Genesis 45:7-8, “And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt”
Our theme – To mature His chosen ones and complete His purposes, the Lord overcomes all evil schemes and adversity.
Although Joseph is mentioned earlier in the book of Genesis, his story really begins in Chapter 37. He was a real person, a human being like you and I, who lived thousands of years ago. He faced many of the same temptations, trials, and testing’s that you and I face today. You see, it’s impossible to live in this world and not be hurt by someone else’s sin. You may have been verbally or physically abused as a child. Many have been damaged by someone’s drinking or drug abuse. If you’re married, you’ve been hurt by your spouse. Your children may have rebelled and caused you deep pain. Most of us have been the victims of crime. When you have been wounded by someone else’s sin, you’ve probably wondered, “Where is God in all this? If God is all powerful and loving, why is He allowing this terrible sin against me? If He is in control, why do wicked men literally get away with murder? If God is sovereign, why am I in the pits?”
Joseph could have asked that question. Due to his brothers’ sin, he was literally in a pit. From there things didn’t get any better. His brothers didn’t kill him, as they originally planned, but they did sell their 17-year-old brother into slavery in a foreign land. As that caravan made its way south toward Egypt, perhaps passing within a few miles of Joseph’s home in Hebron, he must have been overwhelmed with grief and loneliness as he wondered if he would ever see his father again. He must have wrestled with fear, anger, and feelings of rejection as he thought about his brothers’ cruelty toward him. He must have wondered, “If God is sovereign, why am I in the pits?”
It’s interesting that God isn’t mentioned in Genesis 37. A person might say, “See, God isn’t there when you need Him. If He cared about you, He would stop sinful men from carrying out their terrible plans.” But even though God is not mentioned by name, His sovereign providence runs like a strong river through this chapter, carrying even the sinful plans of man downstream in His overall purpose. God had this whole thing planned years before! The bottom line of this marvelous story in Genesis 37 is, “Since God is sovereign over all, we can trust Him even when things seem to go against us.” There are four main characters in this drama, each of whom demonstrates the sovereignty of God in spite of their sin or imperfection. They are:
(1) Jacob, who is insensitive and foolish;
(2) Joseph, who is naïve; and,
(3) Joseph’s brothers, hardened in their sin.
(4) However, the real central character is God, who is providentially at work behind the scenes, and because of this, there is much we can learn from Joseph’s story that can help us in the twists and turns of our own lives. Thus, in this study we will see that God is sovereign even when:
(1) Parents are insensitive and foolish;
(2) Teenagers like Joseph at age 17; are naïve
(3) People are hardened in sin.
I. God Prepares Joseph to Rule (Genesis 37:1-36)
A. Hated by his brothers (37:1-11).
At the age of seventeen Joseph was tending the flocks with his half-brothers, Dan and Naphtail, Gad and Asher. He observed his brothers’ misconduct and promptly reported it to their father. Perhaps this misconduct report boosted Joseph’s stock in Jacob’s thinking, while it lowered the brothers’ stock. At any rate, Jacob loved Joseph and showed his love by giving Joseph a richly colorful coat (It is suggested a coat of this kind isn’t designed for work, but was very likely the kind of coat worn by men of rank and wealth). Seeing that Jacob loved Joseph more than them, the brothers hated Joseph and refused to talk peaceably to him (37:1-4). Some Bible teachers believe Joseph was a spoiled tattletale, while others see him as a young man of high moral principles and a strong sense of accountability.
As bad as the relationship had become between Joseph and his brothers, it got even worse when Joseph told his brothers and his parents about his dreams. Some think he was wrong to do this. I would say that he was naïve. He was a 17-year-old who lacked the wisdom and maturity that come with a few more year of life. To have shared these dreams in confidence with his father or with a trusted older friend may have been wise. However, to share them with his brothers, who were already threatened by his favored position in the family was unwise. His brothers therefore “hated him yet the more for his dreams and for his words” (37:8). Even his father rebuked him for what must have appeared to the father as pride. Those dreams would sustain Joseph in all the difficult experiences he would pass through until they were fulfilled.
B. Sold into slavery (37:12-36).
Evidently neither Israel (Jacob) nor Joseph realized how hostile the feelings of Joseph’s brothers were. Israel did not hesitate to send Joseph to see how his sons fared as they tended his flocks, nor did Joseph hesitate to go. Traveling more than fifty miles from Hebron to Shechem, Joseph discovered that his brothers had moved the flock twenty-four miles north to Dothan (37:12-17). So he traveled further to Dothan, unaware of the intensity of his brothers’ hatred and never imagining his brothers might seek to get rid of him. So, when Joseph’s brothers saw him coming at a distance (they could see that cursed coat), so they plotted together to kill and throw him into a pit and say a wild beast must have devoured him. They sarcastically said, “We shall see what will become of his dreams” (v. 20). How arrogant they were! They thought they could take charge of events and block the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams. Their confidence was misplaced, for no one can frustrate God’s program and power.
