secrets of success [part 2]

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

secrets of success

I have only been married two-and-a-half years, but whenever Sarah and I have to spend a night apart it is a hard nights rest. I want to be with her. I do not like being alone. God has made people to need other people. People are designed for community, fellowship, and relationship with one another. I also have a God who desires to have communion, fellowship and relationship with His creation.

Joseph was the 11th of 12 brothers. He was his daddy’s favorite. A colorful coat was his award. He was hate by his brothers. They threw him into the pit until they could think of the cleaver idea of selling him into slavery like a cheap trinket. Jacob thought his son died by mauling. Instead, he was on his way to Egypt—a foreign country where he did not know the language, did not have any more clothes than the ones on his back, and at only 17 years old he had no idea how long he would be away from the family that disowned him. He was a stranger in a strange land with a strange new master that gave him commands and he has no choice but to obey. Joseph is alone. Have you ever felt alone?

YOU ARE NEVER ALONE [Genesis 39:1-6]

Joseph began working for Potiphar who was the right-hand man to Pharaoh of Egypt.[1] Once a country bumpkin is now has moved onto the block of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Joseph’s job is a servant. Not the greatest job, but he’s a faithful guy. He doesn’t complain to the other employees, he doesn’t waste time playing computer games, he doesn’t call in sick when he’s feeling fine, and he doesn’t steal from his boss. It doesn’t take long for him to get promoted as manager of Potiphar’s entire household. As the new executive assistant he has access to Potiphar’s keys and credit cards. The only item he was not delegated was deciding what’s for dinner. Potiphar kept that one! What is the secret to Joseph’s success? Good looks? No. Brilliance? No. Good work ethic? Nope. God? You got it!

Although God is silent and never speaks to Joseph like He did to his ancestors, He is making it clear that He rules over every event of Joseph’s life even the tough parts by being “with him” [vs.2].[2] It goes back to the covenant promises given to Abraham [cf. Genesis 12:1-3]. Those in Christ God also benefit from these covenantal promises.

First, God is always with you [vs.2-3a]. The promise of God’s presence is a precious promise from God. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…” [James 4:8] “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Hebrews 13:5b] Joseph may never get married, be a father, make a good living, but God is still with him. Joseph realized it and Potiphar realized it. God’s presence is the key to his success and the theme to his life. Do you realize God is with you? Do others see that God is with you?

Second, God prospers all those who follow Him [vs.3b-6a]. What does it mean that Joseph prospered (or become successful)? How can a slave prosper? Joseph did not choose became a servant in Potiphar’s house, God choose it for Joseph. Whatever Joseph touch turned to gold. Potiphar’s bank account, business, and family flourished. The success was not Joseph, but it was Joseph’s God. In God’s eyes the greatest success story in not making millions of dollars, curing cancer, or being the most popular philanthropist. Success in God’s eyes is a man who faithfully follows Him and doesn’t worry about what others think.

Third, God is always using you. Even when you think know one is watching. Integrity leads to opportunity. Especially, when you “stand out’ rather than “fit in.” Joseph was a rose among thorns. When other servants might have been fighting for attention or the praise of man, Joseph was patiently plodding along and faithfully serving his master and Master. God was using him. Potiphar recognized it was God that was causing Joseph to succeed.

You will experience times of difficulty. Like Joseph, have you ever felt as though you’re living in a foreign country? That you don’t quite “fit in”? The question is not “Why the difficult is happening?” or “Why I don’t fit in?” but “How am I to respond to this divinely ordained difficulty?” Those who prosper in life don’t do so because they have it all together. They prosper because the Lord is with them and He who gives them strength to endure. God is preparing Joseph through difficulty because he is going to need strength to endure, which leads us his big test.

STAND STRONG THROUGH THE TESTS [Genesis 39:7-9]

Joseph was handsome hunk. Like his mother Rachel [cf. 29:17], he was easy on the eyes. Potiphar’s wife was infatuated with him. So much so that she sought to seduce him. She was an Egyptian desperate housewife who was hot for the lawn boy [cf. Proverbs 7]. But, unlike his brother Judah, father Jacob, or great grandfather Abraham, Joseph remained a pure one-woman-man like his grandfather Isaac. With no one around, no accountability, no friends, no parents, Joseph rejected the woman’s relentless advances. He was so bold as to say to her that he would never sin against his master or his God with such an evil and dirty act. He rebuked her, as to say, “How dare you?”

