Joseph – What a Man!
© Rhonda Pethoud 12/20/2014
Recently, I read a book called “Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness” by Charles R. Swindoll. Swindoll is an accomplished author, senior pastor at a large church, chancellor of a theological seminary and the Bible teacher on an internationally syndicated radio program. Charles Swindoll is the author of a series of books called, “Great Lives From God’s Word.” Joseph’s story is one of them.
The book was excellent, but this isn’t a book report. Rather, I wanted to share a few things I learned about Joseph that I didn’t know before I read this book. I knew Joseph was a type of Jesus – now I know that Joseph’s story was elegantly designed to show us what those qualities are and make us think about how we can achieve them. I’d also like to mention that there are those who believe the story of Joseph is much, much deeper than his capacity for faith and forgiveness. Some believe that the second part of Pharaoh’s dream about the “lean ears” represents the coming Tribulation prophesied in Daniel and that the “fat ears” represents a great bounty of souls who will be won to the Lord through salvation in numbers the world has never seen. I’m not qualified to comment because I still have a lot of studying to do on the subject. As always, the Word of God is deeper than we can ever know, and we’re meant to continually study it throughout our life.
Joseph’s story begins in Genesis 30 and ends in Genesis 50. In those short pages, God has shared with us the story of a man of absolute integrity and an amazing capacity to forgive. He started out to be quite ordinary – born a shepherd’s son, his mother, Rachel, died giving birth to Joseph’s baby brother Benjamin. His father, Jacob, was a bit of a rebel but he loved Rachel more than anyone else on earth. When she died, those two young boys became his life. There probably wasn’t much of a material nature a father could do for his son back then but we learn that Jacob loved his son so much that he had a magnificent coat made for Joseph from many pieces of colored cloth sewn together. It was fit for a king, and Joseph’s brothers took note. The coat represented the “first born inheritance” that Jacob was giving to Joseph, and Joseph’s half-brothers were consumed with jealosy.
Now Jacob’s other sons were all older than Joseph and probably a bit rough from living and working in the wilderness. They tended the flocks all day, every day. One day Joseph shared a dream he had with his older brothers; he dreamed that they were all stalks of wheat and all the other stalks, representing his brothers, were bowing to him. The other brothers had become jealous of Joseph’s relationship with their father and this was the frosting on the cake. Bow to Joseph? Not likely, they snorted. Instead, they plotted to kill him and threw him in a deep pit. They would have left him there to die but one brother saw an opportunity for financial gain and convinced the others to sell Joseph to a band of travelers, who took Joseph to Egypt to be sold as a slave. There, he was purchased as a slave by Potiphar, the captain of the guard in Pharaoh’s house. The brothers showed Jacob the coat they had rubbed with animal blood, and told Jacob his precious son was dead.
Joseph was still very young, only about 17 when this happened, and he had every reason to be angry about his situation. If the same happened to any of us, I doubt many of us could be as forgiving. He could have become resentful and bitter, lashing out to everyone because of his situation. But Joseph resolved to rise above his current condition and forgave his brothers, knowing that it was useless to hold onto anger. Let that sink in for a moment. These brothers sold him and told their father he was torn apart by animals and had died. Joseph forgave them. That, in itself, is an awesome statement. But Joseph didn’t simply forgive, he submitted himself to God and believed. He trusted God. He praised God for every good thing and thanked him for being with him in the bad times. Instead of carrying a grudge against his brothers, Joseph believed God would deliver him from slavery. He believed it every hour of every day for years while he was serving Potiphar as a slave. Joseph worked hard, kept his values intact and became a very valuable employee, trusted and appreciated by Potiphar, because he saw that Joseph had favor with God. It was obvious even to the Egyptian that God’s hand was upon Joseph.
I’d like to say God delivered Joseph then, but instead, his situation became worse. Potiphar’s wife noticed what a handsome young man Joseph had become, and she began to try to seduce him. Joseph rebuffed her advances over and over, and one day she grabbed hold of his robe and tried to force him to her. Joseph fled, leaving his robe in her hands. Potiphar’s wife was livid and complained loudly to her husband that Joseph had tried to rape her, using the robe as her proof. Potiphar was the chief executioner for Pharaoh, he could have had Joseph killed immediately but he didn’t – instead, Joseph was thrown into the dungeon, where he stayed for several more years. (Yes, years.) But Joseph didn’t stop believing God or whine about his situation. He simply bloomed where he was planted. He became the right-hand man to the jailer, just as he had been to Potiphar, and the jailer saw that God’s hand was on him as well.
All those who saw that God’s hand was on Joseph weren’t seeing actual hands upon Joseph’s body or some mystical halo around his head. What they saw was Joseph; a man who believed God and worshipped Him and praised Him every day, regardless of the circumstances in which he lived. Joseph exercised his faith every day and appropriated God’s grace throughout his life. This is a lesson for all of us: every day we begin anew, and trust God for His blessings on our life. Every day is a new day. Every day gives us a new opportunity to exercise our faith. It is only by our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for all of us that we can access the blessings and grace of God. Because we believe that Jesus died for all of us and that our sins are forgiven, God is willing and able to bestow His blessings upon us. Each of us must come to Him willingly and we must remember to repent of our sins continually – when we become “saved”, God forgives our sins up to that point. We need to repent of further sin we commit, because becoming saved doesn’t mean we will then be perfect. Sanctification – the process of making us pure – is a process and we have to remember we’re not there yet. Continually asking for God’s mercy upon us and thanking Him for His grace is what keeps us under His wings of mercy. Joseph knew this, and used his faith well in spite of his circumstances.
