Lesson 2 Joseph: Overcoming Hard Times by Character and Morality
One of the greatest losses in our modern society is the loss of character and the ignorance of morality.
I read two quotes by Warren Wiesbe about character that work well for our introduction, “Reputation is what people think we are; character is what God and the holy angels know we are.”
“Sow a thought and you reap an action. Sow an action and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” - Warren W. Wiersbe, 10 Power Principles for Christian Service
Genesis 37 Joseph and His Brothers
Genesis 37:1-8 And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.
In these chapter we see the difficulties and near fatal flaws of Jacob’s family. Some of the seeds planted in his own relationship with his father, mother and brother are played out again. We also see the unavoidableness of the intense conflicts within a polygamous family with its divided loyalties and jealousies. Few hard times are as difficult to get through as those that occur due to family conflict.
Why did Joseph’s father, Jacob make a coat of many colors and show him such favoritism to his son?
Joseph was the first child of Rachel, his true love and the son of his old age. Jacob had never been very good about thinking before he acted nor of understanding the consequences of his actions especially in regard to other’s feelings. (A fault many of us have when it comes to our family especially.)
How did his brothers feel about Joseph after the favoritism and the gift of the coat of many colors?
The coat, which may have had several colors or may have had several different weaves or pieces, signified Jacob’s gift of authority and favoritism upon Joseph. They may have viewed it as a sign that Joseph would be the heir of Jacob and therefore God’s blessing through him. Because of these things they hated him and could not speak civilly to him.
What did Joseph do that made this problem worse?
When he was 17, he spied on his brothers from the handmaids and reported on something wrong or evil they did. He also told his brothers and his family his dreams which showed him having power over them.
Genesis 37:13-14 13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I. 14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
Finally, one day when the brothers are far away from Jacob in Hebron, feeding their flocks between Shechem and Dothan they see Joseph coming, once again acting as his father’s spy, (More of Jacob’s bad judgment) they then conspire to kill him and blame it on a wild beast.
Did all the brothers choose to kill Joseph?
No, Rueben the oldest tried to save him by suggesting they put him in a pit or dry cistern and then he planned on returning later to save him.
Whose idea was it to sell Joseph into slavery?
It was Judah's idea, probably as a way to save him from murder. Reuben seems to be gone at this time probably to keep the flocks apart in order to not overgraze the region.
How do the brothers try to hide their betrayal of Joseph?
They kill a goat and use its blood to stain Joseph’s coat and then show it to Jacob. He then draws the conclusion that a wild animal has killed his beloved son.
Jacob’s reaction to the apparent death of Joseph is severe and probably more than the brothers had expected. Death was a much more common occurrence in ancient times than now. Though all his sons and daughters try to comfort him, the Bible records that he refuses any comfort and says he will mourn for his son until the day he dies. Though the brother had hated Joseph, they loved their father and now and especially later in Egypt we can see their repentance for what they have done.
Meanwhile the Midianites/ Ishmaelites (at this time the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Lot’s daughter seem to be considered one people Gen 37:28) travel south and sell Joseph as a slave into the house of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard in Egypt.
In Potiphar's House - Genesis 39
Genesis 39:5-20 5 And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. 6 And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured. 7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. 8 But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; 9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? 10 And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. 11 And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. 12 And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. 13 And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, 14 That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice: 15 And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out. 16 And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. 17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: 18 And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out. 19 And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. 20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.
How did Joseph rise in Potiphar’s house?
Through hard work, faithfulness, loyalty and Gods favor. Genesis 39:6 “Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.” This is when we first see his character begin to show and see how it affects his life even as a slave.
Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph. Sexual promiscuity in a pagan society is not really considered immorality as much of their worship involved sex. However, Joseph’s character and moral upbringing as a son of Israel would not accept the norm of Egyptian society. What was the reason Joseph gave for refusing Potiphar’s wife?
He would be sinning against Potiphar (breaking his master’s trust, like stealing) and God (this was the sexual immorality he would not do.)
How should I understand or apply what Joseph says about sin in my own life?
We must also understand that sin is always against God but is also against others in our life. No sin is “victimless,” affecting only me. The repercussions of sin affect my family, my church, my friends and others, especially if they see me as a Christian.
Potiphar’s wife once again tries to seduce Joseph, this time as he flees she holds on to his garment. He then falsely accuses him of trying to take her by force and lie with her. As a result of the lie, Joseph is then thrown in prison by Potiphar.
At this point many would think or say, “So much for character and morality. If he had slept with her, he wouldn’t be in prison.” This is the reaction of those who cannot see the value of character and morality. For them the only consideration is not what is right or wrong, but what is the best course of action for me at this moment. This way of thinking and acting is called pragmatism and many people readily embrace it as the only way to live in this day and age.
