Chapter 16 – Joseph

(Genesis 37:2 – 37:36 and chapters 39 – 50)

Have you ever felt that life was unfair? Have you ever questioned God’s existence because so much evil and injustice exists in the world—or because something painful happened to you or to someone you care about? Then take a lesson from the life of Joseph. If anyone had a right to be angry at God, Joseph did.

Joseph had a tough life when he was a young man. At about the age of seventeen, his brothers plotted to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery to some Midianite traders, who took him to Egypt. There he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned because he did the right thing by refusing the advances of the wife of his Egyptian master, Potiphar.

While Joseph was in prison, God enabled him to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer, correctly predicting that the cupbearer would soon be restored to his rightful position and the baker would be executed. But Joseph languished in prison for two more years because the cupbearer, after being reinstated, forgot about poor Joseph.

Because of the wickedness and thoughtlessness of others, he lost twelve to thirteen years of his life to slavery and imprisonment.[i]

Yet Joseph bore no ill will toward his brothers or toward God. He recognized that what he had endured had brought him to the place where he was—ruler of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.[ii] Joseph understood that God had placed him there so that he could prepare Egypt for the seven years of famine that would follow seven years of abundance. With twenty-twenty hindsight, Joseph realized that God had a plan all along.

After Jacob’s death, Joseph reassured his brothers, who were terrified that he would finally take revenge on them: “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-21)

Joseph forgave his brothers and took care of them in Egypt during the famine and afterward. As a result, the descendants of Jacob—aka Israel—increased exponentially during the following 400 years that they remained in Egypt.

Question to ponder or discuss: I do not believe that God sends terrible things into our lives—such as disease, crime, or natural disasters—but he also doesn’t prevent them. Such events may seem unfair to you, or at least difficult to understand. What are some reasons why God would allow those things to occur?[iii]

[i]. Genesis 37:2 says: “ . . . Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.” This was one of the grievances Joseph’s brothers had against him that soon thereafter led them to sell him into slavery, so Joseph was probably seventeen or eighteen when he was taken in bondage to Egypt. He got out of prison at age thirty, according to Genesis 41:46: “Now Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” This was when Pharaoh “set [Joseph] over all the land of Egypt.”(Genesis 41:43) So Joseph was enslaved or imprisoned from about age seventeen, or perhaps eighteen, until age thirty.

[ii]. Joseph received this exalted position after he correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, which foretold seven years of tremendous prosperity followed by seven years of severe famine.

[iii]. I discuss this in chapter three of my book, Beyond Blind Faith: Reasons For the Hope We Have (1 Peter 3:15), which is available on Chapter three is entitled, “Why Do Bad Things Happen (to Me)?”