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The story of Joseph in the Bible is one of my favorites because I feel like I can relate so well to him. Joseph had a dream from God as a youth and instead of beginning to walk out that dream as he imagined he would, he went through a bunch of what seemed like detours, and his life ended up looking a lot different than I’m sure he had imagined. While I’ve never been sold into slavery or wrongfully imprisoned, I have had life go differently than what I had imagined, seemingly in the opposite direction of the dreams God had placed in my heart.
I recently read through Joseph’s story again and dug a little deeper to find out more about this young man and how he handled everything he had to go through. In this process I learned three things about Joseph that I never knew or realized before.
1. Joseph’s pain was the key to his greatness
Joseph was the favorite son because he was the first son born to Jacob’s true love, Rachel. One day Jacob gave Joseph a special gift in the form of fancy robe, or tunic. This robe was beautiful, ornate, had long sleeves, and extended down to his ankles. In comparison, Joseph’s brothers likely had shorter, sleeveless tunics that allowed them to more easily do their manual labor. Charles Swindoll writes in his book Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgivness, “By giving Joseph this elaborate full-length coat, which was also a sign of nobility in that day, his father was boldly implying, ‘You can wear this beautiful garment because you don’t have to work like those brothers of yours.’"
I’m guessing that this coat wasn’t the first gift Joseph received that blatantly pointed out the favor he had with his father. Joseph was likely spoiled and coddled his entire life, until that fateful day where he was forced to leave his father’s favor and blessings. His brothers’ jealousy built up and eventually overcame them so much that one day they threw Joseph into a pit and eventually sold him into slavery. Talk about the end of a spoiled childhood! Once Joseph belonged to foreign people who paid to own him, his days of being favored and coddled were over.
“The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master” (Genesis 39:2, emphasis added).
Joseph had to learn to work because daddy was no longer around to let him off the hook. The beauty is that Joseph did work, and he worked hard. We see Joseph’s gifts of administration and oversight start to bloom as “Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned” (Genesis 39:6). We continue to see Joseph’s hard work and his giftings developed as he worked hard and became in charge of the prison he was in and eventually over all of Egypt!
In the end, it was Joseph’s God-given gift of administration and oversight that God used to save Joseph’s family and the whole nation of Egypt from starvation. Going through the pain of losing his status of “chosen son” and having to work to earn his keep is the only reason that Joseph’s gift was able to develop and grow in his life. Had he never had the hardship of being sold into slavery, he never would have tapped into that gift and consequently never would have saved his family.
2. Joseph ministered to others in his darkest time
Joseph’s life was filled with what seemed to be setbacks on the surface, but in fact were the very situations that matured him, tested him, and ultimately set him up for God’s plan to be manifested through him. In one of these major setbacks, we see the true, noble character that was the core of who Joseph was. After being wrongfully charged for an offense he did not commit, Joseph found himself in prison. One day he received two new cell mates, Pharaoh’s chief baker and his chief cup-bearer. Since Joseph was responsible and skilled, he was ultimately placed in charge of these two prisoners. Having this kind of authority, Joseph could have easily lorded it over them and been rude and disrespectful. Instead, we see that Joseph was kind and compassionate to them, acknowledging their feelings and reaching out to them.
While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset.
“Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them (Genesis 4:5-7).
Can you imagine being wrongfully accused and thrown in jail when all you’ve been trying to do is serve God faithfully and honestly? Then some other prisoners, who were likely actually guilty of some crime, are moaning and complaining (that is my own interpretation, but that could have easily been the case) about their distress right in front of you? My first instinct would be to tell them they have nothing to complain about and explain the plight of my circumstances and show why I have it so much harder than they do.
Not Joseph! He reached out and basically offered himself as a shoulder to cry on. Then not only did he listen to their distress, he also offered to solve their problem by interpreting their dreams. What amazing character Joseph had to put himself aside and help others in the midst of his own suffering!
3. He didn’t try to push his own agenda in his life
After Joseph interprets the baker’s and cup-bearer’s dreams, he asks the cup-bearer, whom he knew would soon be promoted back to his job, to remember him and hopefully aid in getting him freed from his wrongful imprisonment. Joseph reached out and helped someone despite his suffering, so it seems right that he would receive a reward and a blessing from that. But once the cup-bearer was restored to his position, he forgot all about Joseph, thus he remained in prison for two more long years. I bet it was really tempting for Joseph to try to manipulate and scheme things to get himself out of there. In contrast, it seems that he instead grew closer to God and grew in faith during this time. We know that by how he acted when we see him next.
Two years after Joseph interpreted his dream, the cup-bearer did finally remember him when Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dream. Finally Joseph was brought out of prison to be able to share one of his God-given gifts and help someone in authority. After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dream about the forthcoming prosperity and famine, he told Pharaoh what he thought the best course of action would be.
Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt (Genesis 41:33). Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:37-38).
If I were Joseph, I’d probably want to shout from the rooftops “Pick me, pick me!!!” Joseph was very capable of doing this job and he would do it well because he was experienced and gifted at it! But Joseph was quiet. He didn’t promote himself or try to prove that he would be the best at this. Instead he sat back and watched as God promoted him, by only his grace and outside of any of Joseph’s own efforts. And God did just that:
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:39-41).
Joseph was released from prison and put into a place of high authority in just one day and it brought glory to God instead of himself.
Joseph was an amazing man of patience, integrity and character. So many of us have read his story over and over again and marveled at how God brought justice and blessing to him, despite being treated unfairly. Looking at Joseph more closely and analyzing his actions (and lack of action in certain circumstances) we can see a shining example of one of God’s loyal servants whom God saw worthy of being promoted to the high calling he had. When we have times in our lives where we are being treated unfairly or things seem to be continually against us, we can look to Joseph for a great example of how to keep our eyes on God and continue to live in integrity and have confidence that God will come through for us at his perfect timing.
Cortni Marrazzo currently resides in Spokane, Washington with her husband Jason and their two sons. She has a Degree in Biblical Discipleship and has a passion for ministry and encouraging the body of Christ. She and her husband currently serve as small group directors at their local church. You can contact her at [email protected] or on Facebook.
Publication date: June 11, 2015