The story of Joseph opens with an extremely uncomfortable scene.
The dysfunction of the patriarchs is not lost with Jacob who was been married to two women their handmaids and had 12 sons between them. Are you keeping up?
In chapter 37, the author lets us know daddy has a favorite child. Jacob doesn’t even try hiding it and gives the special son a coat of many colors. This wasn’t a Burlington Coat Factory special you buy your kid at the beginging of the school year. This coat symbolized/ exemplified/exalted 1 son over the other 11. Not enough tension for one story?
The drama continues. . . the favored son then tells his older brothers about his dreams where they were bowing down to him. The anger and resentment (can you blame them?) of the less favored sons toward Joseph went beyond hazing. Some of them had murder in their hearts. The oldest, Reuben, tried to save him from being killed by having him thrown into a pit. Another brother, Judah, talked the others into selling him as a slave. Today we call this human trafficking, even though Judah saw it as a way to keep Joseph alive.
Either way, the brothers must come up with a cover up story that is going to break the heart of their father. They use the special coat to do lie for them. They rip it, cover it in goats blood and let their father believe he was killed by a beast (37:32). This was evil. How can we see this any other way? Not only was this evil toward their brother, but their father as well (37:34-35).
The next chapter (39) tells us Joseph is sold to an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh. He was eventually promoted to the personal attendant of Potipher and in charge of the household. Before the next scene is unveiled, the writer tells us Joseph is well-built and handsome (39:6). This is in your Bible, folks. Potipher’s wife tries to seduce him day after day (39:10). In the midst of this, Joseph says something profound:
Genesis 39:9, …how could I do such a great evil and sin against God? (emphasis mine)
Eventually, she cannot take the rejection any longer! She grabs him and demands he sleep with her. David ran out of the house with his garment still in her hand. This is a few thousand years before the #metoo culture we live in today. And if that wasn’t bad enough, SHE cries rape (39:16-18)! Joseph is thrown in prison.
While siting in his new living arrangements, Joseph interprets the dreams of two prisoners. One prisoner would live and the other would die. Joseph asked the one who would live to remember him when he was released. He didn’t. In fact, the prisoner completely forgot about Joseph (40:23). Seriously?! Yes, this was Joseph’s life.
Are you depressed yet? Don’t be, because this narratives teaches us about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A God who can take the evil others do to us and turn them into blessings.
- Despite being thrown in prison for staying pure before God, the Bible say the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor in the eyes of the prison ward (39:21). This allowed Joseph to have free reign of the prison, which gave him access to the cupbearer and the baker (the two prisoners).
- The cupbearer and the baker were officers in Pharaoh’s court when they were put in prison. Joseph saw their dreams as a way out. And even though the cupbearer forgot about him (poor baker, must have been some pretty bad pastries), it set up the ideal situation. Two years later, when Pharaoh has dreams, none of his magicians were able to interpret them for him. The cupbearer all of a sudden remembers (41:9) his old buddy Joseph. This lead to Joseph interpreting the dreams and being placed in the second most powerful position in Egypt (41:38-45)! A seven year famine was coming and it would be far reaching, including the Promised Land… the land of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants. Once again, the promised Seed was being threatened – the Seed that would save humanity. God used all of these events to put His man, Joseph, in a position to prolong the family line.
- Which brings us to the first narrative of Joseph and his brothers. Hopefully you have read these chapters. Not only is Yahweh using Joseph to save the line of the 12 brothers and future tribes, but to also bring the evil brothers to repentance. In each of these meetings between vice-regent Jospeh and his brothers, the guilt and shame of their sins were being felt (42:13, 21-22, 28; 44:13, 16, 20). The brothers sold Joseph for 20 pieces of silver (37:28) and their guilt is exposed when their money of gold and silver is discovered in their grain sacks (42:28, 35; 43:18). It was Joseph’s silver cup, put in Benjamins sack, that created the type of grief they caused their father for 20 pieces of silver (37:33-34; 44:13). Of course, they did not know it was Joseph until the final reveal. “Within the compass of the whole Joseph narrative their words take on the scope of a confession of their former guilt.” (Sailhamer)
What others intended for evil God ultimately worked out for good.
Genesis 45:5, 7-8, And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life… God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. (emphasis mine)
The whole family of Jacob moved to Egypt to survive the famine. They were given the good land of Goshen. There is plenty for all their families and livestocks. They were given the best of the land of Egypt (45:18, 20). They find safety and prosperity. They have been brought here by the Almighty God. In many ways, this mirrors the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The restoration of the good earth and the promise to make Israel into a great nation (46:3). They will be fruitful and multiply (1:28). It is here, in Egypt, they will become the nation of God. A partial fulfillment of prophecy (15:13).
Once again we are given another “boring genealogy” in chapter 46. The list of names comes to seventy (46:27). It is the same number of nations in Genesis 10. Who cares? Right? Those 70 nations represented all the descendants of Adam. In Genesis 46, those 70 sons represent all the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“The writer is portraying the new nation of Israel as a new humanity and Abraham as a second Adam. The blessing that is to come through Abraham and his seed is a restoration of the original blessing of Adam, a blessing which was lost in the Fall.” (Sailhamer)
Can you see this? God wasn’t only working on behalf of Israel, but all the nations of the earth (12:3). Through the seed of this family a Savior will come to bless the world. And watch this, the descendants of Israel have already been blessing the nations! Have you picked up on this? While working in Potipher’s house the LORD’s blessing was on all that he owned, in his house and in his fields (39:5). While in prison, the LORD was with him, and the LORD made everything that he did successful (39:23). When Joseph was made the second most powerful man in Egypt, he saved the entire country from a severe famine (41). When Jacob arrives in Egypt he blessed Pharaoh (42:7). But that would be nothing compared to what was coming. These are powerful narratives best summed at the end of this book:
Genesis 50:20, You planned evil against me; God planned it for good… (emphasis mine)
In our fallen world we experience the evil of others. There are evil people who try to take what is rightfully yours or destroy it before your eyes. There people in some of your workplaces who will stab you in the back if they get a chance. There are family members who hate and resent you with a murderous passion and will stop at nothing to make you look bad before others.
Evil people will spread false rumors about you because you will not live by their wicked way. You may even do good for others, only for them to forget about your kindness. The later part of Genesis lets us in on things we are not always privileged to know – God will use the evil of others to accomplish His good. Like Joseph, we are not sure how it will all work out, but it will/did work out.
You may spend years waiting for that day or get to a point you can no longer see a happy ending. But you continue to trust God. We are given these narratives to encourage us and to help us realize there is a good working in the midst of evil. Trust God.
*All Scripture is quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible
*Blog references: The Pentetuech as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter