Profile Of The Prophets - Joseph

by Joseph Hunting

In the annals of human history there are few with such an unblemished character as Joseph. Whilst his brothers committed crimes, by contrast Joseph's integrity and moral uprightness make most refreshing reading.

His father Jacob served Laban for twenty years and during that time he not only married Rachel his first love and Leah her older sister, but also their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah, and his wives Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah bore him ten sons and a daughter. Jacob was acutely aware that Rachel bore him no child -- "Rachel was barren" (Genesis 29:31) -- and so tension in the home mounted.

Finally "God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. And she conceived and bore a son, and said, 'God has taken away my reproach.' So she called his name Joseph, and said, 'The LORD shall add to me another son'" (Genesis 30:22-24).

Little is recorded of Joseph's boyhood, but when he was seventeen years of age "Joseph brought a bad report of them (his brothers) to his father" (37:2) when they were together feeding their father's flock. Jacob's obvious love for Joseph above his brothers quickly provoked them to jealousy, and "they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him."

Thus the seeds of hatred were sown that were soon to germinate into an act of cold-blooded cruelty. Meanwhile Joseph had had two dreams that caused his brothers to hate him even more, dreams that indicated his rise to eminence above them as well as his father and dead mother.

All this hatred that had built up against him now boiled over on the occasion when Joseph was sent by his father to see to the welfare of his brothers who were away with their father's flocks near Shechem. They would destroy him. "Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!" (Genesis 37:20).

Reuben's plan to later deliver Joseph by having him placed in a pit misfired as in his absence his brothers sold Joseph to a Midianite merchant caravan which took him to be sold on the Egyptian slave market, and his brothers were not to see him again for over twenty years. On their return to Hebron they told Jacob that the lad had been slain by wild beasts and they produced his blood-stained coat as evidence. Jacob was heart-broken and overwhelmed with grief.

Joseph's Sojourn in Egypt

One cannot fully comprehend the loneliness and despair that Joseph must have felt as he was auctioned in the slave market to the highest bidder. "Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him ... and the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man ... and his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand ... and the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field" (Genesis 39:1-6).

The success story might have ended there with Joseph living happily ever after but for the severe test that was soon to be made on his moral character. Potiphar's wife sought to seduce him – after all "Joseph was handsome in form and appearance: --and she then falsely accused him when he refused her constant enticements. He was stripped of his position by any angry master and was cast into prison.

Again that might have been the end of the story except for the following: "But the LORD was with Joseph ..." The Lord had been with Joseph to prosper him and elevate him in Potiphar's household; the Lord was with him when he was tempted by Potiphar's wife; the Lord was now with him during the years he languished in prison. A nation's destiny and God's eternal program depended on Joseph's integrity.

We aren't told how many years Joseph was in prison, but "it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed ..." (Genesis 41:1). Pharaoh was deeply troubled by his dream, "and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh" (Genesis 41:8).

Earlier during his prison stay Joseph had interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, one of whom had been restored to his former post according to Joseph's interpretation, and this butler now related to Pharaoh Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. "Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon."

Not only did Joseph interpret Pharaoh's dreams but he also advised him of a course of action to avert a national disaster. "So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, 'Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?' Then Pharaoh said to Joseph ... 'You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.'"

During the plenteous years that followed "Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting ... then the seven years of plenty which were in the land of Egypt ended, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. The famine was in all lands, but in the land of Egypt there was bread.

"So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was so severe in all lands" (Genesis 41:49,53,54,57), and that incuded the land of Canaan wherein Jacob was a sojourner.

Now we draw back the curtain to reveal the matchless drama unfold whereby God not only reunited Joseph with his father and brothers, but also saved the infant nation from possible extinction. Jacob heard that there was corn to be had in Egypt and he sent his ten sons to "go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die."

When Joseph the governor saw his brothers he recognized them but did not reveal his own identity to them. Then it all came back to Joseph – the dreams he had had concerning them so many years before, yet for reasons not disclosed he accused his brothers of being spies despite their earnest protestations to the contrary, "And they said, 'Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more.' But Joseph said to them ... 'You are spies!'" (Genesis 42:13,14), and he put them in prison.

Finally Joseph agreed to let them go provided one of them stayed as hostage. "If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined to your prison house; but you, go and carry grain for the famine of your houses. And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified ..." (42:19,20).

At this point their consciences were pricked, and "they said to one another, 'We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us' ... but they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter." (42:21,23).

In the process of time they returned to Jacob and told him that they had to take Benjamin with them to Egypt. At first he refused, but as their food supplies once again became exhausted he agreed to let Benjamin go, Judah being surety for him. "I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require them. If I do not bring him back before you, then let me bear the blame for ever" (43:9).

When next they appeared before Joseph his love for his brothers and father could hardly be restrained. "Then he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son ... his heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there" (43:29,30).

The closing scenes are poignant indeed. The brothers, still not recognizing Joseph, and in great distress, pleaded for Benjamin's life, and "Joseph could restrain himself no longer ... and he cried out 'Make everyone go out from me!' So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, 'I am Joseph; does my father still live?' But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence" (45:1-3).

The reconciliation and reunion between Joseph and his brothers was according to the Lord's plan. Rather than remonstrate with them, "Joseph said to his brothers ... 'I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … and God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God'" (45:4-8).

In spite of the hatred shown him, in spite of his rejection by his brothers, in spite of their callous disposal of him, and their deceit and the grief it caused their father, Joseph showed them only love. He had such an appreciation of the ways of the Lord that he was able to see beyond the evil to the good that God was indeed achieving in His mighty plans and purposes.