Joseph did right by the Lord throughout his life. Due to his faithfulness, God delivered him from the bleakest circumstances and put him in a position of great influence.
In Chapter 39, Joseph becomes overseer of Potiphar the Egyptian’s house. He’s eventually sent to prison because of false accusations made by Potiphar’s promiscuous wife. But the Lord continues to bless Joseph, who becomes overseer of the prison.
Eventually, Joseph’s gift for interpreting dreams under the guidance of the Spirit allows him to help out Pharaoh in chapter 41. This results in Joseph becoming the chief governor over all the land, second only to Pharaoh.
In this new responsibility, Joseph works to prepare the country against the seven years of famine God will eventually send. This position will later allow Joseph to help out (and be reunited with) his family.
To fully understand why God blessed Joseph like he did, we can contrast his character and behavior with that of his older brother, Judah. Interestingly, the account of Joseph’s travails and triumphs in Egypt is preceded by some of the life of Judah in Chapter 38. Judah is portrayed as the complete opposite to Joseph is nearly every major way.
This is what we learn.
Joseph Recognized the Hand of God
First, a quick recap of Judah’s story:
Judah has three sons with a Canaanite woman. He gives the eldest son a wife named Tamar. The son is wicked so God slays him. Judah tells the second son to marry Tamar and “raise up seed unto thy brother” (Genesis 38:8). But he doesn’t want to have children that he knows will belong to his deceased brother, so he “spilled it on the ground (Genesis 38: 9, notice that the Lord isn’t angered by this act in and of itself, but because he refuses to raise children for his dead brother).
God kills him, too. Since the third son is still young, Judah tells Tamar to go live in her father’s house as a widow until the boy is grown. Then, they’ll get married.
However, Judah never intends to fulfill this promise. He sends her away (forever, in his mind) “lest peradventure [his third son] die also, as his brethren did” (Genesis 38:11).
Now, what reason does Judah have to believe that his youngest son will also die? The above wording leads us to believe that Judah thought his sons’ deaths were somehow related to Tamar. He believed the third son would also die if he married his brothers’ widow.
Of course, the scripture makes it very clear that God slays these men because of their own wickedness. But Judah doesn’t see that. His eyes are blinded to God’s ways and will. He attributes the happenings in his life to temporal causes. Naturally, this leads Judah to make unwise decisions.
Contrast this with Joseph. A single phrase he utters in Pharaoh’s court shows just how different he is from his brother.
When Pharaoh tells Joseph he’s heard of his knack for interpreting dreams, Joseph very quickly states “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Genesis 41: 16).
Joseph could have easily told himself and others that it was his own intellect or wisdom that allowed him to interpret dreams correctly. Instead, he readily recognizes the Lord’s power when he sees it.
By recognizing God’s hand in our own lives, we can both express our gratitude for His blessings and correct our actions when we incur His displeasure.
Joseph Kept his Promises
Joseph is seen as a great commodity by all his “employers” in Egypt. He’s loyal, hardworking, honest. We can assume that any time he commits himself to doing something, he does it.
Judah, on the other hand, doesn’t give much attention to his word. As we saw above, he sends Tamar away. She has the expectation of eventually marrying Shelah, Judah’s youngest son. But Judah never has any intention of honoring this promise.
Once Tamar realizes she’s been duped, she takes matters into her own hands. She puts on a veil, pretends to be a harlot, and goes where she knows Judah will be to get him to lie with and impregnate her (the fact that she was so sure just standing in Judah’s path would be enough to get him into bed says a lot about his character).
Once the truth is out that the twins Tamar is expecting belong to her father-in-law, Judah accepts he was more wrong than she (see Genesis 38: 26).
As we learned in Genesis 34, failure to act decisively and righteously when in a leadership position (parents, ministers, teachers, etc.) opens up the door for your flock to try to solve problems in their own (sinful) way. If we fail to keep our promises, we have no right to condemn when our failure causes others to sin. In such cases, the Lord holds us partly responsible for those actions.
Joseph Did What He Was Supposed to When No One Was Looking
Virtue is determined by what you do when you think no one is looking. Joseph is truly virtuous. Just think about how he continually rejects the advances of Potiphar’s wife (although he could have protected his reputation a bit better by trying to never be alone in a house where he knew there was a woman trying to seduce him).
Look at how scripture describes the trust Joseph’s masters have in him.
6 And he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.
(Genesis 39: 6, text bolded for emphasis)
With the Keeper of the Prison:
23 The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper.
(Genesis 39: 23, text bolded for emphasis)
55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.
(Genesis 41: 55, text bolded for emphasis)
Each case is the same. Joseph’s masters trust in him to the point that they can take an entirely hands-off approach in their job. Potiphar doesn’t put any thought into what’s going on in his house. He knows Joseph’s taking care of it. Same with the prison keeper. And when the people come to Pharaoh for help, he says “go to Joseph.” He knows Joseph will do a fantastic job.
Judah, on the other hand, is up-to-no-good when no one is looking. And he tries to hide it. When going to shear sheep, he comes across a harlot and decides to go to bed with her. Later, he sends the payment of a goat with his friend to avoid the possibility of being caught paying for a prostitute (see Genesis 38: 20).
When they don’t find the harlot, Judah says “Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her” (Genesis 38: 23).
Judah knows he did wrong. And he doesn’t want word of his indiscretion to get out.
We need to be like Joseph, not Judah. We should live virtuously even when we think no one is watching (remember that God is always watching).
In our work and in our ministry, the people above us should trust that we’re getting the job done right without supervision. When we get to that point, that’s when huge opportunities like the ones Joseph received will come knocking on our door.
Joseph Formed a Gospel-Centered Family
Judah starts of wrong by marrying a Canaanite woman. With so many options available to him, he chooses someone who probably doesn’t share his beliefs. We can assume that (along with his own bad example) is partly why his sons go astray.
(See Genesis 6 on why the Lord desires us to marry someone of the faith.)
Now, Joseph marries an Egyptian woman, Asenath (Genesis 41: 45). But his case is different. His wife is given to him by Pharaoh as part of his new position. In a sense, he’s obliged to marry Asenath.
Nevertheless, Joseph remains dedicated to the Lord. His two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, grow up in the faith and are later blessed by Jacob (Genesis 48) to become tribes of Israel.
Joseph does it right. Remember that no success can compensate for our failure in the home. Joseph succeeds where it most counts and the Lord blesses him abundantly for it.
The lives of Judah and Joseph are polar opposites. God blesses us with both accounts so that we can learn what to do and what not to do. From Joseph, we learn that if we want to prosper, we must make good on our promises, recognize God’s hand in our lives, fulfill our duties to the utmost without having to be micromanaged, and build a Gospel-centered family.
When we do so, we’ll be amazed at the abundant prosperity the Lord will pour out upon us.
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