The OT Challenge: The Faithfulness of Joseph
There are certain Old Testament personalities that emerge in the writing of the Old Testament that call for an examination. There are stories that we should not only know but hand down to our children and grandchildren. We draw on these stories to gain insight on living by faith and learning to trust God when life seems like it’s about to overwhelm us. We learn from studying these stories that God is on our side but longs for and expects us to be in process. He has always been about calling a people who will be holy. A people who will live in this world but take their cues on life from another world. A people who will live in the world but will not necessarily be of this world. We hear the call of God in our lives and live in His Kingdom aligning our lives, our priorities and relationships according to God’s will and way.
This summer we are going to be in a series entitled The OT Challenge. Each week we will challenge ourselves with another OT character who lived to serve and honor the one and only God who deserves that kind of devotion.
Today we look at a young man named Joseph. I would encourage you to read his story. You can find the whole story in the first book of the Bible in chapters 37-50. It is a compelling look at one of three men in the OT who stayed faithful to God no matter what life through at them.
Faithfulness: We all have to deal with this at every level of our lives. If you are married you promised to be faithful. If you have a job you should be faithful to show up and work as you promised. If you borrow money you are in a contract to be faithful in paying it back.
Joseph sets the bar and is a standard bearer for faithfulness in all circumstances of his life. Let me tell you his story. In the midst of his story we are going to learn principles of faithful living.
The bible says that Joseph was about seventeen when we get introduced to him. He was the youngest son of a large and blended family. It was blended because in those days it was common for a man to have more than one wife and so children would be born who were half brothers and sisters. Joseph worked for some of his half brothers. We jump into Joseph’s life with a narrative found in Genesis 37, telling us that Joseph was his father’s favorite son. We all know you shouldn’t have favorite s but it is obvious that Jacob loved Joseph so much that he gave him a coat of many colors to set him apart from others in the family. Joseph loved his dad but developed a little habit that was the beginning of all his problems. He would report back to his father all the things that his half brothers were doing wrong. In fact the bible says that his brothers were so upset with him that “they couldn’t say a kind word about him. It is in this part of the story that we find our first principle about faithfulness.
1. Telling the truth is always important but sometimes it might be better to not say anything.
Now please understand I am not in any way suggesting that there is any circumstance where you should tell a lie. In fact I don’t believe that there is any situation where you should tell a lie. I know there are some people who believe and teach situational ethics meaning that you should have a different standard of ethics for different circumstances in your life but as Christfollowers that is not something we should embrace.
Telling the truth was not Joseph’s problem but knowing when to talk and how much to say was something he apparently had no restraint in.
It’s a little like having a girlfriend or wife asked you if she looks fat in a certain dress. Now what are you going to say to that? She may already knows she looks fat or she wouldn't be asking you the question in the first place. But if you fib and tell her that she looks skinny, she knows it's not the truth -- and she'll punish you not only for lying to her, but also for noticing that she's been packing on the pounds [if you tell her the truth]. She might even break into tears because, "You don't love me for who I am." Either way, you can't win. Sometimes it is better to just say nothing. (note to guys only: You could say you look just perfect but you have to be telling the truth when you say it)
There are some things that Joseph should have kept to himself.
One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. 6 “Listen to this dream,” he said. 7 “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”
8 His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them.
9 Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” Genesis 37:5-9
The story takes a terrible turn at this point. Joseph’s brothers are literarily planning on killing him because they can’t stand his tattle telling and now his predictions of greatness.
2. No matter how bad it looks on the outside God is always with those who are faithful.
Joseph was away from home in a strange land but we find a verse that is often repeated in this story.
2 The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:2
In fact the Bible says that Potiphar who was the captain of the guard for Pharaoh noticed that Joseph was blessed by God and appointed him to be in charge of his entire household. He was a chief of staff you might say.
Verse 5 says that from the day Joseph was put in charge the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. How often to do we look at our circumstances or work situation and think negative thoughts and yet when you read this it leaves us with the strong suggestion that God may bless the people we work for because of our connection to Him. The stronger our connection and relationship to God the bigger the blessing on those around us.
Remember God is always with those who are faithful no matter what is happening around them. For Joseph who was a young man with all the passions of youth it was about to take a really interesting and challenging turn. . .
3. Having integrity matters. . .all the time.
Potiphar’s wife began to notice Joseph. (ver.7)
But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. 9 No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” Genesis 39:8-9 NLT
This is a great example of the ups and downs in life that come to all of us. Joseph was doing what was right in a place where he certainly could have succumbed to the temptation. He was a long way from home with nobody to be accountable to yet he held firm to his convictions about what was right and wrong. While trying to escape her touch he left his coat in her hands and Potiphar’s wife in anger at being rejected tells her husband’s other servants that Joseph tried to rape her and repeats the same story to her husband. He was furious and has Joseph thrown into prison.
Because of his faithfulness, we find that “the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And that the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.”
The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The LORD was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. Genesis 39:23 NLT
Integrity matters. . .all the time. Be faithful to God and the principles of godly living that He wants to instill in your life. Be faithful when everyone is looking and be faithful when no one is looking because what you are in secret and what you do when no one is looking over your shoulder is what you are.
Joseph’s prison stay is a long narrative but while in prison with God’s help he interprets some dreams for fellow prisoners. They are dead on accurate and so many years later when one of them is now employed by that Pharaoh of Egypt he remembers Joseph’s God given ability to understand people’s dreams and tells the Pharaoh about him. Joseph is brought before the Pharaoh of Egypt to interpret his dream.
