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Friday, January 24, 2014


Joseph was Jacob's eleventh son and also Rachael's firstborn, the wife that Jacob loved best.  Rachael had to be patient, waiting many years to conceive Joseph.  Unfortunately, she died giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, Joseph's younger brother.  Joseph was Jacob's favorite son.

The Bible covers the story of Joseph from chapters 37-50 of Genesis; being one of the longest stories found in the Bible, far longer than the creation and flood story.

Notice that the LORD does not speak directly nor does He reveal himself to Joseph in the same way that He did to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  There is no account of direct revelations or miracles.  While Joseph did not have these same direct encounters with God, His guiding hand is obviously seen throughout his life. Joseph had a remarkable ability to interpret dreams and visions that made him closer to God.  Joseph acknowledges God's part in what happens to him.  Ancients viewed dreams as messages from their gods. Ancient dreamers rarely interpreted their own dreams.  Only their priests and wise men, who had access to the gods, were considered qualified to interpret dreams.

The account of Joseph is rich, filled with twists and turns that almost make you cry, cringe and rejoice.  It is beautifully written, designed to impress the hearers.  It begins in the land of Canaan ending in the land of Egypt.  It begins with Jacob's family in Hebron.  The central character throughout the story is Joseph, except for chapter 38, which covers Judah and Tamar.

In Genesis chapter 37, we notice there is trouble with Joseph’s brothers.  The rivalry among the brothers is similar to the rivalry we saw in the stories of Abraham over Ishmael and Isaac, and continued with Isaac's favoritism toward Esau and Rebekah's favoritism toward Jacob. This is exactly the problem in Jacob's family. Back in chapter 6 of Genesis, we see the rivalry between their mothers, Leah and Rachel. Unfortunately, the rivalry did not end when the boys were born, but was passed down to the sons.   Jacob's other sons noticed that he favored Joseph, even though he was the eleventh in line.   Jealousy and bitterness grew stronger against Joseph. 

 In Genesis 37:1-11, we read of the sad events that brought this hatred to a climax. "Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan.... Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.  His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.  Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.  He said to them, Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.  Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?  So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.  Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.  He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had?  Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?   His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind." Sibling rivalry can divide many families.  Should we blame Joseph for the way that his brothers treated him?  Not at all!

In Genesis 37:5-11, Joseph tells of two dreams. In his first dream, his sheaf of grain stands straight, while his brother's sheaves of grain bow down to it.  In his second dream, the sun and the moon, representing his parents and eleven stars, his 11 brothers, bow down to him.  These dreams cause Joseph's brothers to hate him even more.   But, when he tells his father his second dream, Jacob rebukes him.  Jacob and his other sons could not foresee bowing down to Joseph as a ruler.   In fact, we will see later that his dreams in fact came true. They were to be subject to Joseph in Egypt, and Joseph was to receive the birthright as the firstborn.  In fact, many years later, Moses speaks of Joseph as the "prince among his brothers" and like a "firstborn bull" in Deuteronomy 33:13-17.   Joseph, like a firstborn, receives a double portion of the Promised Land through his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

In Genesis 37:12-36, Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers who were attending to their flocks. When Joseph arrives in Shechem, they had already moved to Dothan, but he catches up with them there. When his brothers see him approaching from a distance, wearing the robe his dad had made for him, they were filled with rage and plotted to kill him; they began to mock him, calling him dreamer.   The plan was to kill him and throw him into a water storage pit. But Reuben, the oldest brother, intervenes and rescues him out of their hands saying, "let us not take his life." Gen. 37:21.  Reuben also, said to them, "shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him"--that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to this father, Gen. 37:22 NASB. Remember, that the firstborn in this case Reuben, was responsible for the welfare of his younger brothers and doesn't want to be guilty of his younger brother's innocent blood. Unfortunately, he does not speak in Joseph's defense. He allows his brothers to strip Joseph of his robe and throw him into a pit, a dry water cistern. Reuben's hatred of Joseph was as great as that of his other brothers. 

Later, they sit down to eat and in the distance see a caravan of Midianites or Ishmaelites, approaching on their way to Egypt.   Judah convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to the Midianites instead of killing him since he was their brother, Gen. 37:25-27. So, they pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.  Joseph then goes with them to Egypt, Gen. 37:28.  Reuben returns to the pit finding it empty and his brothers gone.  In desperation, he tears his clothes in grief, not caring so much about Joseph but about what was going to happen to him when his father should find out.  So the brothers formulate a plan.  They stain Joseph's robe with the blood of a goat, take it home and show it to their father Jacob, who believes that his son has been killed by a wild animal.   Jacob tore his clothes, and put sack-cloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days, Gen. 37:31-35.

