One of my friends suggested that I do a series on different Bible characters and how God made himself known and renowned in their lives. The series will be called Re:nowned and will involve me making up a lot of Re- words for titles. Anyway, I’ve been reading Genesis, and Joseph’s story has always intrigued me, so here’s my first attempt.
Twelve brothers, six dreams, two coats, and one punk kid that God used to preserve a nation. That’s the story of Joseph. No, I’m not doing my math wrong. There are two coats in this story, but we’ll get to that. It’s a story that’s been brought to life via The Prince of Egypt, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and various children’s musicals. But ultimately, it’s much more than a Bible story that is easily pop culture-ized.
Joseph was the eleventh out of twelve sons born to Jacob, and the first son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. It’s no doubt he was a much-favored, even spoiled child. I don’t know about you, but at the beginning of the story, I kind of take the side of the older brothers. When Joseph starts telling on them, showing off his stylish rainbow coat, and bragging about his dreams in which they’re all going to bow down to him, I’m thinking (with his brothers)— somebody needs to put this kid in his place!
The first place his brothers thought to put him was in the ground, literally— they wanted to kill him and throw him into a pit (this is where they lose my sympathy). But instead, they decide to sell him into slavery, and he ends up in Egypt. Now, we don’t know for sure that Joseph was arrogant. If he was, slavery cured him of that. But in his humbled state, we see God at work. He was not only shaping Joseph into a good leader, he was giving him opportunities to exercise that leadership— in Potiphar’s house, in prison, and eventually as Pharoah’s right-hand man.
In a way, we could say Joseph was one the first servant-leaders. God called him (his first two dreams), he humbled him (being sold into slavery by his own brothers and thrown into jail unjustly), he blessed him with a spiritual gift (dream interpretation), he gave him opportunities to lead through service, and Joseph obeyed— with integrity and patience.
So, while his brothers sought to put Joseph in his place, God sought to put Joseph in His place— where God wanted him. It happened (by God’s sovereignty, of course) that those two places were actually the same. One of my favorite verses is Genesis 50:20, where Joseph says to his brothers:
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (ESV)
So how did God mean this for good? What are the ways in this story that we can see God working towards this in Joseph’s life?
In Joseph’s integrity: Joseph worked hard, used God’s gifts wisely, and stood up for what was right. God had shaped him into a shrewd, diligent, courageous man, even as a slave and prisoner. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he said no and literally ran away from temptation. Here’s where the second coat comes in— Potiphar’s wife used Joseph’s “garment” as evidence in her lie that he tried to seduce her. It is interesting to me that both times Joseph was unjustly put into captivity (slavery, then prison), a piece of clothing is to blame. The first may have symbolized Joseph’s favor in his father’s eyes but also his arrogance, while the second may symbolize his integrity and his favor in God’s eyes (though loss of it in Potiphar’s eyes).
In Joseph’s opportunities: God made Joseph favored in the eyes of his superiors multiple times. Each of them elevated Joseph to a position of leadership and power. This prepared Joseph for his ultimate leadership role— being second-in-command to Pharaoh— that enabled him to save his family and bring them into Egypt.
In Joseph’s domino life: Joseph’s story is cause, effect, cause, effect, and so on. It is full of ups and downs, but God was working in it the whole time. Each step in Joseph’s life propelled him on to the next. God always put him where he needed to be, when he needed to be there. One of the beautiful things about Joseph’s story is how it is so long and complex, yet it all smooths out in the end to show God’s glorious plan for rescuing his people.
In Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers: By the time his father died and his brothers started getting nervous that he’d finally get revenge on them, Joseph could look back at his life and see God’s beautiful plan. He could even see how his brothers’ abuse had been part of it. He had no regrets and no bitterness. God had changed him and brought him through, despite his shortcomings. There is no reason to hold a grudge against someone God has used to accomplish his purposes for you.
Yes, Joseph’s story is full of intrigue and raising stakes. But it is also a beautiful picture of how God can take a discarded life and redeem it for one that is favored and influential for his purposes.