We are people who collect. Some collect memorabilia. As a kid I collected thousands of sports cards and now I have boxes in storage gaining dust and I hope values. Some people collect knick-knacks. I’ve seen curio cabinets chalked full of tiny elephants, Boyd’s Bears, teacups, old books, even spoons or thimbles. Others collect compliments, cash, or cachet. While others collect power, prestige, or popularity. In all our collecting we feel like have accumulated success, status, or blessings.
So is there a secret to success? Success or blessing is not simply measured by money or stuff. Much of what you think is blessings can actually be curses. Too much a good thing left unchecked can be a really bad thing. Mass amounts of money can lead to greed. The fight for fame and fortune can leave you bruised and battered by the never-ending saga of pleasing people. Piles of possessions can lead to obsessions. Just watch an episode of Hoarders and you will see how controlling stuff can be. According to the Bible success’ source is in the immeasurable riches of God’s presence and wisdom.
KEY TO SUCCESS #1: GOD’S PRESENCE [Genesis 39]
What seemed like a series of unfortunate events for Joseph actually is a series of divine events preparing him for the next level of spiritual success. Joseph is not wasting away the best years of his life imprisoned in Egypt. God is at work. The unseen hand of God’s providence is always at work. Even when Joseph is far away from his home, betrayed by his brothers, a slave in a strange land, convicted of a crime he never committed, and ended up in prison: still the Lord was with him. “His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.” Psalm 105:18-19
There is no question that one of the main themes of Joseph’s life is the presence of God. In fact, God’s presence is repeated eight times in chapter 39 alone:
- “the Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man” (39:2)
- “the Lord was with him” (39:3)
- “the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand” (39:3)
- “the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house on account of Joseph” (39:5)
- “the Lord’s blessing was upon all that he owned” (39:5)
- “the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him” (39:21)
- “the Lord was with him” (39:23)
- “whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper” (39:23).
It should be noted, all of Joseph’s prosperity is funneled into the hands of other people. Joseph’s success made Potiphar wealthy [39:5], saved Pharaoh’s kingdom [Ch.41], and rescued Joseph’s family through famine [Ch.42ff]. God blessed Joseph so that he could be a blessing to others. Furthermore, God prospered Joseph so that he might have a testimony for the Lord in high places. Because of his success as a manager, Joseph was able to influence Potiphar, the chief jailer, and eventually Pharaoh himself for the Lord!
Joseph is a preincarnate picture of Jesus who was also unfairly convicted of a crime He did not commit [cf. Isaiah 52:13-53:12]. Like Joseph, He did not protest or complain, but lovingly sacrificed His life for all taking upon Himself the wrath of God and the penalty for your sin. And through it all, God was with Him.
You might think, “I’m certainly no Joseph.” He served in high places, worked among the social elite, impacted nations and governments. For many, the blessings of God do not come in this world. You might feel like God is distant or has forgotten you. I hope you see from the life of Joseph that even in the meekest of situations God is present.
KEY TO SUCCESS #2: GOD’S WORKMANSHIP [Genesis 40]
God is at work. God is at with in and through Joseph. In prison he meets two interesting inmates—a cupbearer and chief baker. The cupbearer must have mixed a bad drink and the chief baker must have made some low-carb sawdust flavored bran muffins to end up in the can. Both work for Pharaoh—the most powerful man on the face of the earth. He used his authority to throw two men in prison that so happen to be in the same prison as Joseph and now placed under his authority. This is not random chance, luck or happenstance. The man with a god-complex seen as a mediator to the gods is a pawn in the hands of the One True God who is at work in the subtle details.
God gave Joseph a gift to interpret dreams. His brothers called Joseph the “master of the dreams” [37:18]. In Genesis 40, God gave a dream to his two cellmates that they could not interpret. So they asked Joseph. God helped Joseph to interpret their dreams. There was good news and bad news. Good news—for the cupbearer—meant he would live and return to his previous post in honor. Bad news—for the baker—meant his head would hang in a noose from a tree. Three days later on Pharaoh’s birthday Joseph’s interpretation of the dream came to pass just as God had revealed.
Joseph could have buried his gift in the ground and kept the meaning of the dreams to himself. He could have thought, “I’m not going to going to help these two numbskulls. Nobody appreciates me around here, anyway. Potiphar wouldn’t listen to me. His wife set me up. These Egyptians are all cut from the same cloth. Why should I go out of my way to help these two criminals?”
Perhaps this is precisely where you are in your church, small group, career or family—disillusioned, discouraged, or annoyed. You have decided that you will no longer serve on the committee, no longer speak up on that issue, no longer be a member of the team, or no longer teach the class. If that describes you, take a long look at Joseph. Lying in that jailhouse he had every excuse in the world just to roll over and play spiritually dead. He had every excuse to hoard his gift. But he didn’t. Instead, he stayed committed to the Lord; he used his gift; and eventually God used that gift to get him into the royal palace of Pharaoh! God works through people—like you. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” [Ephesians 2:10].
