about Joseph – the guy with the fancy coat – I was extremely confused. I thought there was only one Joseph in the Bible – because no one had ever taken the time to tell me otherwise, apparently – so when I envisioned the nativity scene, Joseph – the father of Jesus – was wearing a colorful, ornate robe thingy. Picture it: the barn…a baby laying in some hay…the new mother in basic peasant clothes (with the glowing halo, of course)…and the new dad decked out like Liberace.
You, too? No? Just me?
In any case, the Old Testament story of Joseph is one of the most important ones in the Bible, but it’s often overlooked as we move on to other things that happen later. It’s a fantastic connective story (albeit a long one, so settle in) with layer upon layer of really good stuff. (If it caught the attention of Broadway and Hollywood, it must be a good story.) So let’s take a look.
Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, son of Isaac. Isaac was Abraham’s son…so Joseph was Abraham’s great-grandson. He’s therefore part of God’s covenant to Abraham to give him many descendants and to make him the father of a great, chosen nation. (Read Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15:1-16 for more about the Abrahamic Covenant.)
Scripture tells us that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, and it showed – brightly. Read Genesis 37:3-4 to find out about the famous coat of many colors. We don’t know for sure what the significance was of the robe, and commentators disagree on whether it was symbolic or simply an act of fatherly favoritism. Regardless, the coat set Joseph apart and made his brothers hate him. Then again…he didn’t exactly help matters, either.
Read Genesis 37:5-11. How many dreams did Joseph have? How did his brothers respond? How did Jacob respond? (Side note: how would YOU have responded?)
Joseph was…well, kind of a brat, from anything we read. He could have used a little humbling…which came soon enough. From this point, an easy way to study Joseph’s story is under three headings: God’s Presence, God’s Provision, and God’s Providence.
(I’m a speaker, too, so please forgive my very preacherly inclination toward alliteration. Maybe it’ll help.)
Read Genesis 37:12-36, and note the key events.
- Joseph’s brothers were all sent to work…while Joseph stayed behind.
- Joseph’s brothers saw him coming…probably because of his fancy coat.
- As soon as they saw him, they planned to kill him. While they had hated him before, there was no indication that they’d ever previously planned anything like this. It’s interesting to me how quickly they hatched the plan.
- Who was on Joseph’s side? Why do you think he was?
- The brothers originally planned to _____________________, but then decided to _________________________ instead. (What good brothers!)
- How did they cover up what they had done? (This definitely was symbolic!)
- Where did Joseph wind up?
Jump over to Genesis 39:2-6. Here, it becomes clear that while Joseph’s situation wasn’t ideal, God hadn’t forgotten about him…and hadn’t left him. How often do we need this reminder? Is there a situation you can remember when you were in a desperate place…but can look back and see how God blessed you during that time?
Genesis can get a little long-winded, so I’ll do some summarizing for you. In Chapter 39, Potiphar’s wife notices Joseph and makes a move on him. He very wisely rejects her advances…which leads her to demonstrate the expression, “Hell hath no wrath like a woman scorned.” Her anger lands Joseph in prison.
Read Genesis 39:21. I think it’s interesting that Scripture makes a point of telling us that God was still with Joseph, even though things kept getting worse and worse for him. First, God had blessed Joseph with a high position even in the midst of his enslavement, and then God set him apart as a favorite of the jailer. At this point, it becomes clear that God seems to have something in mind for our friend Joseph.
Read chapters 40 and 41. (You can do it! It’s not that long, and is really interesting.) Joseph still has the ability to interpret dreams. It’s a gift that he once used in a prideful way…but that since he’s been humbled has taken on a new meaning for him. Read Genesis 40:8 and 41:16 to see what I mean.
God’s hand is on Joseph – and even he is beginning to understand that. Given all of the ridiculous, convoluted circumstances of Joseph’s life, he is beginning to change. This is a good thing…since by the end of chapter 41, Joseph is second in command over all of Egypt.
Are you still with me? Feel free to take a break. This next part gets a little crazy (even for Joseph).
I don’t know if you’ve looked far enough ahead, but Joseph’s story covers a whoooole long section of Genesis. We’re in Chapter 42 now…and his story continues through the end of Genesis. Yeah. That’s another 9 chapters. It’s really interesting, so I encourage you to read it all – but for the purposes of this study, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version.
Because of Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph’s interpretation, Pharaoh has put Joseph in charge of the grain storage in Egypt. When famine struck the world (or at least the region), Jacob – remember? Joseph’s dad – hears that Egypt still has grain available. To save his family, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to bring back food.
As I’m writing this, Hurricane Irma is approaching the southeastern United States…where I live. We have something similar happening here with gas, bread, bottled water, and batteries. When one store sells out, everyone flocks to the next one…until they run out and the crowds go somewhere else. We’re not looking for grain, but the frenzy is probably much the same.
Genesis 42:6-8 tells us that because Joseph was in charge of the grain, Jacob’s sons – Joseph’s brothers – had to talk to him. Through a long series of trips back and forth and back and forth from Canaan to Egypt, Joseph agrees to send food with his brothers. Look at a map (maybe in the back of your Bible, or the one here) to see the distance they traveled. Imagine what that was like! (Also note that it was the same journey Joseph had made years earlier, uncertain about his future as a slave.)
Interesting tidbit? Joseph’s brothers have no idea it’s him. They think he’s dead, after all, and because about 12 years have passed, he looks more Egyptian than Hebrew.
Take a moment to consider the significance of the interactions between Joseph and his brothers. Had God’s presence not been with Joseph – as we were repeatedly told – Joseph would not have been placed in that position. And had God not placed Joseph in that position of authority, the lineage of Abraham could have ended as Jacob’s family starved to death in the land where God had taken them.
God’s presence with His people made way for God’s provision for His people.
Read Genesis 45:1-15.
Can you imagine this scene? What do you think Joseph was feeling before he told his brothers who he was? How do you think he felt afterwards? And how do you think his brothers felt?
Notice verses 4 through 11. What is Joseph’s main statement to his brothers? How many times does he give credit to God for what has happened?
Joseph has definitely changed. The young man who reveled in his position as daddy’s favorite has grown into a man who lives with his eyes on the Father. He knows that if anything good has happened in his life, it’s been because of God. He knows that the bad things that have happened have happened in order for God’s purposes to be fulfilled. He knows that even when things seemed impossible, God was the one who worked it out and made a way. I pray that when I go through hard times, I come out with this kind of understanding about God!
The rest of Genesis 45 though Genesis 49 follows Joseph’s family living in Egypt during the famine and in the years following.
Genesis 49:29-50:13 tells us about Jacob’s death, which caused great distress for his sons. Read Genesis 50:14-21.
Why were Joseph’s brothers afraid?
What did Joseph tell them?
Joseph had a new way of looking at life. Where he could have been resentful, bitter, and vengeful, he was gracious and gave glory to God. He knew that his position was not because of anything he had done. He had seen God’s presence lead the way…His provision take care of His people…and His providence override any human interference with His purposes.
Joseph didn’t necessarily understand. He didn’t know why things had to happen the way they did. He definitely didn’t know what was coming next (in Exodus 1), but He knew God was over it all.
Looking at our own lives, we should look for those same markers. Because the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is the God of you and me. Praise God that some things never change.