How would you respond if you were in similar situation? What if know one found out? Imagine for a moment. What would be the consequences of Joseph’s future if he gave into the onslaught of sexual temptation? She could have become pregnant that would have been hard to hide. To cover-up he might have been as wickedly creative as David when he had an affair with Bathsheba. They could have been caught in the act and lose his life. Joseph is in a pickle. He cannot call his boss and claim sexual harassment on the owner’s wife. He cannot quit his job, as slave. He has no choice but to stay and stand strong.

How do I stand strong under pressures, in the heat of the moment? First, determine to trust God. God does not tempt, but He does allow you to be tempted. Know that you do not face temptations alone. God is with you always. Second, determine to remain pure [v.8a “…he refused”]. He didn’t negotiate or flirt with the edge. Joseph decided what to do in the heat of the moment. He realized that to give in would not only be sin against his boss, but an offense to God. Joseph protects his boss’s wife [“You are his wife”] and protects his purity and loyalty to God [“How could I do this great evil and sin against God?”]. May the story of Joseph come to our mind and be heeded it in the heat of the moment.

I remember being in high school art class with a beautiful girl. There were times when she sat at my table over a class period. She would ask me tempting questions about my faith and sexuality. I stood strong through the tests. It became so much an issue that I asked to have my class switched so that I would not have to face the temptation.

You see, the pressure to compromise never occurs quickly; it takes its jolly time to sway you to lower your standard. It is wise to have a proactive plan before the opportunity to compromise arises or you are bound to fail and fall into sin sooner than later.

PROACTIVELY GUARD YOUR HEART [Genesis 39:10-12]

Keeping guard of your heart is especially difficult when you see more than 3000 images each day. Our society glamorizes sex, but the consequences are often ignored. We are over exposure to sexual and immoral content. Most of us have a virtual Potiphar’s wife in our living rooms, laptops, and smart phones hounding our attentions and affects each day.

How much do you pay attention to the Viewer Discretion is Advised blurb before TV shows? Today’s teenager’s watch over 28 hours of TV per week (4hrs/day), and the main TV set in the home is turned on over 50 hours per week (7 hrs/day). The TV gets more focus than the family pet. By the time you are 70 years old you will have watched 10 uninterrupted years of TV. AND THAT’S JUST TV, it does not include your movies, iPod, Internet, phone, magazines, and other forms of communication you pour yourself into each day.

Joseph’s temptations wouldn’t leave; Potiphar’s wife hunted him down “day after day.” One particular day when Joseph was alone in the house Potiphar’s wife again tried to seduce him. Joseph made a profound decision that would have implication on the rest of his life, he RAN LIKE CRAZY out of there. However, the woman had is tunic in her hands while he ran off butt-naked. Obviously offended he turned her down, out of revenge she set him up for ruin.

She crafts a detailed story, has the evidence in her hands, and convicts Joseph of a crime he did not commit. I can only imagine Potiphar’s blood pressure rising, looking for the gun to kill the man he entrusted everything. It doesn’t matter if he’s only heard one side of the story and coming from his wife it is enough. Proverbs says, “The first to present his case seems right until the other evidence is weighed.” That’s why some who are guilty talk first trying to get their story out first to define the case before the truth can be made known. Potiphar should have questioned his wife more diligently. Potiphar plan is reactive, but Joseph plan was proactive.

What does a proactive plan look life for Joseph? First, never be alone [v.11 “none of the men of the house was there inside”] Why is it never good to be alone with someone of the opposite sex? No one knows what’s really happening, and even if nothing is happening the appearance of evil is evident. When you are with someone with the opposite sex whether married or single it is wise to be visible to other people. Go out in groups. Be accountable to someone of the same sex like a parent, pastor, or friend. No matter how old, how strong, or how committed you are to your spouse it is wise to never be alone with another person of the opposite sex unless you have a good plan to protect yourself.

Second, run like hell [v.12 “he left his garments…FLED…and went outside”]. Maintaining integrity may require you to “run away naked”. Run like hell, means you boogie so fast out of there because you know the devil has his trap set and you don’t dare take the bait. It is a good battle plan to rehearse Scripture, pray, look away, seek accountability, think about glorifying God, and buy computer software. However, these can often happen in the moment and be reactive. Plan on being proactive.

WAIT ON THE LORD [Genesis 39:13-23]

Joseph is put into jail on false rape charges. This is the second time he is thrown into the pit unfairly. Where’s the justice? Where’s the idea that if I love God everything will go my way? At times, to be a Christian is to get treated like Christ—injustice, false accusation, betrayal, and hardship. Joseph’s faith doesn’t skip a beat. He remains pure, full of integrity, and waits upon God to prove his innocence. God is still with him.

