Joseph’s life is a fascinating tale of a person who rose from being a slave to that of a powerful ruler in Egypt. At the outset Joseph’s story reminds us of an important aspect: God can turn any situation of ours into good no matter how worse it is, provided we are willing to abide in Him. Please open your Bibles to Gen. 37. That’s where Joseph’s story begins.
As soon as we begin to read, we immediately become aware of the fact that Joseph had a troubled childhood. When he was born, his father was still working for Laban almost like a bonded slave. His mother Rachel died while giving birth to his younger brother and therefore he never experienced the love and care of a mother. As a child, he had to go through times of fear and conflict, both at home and outside. His brothers despised him for what he said and what he did. His only comfort was his father who loved him deeply. However, even that worked against him (Gen.37:4).
What can a young person who comes from this sort of a family background expect out of his life? Humanly speaking, not much. Everything looked bleak for Joseph. There was not much hope for him. But can you believe, that in God’s sovereignty, Joseph was the chosen man for the time. Though rejected by many of his own, he was special in the sight of God. God had something significant in his mind for Joseph. We see God beginning to reveal his divine plans to him through dreams (Gen.37:5, 9). God’s choice of people has always puzzled us. He does not look into one’s family background or one’s brought up or one’s ability when he chooses a person for service in his kingdom. Heritage and credentials do not really matter to God.
While I was a staff member of UESI in Coimbatore, we as a family had the joy of mentoring some students. One of them was a girl who was doing her under graduate studies in an Arts college. Her story is remarkable. She came from a broken family. Her father disliked her from the beginning because his business drastically went down after her birth. She was seen as a curse. Similarly, her mother did not show any affection. In school, many of her friends and teachers considered her as stupid and good for nothing. Then, while in higher secondary she happened to hear about Jesus and was touched by his unconditional love. She gave her life to Jesus. Her life changed for good. She began to see her life from a totally different perspective – as one which had meaning and purpose. She realised she was precious in the sight of God no matter what others thought about her.
It is important to realise that you are made in the image of God. God’s hand has been upon your life from the beginning (Ps.139: 14-17). No matter what others say or think about you, in the sight of God, you are important and significant. You are in his purposes and plans. Cheer up, do not let your low background or tough surroundings or present problems discourage you. You have a future in God’s hand.
I would like to divide Joseph’s life into three stages.
1) Traumatized but not Flattened
Though Joseph was special and God’s chosen one, he had to pass through a time of adversity in his life. We need to understand that being a child of God is no guarantee against problems and difficulties. When we look at Joseph’s life, he faced hardships one after the other. Gen.37:19-36 – gives a detailed account of the trauma he went through. All on a sudden he was taken away from his father’s care and sold to a group of Midianite merchants. Poor Joseph! I am wondering what would have gone through his mind as he was being carried away. What’s happening to me? Why did my brothers do this to me? What wrong have I done to be treated like this? Where are these people taking me? Will I ever see my father again? Troubled thoughts. Eventually, Joseph lands up in an Egyptian officer’s home as a slave. Undoubtedly, it was a time of adversity for Joseph.
Whether we like it or not, the truth is we will have adverse times in our lives. It might be a financial crises, or a sickness, or a painful relationship, or a job loss, or something worse than that. Many Christians fall in times like these. I think we need to become aware of the spiritual dimension that is involved in times of adversity. On one hand the devil wants to discourage us and destroy us by using adversity as a powerful weapon on us. On the other hand, God wants to use the same adverse situations to build us into strong personalities (Jam.1:3). In times of adversity, hold on to the promises of God. He will sustain you. This is what happened in Joseph’s life. Read Gen.39: 2-3. God was with Joseph. There was something to cheer in spite of the difficulties. His grace was sufficient.
2) Tempted but not Fallen
Joseph was a handsome young man. He was also well built. And this is a dangerous composition. The effect of this we read in Gen.39:7. Joseph was facing the toughest spiritual test of his life – a sexual temptation. It came at an unexpected time and from an unexpected person. The pressure to yield increased day after day. The woman’s first approach was flattery (v.7), then the long enticing conversation (v.10) and finally the ambush (v.12).
Humanly speaking, Joseph had to nothing to lose if he agreed to sleep with her. Here, he was in an alien land, none of his family members around, no one would ever come to know, moreover, it was an opportunity to please his master’s wife, therefore a chance to be in the good books of his master.
However, Joseph was a person with strong morals. He was determined right from the beginning not to lose his purity. He never gave her a chance. In his first response to her, we find the secret of his success over sexual temptation. Vs. 9 – How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? Only this attitude can help you in your struggle with sexual temptation. Joseph had to pay a heavy price for keeping his purity. He was falsely accused and thrown into prison. Friends, are we committed to purity to that extent where we are willing to bear a cost? Heb.12:4 – “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
This verse reminds me of a particular rabbit like creature called yermin that lives in Alaskan forests. The animal lives in burrows and feeds only on clean and fresh veggies and fruits. Known for its medicinal value, people try to hunt them. Because it is small in size and runs fast into its burrows when chased, it is usually difficult to trap them. Some hunters eventually found out a novel way of trapping them. One thing that the small animal cannot withstand is filth that stinks. Knowing this well, what the hunters used to do is to keep some dirty stuff around the barrows (while the animal is out). So when it is chased the poor animal would run fast to its burrow. Finding filthy stuff in the entrance, the animal would be left with only two options, either to go in stepping on the filth it hates or to meekly surrender. It is said that the animal would most often choose the second option. To die rather than step on filth.
3) Tested but not Forgotten
For no fault of his Joseph spends almost two years in prison. Perhaps, during this time, Joseph would have wondered what God was doing in his life? Has God forgotten me? Is this the place where I will end my life? What about the dreams that God once revealed to me? What about his promises? Probably Joseph had these questions in his mind.
The long wait finally came to an end. Joseph’s story takes rapid and unimaginable turns. In no time, Joseph from being a prisoner becomes the Prime minister, the man only second to the Pharaoh of Egypt (Gen.41:38-43). This is God’s way of honouring his faithful servant. God always keeps his promises. God may at times delay (for purposes known only to him) the fulfillment of his promises, but he never goes back on them. You can count on him. Who would have ever imagined that a slave brought from an alien land would eventually become an administrator in one of the largest civilizations of the time?
In Egypt, Joseph becomes a blessing for countless people. He becomes the provider for his family, the budding nation of Israel, the thousands in the land of Egypt. God had indeed prepared him for this glorious task all along. In Egypt, his name was changed, he married an Egyptian, lived a comfortable life, had power and position, and yet he remained faithful to the God of his fathers. He acknowledges this in a powerful statement. Gen.45:5-8.
In 1821, a Portuguese Ship was set to sail from the African coast (Yoruba tribal area) with 200 slaves. Among them was an African young man called Samuel Ajayi bound and bleeding. The slave raiders had mercilessly killed many of his family members and taken many others as captives. Fortunately (no, in God’s sovereignty), a British Navy ship interrupted the course and brought the slaves to Sierra Leone and released them. There Ajayi met Christ and his life was transformed under the care and guidance of the CMS missionaries. He received good education and eventually entered the Anglican church service as an ordained minister. Years later, in 1864, he was consecrated as the first African Bishop of the Anglican church (Nigeria). The same year he was awarded the doctor of divinity degree by the Oxford University.
This is an illustration of what God is capable of doing even today. God’s plan and purpose for an individual’s life cannot be defeated any force. Who would have ever imagined that an African slave would one day become a bishop and bless his entire continent? James 4:10, states, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Be in God’s hands and he will lift you up in his time. You can count on him. May God bless these words.
By Sam K John