April 28 - May 4
Joseph: From Pit to Palace
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Read (as much as possible) the Joseph saga in Genesis 30-50.
MEMORY TEXT: "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9b, RSV).
KEY THOUGHT: As one of the most detailed biographies in Scripture, the narrative of Joseph highlights his life, from birth to death. From a biographer's viewpoint, he is a complex character, a first-magnitude star who deserves all the space given him in Scripture. There are a lot of lessons, subtle and not so subtle, to be learned from the Joseph saga.
WHAT A STORY! What novelist could invent such a tale? A biographer of Joseph need only record the facts to unravel a fascinating narrative. His story contains it allthe tensions of his birth; the jealous dealings of his older brothers; the suspenseful murder plot; the fabricated cover-up; the terrifying trip to Egypt (with time to reflect on his altered circumstances from indulged favorite to slave); the politics of Potiphar's household and the subsequent seduction attempt; the despair of the prison; the rise to power as an interpreter of dreams; the years of plenty and the years of famine; the fight for emotional control at the sight of his brothers; the money planted in the sacks and the missing cup; the tests of the brothers' reformed characters; the revelation as to who Joseph was; the unbelievable reunion of father and son.
Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.
Two sisters are married to one husband who loves one sister noticeably more than the other. Hardly a formula for a happy home, to say the least. But the animosity heightens when the lesser-loved wife, Leah, has six sonsand Rachel, the other wife, has none.
"Give me children, or I shall die! " Rachel finally cries out in desperation (Gen. 30:1, RSV). Then, when Joseph finally is born, the jubilant Rachel asks for another son (Gen. 30:24), whom she gets.
In what ironic way is this request answered? Gen. 35:16-20.
Brought forth into a troubled household, then left motherless at Benjamin's birth, Joseph next appears in Scripture as a seventeen-year-old shepherding flocks with his older brothers. The relation between Joseph and his brothers is not presented as healthy, to be sure. See Genesis 37:2.
The tensions heighten when Jacob demonstrates his partiality to Joseph by tailoring him a special robe: "But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him" (Gen. 37:4, RSV). The situation worsens when Joseph decides to tell his brothers of a dream that he had.
What contents of the dream particularly offend the brothers? Gen. 37:5-8.
If that were not offensive enough, Joseph dreams again, and this time even
his indulgent father becomes irritated: "'What is this dream that you have
dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves
to the ground before you?"
|The story of Joseph 's early years reveals the importance of a good family life, especially for children. In fact, how we're raised as children radically impacts who we are as adults. Indeed, often by the time we are five or six, our characters for life are formed. How crucial, then, for parents to do all they can to love, nurture, and provide all the emotional stability possible for a child.|
|Jessica was raised in an abusive home, the emotional scars followed her into adulthood. What biblical promises can you hold out to someone like her about the power of God to heal, even when the damage goes so deep?|
Evidently neither Jacob nor Joseph realized the intensity of the brothers' hatred, or Jacob never would have sent Joseph to them (Gen. 37:14). So deep was their feeling that they, actually, "conspired against him to slay him" (vs. 18). It's hard to imagine a family so dysfunctional that brothers would conspire to kill one of their own. Fortunately, one son suggested an alternative: just throw the boy in a pit (as a ploy to later save him from death). Though the plan kept Joseph alive, it still didn't save him from being sold into slavery.
What fact helped the brothers decide it would be best not to kill Joseph? Gen. 37:27.
Biographers stress single life-changing events. Often when famous people are interviewed, the interviewer seeks to find out about a single event that radically impacted the person's life. Rarely, however, are such single events as dramatic as Joseph's transition from favored son to slave! And yet, even in this calamity, the Bible says that "The Lord was with Joseph" (Gen. 39:2).
How does one reconcile the text that says "the Lord was with Joseph" with the fact that the boy was still taken into captivity? Why couldn't the Lord have spared him from such a trauma? What does this incident teach us about assuming that, when tragedy comes, the Lord has forsaken us?.
