Teaching series from Genesis

The Story of Joseph

Genesis 37-50

Teaching t07311

Introduction

We come now to the final major character of Genesis--Joseph, the son of Jacob and great-grandson of Abraham.

Reiterate the historicity of this story, and the importance of "tension" in stories. The tension that drives this story is the conflict between Joseph and his brothers. We only have time to read the beginning and the climax of this story. I'll narrate the material between and the epilogue.

Narration

Read the beginning to set up the tension between Joseph and his brothers.

Read 37:2b - Joseph is a tattle-tale. Read 37:3 - Jacob shows that Joseph is his favorite, which doesn't help matters any. Read 37:4 - They hated his guts. Read 37:5-8.

One day when Jacob sends Joseph out to check on his brothers again, they decide they've had enough of him and decide to kill him. When Reuben talks them out of homicide, they throw him into a pit without water, mockingly ignore his pleadings while they eat a meal--and then sell him to some Midianite traders on their way to Egypt. They tear up his tunic and soak it with goat blood, and show it to Jacob and allow him to draw his own conclusion that he was killed by a wild beast.

Narrate the story.

Chapter 38 seems like an unconnected story, but it shows the danger of assimilation.

Joseph winds up being sold to Potiphar, a wealthy military aristocrat. God blesses Joseph's hard work as a house slave so that Potiphar makes him the head steward of his entire estate. Things are fine for about ten years until "Mrs. Robinson" (Potiphar's wife) gets the hots for Joseph (who's a stud) and comes on to him with amazing subtlety: "Lie with me" (39:7). Joseph declines, but she persists day after day and finally grabs his skirt-towel. Joseph flees from the house (possibly the first biblical streaker), and she claims he tried to rape her. Joseph is fortunate Potiphar doesn't execute him--but he is thrown into jail (a horrible hole-like dungeon where prisoners slowly rotted).

God upheld Joseph and something about his attitude caught the eye of the chief jailer. He made Joseph his top prisoner in charge of serving the other prisoners. Then Pharoah's chief cupbearer and baker get thrown into jail for reasons unknown. One night they both have dreams which disturb them. God enables Joseph to explain the meaning of their dreams (EXPLAIN), which is fulfilled three days later. He asks the cupbearer to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh, but once he gets out the cupbearer forgets all about his promise. So Joseph rots in jail for two years.

Then an amazing thing happens. Pharaoh has a dream about 14 cows which no one can explain. The cupbearer remembers Joseph and recommends him--and Joseph is ushered into Pharoah's presence. God enables him to explain the dream as a prediction of seven years of bumper crops followed by seven years of famine--and counsels Pharaoh to find someone who will organize and execute a grain storage system. Pharaoh says, "I'm looking at the best man" and so in one day Joseph goes from jail to Prime Minister of Egypt. Joseph spends the next seven years getting married and starting a family, and executing his grain storage plan. Then the famine hits.

It's at this point that the plot thickens and the tension between Joseph and his brothers is resumed. The famine is severe in Canaan, so one day Jacob says to his sons, "You knuckleheads! Why are you staring at one another? Get your lazy behinds down to Egypt and buy some grain before we starve!" They go down and are sent (like everyone else) to Joseph, and they bow down to him (fulfilling 37:7). Joseph recognizes them, but they don't recognize him (almost 40; Egyptian dress; position). Joseph accuses them of being spies and says he won't believe they're not unless they bring their youngest brother to him. Not realizing he can speak Hebrew, they say in his presence: "Great! This is what we get for killing our brother." Joseph locks Simeon up and sends back home with just enough grain to make it home and back. But he's not doing this to get back at them because he weeps privately over this encounter.

When they God get home, Jacob goes hysteric ("I've already lost one son, I've got another rotting in jail--and you want me to entrust my youngest to you?") and refuses to let Benjamin go. But they get hungrier, and when Jacob tells them to return to Egypt for more grain, it's their turn to refuse ("Oh no, not without Benjamin!").

Finally Jacob agrees, and they go back to Joseph with Benjamin. Joseph releases Simeon, dines with them (against Egyptian custom), and is so moved by seeing Benjamin that he has to remove himself from the room to weep. The next day, Joseph loads them up with grain but has his servant hide his favorite silver cup in Benjamin's suitcase. After they leave, he sends his security guards to pull them over and say, "So this is how you repay my master's kindness--by stealing his favorite cup?" They are offended and say, "You can kill whoever you find it on!" They search the luggage, and when the cup falls out of Benjamin's suitcase, they are beside themselves! They are cuffed and put in the cruiser, and when they are brought before Joseph, Judah says: "What can we say? We are being punished for God for our past sins." He begs Joseph to make him a slave rather than take Benjamin because he can't bear to break his father's heart.

Read the climax (45:1-8,14,15).

Narrate the epilogue.

They go back and bring Jacob and the rest of the family down to Egypt, where Pharaoh gives them the best grazing land in the country (Goshen) where they are separated from the Egyptians. Thus the family is delivered from two lethal dangers which threatened God's plan: physical starvation from famine and spiritual apostasy from assimilation. There they multiply into the great nation God had predicted to Abraham, and they remain there for 400 years . . . 

Two Lessons

This story is one of the most moving of all time. It is also one of the spiritually richest sections in the whole Bible, containing many important truths and lessons for us. Let's look at two of the most important lessons we must learn if we want to know God and have meaningful lives.