However, Reuben intervened in order to save Joseph’s life. Intending to rescue Joseph later, Reuben suggested that they simply cast Joseph into a pit and let him die without any violent action of their part. His brothers agreed. They ripped off Joseph’s coat and threw him into a pit. Hard of heart, they sat down to eat while Joseph was trapped in the pit (vs. 21-25). Judah at least had second thoughts about allowing Joseph to die, pointing out that “he is our brother and our flesh.” He recommended that they sell Joseph to some Ishmaelite tradesmen who were on their way to Egypt. While Reuben was absent, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery for twenty pieces of silver. When Reuben discovered what had happened, he tore his inner garment as a symbol of grief and cried, “Where shall I go?” (vs. 25-30)
Reuben’s brothers decided for him. They took Joseph’s elegant robe (which they hated because it symbolized Israel’s preference for Joseph), dipped it in ram’s blood, and took it home to display to their father, asking in seeming innocence if the long coat belonged to Joseph (vs. 31, 32). These brothers were hardened not only toward Joseph, but also toward their father. The old man was devastated when he saw Joseph’s bloodstained coat and assumed that he had been killed by a wild beast. Can’t you picture them all gathered around the weeping man, patting him on the back, saying, “There, there! It’s going to be all right. The efforts of his sons and daughters to comfort him were of no avail because the father grieved for days. As for Joseph, he was taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and chief of the executioners.
C. God is Sovereign.
Through all this, God was still sovereign because we can see it in several points. First, Joseph didn’t find his brothers where they were supposed to be. As he wandered around in a field, a man “happened” to come along who knew where his brothers were, so Joseph was able to find them (37:15-17). Then, Joseph arrived just as this caravan came along, sparking Judah’s idea, which got Joseph into Egypt. You can also see a hint of God’s providence in the ironic boast of the brothers, “Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” (37:20).
What became of Joseph’s dreams? Well they were precisely fulfilled because God had His hand on this entire process, in spite of the brothers’ calloused sin, for which they were responsible. God sovereignty put Joseph into Potiphar’s house and orchestrated the events that followed there, in spite of Potiphar’s wife’s sin against Joseph.
God was sovereign in the timing of the cupbearer’s remembering Joseph before Pharaoh. Perhaps the most convincing evidence of God’s sovereign Hand in these events is the remarkable parallel between Joseph’s history and that of our Lord Jesus Christ, such as:
(1) Joseph was loved by his father and sent to seek the welfare of his brethren, as Jesus was loved and sent by the Father.
(2) Joseph’s brothers hated him because he spoke the truth about their sin and he convicted them of sin by his righteous life, as with Jesus.
(3) Joseph’s brothers sold him for a few pieces of silver, just as Jesus was betrayed for the same.
(4) Joseph’s brothers sought to get rid of him so that he would not reign over them, but their action resulted in that becoming true. Their rejection of him resulted in his later becoming their savior from the famine. Just as the Jewish leaders, didn’t want Jesus to reign over them. But their killing Him resulted in His becoming the Savior of all men, exalted in His resurrection as Lord of all, and now at the right hand of the Father, just as Joseph was second under Pharaoh.
Joseph easily could have thought, “If only I hadn’t met that guy in the field, I wouldn’t have found my brothers and all this wouldn’t have happened!” But his wandering in the field and meeting that man weren’t bad luck. Even though God is not mentioned in this chapter, He is obviously at work. Often when God is most silent, He is most present. When our dreams are shattered, how do we react? After Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, was sold as a slave by his brothers (Genesis 37:12-36), he could have given in to self-pity and self-indulgence. Instead, Joseph remained true to the Lord. Four times in Genesis 39, we read that “the LORD was with” Joseph (vs. 2-3, 21, 23), and his actions revealed his own faithfulness to God. By his exemplary life, those he served in Egypt recognized God’s presence with him. Do we love God more than our own dreams? Although Joseph must have grieved the loss of his past and what his life could have been, the Lord led him to a calling he had never imagined. Today, the Lord longs to lead us. The question then remains, “Are we willing to be redirected by Him?”