Though many people in Joseph's situation could have become bitter and angry over their fate, blaming everyone else (including God) for their problems, inspiration says that this "one day's experience had been the turning point in Joseph's life. Its terrible calamity had transformed him from a petted child to a man, thoughtful, courageous, and self-possessed."Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 214.
|Though true that tragedies can, at times, make people noble, strong, and even into more faithful Christians, it's also true that tragedies can also break people, make them hateful, and cause them to lose faith. While it's easy to draw inspiration and courage from the former, how can we help the latter, those whose tragedies hardly have turned them into a Joseph?|
In fifth century B.C., Sophocles wrote a play called Antigone, in which the heroine, Antigone, chooses to face death rather than obey King Creon's decree forbidding her to give a proper burial to her brother, killed in a revolt. Antigone's words, in which she said that if burying her brother "were a crime, then it's a crime that God demands," have been cited as one of the world's first accounts of people seeking to obey a higher, unwritten law over any man-made decree or demand. Yet in Joseph's refusal to succumb to the advances of his master's wife, another example of the same principle was foundmaybe a thousand years before Antigone was written!
What was it in Joseph's response to her advances that showed he was acting out of a higher law than even any man-made law against adultery? See Gen. 39:9.
Had Joseph succumbed to her advances, he would have sinned against himself, against his master, and even against his master's wife. And yet, in his cry, he expressed concern about sinning "against God." Joseph, apparently, understood something of the nature of sin as it relates to God Himself. Many centuries later, David, after committing adultery and murder, lamented in his prayer of confession to the Lord that "against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight" (Ps. 51:4)even though he took another man's wife and then killed the man! Each of these sinners realized the heinous nature of sin and that his sin reached even to heaven.
In what ways, when we commit sin, are we sinning against God? What does that mean, and why would David and Joseph stress that aspect of their sin over other aspects?
Joseph, again, through no fault of his own, found himself in a bad situation: this time in a dungeon, where according to Psalm 105:18, his "feet" were "hurt with fetters," and "he was laid in iron." How easy it would have been for him to succumb to discouragement and bitterness.
|Joseph took a stand that cost him dearly. When was the last time you took a stand that cost you something? And if you haven't, is it because no "opportunity" came, or is it because when you did, you chose the easy way out?|
Even in prison, Joseph's talents blossomed: "And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's care all the prisoners who were in the prison; and whatever was done there, he was the doer of it; the keeper of the prison paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph's care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper" (Gen. 39:22, 23, RSV).
"The part which Joseph acted in connection with the scenes of the gloomy prison, was that which raised him finally to prosperity and honor. God designed that he should obtain an experience by temptations, adversity, and hardships, to prepare him to fill an exalted position."Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 146 (emphasis supplied).
Review the stories of the butler's, baker's, and Pharaoh's dreams (Genesis 40; 41). Though the butler ignored Joseph's request, only when it became self-serving to mention Joseph did he do so (Gen. 41:8-14). What does this episode teach us about how the Lord can use selfish actions for good?
How ironichaving angered his brothers with his dream and interpretations, Joseph was thrown into a pit; now he was being taken out of a prison pit because he could interpret dreams!
Wisely, Joseph's interpretation of the seven fat and seven lean years dream came with a proposal: "Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt," gathering food from the years of plenty to provide for the years of famine (Gen. 41:33-36, RSV). The man picked for that task was Joseph. Thus, he went from being a despised prisoner to one of the most powerful and honored and influential men in all Egypt. See Genesis 41:39-43.
|There is no doubt that Joseph maintained his integrity in times of
adversity and hardship. Now, as he was going to a position of great
wealth, power, and prestige, he would face a whole new set of trials and
temptations. In what ways would Joseph's new position pose a greater
danger to his walk with God than he previously faced? What examples
do we find in the Bible of great people corrupted by wealth and power?
"Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth" (Gen. 41:57, RSV).