From Joseph's brothers, we learn what our root problem and how to resolve it.

They had true moral guilt. Their brother may have been an arrogant brat, and their father may have been foolish to show such favoritism--but they were morally wrong and responsible for what they did to Joseph. They had wronged Joseph and they had sinned against God by what they did--and until they got this issue resolved, their lives were fundamentally off course and all their other relationships were adversely affected by it.

This is the way God says it is with us, too. The root problem of our lives is not that we have been mistreated by other people, but that we have sinned against a holy God and are alienated from him and justly under his judgment. And this is the root problem that manifests its symptoms in other areas of our lives . . . 

And so God, because he loved them, orchestrated events to bring this issue to the surface. Notice the factors God used to move them to repentance, because he uses these same factors in our lives.

He allowed them to experience need (FAMINE). Later, they would look back on this as the best thing that ever happened to them--but at the time they just saw it as a real drag. This is how God gets our attention because it is the most effective way to help us see that something is radically wrong in our lives (LEWIS QUOTE).

He prompted the memory of their guilt by having Joseph treat them in the same way they treated him. Joseph was not being cruel or vengeful. He was cooperating with God to awaken their consciences (read 42:21). This is what God wants to do with us, not so we can be tortured by guilt but so we can resolve our guilt. We try to repress it, rationalize it, focus on how others have mistreated us, etc.--but God will find ways to remind you of your guilt before him (EXAMPLES: PEOPLE WITH SAME SIN).

He guided them into the realization of how their sins were affecting others. When they realize how Benjamin's death would break Jacob's heart, they realized how much they must have broken his heart when they sold Joseph. I know God did this with me (DAD CRYING AFTER HE BUSTED ME).

Judah's confession to Joseph is the response God is looking for (read 44:16). He acknowledges his guilt without any excuses, he admits he deserves judgment, and he asks for mercy. This is the response Jesus says God is waiting to hear from us (read Lk. 15:18,19). This is what the Bible calls repentance.

Joseph's response is the response we will be greeted with when we turn to God in this way: forgiveness, experience his love and provision (read Lk. 15:20-24a). How can God respond this way if he is holy and righteous? Because Jesus went to the cross to take rap for us. This is why we have to come to Jesus with repentance if we want to resolve our root problem.

It's almost as though Joseph is a Christ-figure, isn't he? This is no coincidence. Joseph is in fact a prophetic type of Jesus: He is righteous, he is wrongly rejected by his people, but God works through his rejection to provide deliverance for the ones who rejected him (read Acts 2:23).

From Joseph, we learn how to navigate victoriously through a world that is hostile and unfair. Joseph is the antithesis of the "victim mentality"--because life or others have treated me cruelly and unfairly, I am justified in seeking vengeance, nursing self-pity, living selfishly and irresponsibly, expecting others to compensate me, etc.

Part of this picture is true. Because we live in a fallen world, we are all victimized by others and this causes real pain. Civil rights and civil justice are important. Many people's pain is aggravated because their world-view doesn't include the fall, and therefore they expect their lives to be happy and pain-free.

More importantly, God exists and has revealed himself to us through his Word. This does not change evil into good, nor pain into pleasure, but it provides a perspective which can deliver us from the bondage of the victim mentality. Part of this perspective is lesson #1: I am a perpetrator as well as a victim, guilty before God and deserving of judgment, yet he forgives me.

If ever there was a true victim, it was Joseph! Who has ever met anyone who has been treated more unfairly than Joseph? Yet his was so different because his response is so different. He models for us what it looks like to trust God's loving sovereignty.

Instead of giving into despair, he chose to recall and believe God's promise concerning his life and he chose to believe that God was bigger than the circumstances and people in his life (Rom. 8:31-37).

Instead of passively resigning himself and complaining about his circumstances, he creatively sought to serve wherever he was (JAIL; Col. 3:23,24). Because he was faithful in little, God made him faithful in much (Lk. 16:10).

Instead of compromising morally to get ahead, he obeyed God even at his own personal disadvantage (39:9 >> VERTICAL vs. HORIZONTAL/THERAPEUTIC VIEW OF SIN >> 1 Pet. 4:19).

Instead of taking credit for everything to get ahead, he witnessed by giving credit to God at every crucial point (39:2,3; 40:8; 41:16 >> 1 Cor. 4:7; 1 Pet. 2:9).

Instead of becoming bitter toward his offenders, he extended forgiveness to them. In 50:19-21, Joseph reveals how he was able to do this.

He knew that God alone had the right to judge, so he refused to usurp God's role (50:19; Rom. 12:19).

He knew that he was not a victim in the truest sense of the word. He knew that because of God's loving sovereignty, no human could ruin his life or prevent him from fulfilling God's purpose (50:20; Rom. 8:28).

Because of the above, he chose to adopt a redemptive (rather than retributive) attitude toward his offenders (50:21; Rom. 12:14,20,21). (QUALIFY: forgiveness and trust are different.)

Because he trusted God in this way, Joseph experienced God's personal support in every situation ("the LORD was with him . . . " see especially 39:21), and he experienced the satisfaction of fulfilling God's purpose for his life (50:20 as the secret of true freedom). This is what God wants you to experience, too!

Next: "How To Get Lasting Results Through An Eternal Perspective"