Joseph was the oldest son of Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife. Rachel was not Jacob’s first wife, for God had given Jacob Leah. God used a trick of Laban to give him Leah, for Leah loved the Lord, while Rachel did not; Leah was the covenant mother; Rachel brought idols into Jacob’s family (Gen. 31:27-35). Rachel was the symbol of Jacob’s carnal love; Leah was in the line of Christ as a mother in Israel.
Because Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn, Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons: he spoiled Joseph by giving Joseph a coat of many colors. Nor did Joseph have to work with his brothers in tending the flocks: Jacob kept him home (Gen. 37:3-4).
Joseph even curried his father’s love, for he reported to his father all the wicked deeds his brothers did (Gen. 37:2). Further, God gave Joseph two dreams; in one of which Joseph saw all the sheaves of the wheat field bowing down to his sheaf, and in another, all the sun, moon and 11 stars bow down to him. We can easily imagine that it was foolish of Joseph to tell his brothers, and even Jacob was angry with him for telling him these dreams (Gen. 37:10). The trouble was that the dreams were prophecies of an event in their lives when Joseph’s whole family did bow down to him.
In their fury, the brothers sold Joseph as a slave to a passing band of Ishmaelites when Joseph came to learn their welfare, and they lied to their father by soaking his coat in the blood of a lamb that they killed; they told Jacob that a wild beast had devoured him.
It was in Egypt where Joseph was sold that his life showed the depths of his love for God and his desire to be faithful to God. The intensity and strength of his determination to be faithful to God is underscored by the fact that to be sold as a slave in an unknown land would make most, if not all, of us despair and simply go along with the customs of a heathen land where God was not known.
The first incident Scripture records for our profit was Joseph’s repeated refusal to commit fornication with his boss’ wife, even though she did everything in her power to entice him. If we were torn from our family, sold as a slave in a foreign land, tempted by a beautiful woman to commit adultery, would we, could we, resist? And, do not forget: Joseph was only 17 years old, a youth near the peak of his powers. A youth without any hope of seeing his family again. A youth whom, it seemed, God had cut off from covenant lines.
The second temptation to abandon his faith came when, at the lie of her who had tempted him, he was put in prison.
I do not know how Joseph kept from thinking God had abandoned him: it is, of course, only the grace of God that can prevail in one’s life in such circumstances.
But Joseph remained faithful to his God. In spite of daily temptations in Potiphar’s house, he worked for the benefit of his master with diligence so that God blessed Potiphar’s house for Joseph’s sake. And in prison, rather than crawling into the corner of his cell and shutting out any memories of his home and of God’s promises to Jacob and his family, he was so hard working and so pleasant that he finally became an assistant to the jailer. Joseph was determined to serve God through obedience to his masters no matter what the circumstances of his life were. He served God while wondering how God could do these things – piling grief upon grief on his head.
The only explanation I can think of is that he believed in all his trials and sufferings what he later said to his brothers: “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:16-21). And God, by his grace, preserved him through all these trials when life seemed hopeless.
That, covenant youth, is an example of godliness and faithful service of Jehovah which shines before our eyes as a biblical illustration of our calling and of what we must and can do by the power of grace.
And so, we must conclude with what Scripture wants us to learn from all this is:
–Our calling is, like the calling that Joseph obeyed, to serve God faithfully no matter what the circumstances of life may be, even when all seems to be wrong and we do not understand the ways of our God.
–God’s grace is so powerful in our lives that we can serve Him in life’s darkest hours and under the most difficult circumstances.
–No matter how difficult our life may be and no matter what calamities befall us, God is working His purpose and seeking our good and our everlasting salvation.
–When it seems impossible that God works for our good, we must trust explicitly in Him and wait on Him for His favour to be restored. (Read Psalm 27 and especially the last verse. Read it slowly, word by word, and think of each word as you do so.)
There are those who want to make Joseph a type of Christ. They point to his being sold for thirty pieces of money; they find Christ’s humiliation in Joseph’s years in prison. They find Christ’s exaltation when He was raised to be second in the kingdom under Pharaoh.
However, I do not think this is true. Scripture nowhere makes Joseph a type of Christ, and I am hesitant to do what Scripture refrains from doing. But Joseph is an example of the power of grace in our live to preserve us in God’s ways.
Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 41