Joseph – Blessed for Obedience

By Stephen Green

Genesis 39:2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

A new year begins and with it the opportunity to seek the Lord afresh in his word.  I am following the Christian Voice Lamplight Bible Reading plan again this year, and I find myself constantly surprised at the new things the Lord reveals.

At this time of writing I am following the life of Joseph.  What strikes me is that in whatever situation he finds himself, it turns out well for him.

His brothers want to kill him but Reuben and Judah intercede for his life.  Then he is thrown into a pit by his brothers and sold to Arab traders as a slave.  But he just happens to be spotted in the slave market by the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  Potiphar makes Joseph the overseer of all his house.  Not only does Joseph prosper, but his master prospers for Joseph’s sake:

Gen 39:5 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.

Then Potiphar’s wife takes a shine to Joseph and cries attempted rape when he refuses her.  Joseph rejects her advances with these words:

Gen 39:9 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?

It looks like a setback.  Joseph finds himself in prison.  But even there he is blessed.  Not only is he in the prison reserved for elite prisoners, but he finds favour with the guard:

Gen 39:21 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.

And then, by the grace of God, Pharoah’s cupbearer and his baker are thrown in the prison and dream their separate dreams.  Joseph is in a position to interpret their dreams and it works out just as he says.

Of course the cupbearer does not remember Joseph.  Or does he, exactly at the very time the Lord has chosen to advance Joseph to the highest office possible?  When Pharoah dreams his dreams of the thin cattle and the starved corn eating up the fat ones, Joseph is called up to interpret.  Seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of dearth.  Joseph goes beyond his remit and advises Pharaoh:

Gen 41:33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh’s response is not to put him down but promote him to the highest possible office:

Gen 41:38  And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? 39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: 40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.

So Joseph finds himself ruling Egypt, from where he is able to save the land, albeit enriching Pharaoh at the same time, and save his family.

So how and why did all this happen?  He had his prophetic dreams of his brothers’ sheaves bowing down to his and of ruling over his whole family at the age of seventeen.  Clearly he ended up being the right man in the right place at the right time.  But would God have still used his gift of being a ‘master of dreams’, as his brothers put it in Genesis 37:19, if he had been a thorough reprobate?

It is certainly possible, but entirely hypothetical.  We see Joseph learning humility after the earlier indiscreet announcements of his dreams.

He always tells his listeners that it is God who reveals the secrets of dreams, not him:

Gen 41:16 And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.

But the first time Joseph invokes the name of God is when he rejects Potiphar’s wife.  This shows me a man of faithfulness and obedience as well.  He honoured his master and he knew and observed the righteous law of God 450 years before Moses ascended Mount Sinai.  This must be why, in every situation he is placed, Joseph comes up smelling of roses.  He is granted favour, and he prospers.  Only because of his obedience does he end up in prison, poised to take charge of Egypt.  Joseph is the very embodiment of Psalm 1:

Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Not many of us will become prime minister of Egypt; indeed few of us would want to be at the present time.  But God can bless, advance and use each one of us in whatever place we are so long as we stay faithful to him.




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  1. Rox

    It so happens that Joseph’s career illustrates something almost universal which is usually overlooked. We tend to have a grim picture of slaves being whipped by tough overseers while they cut sugar cane or build pyramids, but it wasn’t all like that. Slavery could be a decent career for the right person. In Ancient Rome, slaves ran aspects of the household at least like an English butler, with Greek slaves acting like a governess or tutor (always an uncomfortably intermediate sort of class). In the end , a good slave was freed and might become reasonably wealthy, as is vouched for by countless gravestones in Latin.

    The Ottoman Empire was very largely run by originally Christian young boys enrolled into the Civil Service from the villages of Greece and elsewhere, rising to power and even to becoming the chief minister, more powerful than the weak hereditary Sultan himself. One of Boris Johnson’s very miscellaneous ancestors was one of these.

    In India, too, an intelligent slave could do well, so that the Mughal Empire was once held back by an Indian prince who was in fact of Abyssinian birth, sold in the Indian market by Arab wholesalers.

    I don’t doubt either that such things went on in China and Africa at times. In the United States, it can’t have been too bad to be the domestic slave of someone like George Washington. and when you think about it, many trusted domestic slaves, who had grown old caring for the family’s children or cooking, and finally retired, must have had a life very similar to their free counterpart in an English stately home. Strikingly in the Americas, if you were born the son of a noble Frenchman and his lady slave, you could find yourself back in Europe writing concertos and leading a regiment.. Even if you were pure black, a French-speaking slave could get a good education and set up a republic way ahead of its time.

    So, Joseph was not unique, and as you say, even slaves can take advantage of being the right man in the right place at the right time. It was never all as bad as we tend to think .

    1. Rox

      This was carelessly worded, and so I need to correct it.
      Boris Johnson’s great-grandfather was not a chief minister (Grand Vizier), but he (Ali Kemal Bey) was the Minister of the Interior, still under the Sultan, in 1919. He represented Turkey at the peace conference (where he favoured a British protectorate) and was finally lynched. He was not a slave, and was presumably a Muslim, but was very much against massacring Armenians. However, Ali’s Circassian mother is thought to have been a slave (the great-great- grandmother of Boris). A colourful enough ancestry on its own, but there is much much more to this man’s family than that.

      1. Rox

        What has happened to the Bible Articles for 2016 ?

        1. Stephen

          On their way!

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