Genesis 39 begins and ends with emphatic statements about God's presence in Joseph's life. Joseph is in Egypt being sold to Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh.  Now Joseph is far from his home without a single friend or family member.  Even though Joseph is living in exile,"God is with him," making him into a successful man.  His master saw that God was with Joseph and how God had caused all that Joseph did to prosper in his hands.  Everything he touched God blessed.  So Joseph found favor in Potiphar's eyes and he placed Joseph in charge over his entire household, Gen. 39:2-4

Unfortunately, a problem arose with Potiphar's wife. She wanted to seduce him, wanting to be romantically involved with him, but Joseph refused her and said "Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house and he has put all that he owns in my charge.... How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?", Gen. 39:8-9. What great loyalty to God and his master! After many attempts of seduction which Joseph rejected, she caught him by his garment and tried again to seduce him. Joseph fled leaving his garment behind. She used the garment against him saying to her husband, that Joseph had tried to take advantage of her. Potiphar, believed his wife's side of the story and had Joseph thrown into jail. But again, "God was with Joseph," extending kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer, Gen. 39:21.  And all that Joseph touched was blessed, so the chief of the prison put Joseph in charge of the entire prison.  What a remarkable thing!

While Joseph is in prison, a cupbearer and a baker from Pharaoh's court get themselves into trouble and wind up in prison with Joseph.  After some time, both men are troubled by disturbing dreams.  When Joseph saw the two men, he asked why their faces looked sad.  Then they told Joseph of their dreams.  Joseph then tells them that God is the only One who can interpret their dreams.  Thus Joseph declares to them his faith in the One God.   So Joseph asks them to tell their dreams to him.  In one of the dreams, the chief cupbearer sees a grapevine with three branches filled with grapes.  He, the cupbearer, takes the grapes squeezing them into Pharaoh’s cup putting the cup into his hand, Gen. 40:9-11.  In his dream, the baker, sees himself carrying 3 baskets of bread on his head for the Pharaoh, but the birds were eating the bread out of the basket, Gen. 40:16-17.

Joseph interprets the cupbearer's dream to mean that in three days, on Pharaoh's birthday, he would be restored to his position as chief cupbearer.   Joseph also interprets the baker's dream to mean that in three days, he will be executed.  Both of these things happened as Joseph predicted.   Joseph asks the cupbearer to tell the Pharaoh about him after he is restored to the court, but the cupbearer forgot.  Thus sadly, Joseph remains in prison, Gen. 40:18-23.

Two more years pass and Pharaoh has a dream while Joseph is still in prison.   Neither his magicians nor the wise men in Egypt could interpret his dreams. In the first dream, seven cows come out of the Nile River and graze on the banks.  The seven sleek and fat cows come out and stand beside seven other cows that are ugly and gaunt.   The ugly and gaunt cows then eat the sleek and fat cows. In his second dream, he dreams of seven healthy heads of grain growing on a single stalk.  Beside them, seven other heads of grain are being scorched by the wind making them thin and barren.  Then the thin heads of grain swallow the healthy heads, Gen. 41:1-7.  Pharaoh was disturbed so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt along with the wise men, but no one was able to interpret the Pharaoh's dreams. The cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh about a Hebrew youth who perfectly interpreted his own dreams.   Pharaoh immediately sends for Joseph, Gen. 41:14. Before Joseph gives Pharaoh the interpretation of his dream, he says, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." Gen. 41:16.   Joseph gives credit to God.

Then he tells Pharaoh this:  The seven healthy cows and the seven healthy heads of grain stand for seven good years.  The seven lean and ugly cows along with the seven thin heads of grain stand for seven years of famine.  God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do.  God is going to bring seven years of abundance to Egypt, but they will be followed by seven years of famine and Egypt must prepare itself during the good years for the bad years to follow. Joseph, tells Pharaoh to look for a man discerning and wise and set him over the land of Egypt.  The proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants.   Pharaoh realizing that the Spirit of God is with Joseph makes Joseph second in command, Gen. 41:37-41.  Notice, this is the third time that Joseph has been placed over everything: first in Potiphar's house, then in prison and finally in Pharaoh's kingdom. Pharaoh gives Joseph three items to wear: a signet ring, representing legal authority over everything; a fine linen garment that represented his new social status (that would later be used in the Tabernacle representing spiritual authority); and a gold chain as an Egyptian symbol well known as one of the highest distinctions a Pharaoh could bestow representing royalty.  Joseph also received a chariot, riding before the people who would bow down to him out of respect for his new commanding authority. Finally, he receives a wife.

Joseph has proven himself faithful as a slave and as a prisoner and now he has been promoted to ruler of all Egypt under Pharaoh.  In the second part of this story, Joseph now must prove himself faithful as a brother who has been wronged.


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