As a follower of Christ, others will try to bring you down [vs.13-14]. Joseph’s brother hated him, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him but didn’t succeed. When you live unapologetically for God others will try to take revenge out on you, try to falsely accuse, try to get you to compromise your faith.

Also, what may seem like a curse can actually turn outs to be a blessing [vs.15-20]. God is merciful. Joseph could have been killed by Potiphar, but was spared. Although everyone had abused and abandoned Joseph, God remained with him, blessed him, and caused him to prosper according to His covenant promises. Joseph served the prison warden with humble godliness and was promoted to key-keeper. Don’t be weakened by your situation. Don’t be deceived by the false accusations. Don’t be persuaded by your fears. Believe that the God who is with you will use this for your good and His glory.

Wait for God to move, but keep active [vs.21-23]. Are you willing to endure the accusation to wait for Gods guidance in your life?  You’ll always have occasions for waiting.[3] Your attitude matters while waiting.[4] And your activities matter while waiting.[5] Waiting is confident expectation on God’s promises. It is not twiddling thumbs for time to pass and hope things will work out themselves.

This episode in the life of Joseph is an interesting turn of perspective in the book of Genesis. Until this point in the book each generation from Adam to the flood, from Noah to Babel, and from Abraham to Judah has seemingly become increasingly more godless. The faithfulness of God has triumphed, but man’s faithfulness has depleted. In Joseph we see the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob finally passed on to the fourth generation. God says, “You’re mine. I’m with you. I’m not ignoring or rejecting you. You will be better because of this accusation against you. I am at work within you. I am not through preparing you yet.” [Is.55:8-9] If God is with us, even when we lose, we win.

Joseph is a great pre-incarnate picture of Jesus Christ.

Like Joseph, Jesus was sold out by His brothers and unjustly afflicted for the sake of His people.

Like Joseph, Jesus was successful in His mission because God was with Him.

Like Joseph, Jesus’ good deeds called attention to God.

Like Joseph, Jesus was given authority over everything because of His character.

Like Joseph, Jesus’ mere presence brings blessing wherever He goes.

Like Joseph, Jesus was tempted repeatedly to sin, but passed the test every time.

Like Joseph, Jesus was falsely accused and wrongly imprisoned but because of the steadfast love of the Lord, He was ultimately vindicated.

And Just like God was with Joseph, Jesus promises to be with His followers until the end of time.[6] The whole paradox of your faith is that no one is really alive until you’ve mastered the art of dying. Die to all your ambitions. Die to all your selfish perversions. Die to all your provisions of the flesh. And just ask the question: What would honor Christ? Faithfulness. Faithfulness is rewarded with God’s favor. Jesus himself illustrated this in the parable of the talents [Matthew 25]. Those who are faithful in little things are blessed with greater responsibilities.

On this side of earth, He does not promise riches, happiness, success, but if you treasure God more than anything or anyone else, you will be satisfied because you have the one thing that you could not get on your own. And He will never leave you. And He will never forsake you. He is with you always.


[1] Pharaoh is ruler of Egypt. He is the most powerful man in the world at his time. He is a guy who thinks he is god. Ever worked for a boss like that?

[2] The news that God was with Joseph is repeated eight times in chapter 39 [2, 3, 21, 23].

[3] Cf. Psalm 25:5, 21; 33:20; 145:14-16

[4] Cf. Psalm 25:3; 37:7; 39:7; 52:9

[5] Cf. Psalm 37:34; 69:3; 130:5; Lamentations 3:25

[6] Matthew 28:20, cf. Numbers 6:24-26; Genesis 28:13-15; 26:3

just your average Joe

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up in a family—wealthier or better known—than your own? Do you daydream about the day you break free and become noticed or distinguished? Do you feel like an average Joe or ordinary Jane? You are not alone. The majority of people and families you meet are just like you.

I grew up in what many would call a dysfunctional family. My teenage parents divorced before I could remember them together. I did not like my lot in life for the better part of my childhood. I would daydream about the day my mom and dad would get back together and our family would be normal, which did not happen. I wondered whether or not I was the cause of my parent’s divorce, which was unfair. And I wondered what it would be like to live in a normal family, but defining normal is impossible. Since those early days, I have learned to love my God-given family for reasons I will describe later.

