If you grew up in Sunday school, you already know all about Joseph — or, at least, you may think you do. The faithful, favorite son of Jacob with a coat of many colors and an uncanny proclivity for dream interpretation, hated by his envious brothers who threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. He's whisked away to Egypt and purchased by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard, and ends up becoming Pharaoh's right-hand man — second-in-command over the most powerful nation to date at this point in history.
Believers often see Joseph as this great titan of faith whom God blessed tremendously for his steadfast obedience and righteousness. But what if that's not actually the point of Joseph's story at all? What if Joseph's story isn't even really about him at all?
At Autumn View Gardens in Creve Coeur, we love to see our residents growing in faith and spiritual strength by delving into stories like this with them. Read on to take an in-depth look at the character of Joseph and gain new insight into his story that you may not have learned in Sunday school.
In order to truly grasp the significance and relevance of Joseph's story, you must first gain a better understanding of the structure of Genesis itself. After all, Joseph's story takes up the final 13 chapters of Genesis — more than any other character found throughout the book, even his patriarchal great-grandfather Abraham.
In the same way a Shakespearean play is split into individual scenes, Genesis's structure is composed of 10 generations. The book's focal character and setting seems to change with the introduction of each new generation, beginning in chapter 2 with "the generations of the heavens and the earth" and progressing through the generations of Adam, Noah, Noah's sons, Shem, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau and Jacob.
One recurring theme is found throughout each and every one of these generational scene shifts: the covenant. Time and time again, God forms the same covenant with the focal character of each generation that he will grant them a land of their own and seed as numerous as the sands of the ocean shore, from which the Messiah would one day be born. With this in mind, bring your attention back to Joseph specifically.
Joseph's meteoric rise to power and prominence was marked by his interpretation of three pairs of dreams. The first pair were two of his own dreams he'd had at the age of 17, which he shed light upon by explaining to his brothers that they would one day all bow to him. This didn't go well for him; it became the brothers' primary impetus for selling Joseph into slavery.
The second pair of dreams was those of the cupbearer and baker in prison, which sparked great interest in and talk of Joseph's gifts and eventually seized the attention of Pharaoh himself. Pharaoh had also been having some rather unsettling dreams, and Joseph's interpretation of them made it clear he could be a fantastic asset to the kingdom. "Can we find anyone like this," Pharaoh said in Genesis 41:38, "a man who has God's spirit in him?"
A compliment such as this takes on a whole new meaning when you consider that Egyptian pharaohs considered themselves gods. Joseph had been scorned and rejected by his own family — God's covenant people — but accepted and praised by a pagan king. Pharaoh continues in verse 39: "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you are. You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands. Only I, as king, will be greater than you. I am placing you over all of Egypt."
Joseph made a conscious decision to look at his life through the lens of God's faithfulness and covenant rather than that of his own pain, abandonment and rejection. True to his roots, when Joseph's new Egyptian wife bore him two sons, he gave them both Hebrew names: Manasseh and Ephraim. "God has made me forget all my hardships and my whole family," he said. "He has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction." (41:51)
When a massive famine brought Joseph's brothers begging at his feet for help in saving their father, they did not recognize the brother they sold into slavery so many years ago. Joseph tested his brothers before revealing his identity to them, and when he finally does so in chapter 45, he tells them, "Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life."
Because of his interpretation abilities and foresight, Joseph had foreseen the coming seven-year famine years before it ravaged the modern-day Middle East and utilized his position of power to spend years stocking storehouses full of crops and other resources. When his brothers ventured into Egypt in an attempt to find food and save their starving father — and themselves — Joseph was waiting with plenty of food, and forgiveness. He saves the family that had left him for dead so long ago and by so doing, preserved the life of his brother Judah, from whose line Jesus Christ was born.