II. God Prospers and Tests Joseph (Genesis 39:1-40:23).
A brief look at the chronology of Joseph’s life will enable us to gain a better grasp of what takes place in this chapter. When Joseph was sold by his brothers he was 17 (37:2). At the time he was elevated to a position of power by Pharaoh, he was 30 (41:46). Thirteen years thus elapsed between his arrival in Egypt and his promotion to the second highest office in the land. Furthermore, we know that two years passed from the time the chief cupbearer was restored to his former position by the Pharaoh (41:1). That leaves us with eleven years that Joseph was either in the house of Potiphar or in the prison. Joseph’s rise to power was therefore not achieved quickly or easily. Have you ever considered that as a young man in a strange land, Joseph had to adjust to new customs, learn a new language, and maintain his faith while living in a community of unbelievers? And to top that off, he had no one to stand with him or encourage him.
Moreover, everything that had happened to Joseph was in accordance with God’s will, because three times in Genesis 39 we learned that the “Lord was with Joseph (vs. 3, 21, 23). Through the life of Joseph, and particularly while in Egypt, we should be able to glean several lessons, such as the temptations Joseph encountered and his gifts:
(1) When we think of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, we think only of the one incident, the one described in (verses 11 and 12). The significance of this particular incident is that it was the final attempt to seduce Joseph. By his refusal and running off without his garment, Potiphar’s wife brought about the false accusation of Joseph which led to his imprisonment. However, the scriptures tell us plainly that the temptation of Joseph took place “day after day”; Genesis 39:10, “And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her”. Thus, the temptation of Joseph took place over an extended period of time, and probably in a variety of forms. Joseph didn’t deal with temptation victoriously in one significant occasion, but rather in the day-to-day events of his life while in the house of Potiphar. More than this, the victory which Joseph won over sin on that last occasion was directly related to his previous decisions.
(2) Joseph’s gift was one of administration. Did you notice that wherever he was, and no matter what the circumstances, his gift began to bear on that situation? I believe Joseph became a leader and manager in the house of his father, much to the dismay of his brothers. In the fields of Potiphar and then in his house and finally in his prison, he used his gifts to prosper his master. This shouldn’t come as a surprise that this same ability would also become evident to Pharaoh also. So, let us learn from Joseph that no matter where we may be, we are to use the gift or gifts that God has given us to the good of those about us and to the glory of the God Who has given them to us.
III. In Potiphar’s house (39:1-18).
God prospered Joseph and caused Potiphar to put Joseph in charge of his entire estate. From the first six verses of this Chapter, we can determine a sequence of events which brought forth Joseph’s promotion to the second highest position of power in Potiphar’s household such as: (1) Joseph was a shepherd, so it would have been natural for him to begin his “career” in the fields of Potiphar. His success would first have been observed by his master there; (2) the good reports of Joseph reached the ears of Potiphar, who then brought him into his house (verse 2). Now, under the watchful eye of his master, the administrative skills of this Hebrew shepherd boy were even more apparent.
Potiphar not only observed that Joseph was a valuable employee, but also he discerned that his effectiveness was due to his relationship with his God (verse 3). Joseph had to have revealed his Hebrew origins from the beginning, as well as his own faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; (4) While Joseph could have taken all of the credit for his unusual abilities, He gave the glory to God. I don’t think that Potiphar discerned this from his religious sensitivity, but from Joseph’s clear and consistent testimony. Joseph’s life was one that brought glory to God. Thus, obedience and purity give glory to God in a way that disobedience and immorality cannot.
Potiphar was wise enough to recognize the extraordinary ability of Joseph. Under his supervision more and more authority was given to this Hebrew. Not only did God bless the areas over which Joseph was given authority, but Potiphar was blessed in proportion to the authority he gave Joseph. Eventually, Potiphar made Joseph his administrative assistant and gave him full charge over every facet of his enterprise. Potiphar was wise enough to stay out of Joseph’s way and let him handle virtually everything, save the food which he ate and the woman he had taken as his wife. This gradual rise to power over a number of years was not unrelated to the test he was to face in the person of Potiphar’s wife. Had Joseph not proven himself to be such a capable leader, she would hardly have acknowledged his existence. And had he not come to such a position of power in Potiphar’s house, his temptation would have been inconceivable.
