Lucia's Blog: 2014-01-19
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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.



Joseph is now 30 yrs. old and has been in Egypt for 13 years, Gen. 41:42-46. Joseph begins to travel throughout Egypt, gathering and storing enormous amounts of grain from each city.  During this time before the famine, Joseph has two sons: Manasseh (meaning God has made me forget) and Ephraim (meaning God has made me fertile). Gen. 41:46-57.

Joseph's two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, provide yet another example of a younger son winning out over an older, Gen. 48. Later in the story, when Jacob arrives in Egypt, he adopts Joseph's two sons into his own family, giving them a share of the inheritance as if they were Jacob's own sons. As Jacob (now Israel) prepares to bless the two boys, he places his right hand on Ephraim, the younger son, and his left hand on Manasseh, the older son. This is backwards, the right hand signifies the firstborn. We see that Jacob has to cross his arms to do this. Joseph then tells his father that his hands are backwards, and that Manasseh is the oldest. This is what Joseph tells his father, "Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn.  Place your right hand on his head." Jacob refuses and responds, "I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people and he also shall be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations. And he blessed them that day, saying, by you Israel shall pronounce blessing, saying, may God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!  Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh." Genesis 48:18-20. As a fulfillment of Jacob's blessing, Ephraim became the most dominant of the tribes in the kingdom of Israel.  The name Ephraim became metaphorical for the entire kingdom.

When the famine arrives in Egypt as Joseph had predicted, Egypt is prepared. Joseph begins to ration the grain, first to Egyptians and then to foreigners who begin to travel to Egypt to buy grain.

Back in Canaan, Jacob's family is feeling the famine's effects.  Jacob sends Joseph's brothers to buy some grain when he hears that Egypt has it for sale. Next, are two parallels in some ways of the brothers’ two journeys to Egypt:

  • The 11 brothers travel to Egypt to buy grain. Benjamin, the youngest brother, stays home with Jacob.
  • The 11 brothers travel to Egypt to buy grain. This time they bring Benjamin along as well as a double payment since their first payment was returned to them.
  • The 11 brothers bowed before Joseph when they approached him, being Pharaoh's second in command.
  • The 11 brothers arrive in Egypt, tell Joseph their story to Joseph's steward and then bow before Joseph when they meet him.
  • Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they did not.
  • Joseph recognizes Benjamin, but brothers still cannot recognize him.
  • Joseph accuses them of being spies throwing them in prison.

  • Joseph weeps.
  • Joseph weeps.
  • Joseph keep Simeon sending the rest away and demanding that they come back with Benjamin.

  • Joseph orders their sacks be filled and their silver returned
  • Joseph order their sacks be filled and their silver returned. He adds his personal silver cup to Benjamin's sack.
  • The 10 brothers leave Egypt, but realize that their silver has been returned to their sacks
  • The 11 brothers leave Egypt, but realize that their silver has been returned. Benjamin has Joseph's cup.
  • Jacob grieves the loss of Joseph, Simeon and now Benjamin.

  • When the 11 brothers fear over the cup thinking they're in trouble they return to Egypt. Joseph demands Benjamin as his slave in payment for the supposed theft. Judah begs for mercy and offers himself in place of Benjamin.

  • Joseph weeps intensely.

  • Joseph reveals himself to his brothers

For 20 years Joseph has been estranged from his family.  Jacob has thought him dead and his brothers have sold him into slavery.   When Joseph sees his brothers he does not reveal his identity to them.   He wants and needs to know for sure what kind of men his brothers have become. When Joseph accuses them of being spies three times, he puts them in prison for three days so that he can watch them.  The brothers think this is God's punishment for the horrible treatment toward Joseph.  Joseph weeps after hearing of their remorse. Wanting to make sure that the other brothers are coming back, Joseph holds Simeon. Back in Canaan, they beg Jacob to allow Benjamin return with them so that they can rescue Simeon.  Isn't it something that Reuben even offers his two sons as a sacrifice to his father so that Benjamin could come with them? Gen. 42:37.  But Jacob was not going to bargain for Benjamin, his only survivor of his favorite wife Rachael.   It is only when the family begins to starve that Jacob agrees. 

In another test, Joseph returns the brothers' silver to see what they will do with it.  Remember, that years ago, they had sold him for 20 pieces of silver.  Joseph wants to test them to see how they handle the situation having their treasures returned. Joseph is testing them to see whether they keep quiet or return the silver. With this test he will find out if they still love money more than their brothers. When they returned with Benjamin, Jacob welcomes them and sets Simeon free.  Still he does not reveal himself to them.  He eats with them and asks them questions about his father. 

