Summary: The life of Joseph, son of Jacob, is one of the most interesting in the Bible. This message is mostly a summary of his life, from slave to sovereign to sustainer. Don't we all wish there were more Josephs!
Introduction: What comes to mind when you think about Joseph, son of Jacob? Many of us, including me, tend to think first of his “coat of many colors” and his dreams. That’s true, but that’s only part of the story. In fact, Joseph spent several years away from his family in a foreign land, rising eventually from slave to sovereign. Through it all, Joseph never lost faith in God and God rewarded him at the proper time.
Joseph’s life, not counting his first 17 years at home, could be divided into three basically unequal periods of time. He was sold into Egypt as a slave at 17, and spent 13 years as the slave of Potiphar. He then was promoted to prime minister, “vizier” or similar title, and guided Egypt through seven years of plenty followed by seven more years of famine. He then arranged for his entire family to relocate to Egypt, and stayed there until he died at the age of 110. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights—and low-lights—of Joseph’s life.
1 The years of slavery
Text: Genesis 37:25-28, 36, KJV: 25 And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. 28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.
36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.
The story of Joseph being sold into slavery is one of the darkest in the Bible. Among other things, it shows the depth of evil and hatred in the human heart. How could brothers do this to their own brother is a mystery to me—but it shouldn’t be. After all, hatred of one brother for another goes all the way back to Genesis 4 and the conflict between Cain and Abel!
At the time of this episode, Joseph was 17 and was the favorite son of their father. We’re familiar or should be with the story how Jacob sent Joseph to verify the status of the other ten brothers and the flocks. That’s when Joseph was thrown into a pit and later sold into slavery.
No matter how far Egypt was from Jacob’s land, Joseph was going to be thrown into a whole new world. He wouldn’t be the favorite son anymore; now, he would be just a slave. He wouldn’t be bringing back any bad reports about his brothers—he was many miles away and they probably thought they’d never hear his voice again.
In fact, Joseph may have thought he’d never speak his own language, Hebrew, again unless there were other Hebrew slaves in Egypt at the time, and there is no record in the Scriptures that was the case during this time.
As it turned out—call this God’s providence—Joseph was bought by Potiphar. This man was “an officer of Pharaoh” and thus he seemed to be in relatively high rank. Nothing is said about how much Potiphar gave for Joseph or how they navigated the language barrier. No matter: Joseph seemed to be resigned to living the rest of his days in Egypt in Potiphar’s household.
We don’t know how long Joseph stayed and/or served Potiphar but he eventually gained Potiphar’s trust. Eventually Potiphar trusted Joseph enough that Joseph took care of almost everything under Potiphar’s authority. God had led these two together and God was blessing Potiphar because of Joseph (Gen. 39:1-6).
But trouble found Joseph, even though he was innocent. Potiphar’s wife began to be quite fond of Joseph and even tried to seduce him! Joseph wanted nothing to do with this and even told her, “Even though my master—your husband—trusts me with everything, you’re his wife and you’re off limits! How could I commit this kind of wickedness and sin against God?”
That didn’t stop her, as verses 10-12 state. She had one final, evil, trick up her sleeve, though, and I still haven’t figured this one out. She grabbed his coat or outer garment, he fled but left the coat with her, and ran for dear life, we might say! Now, the problem is that even though Joseph wouldn’t yield to her desires, she tried to have him done away with or something! Her lies led her husband to “do something”—Potiphar had Joseph thrown into a prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were kept (verses 20-23). She may have thought she had done away with Joseph, but God had other ideas.