Series Summary: While he never did anything that we would normally associate with Biblical greatness—he never performed a miracle, he never slew a giant; he never saw a burning bush. Nevertheless Joseph was a great man. In his life we see a unique and powerful portrait of character and grace. In reviewing his story we see a God who is sovereignly working behind the scenes to work out His wise and loving purposes in the world.
Joseph, a man of incredible integrity, is one of my favorite personalities in the Bible (Genesis 37-50). He overcame tremendous adversity to become a world leader, but Joseph didn’t get there by himself. Behind the scenes was a sovereign God working to bring about His purposes in the world. Although Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional home, he bore none of the marks of that dysfunction. Joseph’s father’s name was Jacob—a name which means “deceiver,” and he was. Jacob deceived his aging, blind father by pretending to be his older brother, Esau, and thus procured the inheritance for himself. Esau was furious and swore to get even and so Jacob fled 600 miles to stay with his Uncle Laban.
Laban had two daughters: the older was named Leah, and the younger, Rachel. Jacob gladly worked for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel, but in the darkness of their wedding night, Laban pulled a switcheroo: Jacob removed the veil and… surprise…he is married to Leah! The deceiver (Jacob) who had deceived his Father, has been deceived by his father-in-law. What goes around comes around! Laban promised him Rachel…if he’d work another seven years. Jacob agreed, abandoned God’s design for marriage, and became a polygamist. But anytime you violate God’s design, negative consequences will follow. Leah was jealous of Rachel because she was Jacob’s favorite; Rachel was jealous of Leah, because Rachel was childless, but Leah was a baby factory! Jacob also had a couple of mistresses who each bore Jacob two sons before Rachel ever conceived.
Jacob had lost moral authority in the home and became a passive father. Here is the classic man who was too preoccupied and unconcerned to deal with what was going on in the lives of his children, and his passivity fueled tension in his home. Joseph was born into this dysfunctional home, and his birth only added to the dysfunction: he was born to Rachel, and Jacob was advanced in age. Oh, the attention that must have been lavished upon Joseph as he became the focal point of his parents’ affection!
Joseph’s older brothers were delinquent, but as a teen, he reported his brothers’ evil activities to Jacob (Genesis 37:1-4), and that’s never a popular thing to do. Joseph epitomized the obedient, faithful son, and his faithfulness contributed to Jacob’s favoritism (passive fathers favor the child who is easy to raise). And Jacob did nothing to hide his favoritism (37:3-4). Predictably, the brothers’ jealously turned into resentment and hatred. Isn’t it interesting that the brothers hated Joseph, rather than their father? Joseph had two dreams through which God revealed that he would one day rule over his brothers and his parents—and unfortunately Joseph naively makes the mistake of sharing his dreams with his family (37:8, 10-11). (Jacob, however, recognized this dream as the fulfillment of a promise God made to him earlier; see 28:14. Keep this in mind, because later God is going to elevate Joseph to world leadership in order to fulfill this very promise!)
Back to the story: Joseph’s brothers were taking care of the sheep, but, of course Joseph, the favored son got to stay home. But the boys were delayed, so Jacob sent Joseph, the faithful son, to check things out. Not a good idea! The brothers have murder on their minds, but Reuben, the firstborn, steps in (Genesis 37:18-33). Joseph is sold into slavery and the brothers dipped Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood to cover it up. They show it to Jacob, the deceiver, and now he was deceived by his own children.
What can we learn from Joseph’s story thus far? (1) When it comes to the spiritual and moral dimensions of your life, make sure your walk matches your talk. Jacob’s passivity as a parent can be traced to his own moral failures. He was reluctant to confront his children because their behaviors were modeled after his own. If you want to have a positive spiritual and moral influence in your home, at work, or with your friends, your walk must be aligned with your talk. To the degree that there is incongruity, you lose influence. (2) Avoid child favoritism. It can destroy a home. Kids know, and they keep score. (3) Don’t use a dysfunctional background as an excuse for personal failure. Having a yucky background may help explain some of our poor decisions, but it never excuses them. Joseph was not a prisoner of his past, and you needn’t be either. Jesus Christ sets you free; look to him in faith, first for forgiveness of sin, and then for power and direction in life. (4) Be faithful in the little things so that God can entrust you with greater responsibility. Joseph was faithful in the little things in his father’s household, and that is why God entrusted him with greater responsibility later on.
But there is a cost associated with faithfulness. It may demand that you take some unpopular stands, especially in a degenerating culture like our own. And when you do take a stand, don’t be surprised at the criticism that comes your way. Are you willing to pay such a price? Do you have the courage of your convictions? Faithfulness cost Joseph; he now was a slave in Egypt, but things aren’t always as they appear. Joseph was right where God wanted him to be. Although Joseph didn’t know it, God was transporting him to the place of his next assignment! The dream is still alive!