We will continue our trip through Jesus’ Bible by taking a rather high-level look at the story of Joseph. The parts of his life story that we will be covering are contained in the book of Genesis chapters 37 and 39-41. I know that is a lot to read, but familiarity with the story helps as we proceed.
As the story begins, we have the set-up for all the trouble that follows. Joseph, the son of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel, is clearly and publicly Jacob’s favorite son. The problems begin because Joseph came to realize that he was his father’s favorite. He would tell tales about his brothers and then there were the nighttime dreams about how one day all of his brothers would bow down to him. Unsurprisingly, Joseph was very eager to share those dreams. I think we can reasonably conclude that Joseph thought just a little too highly of himself.
Eventually, the brothers reach a breaking point. They begin to make plans for how to deal with their brother Joseph. We might think of this as the brothers’ plan for dealing with Joseph. However, what happens next is clearly God’s plan. God has an important future job for Joseph for which he is not ready. Joseph needs to learn a bit of humility before he is ready to be the second-in-command of one of the most powerful nations of his day.
The first step in Joseph’s rehabilitation is slavery in the house of Potifar. The beginning 3 verses of chapter 39 tell us a little about how Joseph is responding to treatment. God was with Joseph and caused “all that he did to succeed in his hand”. The implication in the text is that Joseph’s hands are doing the service and God is blessing the effort. God needed a humbler Joseph so he needed to be taken down another step.
Joseph was falsely accused by Potifar’s wife and ended up in prison. Once again, Joseph found success even there, but a close reading does not mention Joseph’s hands. The text in verse 39:23 states that Joseph was put in charge simply because it was obvious that God was with him. Because God was with him, he succeeded.
What do we learn from this? Where God has slated you for success, there are two possible paths along which you can tread. You can assume a mindset which says it is the hand of man that gains success with the apparent support and help of God. Or else, you can see the hand of God as the source of your success with human effort serving as a mere vehicle through which the divine blessing is channeled.
The key to success in this world is to make room for God’s blessing in your life. The less full of yourself you are, the more room you leave to be filled by God’s presence and the great blessings that come with it. Where an enlarged ego fills your entire being, there’s no room left for God.
When Joseph became a prisoner, he was utterly broken. This further diminishing of himself paved the way for a more complete Godly occupation of his being. Now his success was no longer limited to his own hands; it arrived from a source completely over his head.
We should learn this lesson from Joseph — we can diminish our own ego (the easy way) or let God do it for us (maybe not so easy).
Frank Fenton is a lifelong student of the Word of God. He attends the Church of the Messiah in Xenia where he shares teaching duties for the weekly Bible study class, as well as contributing to the congregational teaching.