As it happened, the baker and food-taster to Pharaoh did something that caused them to be thrown into the dungeon and while there, they each had a dream. Not knowing how to interpret their dreams, they mentioned it to Joseph, who told them God would give him the ability to interpret the dream for them. (Joseph always gave the glory to God.) Joseph told them what their dreams meant and asked only that they remember him when they got out of jail. They didn’t of course, and Joseph stayed underground in the dungeon for several more years. But nothing stopped him from worshipping God and believing for his deliverance. Nothing made him bitter or angry about his situation, he exercised his faith that God was with him and would one day cause his circumstances to change.
This is where I had to pause and think about Joseph. This guy has already been betrayed by his own family, sold into slavery, unfairly accused and cast into a dungeon where he had to work every day for the jailer. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a pleasant place. How could he maintain his faith and a good attitude under those circumstances? By all rights, it looked like God had forgotten him just like the baker and food taster did, and he would live out his life in a filthy, dark dungeon. Swindoll wrote that Joseph was being refined, as one refines gold. It made me wonder, how bad do things have to get before one realizes that we too, are being refined?
The Bible tells us in 1Peter 1:7 that trials will come and by them we are being refined, like gold. It may have been this realization that kept Joseph going – knowing that God was refining him with his trials, not punishing him. Joseph never doubted God or cried out to God that his life was unfair. Joseph knew God was loving and good, and he kept believing that even though he was suffering now, ultimately God would deliver him from his trouble. But not until he was ready for that which God had in mind. Think about that for a moment. You and I don’t know what God has in mind for us, we only know what we want. Perhaps God has to use certain troubles in order to steer us to the place where we understand that we’re being groomed for a certain task or journey. I think maybe Joseph learned this early and it’s what kept him going. He wasn’t an insincere man; his loyalty to his employers was genuine and they knew it. Joseph made an effort to understand what was expected of him and went the extra mile as a matter of principle, not because he was sidling up to his boss. Joseph had character and integrity; qualities he learned because he believed God and allowed God to lead him. God’s hand was on Joseph and he was grateful for God’s direction. This is one of the hardest lessons for most of us – giving up the wheel and allowing God to direct our life. We’re so afraid that things might be unpleasant or difficult, we miss the big picture. Joseph trusted God absolutely and God absolutely rewarded him.
Soon, Pharaoh had a couple dreams he couldn’t figure out. He brought all the great minds of Egypt together to discuss the dreams but no one had answers for Pharaoh. The baker remembered that Joseph had correctly interpreted his dream, so Pharaoh ordered that Joseph be brought to him. When Joseph correctly interpreted his dreams Pharaoh was so impressed he made Joseph Prime Minister of Egypt. I would assume here that Pharaoh had already heard of this young man’s excellence and knew Joseph to be a man of integrity, but he also had seen that God’s hand was indeed upon Joseph. As a result, Joseph was put in charge of everything in Egypt – Pharaoh’s dreams had been about a famine that would plague the land, and one of Joseph’s duties was to make sure there would be food. Joseph went from being a slave in a dungeon to Prime Minister of Egypt because he had such high character and integrity. He did his job well, no matter what was asked of him, and he did it without complaining. He continued to worship God and God did not forget him. Joseph handled the granaries so well that there was a surplus of food in them that fed the multitudes throughout the famine. Ultimately, Joseph’s entire family came to live in Egypt near him and he was able to provide for his father and all his brothers and their families until he died at the age of 110. The blessings Joseph bestowed upon his family as a result of his obedience and faith in God probably manifested for generations.
I can’t do justice to Joseph’s story in these few paragraphs. There is so much to be learned about life from Joseph’s story, I would hope that everyone would study it. Joseph was respectful, he understood and deferred to authority and never stopped worshipping and praising God for the blessings he enjoyed. Integrity is a quality that is so lacking in our world today, it’s easy to see how Joseph was different. Men and women say they want a mate with integrity, but in what ways are they sacrificing their own? What are we teaching our kids about integrity when we allow the little foxes inside the gate? Maybe we just don’t mention it if someone gives us too much change, or perhaps a mistake was made on our restaurant bill but we think of it as a gift, not an error to be remedied. Are we opening the door to larger sacrifices of our integrity each time we know what is right and don’t do it?
What about the music we listen to and allow our kids to listen to? Are the singers someone we’d want our kids to emulate? Movies, video games, even the books at school – just because they were chosen by someone with an advanced education degree doesn’t mean they aren’t promoting an agenda that could be harmful. The kids are watching and learning and what they’re learning might not be what we’d like them to know. Each of us must guard our own integrity just as we would a precious jewel, because once we have sacrificed it, we may never get it back.
That’s where Joseph shined. He never caved in to pressure or gave up his integrity. His faith kept him strong and his daily habit of worshipping God encouraged him in the darkest of times. Joseph was a big-picture guy, always looking beyond what was happening in the immediate and trusting God to help him stay strong in his conviction.
After reading Joseph’s story, not only do I want to know people like him, I want to BE like him. God gives us lots of chances to rise to a higher level and I’m praying I will not disappoint Him. I don’t have any desire to be famous or to be the Prime Minister of anything, but I do want to be what God believes I can be. My goal now is to try and go through the fire with a Joseph attitude.
What a man!