I love the Bible because it is filled with examples of imperfect families just like mine that He uses for His purposes. From the beginning of the story of Joseph—which will carry us through the remainder of Genesis—we learn four truths that are common to human including you and me.

1. I do not choose my family [Genesis 37:1-4]

From the outside looking into Joseph’s home life you would think they were quite redneck. His father, Jacob, had thirteen children with four women, two were maidservants and two were wives. He loved his wife Rachel and hated her older sister Leah. Jacob also played favorites with his children loving his first son with Rachel, Joseph [cf. Gen 30:24-25], more than his other sons. Jacob did not hide his favoritism for Joseph. He adorned him like a king in an expensive coat of many colors. All who met Joseph knew he was his daddy’s favorite dressed up in his Hebrew bling from Burlington Coat Factory.

Jacob also favored hardworking Joseph by giving him authority over his older brothers and sent him out to the fields while his brothers worked to supervise and report back to their father.[1] The brothers view Joseph as a spoiled rotten tattletale, “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” [37:4] The brother’s anger sounds a lot like Cain’s boiling anger towards Abel’s sacrifice that God had favored [cf. Genesis 4].

Joseph is only seventeen. Most teenagers his age have issues with their parents and siblings. It is easy for us to wonder, “Why did God give me this family?” Maybe you’re a child of divorce, abuse, or neglect. Maybe conflict is all too common in your home and you can relate to the sibling rivalry, favoritism or ungodly habits of Joseph’s home. Remember you did not choose your family, but God chose your family for you. This can be a hard truth to swallow depending on the degree of difficulty you have with your family. As difficult as your family may be they are still and always will be your family.

It is interesting how important the family unit is to God. God uses the family analogy to describe Christ’s relationship with the church [Ephesians 5:22ff], the relationship of the Trinity with one another [i.e. Father and Son], and uses family to describe His relationship with those He adopted into His eternal family through faith [Romans 8:14-17]. God promises to create a people for Himself to use for His purposes. Joseph’s dysfunctional family was surviving only by the mercy of God, but He will use them for His divine purposes to shape the character of the youngest son, Joseph.

2. I am mostly responsible for my messes [Genesis 37:5-17]

Compounding matters for Joseph and his already ragged relationship with his brothers, God had given Joseph dreams in which his whole family was bowing down to him in homage. When the dreams should have been kept private he made them quite public. This did not help Joseph build a bridge of bonding with his perturbed older brothers. ”His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” [37:11] Jacob rebukes what he thinks is a ridiculous dream and didn’t do anything more than keeps the matters to himself. Then he sent Joseph out into the field to supervise his brother’s work [37:12-17].[2] The one quality character we see in Joseph that will come into play later in his life is his willingness to obey authority.

How should Joseph have responded to these dreams? Perhaps he should have taken them as a subtle warning about the place of pride in his life and began cultivating humility. Or maybe he should have taken the details about the future as an opportunity to wisely prepare for the leadership role that God was going to give him. Instead, he used the dreams as hot air to further inflate his already puffed-up opinion of himself. It’s a recipe for a messy situation.

As people we are also prone to take the good gifts of God—our positions, our possessions, our intelligence, our education, our sexuality, our ability to pray—and use them, not for the benefit of others and the glory of God, but only to make ourselves feel better. Think about it. What good gifts has God given you that you are tempted to use solely for yourself?[3]

3. Life is not always fair [Genesis 37:18-35]

The brothers grew jealous of Joseph and stripped him of his regal robe and tossed him into a waterless well. There they conspired whether or not they should kill him [cf. Genesis 4] or sell him into slavery. Rueben tries to reason with his brothers, when he should have stood up and said, “Listen, I know Joseph has been a pain in the keester, but we’re not going to do anything to harm him” Instead, Rueben along with Judah who led the brothers to spare Joseph’s life, but make some money selling him into slavery. ”So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels” [37:28].[4] Joseph was taken to Egypt.

The brothers mean-spirited prank was well planned, but they were missing one detail, how would they inform their dad what happened to his darling son? To cover up their sin the brothers slaughtered a goat and sprinkled its blood on Josephs coat. They took the blood soaked coat back to their father and they tricked the trickster [cf. 25:26ff] into believing their lie. Jacob mourned bitterly believing that his most beloved and irreplaceable son had been ripped apart by animals. The guilt of this prank would haunt the brothers the rest of their lives.