4. Perspective is knowing that God is the source of our successes
“It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.” Genesis 41:16 NLT
While faithfulness is important it is also critical that when God blesses us because of it that we always remember where the blessings come from.
During the days when Mohammed Ali was a great boxer, he would go around in his arrogance and say that, "He was the greatest." Humility was never his strong suit. One day, back in his prime, he was on an airplane and the plane was ready to take off and the flight attendant had repeatedly told him to put on his seat belt. He finally told her, "I'm superman and superman don't need no seatbelt." The flight attendant didn't hesitate a minute but shot back with, "Superman don't need no airplane either, now buckle up."
It is critical in our lives that we live with an acknowledgement of God on a daily basis.
In Joseph’s case once again it meant being pressed into service and being used by God.
5. Faithfulness to God will open doors you cannot imagine
Joseph interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams and listen to his response:
38 So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” Genesis 41:38 NLT
In fact Pharaoh goes on to appoint Joseph to be second in command in Egypt and to be in charge of the entire land. This was no little appointment. We read in this story that he was given the chariot reserved for the second in command and wherever he went the command was shouted “kneel down.”
Living in the center of God’s will, will take you places you could never imagine on your own. A friend of mine suggested to me that I should go away when I was about thirty years old and spend a couple of day planning out the rest of my life. While I am sure that worked for this individual and his life seems to have taken the course he had dreamed for himself, I can assure you my dreams would never have been as exciting and diverse as the doors God has opened in my life.
When you are faithful God will open doors beyond your imagination. In fact in Ephesians 3:20 we are reminded that God will do abundantly and infinitely more than we could ask or think according to His Spirit that works within us.
6. You can be faithful anywhere
Joseph is in a strange land with no relatives and yet Pharaoh gives him a wife who bears him sons and this is what Joseph names them.
Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” 52 Joseph named his second son Ephraim, for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.” Genesis 41:51-52 NLT
Notice he is not saturated with bitterness but is accepting his life as God has ordered it. He is blessed yet in touch with his grief. He is deeply grateful but still aware that he is without his father’s family.
Joseph allows these life circumstances to make him better and not bitter. He hears from God that there will be a terrible famine and under his leadership the entire nation of Egypt plans and prepares for it. When the famine hit it also affected the surrounding countries. Joseph’s fathers family decides to make the trip to Egypt and ask for food so that they won’t starve. They have no idea that this man who is second in command is the very obnoxious brother that they sold into slavery many years before.
It’s a long story and one well worth reading but let me just sum it up with a couple of thoughts. Joseph was without his family even though they had sold him into slavery he never quit missing them. When he sees them for the first time and they kneel before him he remembers his dreams from years before. Joseph puts them through a series of tests to see if they have changed and tucked into this part of the story more than once we find Joseph breaking down and weeping. He has been faithful and now God is bringing it all back full circle. He has the lives of his brothers in his hands.
In chapter 45, we read that “Joseph could stand it no longer. There were many people in the room, and he said to his attendants, “Out, all of you!” So he was alone with his brothers when he told them who he was. 2 Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace.
3 “I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. 4 “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt.”
You and I are given one change to live on this earth. The question that people start dealing with when they come to the end of their lives is in essence, have I been faithful? We should find time in our lives to ask ourselves this question before we come to the end of our lives and live with regrets at where we put our priorities.
7. Recognize God’s plan for your life even when it is unconventional
5 But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. 6 This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.[a] 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser[b] to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt. Genesis 45:5-8 NLT
What plans is God unfolding in your life?
What plans don’t seem to make sense on the surface yet you believe that God is in them?
8. God’s will is always better than our best made plans
After years of reestablishing a relationship with his father and family, Joseph experiences the death of his father.
19 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. Genesis 50:20 NLT
If you are living a faithful life and doing what God asks you to do there is a plan that is working in your life that is bigger and better than any plan you could have for yourself.
Author Gary Thomas, founder of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, writes in Discipleship Journal: When my wife and I prayed extensively about buying a house we gave God many opportunities to close the door. God appeared to bless the move. Five years later, our house is worth considerably less than what we paid for it.
"Why didn't God stop us?" my wife and I kept wondering. After all, we had given Him plenty of opportunities. But one day as my wife was praying, she sensed God asking her, "Have you ever considered the possibility that I wanted you in that neighborhood to minister there rather than to bolster your financial equity?"
There is something strangely comforting about living in the presence of this untamable God. Rabbi Harold Kushner gives us this example:
The next time you go to the zoo, notice where the lines are longest…. We find ourselves irresistibly drawn to the lions, the tigers, the elephants, the gorillas. Why? [… Because] we are strangely reassured at seeing creatures bigger and stronger than ourselves, creatures we did not make and who are not subject to our control. It gives us the message, at once humbling and comforting, that we are not the ultimate power. Our souls are so starved for that sense of awe, that encounter with grandeur which helps to remind us of our real place in the universe, that if we can’t get it in church, we will search for it and find it someplace else (Who Needs God, p.58).
We desperately crave the reassuring reminder that man is not the last word. Thankfully, we do not possess ultimate power. We cannot control God; we can only trust Him and be faithful to Him.
Benediction: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 NLT