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The book of Genesis has quite a few stories about significant people, but no one gets more chapters than Joseph in the Bible (other than Jesus, of course)!
The Story of Joseph in the Bible
Joseph’s story begins in Genesis, chapter 37, when he is seventeen. Joseph is his father’s favorite son, and his many brothers are very jealous of him. Joseph had a dream where his brothers were bowing down to him. He was so excited that he told everyone instead of keeping the dream to himself.
It is possible that Joseph had other motivations for telling his brothers, but it’s hard to believe pride wasn’t a big part of this.
When the brothers plotted to murder Joseph, they realized that he would be worth more alive than dead. So instead of killing him outright, as planned -they sold his soul into slavery! His brothers enjoyed the profits of their labor, but Joseph became Potiphar’s slave.
Joseph as Potiphar’s Slave
Potiphar had a lucrative position as captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph has landed himself in a pretty important house. Joseph treated his relationship with God as a priority, not an option. He used this connection to help him work hard and succeed in everything he did.
Because he leaned on God, good things happened to him.
Joseph had it rough initially, but things are finally looking up for him.
However, it doesn’t last.
Potiphar’s wife makes an advance on Joseph and tries to seduce him to sleep with her. Joseph refuses to betray Potiphar, and Potiphar’s wife is insulted and angry. When she accused Joseph of sexual assault, he got thrown in jail. Joseph probably wanted to escape slavery, but going to prison was not the direction he would have chosen nor expected.
Joseph in the Bible – Prison
Joseph continues to honor God in prison despite the circumstances. Joseph doesn’t respond to his situation with bitterness but continues to work with integrity, and in Genesis 39:21-23 we learn what happens.
The cupbearer and baker of Pharaoh also find themselves in prison. They have some troubling dreams, and Joseph was able to interpret their troubling dreams incredibly well. The cupbearer will soon be released and promises to help Joseph get out of prison. It seems as though things are once again looking up for Joseph in the Bible.
The cupbearer forgot about Joseph, leaving him in prison to wait.
Then, Pharoah has a troubling dream. The Pharaoh’s dream is so troubling that he consults with his most trusted advisors for advice. No one is able to interpret the dream for him, and the cupbearer finally remembers Joseph in prison. Joseph is called to the pharaoh’s house and once again interpreted his dream with wisdom. He explains the meaning of the Pharoah’s dream to him.
After giving advice on how to respond, Joseph becomes the right-hand man of Pharoah.
Joseph in the Bible Becomes King
Joseph is finally released from prison after 13 long years, or at age thirty. Joseph is a great leader and does an amazing job preparing for the seven years of famine.
When the famine finally hits, Egypt is well-stocked with food. Egypt is confident in its ability to feed the entire nation during a time of emergency. Not only do they have enough food to survive the famine, but they are able to help other nations and people who need help.
Finally, the story returns to Joseph’s brothers. They are starving, and their father, Jacob, sends them on an errand back home – to Egypt for grain! Joseph recognizes them immediately, but they do not recognize him. Joseph is now forty years old and holds an esteemed position in Egypt. It has been twenty-three years since they sent him away as an enslaved person.
Joseph could have used his power to bring vengeance, but he didn’t. He could have had every one of his brothers sentenced to death or slavery. Instead, Joseph in the Bible chose to treat his brothers with mercy and grace. He forgave them and fed them. He brought his whole family to Egypt and was finally reunited with his father.
Joseph’s story is not short. It spans decades and 14 chapters in the Bible.
There are many lessons we can learn from Joseph in the Bible. Let’s take a look at a few now.
Lessons From Joseph in the Bible
Have you ever felt like life is always against you? That no matter what, things just keep going wrong for some reason or another, and nothing will ever change?
One of the most important lessons through hardships is that no matter how difficult it may seem, your relationship with God will carry you through these rough times.
1. Joseph in the Bible Shows Incredible Patience Even Through the Rough Times
The story of Joseph reminds me that, even if the trials seem overwhelming now and there is no end in sight for them, all will turn out OK. Because just as God was with Joseph during his years as a slave and a prisoner, God will be with us during our hard times. That’s right. We are promised an eternity without sickness, pain, or tears.