Last summer I took a hiking trip with my wife through Rocky Mountain national park. She was 5 months pregnant and thought that climbing a 6 mile hike up a mountain to over 14,000 feet elevation would be a good idea. Halfway through the climb I ended up carrying most of the backpack weight and coaching Sarah up the mountain. Needless to say we made up the mountain, but I wasn’t a happy camper. Life is like a hiking trip through the mountains. In life you have a number of peaks to climb. Some steep and some slick. Some reasonable and others seem ridiculous. Some fun and others seem unfair.

Joseph is experiencing a rocky road hiking through mountains [grand dream] and valleys [sold as slave], which seems to be out of his control.[5] I wonder what he is thinking as he’s being sold into slavery? Is he taking it in stride? Does he doubt God’s fairness? Is God even on his radar? Young Joseph’s may have been dealt an unfair set of cards. He’s been snookered and shackled. Life at times is unfair to our eyes, but God is not distant He is at work.

4. Sometimes I am blind to what God sees [Genesis 37:36]

Can you imagine what is going through Jacob’s mind as he is being carted of to Egypt as a slave? What would you be thinking? “Why me God? This is so unfair. Why did I have to be born into my family? I am only a runt. What about that dream you gave me? Like that will ever happen. Now nobody will ever notice me.”

God seems to be completely absent from the brains of the brothers. However this by no means indicates that God is absent or not actively involved in what is happening. God, in fact, is superintending everything that is happening in Joseph’s life as He does with you too.

In the last verse we have an amazing setup to Joseph’s future, ”Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.” [37:36] What this verse hinting at after an unfair handling of Joseph is that his dream does have some significance. In spite of the persecution and the deception, God’s program will continue. God is sovereign! When your life seems out of control God is still in control. You might be blind to the next step, but God sees the course of your path.

God truly does cause “all things”—including those seemingly random things like sins against you and even your own sins—“to work together for good” [Romans 8:28]. If you really believe that, then you won’t feel the need to throw others into the pit when they hurt you—and you will also have hope in the midst of guilt and regret over your own personal sins.

Maybe you weren’t the faithful parents you should have been. Maybe you wasted your youth in self-centered living not content to be just an average Joe. Maybe you didn’t speak up for Jesus when you should have. If you are God’s child, you need to know: God works all things—even your failures—for the good of His people. He will work something beautiful out of the mess that you have made.God is big enough to forgive your sins through Jesus Christ [1 John1:8-10]. He is big enough to help you overcome your sins [1 Corinthians 10:13]. And He is even big enough to use your sins as part of His bigger plan. Even though you may have meant it for evil, God will work it for good! That is God’s sovereignty at work!

All these facts combine to make the account of this unusual family not a story of godly heritage so much as a story of mercy! Thank God that, in His Son, He is just as merciful to irresponsible, stumbling sinners today! God uses imperfect nobodies as examples to everybody that reflect the character of the Perfect Somebody He has chosen.

It was my normal dysfunctional American family that I thought was unfair as a child that drew me to Christ as a teenager, that taught me about my unreasonable expectations for my parents, that led to reconcile with my mother as a college student, and that has given me motivation to lead my own family to follow Jesus as an adult. I am so grateful for the family that God has chosen for me. God has given me many opportunities to minister to countless others who are struggling with understanding God’s purposes and goodness. I’ve encouraged them to look to Jesus who takes average Joe’s and invites them to a lifelong relationship as children of God.


[1] Note: this will not be the first time Joseph is elevated to a position of authority. A theme this narrative is how God empowers people despite the circumstances. The lesson is timeless: God will choose a faithful, righteous person for a position of leadership in spite of the jealousy of others.

[2] The fields are about 64 miles away. This is an early indicator that famine was coming since they were going so far away to find ground for gazing. The ground is also surprisingly in Schechem where two brothers shed blood [cf. 34:25-31].

[3] Now difficulty in our life can happen even when we are living in humility and integrity. Jesus does promise that living for Christ can be followed by intense hardship and suffering [2 Corinthians 1:3-7].

[4] An amazing archeological fact that corresponds to the reliability of the Bible is that 20 shekels [est. $2000] was the going rate for slaves during this time period.

[5] The choices Joseph makes at this period of his life are critical and life altering. Joseph is only seventeen, but in the next 10 years he will make the biggest decisions of his life. What are some decisions you make between the ages of 15-30 years old? You solidify personal habits, moral habits, and spiritual habits. You turn the pages to monumental chapters in your life such as: graduation from high school and college, make career choices, may enter marriage and have children. Joseph is entering the period of his life where he will make some of the most important decisions of his life.