Pragmatist ethics is broadly humanist because it sees no ultimate test of morality beyond what matters for us as humans. Good values are those for which we have good reasons. No need to consider what the Bible says, just do what is good for you.
The Bible has a much different standard. This Psalm was written by David but it shows the same belief in character and morals that a child of God believes God will use to bring them through hard times and reward.
Psalm 37:23-31 23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. 24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand. 25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. 26 He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed. 27 Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore. 28 For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off. 29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever. 30 The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment. 31 The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
In The Prison - Genesis 40
Genesis 39:21-23 21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. 23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.
In prison Joseph once again rise through the ranks of prisoners. What kinds of character does Joseph show in order to succeed even in prison?
Trustworthiness, hard work, submission to those in authority, and of course his trust in God.
Genesis 40:1-19 1 And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt. 2 And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. 3 And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound. 4 And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward. 5 And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison. 6 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. 7 And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day? 8 And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you. 9 And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me; 10 And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: 11 And Pharaoh's cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand. 12 And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days: 13 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh's cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler. 14 But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: 15 For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon. 16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head: 17 And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head. 18 And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days: 19 Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.
Who does Joseph meet and help in prison?
The Pharaoh’s butler and baker, who tell him their dreams and Joseph interprets them. The butler would be restored but the baker would be executed.
This brings up a frequently asked question, “Are dreams always messages from God?”
No, if fact, very, very rarely are they anything more than your mind taking a vacation. God doesn’t really communicate with us like this today since the Bible has been completed.
Then, what made these dreams revelation from God?
They were according to God's plan, God’s person and God’s
timing. God’s plan to save Israel, used the person, Joseph, be the instrument
of that salvation and bring them to safety in Egypt at the time of the famine.
In The Palace Genesis 41
Genesis 41:1-9 1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. 3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. 6 And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. 7 And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. 8 And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. 9 Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day:
Finally, after 2 more years, the chief butler, upon hearing the dream of Pharaoh, remembers Joseph and tells the king about him. Joseph is brought from the prison to interpret the dream that none of the wise men or magicians can interpret. Joseph interprets the dream and is then made the kings “prime minister.”
Notice that that chose “a man discreet and wise” to set over the land of Egypt. Joseph was chosen because of his character and morality. Had he chosen pragmatism earlier, then he would not have been fit for this high calling.
After he was set up over Egypt’s agriculture, what did Joseph do about the revelation of the seven good and bad years?
He took 20% from the good years and saved it for the lean years.
Is there another good characteristic, a life principle, for us in Joseph's method?
Yes, saving during the good years for the lean years.
What lean years do we know are always coming?
Old age and retirement become financial lean years
Genesis 41:56-57 56 And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. 57 And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.
Reconciliation and Rescue - Genesis 42
Genesis 42:1-8 1 Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another? 2 And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die. 3 And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt. 4 But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him. 5 And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 6 And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth. 7 And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food. 8 And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
What brought Joseph’s brothers to Egypt?
The famine throughout the Middle East, all the land.
Once again we can see the characteristic of goodness and morality at work in Joseph’s saving of his family. Though he does not reveal himself at first, probably to make sure they would not run away and to gain information about his father, Joseph treats them extremely well, giving them free grain and feasting them.
Forgiveness and reconciliation
Genesis 45:1-9 1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. 2 And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. 3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence. 4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. 5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. 9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not:
Finally, when he is sure of them and their feelings toward their father, the one they always had in common, he reveals himself to them and forgives them.
What can I learn about forgiveness through the actions of Joseph?
Take the first step
Genesis 45:4-5 4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. 5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.,
Matthew 5:23-24 23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.,
Matthew 18:15-16 15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
Trust that God will work to turn bad things to good things through our love for Him.
Genesis 50:18-20 18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. 19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
Romans 8:28 28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.)
Genesis 50:21 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
Ephesians 4:32 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
It is important to understand that forgiveness is a vital part of overcoming hard times, especially when those hard times involve your family. Without forgiveness you may well face difficult times alone. It is infinitely harder to rise above hard times when you have no one to turn to for help, encouragement or prayer. The Christian should take it as a maxim in life, “Forgive or Fail.”
The story of Joseph is one of the major character studies in all the Bible. It shows a young man of great character and morality, who is dedicated to his God and unwilling to compromise with the world or society he found himself in. He stands as one of the most moral heroes in all of Genesis. Through that morality, God would be able to use him to save others in a way that only Moses and Jesus Christ would be greater examples. Joseph through God’s power and providence is used to save two great and ancient nations, Israel and Egypt. This would not have happened if he had not been a man of moral character.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, "A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble."
Overcoming hard times for a child of God will always be more about remaining true to our God and who we are through him than simply being able to make it through the obstacles life hits us with. When we are stand firm in our faith and beliefs we have already overcome in the most important struggle of all.