Scripture: Gen 37:2–4, 23–28; 42:1-3; 45:1–11; 50:19–21
Joseph in Canaan
Joseph was Jacob’s favorite, and he dreamed of a God-given special destiny. But foolishly, he “shared” this with his brothers, who were somewhat less than delighted with the dreams (Gen 37:1–11). His favored status and elevated sense of destiny provoked a murderous rage among his brothers.
They planned to kill him, but Judah suggested keeping him alive to sell into the Egyptian slave trade (Gen 37:23–28). So that’s what they did. Then they bloodied Joseph’s coat and presented it to their father as “evidence” to support the lie that a wild animal had killed him (Gen 37:31–32).
Joseph in Egypt
In Potaphar’s House
So Joseph became a slave in Egypt, where Photiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officers, purchased him as a household slave. “The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master” (Gen 39:2). Alas! He caught the wandering eye of Potiphar’s wife, who attempted to seduce him and caught him by his coattails while he was making his getaway.1 Outraged at Joseph’s rejection of her advances, she used Joseph’s coat as “evidence” to support the lie that he had tried to rape her (Gen 39:12–18).
In Pharaoh’s Jail then Pharaoh’s Court
This false charge landed him in jail (Gen 39:20), but God’s grace and blessing followed him everywhere he went. So we read, “the LORD was with Joseph in prison and showed him his faithful love. And the LORD made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden” (Gen 39:21). Interpreting the dreams of a couple fellow-prisoners eventually brought Joseph to the attention of the Pharaoh himself, because Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted. Turns out, the dream was God’s warning that famine was coming (Gen 41). Joseph’s wisdom in interpreting that dream landed him the job of preparing for the coming famine. So when famine came, Egypt was ready—thanks to the strong measures that Joseph had taken to prepare for it (Gen 41:34–26, 47–49, 54).
Joseph’s Brothers in Egypt
The famine affected not only Egypt but also “all the surrounding countries” (Gen 41:54), including Canaan where Joseph’s family still lived (Gen 42).
The Brothers’ First Visit
So Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy food—from the brother they had sold into slavery (Gen 42:6)! Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him in his court finery. Joseph gave them a pretty rough check-out (Gen 42:7–36). He accused them of being foreign spies, took a hostage, and set them up to be accused of stealing the very money that was had been paid for their grain. By the time they got out of Dodge, the brothers were terrified of ever going back to Egypt to face that powerful man!
The Brothers’ Second Visit
But eventually they had to go back for grain. Joseph had demanded that if they every came back they had bring Benjamin, Jacob’s new favorite son. But they had to go if they were to avoid starvation. So Jacob sent special gifts, doubled the money that had been returned, agreed that Benjamin had to go along, then hoped for the best (Gen 43:8, 14).
When they got to Egypt they were treated more as guests than foreigners coming to buy supplies. They told their story about the money to Joseph’s household manager, and he told them no problem and released Simeon to rejoin his brothers (Gen 43:19–23). Joseph was overcome with emotion and had to hide for a while.
But again, he set them up, this time by hiding his special cup in Benjamin’s sack of grain—the favored son that Joseph feared to lose. This led to the brothers’ confession of their earlier sin against an earlier favored son of their father (Gen 44:20). Finally, they showed desperate concern for how their father would grieve over the loss of a favored son (Gen 44:31, 34)—a concern they had never showed while concocting plans to kill or sell Joseph.
Joseph Reveals His Identity
Joseph figured his brothers really had changed, so he revealed his identity to them (Gen 45). Imagine the fright that gave them. This brother, whose destiny they had mocked, now had them at his feet. This brother they had sold as a slave had already held one of them as a hostage, and was demanding yet another hostage—or he might just kill all of them!
Assurance for Frightened Brothers
Well, that wasn’t where Joseph was taking things in all of his hard-core check-out of the patriarchal brethren. This wasn’t a matter of Joseph serving up the cup of revenge ice cold. Instead, Paul’s words summarize Joseph’s take on what was going on:
We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.Romans 8:28
Joseph told his brothers, “Don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Gen 45:5).
And he stuck with that story. Later, after Jacob died, the brothers got to fearing that Joseph would now feel free to get even without grieving his poor old father. But Joseph restated that same theology of God’s good providence: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Gen 50:20).
No matter what happened, God wouldn’t let his promise to Abraham fail. Abraham’s family would keep on growing, until one day, Jesus, his greatest descendant, would come to save all the families of the earth.
Questions, Reflections, and Commitments
- Maybe you have some things happening in your life that you just can’t line up with God’s good purposes in the life of you and your family. Just think of how impossible it would have been for Joseph to understand how anything good could come of his slavery in Egypt. But he viewed it all through the eyes of faith (Gen 45:5; 50:20). Reaffirm your faith in the truth of Romans 8:28—no matter what.
- Maybe you catch yourself mulling over the idea of getting some revenge on someone who has wronged you. Ask the Lord to help you to truly drop it and move on—with the help of Romans 8:28 assuring you.
Ornament for the day
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