What could God do through you if you would only serve him without losing heart? What would you have done if you were in Joseph’s chains? Unfortunately, the immediate result of Joseph’s interpretation got the chief cupbearer restored, but left Joseph in the joint. The cupbearer went back to his work forgot about Joseph even though he had specifically requested that he not be forgotten. But, God did not forget about Joseph nor leave him abandoned in prison. God is at work in and through Joseph to accomplish His purposes. With each “random” incident and the forgetfulness of humans, it is wise to remember with God nothing is accidental or purposeless.
KEY TO SUCCESS #3: GOD’S WISDOM [Genesis 41]
Two years pass and Joseph is still in chains forgotten by his freed inmate. That was until God gave Pharaoh troubling dreams. He was frustrated and tired because he could not understand their meaning. So he called all his pagan magicians and interpreters, but they could not understand the dream. Only God knew the meaning. It was then that God enabled the chief cupbearer to remember how Joseph had correctly interpreted his dream and the dream of the now deceased baker in prison.
Joseph was immediately summoned from his cell. He was bathed, shaved, and clothed in a matter fit to meet the king. Standing before the Pharaoh, Joseph in astounding humility gave all credit to God for his gift, “It is not in me; God.” [41:16]. Joseph told the king that he could not interpret the dream, but that God could and would through him. He then interpreted the dream according to God’s wisdom. In the dream the king would soon have seven years of fruitfulness in the fields, but would be followed by seven years of severe famine. Indeed, God was showing mercy to Pharaoh through Joseph. It was a divine dream with a divine plan to save a region in the years of severe famine.
What an amazing plan. Where did Joseph get his agricultural wisdom? How did he acquire his engineering genius? Did he learn from his father? Or take classes at the local technical college? Did he pick it up in the midst of all his work as a slave? The Bible does not say. What we are sure of is that Joseph relies heavily upon God. He realized that true wisdom comes from above, “With God are wisdom and might; He has counsel and understanding.” [Job 12:13] God blessed Joseph with farming and engineering wisdom to the rescue of many people [41:54].
God is wise. He knows all things. He shares that wisdom with His people to help them and show them His mercy and grace. But this begs a question. How do I apply the wisdom of God to my life like Joseph?
First it is good for you to excel in all kinds of wisdom—agriculture, medicine, science, history, arts—and use that wisdom to bless other, but give glory to God who has given you the wisdom. Joseph’s life teaches you to use your career, role, skills, and gifts to serve the God by serving others.
Second, there is another kind of wisdom that may be used to rescue the perishing, eternally. Paul calls it “the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” It is a wisdom found only in “the sacred writings” of Scripture [2 Timothy 3:15]. Thus, learning the message of the Scripture—the gospel—and expressing the ability and willingness to share the good news of Jesus clearly, fully, and accurately through your words and actions. Speaking and living out the gospel is sharing the wisdom of God with others. Who knows what position God may put you in, even this week, to rescue someone from spiritual famine! Will you have acquired the wisdom from God to do so?
Who’s the Main Character in this Story?
It is clear the main character in Genesis 39-41—though not explicitly seen—is God. Joseph’s God was in fact supreme because He alone could give dreams, He alone could interpret those dreams, and He alone held the future that He promised could not be altered by anyone, including the powerful Pharaoh. God sent Joseph to Egypt as a sort of missionary to bless that nation according to His covenant promise to bless the nations of the earth through His people whom He blessed [cf. Genesis 12:1-3]. Also setting the stage for God to use another man [Moses] to lead God’s children from Egypt to the Promised Land.
God blessed God with a wife and two sons. In honor of his God and a fitting conclusion to this narrative Joseph give beautiful and thoughtful names to his two sons, “Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” [41:50-52]
It is good to acknowledge sooner than later that success in this life and eternity is found in the presence, workmanship, and wisdom of God. He rules. He is supreme. He is sovereign over all nations and the events of your daily life. He uses events big and small, miraculous and ordinary, easy and hard to accomplish His purposes in the earth in you and through you.
God is a collector too. He has a collection of stars, angels, and created things. He desires to collect the praises of all people and all nations. One day you will all stand before the throne of God with a collection of people from ever tongue, tribe and people group, who will all be bowing their knees and singing praises to the God who is all in all and over all. Success that last has roots in God. All other success is fleeting.
 Politically, the Egyptian empire was the most powerful on earth for an amazing 1300 years, twice as long as the famed Greek and Roman empires. Geographically, Egypt was a long and narrow country of about 13,000 square miles isolated by the surrounding deserts, mountains, sea, and valley. Theologically, Egypt was ruled by a succession of mighty Pharaohs who were worshiped as a sort of mediator god who connected life on the earth to life in the spirit realm and alone walked between the two worlds. As deity, the Pharaohs had their pyramids built to ensure their safe passage from this world to the next, and viewed the pyramid as a sort of ladder transporting their soul into the next world. Simply, there was no nation on earth more powerful than Egypt, and there was no man in Egypt more powerful than the Pharaoh whose will was supreme.
 According to the dream, the famine would affect both the farm fields [grains] and ranches [livestock] in Egypt. A seven year famine would be devastating for Egypt and surrounding countries that relied upon them as the breadbasket of the world.