Joseph was “beautiful of form” and “beautiful in appearance” (as the Hebrew text puts it). He was well built and handsome! His looks did not escape the notice of Potiphar’s wife. Like many of her people, she had few scruples about morality. She decided she wanted Joseph. She tried to seduce him. However, Joseph refused to sin against Potiphar or God. Potiphar trusted him, and he would not betray that trust. Nor would he betray his God by committing “this great wickedness” (v. 9). Day after day the temptation continued, but Joseph avoided Potiphar’s wife until one day his work took him into the house when none of the men were there. Potiphar’s wife grabbed his coat and said, “Lie with me.” He did the only thing a faithful, God-fearing young man could do: he ran, leaving his coat in her grasp (vs. 12, 13). Enraged, the wicked woman resorted to vengeance. She accused Joseph of the very sin that she had wanted to commit and Joseph would not agree to. Potiphar was understandably angry. He surely had to take his wife’s word against that of a foreign-born slave. But it is entirely possible that he had second thoughts about his wife’s story, because he imprisoned Joseph rather than carrying out the usual penalty for adultery, which was death.
IV. In prison (39:19-40:23).
Joseph was alive, but he was hurting. For being pure and for being faithful to both Potiphar and God, he was suffering. But Joseph did not complain. He did not start spouting off about “What’s the use of being good?” Only shortsighted, foolish people talk like that! The Lord was with Joseph in prison. Shortly after entering jail as a prisoner, Joseph became the assistant jailer. God prospered Joseph in jail, and the best was yet to come! Then it came about after these things the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. So he put them in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the same place where Joseph was imprisoned. And the captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them; and they were in confinement for some time.
Then the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in jail, they both had a dream the same night, each man with his own dream and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. And he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please”. While waiting for the good ending to his bad situation, two of Pharaoh’s officers had committed unknown offenses which greatly angered their master and resulted in their imprisonment (verses 1, 2). One was the king’s cupbearer, whom we shall call the butler; the other was the chief baker. These offenses were not mere indiscretions, but some clear-cut act of disobedience or misconduct, as the original term indicates. These two officers, now fallen from the favor of Pharaoh, were placed under Joseph’s authority in the prison where he, too, was held in bonds.
Joseph made it clear that the magicians and wise men of Egypt were not the true interpreters of dreams; only the true God could interpret dreams. Believing that God would reveal the meaning of the dreams to him, he asked the two men to tell him their dreams. The chief of butlers spoke first. Joseph told him he would be restored to Pharaoh’s favor and service. Encouraged by Joseph’s interpretation of the first dream, the chief of the bakers told his dream. His dream, however, signified that his head would be cut off and his body hung on a tree for the birds of prey to eat. Joseph told the chief butler that he had been stolen from the land of the Hebrews, affirmed his innocence, and asked him to present his case to Pharaoh to secure his release. The dreams were fulfilled exactly as Joseph had interpreted them, but the chief of the butlers did not remember Joseph. He forgot. How could he forget, he who had so lately been in prison himself? He forgot simply because he was selfish. He had been greatly concerned about his own welfare when he was in jail, but he was indifferent to Joseph’s plight after his release. For two more long years Joseph remained in prison.
V. God Places Joseph in Government (Genesis 41:1-57).
A. God caused Pharaoh to dream (41:1-36).
The butler had forgotten Joseph, but God had not. He disturbed Pharaoh with dreams about seven lean cows that devoured seven fat cows and seven thin ears of grain that swallowed up seven good ears of grain. Pharaoh called for the magicians and wise men of Egypt, but not one of them had an idea what the dreams meant. However, Pharaoh’s dreams reminded the chief butler of his own dream when he was in prison. He confessed, “I do remember my faults this day” (41:9) and related to Pharaoh how Joseph had interpreted his dream and that of the chief baker.
From then on things happened with lightning speed. Pharaoh summoned Joseph from prison and urged him to interpret his dreams. Denying that he had any ability in himself to interpret dreams, Joseph assured Pharaoh that God would give him “an answer of peace” (v. 16). Joseph informed Pharaoh that Egypt would experience seven years of plentiful harvests followed by seven years of famine. He recommended that Pharaoh appoint an intelligent, wise man who would appoint officers to store the crops form a fifth part of the land during the years of bountiful harvests (vs. 25-36)
B. A Promotion by Pharaoh (41:37-57).
The best Joseph could have dared to hope for was a release from his imprisonment. Pharaoh admitted to Joseph that “God taught you all this” (he referred to the God Joseph believed in because he used the word “Elohim” for God), and he recognized Joseph’s intelligence and ability. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen, and put the gold necklace ground his neck. And he had him ride in his second chariot. The chariot may not have been the Rolls Royce of Pharaoh’s fleet, but it was at least a Mercedes Benz.