If you want to show Joseph’s patience during difficult times, stay as close to God as possible. Don’t give up on God. He never gives up on us. We may doubt our faith, but it’s important to remember that God will continue being right there with us. We all know that he’s working, even when we cannot see or feel Him. We can look forward to the day when all of our difficulties are forgotten, and we will be closer to God than ever before.
2. Sometimes, Waiting is the Right Action
As a person who loves solving problems, this principle sometimes frustrates me. It’s important to know when and how we should take action. Sometimes God calls us for a task, but other times He simply wants us to wait.
Patience may be a virtue, but the practice is not always easy. Why wait when you can create your own list of tasks and start taking action? Sometimes God wants us to simply wait and be in His presence. Sometimes he wants to teach us something, and sometimes those lessons take time.
There was nothing Joseph could do to get himself out of slavery or prison. He worked hard during slavery and imprisonment, but no one would let him out. The Cupbearer completely forgot about his promise to help Joseph escape. He was still stuck.
God used that time to teach Joseph and help him grow.
3. Joseph in the Bible Teaches Us That Growth Takes Time
Joseph had a lot of growing to do.
Joseph was rather prideful at the beginning of his story. He bragged to his brothers and parents about how he had dreamed that all would bow down to him. That he had incredible power.
Most teenagers think the world of themselves, and can you imagine putting that kid in charge? In fairness, he was only 17 years old. Most kids his age tend to be egotistic.
Had Joseph in the Bible been given that power at that age, the power would have risen to his head, and he could not have led the people in the way they needed him to lead. It would have been a disaster for everyone around.
Instead, God put him in positions of leadership where he could grow in both humility and as a leader. Joseph needed the time as a manager of Potiphar’s household and the prison manager before he became a manager of all of Egypt. He also needed time in a powerless position to learn humility and dependence on God.
The reality is most of us need practice and time to grow. We must show that we can lead with small things before taking on bigger challenges.
Humility takes time to learn. It’s not something you just put on and get done with.
Humility is often an uncomfortable lesson, but it’s essential for anyone. How can you put others first when your own self-worth seems so high?
And so, like Joseph in the Bible, we must remember that true growth takes time. A tree that proliferates without good roots will fall. There are no shortcuts. Strong Christians take time to develop.
4. Always Trust God
The story of Joseph in the Bible ends with a reminder that God turns bad into good. When Joseph’s father dies, his brothers are quick to worry that he will take vengeance upon them. They approach him with apologies and seek his grace and mercy.
God wants the best for you too! It’s true that we may not always see, feel or understand what He has in store – but don’t ever doubt His love for you.
Joseph learned that God put him through so many trials and tribulations for a reason. It took decades, but he finally realized how his pain served an important purpose in the grand scheme of things–saving lives along the way.
And while it is incredibly frustrating not to get the answers we seek or to wait on His timing, God still deserves our trust. He sent His son to die because His love for us is so extravagant.
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5. Joseph Teaches Us to Have Patience in the Good Times, Too
It’s hard to be patient when things are difficult, but it can also seem impossible during good times.
Joseph showed astounding discipline as a leader. There were seven years of plenty before there were seven years of hunger. With so much plenty, Joseph could have delayed preparing for the famine.
He began leading like a servant immediately. He worked tirelessly to ensure there would be enough food for everyone and made sure the infrastructure was in place so that they could adequately store the food.
The Old Testament is replete with characters who fail to meet the high expectations of their society. Joseph seems intent on rising above them all, enduring great hardship for his people, and never failing in faith, even when faced against impossible odds.
Joseph maintained a patient and steady reliance on the Lord. He did what he knew to be right, even when he could not understand the purpose or could see no light at end of the tunnel.
If you want to be a woman or man of faith like Joseph, it starts with staying close to God. There will be good times and hard times, but God loves you and works in and through you, even when you cannot see or understand it. So trust in Him, always.
You may enjoy one of these recommended resources on Joseph in the Bible for additional study.
Great Lives: Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness by Charles R. Swindoll
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”