Joseph, as most of us know, is one of the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel. He is the firstborn son of Jacob’s favored wife, and the second youngest of his sons. Joseph is undeniably the son that his father loved most. On top of this, Joseph was a well-regarded dream interpreter from a very young age; this was important because dreams were thought to be prophecies at this time. All of this made Joseph’s brothers hate him.
In his young adulthood, Joseph began to interpret his own dreams in a boastful manner to his brothers. “Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” (Genesis 37:7) Every time I read this now, I think about how much I would despise a human being who was so unreasonably favored, so prideful and cocky, and so shameless as Joseph is. He basically proclaims here, ‘Hello, elder brothers who abhor me, let me fill you with greater envy as I tell you about how you will become my servants.’
Shortly after this, all of Joseph’s brothers are sent to Shechem to watch over their father’s sheep, and Jacob/Israel sends Joseph after them. Joseph finds them in Dothan, and when his brothers see him approaching in the distance they say, “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:20) Honestly, I don’t blame them.
Luckily for Joseph, his oldest brother, Reuben, was not about to be a part of murdering his brother. So, Reuben spoke up and he told his brothers to not kill Joseph, but instead to leave him in a pit so that he may save himself. After the brothers had stripped him of his belongings and thrown him into a pit, they sat down for lunch. At this time, a group of Ishmaelites wanders by and Judah turns to his brothers with the realization that if they kill Joseph they can’t make any money. “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?” (Genesis 37:26b) So, the brothers sell Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites, and the Ishmaelites sell him in Egypt to a man named Potiphar.
Joseph was blessed by the Lord, and He caused everything that Joseph did to succeed. Potiphar was an officer of the Pharaoh, and the captain of the guard in Egypt; and he saw that the Lord made everything Joseph did succeed and so Joseph became an overseer of the man’s house. After becoming an overseer in Potiphar’s house, the wife of Joseph’s master began to cast her eyes on Joseph and asked him to lie with her. Joseph refused saying, “[Potiphar] is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) Because he refused to sleep with her, one day she removed his garment begging him again to lie with her, and he left the house. Potiphar’s wife proceeded to claim that Joseph had tried to sleep with her and only fled the house because she screamed out in protest. After hearing this Potiphar had Joseph sent to jail. This is the second time, so far, that Joseph should have been killed, but was not.
After being sent to jail the guards take notice of Joseph and they grant him reign over the cells and their inmates. Years after this, two of the workers for Pharaoh, the cupbearer and the baker, are sent to the jail by Pharaoh. Each of them has a dream, which Joseph interprets for them.
The cupbearer told Joseph his dream. “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.” (Genesis 40:9b-11) Joseph’s interpretation of the dream is that on Pharaoh’s birthday, in three days, the cupbearer will be restored to his position with Pharaoh. Joseph also asked the cupbearer to remember him and to mention him to Pharaoh so that he may be released from prison.
Hearing that the cupbearer had dreamt a good prophecy, the baker shared his dream with Joseph. “I also had a dream; there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” (Genesis 40:16b-17) Joseph tells the baker the meaning of this dream is that in three days time, on Pharaoh’s birthday, the baker will be hanged by Pharaoh.
And, so, exactly what Joseph prophesied happens. The cupbearer returns to serving Pharaoh and the baker is hanged. But, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph and did not tell Pharaoh about him. It is not until many years later again when Pharaoh begins to have troubling dreams, that Joseph is remembered.
Pharaoh has two dreams. One in which seven plump cows begin to eat reeds by the Nile, and seven malnourished cows eat the other cows. The other in which seven perfect ears of grain grow, but are eaten by seven blighted ears of grain. Pharaoh searched through all of Egypt for magicians and wise men to interpret his dreams, but none could do so. Until the cupbearer told Pharaoh about the man in the jail who had interpreted his dream and the dream of the baker correctly. So, Pharaoh calls for Joseph and he is removed from the prison.
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream, telling him, “The dreams of the Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine.” (Genesis 41:25b-27) So, Joseph predicted seven years of plenty in the land of Egypt, and seven years of famine. And at this point he instructs Pharaoh how to handle the famine in order to provide for all his people. This struck me as appalling. There is no way I could walk up to a king or a ruler and tell him how to lead his country without being executed throughout most of history. But, instead of the expected outrage, Pharaoh takes Joseph, an ex-prisoner, and places him in charge of all of Egypt. Joseph is named by Pharaoh only below him in title.
I guess it’s just amazing to me all the things that Joseph is capable of doing in such a short period of time. Firstly, he’s not a very nice man. Second, he arrives in Egypt a slave, sold by his brothers, as a young adult. Then somehow, over the course of what I think is about ten years, he becomes ruler of Egypt, essentially. He is made lord over a man’s house and is accused of committing a crime. Sent to jail, but is not made to suffer, because he becomes equal with the guards. Is afforded the opportunity to speak with the Pharaoh and insults the man and his leadership, but is rewarded for it by becoming second to Pharaoh.
It’s fascinating, but what’s the point?