Just as Joseph was second only to Potiphar, now he was to answer only to Pharaoh (verses 40, 44). Pharaoh set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” Promptly he appointed Joseph to be next to him in authority and delegated to him the task of gathering and storing food for the seven years of famine that would follow the seven years of plenty (vs. 37-42). Pharaoh took two other highly symbolic actions which helped to cement Joseph’s new position with the people of the land. First, Joseph was given an Egyptian name. There are numerous conjectures as to what this name meant. Frankly, I do not have the slightest idea what it meant, nor do I care. An Egyptian name, whatever it meant, signified that in Pharaoh’s mind Joseph was not a “mere Hebrew” (which were despised by the people of Egypt (43:32, 46:34), but an Egyptian. Among the American Indians the counterpart to this would have been to make Joseph a blood-brother of the tribe.
This is further confirmed by the gift of an Egyptian wife, Asenath (verse 45). Many Christians are troubled by the fact that Joseph took a wife from among the Egyptians. Let me ask you a very practical question. Had you been Joseph, where would you have gone to find a godly wife? Would you have gone to Judah, who was willing to sleep with a Canaanite cult prostitute? Would you have gone to your brothers, who tried to kill you? Would you go to a man like Laban? Where could a man find a godly wife in those days? God had not yet given any commandments regarding marriage, but what was later laid down in the law did not forbid a marriage such as that of Joseph:
VI. A Program Implemented (41:46-57)
This final section of Genesis 41 serves several purposes. First, it reveals the accuracy of Joseph’s interpretation. Secondly, it evidences the administrative astuteness of Joseph in handling the affairs of state in preparation for the famine to come. Finally, it reveals to us Joseph’s continued spiritual commitment to the God of his fathers. Joseph is now thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt. And during the seven years of plenty the land brought forth abundantly. So he gathered all the food of these seven years which occurred in the land of Egypt, and placed the food in the cities; he placed in every city the food from its own surrounding fields. Thus Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure.
When the seven years of plenty which had been in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said, then there was famine in all the lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, you shall do.” When the famine was spread over all the face of the earth, then Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians; and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. And the people of all the earth come to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth. Just as Joseph had indicated, the next seven years were marked by great abundance. The land produced in such quantity that the grain held in reserve for the future was beyond measure (verse 49). Joseph skillfully carried out the plan which he had proposed to Pharaoh, storing up a fifth of the grain in the cities for later use. At the end of the seven years of plenty, the famine hit Egypt with severity. The people came to Pharaoh requesting bread, and he sent them to Joseph, telling them to do whatever he said (verse 55). Joseph opened the storehouses and began to sell grain to the Egyptians and to those from other lands, some of whom would be his own brothers.
During the years of Egypt’s great prosperity Joseph was blessed with two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. The names which they were given, give us further indication of Joseph’s spiritual condition during these exhilarating years in Pharaoh’s palace.
Manasseh, which means “making to forget”, was Joseph’s expression of his gratitude toward God, Who had enabled him to forget “all my trouble and all my father’s household” (verse 51). I do not think that this should be understood in a negative way as though Joseph had no more interest or concern for them. Certainly God’s rich blessings had enabled him to blot out the painful memories of the past, especially the hurt and bitterness which could only harbor a grudge against his brothers and seek an opportunity to get revenge. The name Ephraim, that is “fruitfulness” (margin, NASV), conveyed the assurance of Joseph that it was God who had given him prosperity and blessing in the land of his affliction. To Joseph, affliction and blessing were not contradictory, for God was able to turn sorrow into joy.
This episode in the life of Joseph brings us to a vantage point from which we may look backward and forward. Looking back, we must realize that Joseph’s elevation is not the result of one lucky break, but rather of a chain of painful but divinely purposed events planned by God. Had Joseph not said “no” to Potiphar’s wife and been unjustly cast into prison with the cupbearer, he could never have been recommended to the king. And had Joseph not been cruelly treated by his brothers and sold into slavery, he would never have been in Potiphar’s house. What a beautiful illustration of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Looking ahead, we see the story doesn’t end with chapter 42, for while Joseph is the principal character of this section, he is not the sole object of God’s attention and activity. While there is a sense in which Joseph was blessed because of his faithfulness, there is the even broader perspective that Joseph’s promotion was not for his own prosperity as much as for his brothers’ preservation. Joseph’s position of power and prosperity enabled him to become the “savior” of his brethren. We must be humbled by the fact that while God cares for us as individuals, He often has a broader purpose for what He gives to us. Spiritual gifts, for example, are not given for our own benefit so much as for the building up of others: But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (I Corinthians 12:7).
My beloved, when our goal is to honor the Lord, He guides and guards us each step of the way. Whatever our hopes and dreams may be, when we place them in God’s hands we know that everything, including setback or success, is under His complete control, as it was with Joseph!
In the drama of life, God is the Director behind the scenes.