In preparation for the final test, he plants his personal silver cup in Benjamin's sack for the return journey. Joseph send his steward after their brothers while they are going on their journey.  He finds the cup in Benjamin's sack. The brothers returned and Joseph sets them a final test.  He told his brothers that since Benjamin stole the silver cup, he was going to become his slave and the rest were to go free. In a humble speech Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin. What a different Judah this is!   Judah tells Joseph of the special love that Jacob has for Benjamin and of his lost son Joseph as sons of his favorite wife, Rachel.  The remarkable thing is that Judah is no longer bitter over this.  His love for his father and his desire to do what is right this time overrides his hatred and bitterness.   He begs for his father to be able to keep his son whom he loves more than any of the rest.  This is so touching!  When finally Joseph believes in his brothers’ repentance and sees that his brothers have passed the test, he breaks down and weeps without consolation. Then finally he reveals himself to them.   He forgives them and offers them forgiveness for their sin.  This is what he tells them, "Then Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph! … I am your brother whom you sold into Egypt. And do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life....Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt." Genesis 45:3-8. Joseph sends them back to Canaan with wagons so they can bring Jacob and the rest of the family back to Egypt to escape from the famine.

FASCINATING FACT: Judah was the 4th son of Leah, but at the end of Joseph's story, he had the leadership of the whole family.  Reuben lost his place as firstborn when he slept with his father's slave, Bilhah, Genesis 35.  Simeon and Levi lost favor for their revenge against the Shechemites in Genesis 34.  Jacob passes over the first three sons in his blessings of his sons, Gen. 49:3-12 and gives Judah the firstborn, blessing, saying, "your father's sons will bow down to you." Judah's tribe became the strongest and eventually became the southern kingdom when Solomon died, the Kingdom of Judah, in fulfillment of this blessing.  Our Lord Jesus was born of Judah's line.  Jesus' genealogy to this point: Abraham - Isaac - Jacob - Judah and Tamar.

All through Joseph's long story, God speaks directly only once, and it is not to Joseph. God speaks to Jacob when Joseph's brothers return a second time from Egypt, reassuring him that his promises to him will remain with him in Egypt, Gen. 46:2-4. The promise of a great nation to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will still be fulfilled. God also promises that Jacob will not be left in Egypt, but that his body will be brought back to the promised land: "And God spoke to Israel in vision of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am." And He said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes." Genesis 46:2-4.  When Jacob arrives in Egypt, he and his family, receive the best land. Jacob's family prospers and grows in their new land, thanks to Joseph even when the other Egyptians are forced to sell their land to Pharaoh in exchange for food.

Jacob's wish was to be buried in the Promised Land, and not in Egypt.  Remember, God has promised him he would bring him back to Canaan.  After he had blessed his sons, he instructed them about what to do with his remains, Gen. 49:29-31. When he died, Joseph took Jacob's body back to Canaan burying him there in a cave along with Abraham and Isaac, just as Jacob asked.   After his death Joseph reassures his forgiveness to his brothers saying. "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result to preserve many people alive.  So therefore, do not be afraid, I will provide for you and your little ones.  So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them." Genesis 50:19-21.  This is such remarkable forgiveness!  Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his household, and lived 110 years.  Before Joseph was about to die, he  makes them swear to return his body back to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, this promise is not fulfilled until Moses' time, around 300 years later. This is fulfilled when Moses took the children of Israel out of Egypt, "Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph's sons." Joshua 24:32.

Joseph appears in Hebrews 11, the "faith hall of fame" as a giant of the faith because he trusted God ordering the return of his bones from Egypt to the Promised Land. "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones." Hebrews 11:22

The stories of Joseph foresee the grace, mercy, faith and hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and the regeneration of bitterly sinful men. We see an example of a youth tempted in a strange place far away from home, with nothing to lose and no one to disappoint except God, and yet he stands true to his God. We see a father grieving over the death of his son for twenty years because he believed a lie. When he is presented with the truth, he at first refuses to believe it!  Finally there is the joyful reunion. God in His providence will not disappoint us.  If only we would believe that He knows what He is doing!

May we learn from this beautiful story of forgiveness and learn to have the heart of Joseph who died to himself  in order that he might bless those who had wronged him.  In doing this, Joseph fulfilled God's will and provided a privileged refuge from the famine.  May we always remember that, GOD MEANS IT FOR OUR GOOD even when others have wronged us. May we free ourselves of all bitterness as Joseph did.