So came the brothers of Joseph as well. And though they had sold Joseph into slavery many years earliertheir first thought after Joseph put them in jail was that this trial was a punishment for their sin!
"And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required" (Gen. 42:21, 22, emphasis supplied).
What does this incident show about the power of a guilty conscience, even so long after the sin was first committed? What other examples are found in Scripture that show the power of a guilty conscience? Judas is one, Herod is another. What others can you think of?
Joseph could have revealed himself to his brothers right away. Instead, he put them through a painful trial in order to test their character, to see if they had changed (see Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 225). Especially poignant was the plea of Judah, willing to stay in bondage in Egypt rather than leave his younger brother Benjamin there to suffer that fate (Gen. 44:33). Joseph, satisfied about their change, then revealed himself to them (Gen. 45:3).
Though, no doubt, the happy turn of events for Joseph certainly could have helped him forgive, it would be understandable, at least from a human perspective, if he had extracted revenge on his brothers. Instead of seeking revenge, he sought, instead, to teach his brothers a few lessons for their own good. Joseph's actions show the grace of God working in his life, even as he stood at the pinnacle of power in an overtly heathen land.
One of the greatest struggles we deal with is the question of forgiveness. All of us, to some degree or another, have suffered unfairly at the hands of others. What can we learn from the Joseph story about the power of forgiveness? Also, why does forgiveness often bring more benefits to the one forgiving than to the one forgiven?
FURTHER STUDY: Joseph, a Type of Christ (Gen. 50:20, 21).
In addition to the extensive references in Genesis, Joseph merits mention in twelve other books of the Bible. But what an even greater distinction to be a symbolic Christ figure: "The integrity of Joseph and his wonderful work in preserving the lives of the whole Egyptian people were a representation of the life of Christ."Christ 's Object Lessons, p. 286.
SUMMARY: Not only is Joseph a Christ-figure, but his whole life duplicates the pattern of the human race: starting out in the bliss of Eden, humanity soon plunged into the pits of evil, now thousands of years later still looking for the deliverance promised in Revelation. Likewise Joseph's favored-child existence ended in a literal pit, miraculously surviving that ordeal to experience the trials and triumphs of life in Egypt, the land of sojourn. He ultimately lived a prominent, fulfilled, godly life. We must remind ourselves of the glorious truth the story illustrates: God's love still saves abandoned sinners from the pit of hopelessness!
J. H. Zachary
Dr. Rudyanto is an Adventist physician and businessman living in Solo, Indonesia. One morning he awoke to the sounds of angry shouting and stones bouncing off the metal doors of his furniture shop that adjoined his home. From his window he could see flames devour a business across the street.
The police were powerless to stop the rampaging mobs. The family gathered to ask for God's protection.
The hail of stones increased. Then the doctor heard someone trying to break through the heavy iron doors that protected the building. If the rioters succeeded, the doctor's family would be in serious danger.
Suddenly another group of voices began shouting in front of the building. Dr. Rudyanto watched amazed as some 25 Muslim men pushed their way through the mob and refused to let the rioters destroy the building. Dr. Rudyanto recognized the men; they lived in a small settlement of poor families nearby. He had treated many of their medical needs, often for free if they could not pay.
Now these neighbors stood between the rioters and the doctor's family, shouting, "Please leave! The doctor is a good man; he is our friend. Do not harm his property!" After the mob moved on, the Muslim men remained to guard the building as other rioters stormed down the street, stealing and destroying everything they could.One of their Muslim friends urged the Rudyanto family to come to their home, where they would be safer. The family slipped out the rear door and followed the man home. They remained in the home of their friend until the riots ended.
Why did these Muslims risk their lives to protect a Christian family? "They are our friends," one man answered. "When we are sick or in need, they help us."
Although no Adventists were reported killed during the riots, some lost everything they owned. Please pray for Indonesia and for the Adventist believers there.
Dr. Rudyanto and one of his Muslim friends (left). J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour and a special consultant for the General Conference Ministerial Association.
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