The story of Joseph is one of the most captivating and challenging narratives in all the Old Testament. Joseph is one of the few biblical characters about whom nothing negative is reported. From his teenage years in Genesis 37, until his death at 100 in Genesis 50, Joseph's exemplary life confronts us with encouragement and conviction. The life of Joseph is not only an excellent topic for every Christian to study, it is an excellent model for every believer to follow.
Consider Joseph's steadfast faith. We never read about Joseph complaining or wavering in his faith in any way--even though he was betrayed by his brothers, falsely accused of rape, cast into prison by his employer, and forgotten by those he helped. Unlike us, young Joseph didn't have the benefit of the completed Word of God or the constant indwelling of the Holy Spirit! He didn't even have the story of Joseph to encourage him! Would any of us have maintained an unwavering faith under such conditions? For teenagers as well as older believers, the life of Joseph is a life worthy of emulation.
The Providence of God
What was the secret of Joseph's unwavering faithfulness? It was his unquestioning understanding and acceptance of the providence of God. Joseph knew that "our disappointments are God's appointments." When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, he told them, "And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance" (Genesis 45:5-8). After his father Jacob died, Joseph again stated his lifelong conviction to his brothers, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). Joseph knew that everything that had happened to him, even all the terrible wrongs done to him, were within the sovereign plans and purposes of God for ultimate good. God was not the source of the evil perpetrated against him, but Joseph knew that God was in complete control and was working through the awful experiences and ungodly people to bring about His purposes in accordance with His providential design. "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Joseph believed the truth of Romans 8:28 more than we often do! If only we could trust God as Joseph did. Too often we say that we believe that God is in complete control of all our circumstances, but do we really believe it? If we really believed it, we would accept life as it comes to us without complaining. How steadfast is our faith and trust in the providence of God? Does it measure up to the faith of Joseph?
The "Proving Process"
The life of Joseph is also a great example of what the testing of faith is all about. All the unpleasant and unhappy experiences in Joseph's life were a test of Joseph's faith. Joseph was not "reaping what he had sown" from mistakes he had made, nor was he being disciplined for sins he had committed. No--Joseph's faith in God's word to him was being tested. Psalm 105:19 says, about Joseph, that "the word of the Lord tested him." The same Hebrew word which is translated as "tested" or "proved" is used in Psalm 12:6 and Psalm 66:10, where the testing process is likened to the refining or "proving" process of silver or gold. The "proving process" refines and tests the value and purity of the precious metal. (See also Judges 7:4.)
In Joseph's life the "proving process" took place over more than 20 years. Joseph had been given the word of the Lord when he was only a teenager. He realized that his dreams about the future had been communications from God--in fact, that's probably why he shared the dreams with his family (see Genesis 37:5-11). If Joseph was convinced that the dreams were sent from God Himself then it was his responsibility to share the dreams with his family, even though he probably suspected that the news would add fuel to the fires of his brothers' hostility. In any case, this word from the Lord tested Joseph for more than 20 long years filled with tragic betrayal, severe disappointments, and very little hope concerning the future. Joseph passed the tests--and the tests "proved" the value and purity of his faith.
Can you imagine the disappointment Joseph experienced when he was thrown into prison? When he was put in charge of Potiphar's household, and it seemed that there might be a little "daylight" ahead, his hopes were dashed by false accusations and imprisonment (Genesis 39:1-20). This test of faith must have been particularly painful for Joseph, who must have been anxiously scanning the horizon for some sign of how God would fulfill the dreams He had given. Joseph may even have worked out some scenarios in his mind--perhaps, he may have thought, if he continued to work hard God would arrange for him to gain his freedom from slavery and eventually become successful in Egypt, the greatest nation in the world at that time. When he became prosperous in Egyptian society he would return home for a visit, where his amazed and respectful family would have to acknowledge that the dreams had been from God! Both he and, more importantly, God would be vindicated! But this scenario was not to be--it was not God's plan! What a disappointment, and what a test of faith! Would we have passed the test?
Another great test of Joseph's faith came when the cupbearer finally remembered him and Joseph was called before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-36). Suppose we had been in Joseph's place, and we knew we could interpret Pharaoh's dreams? Would we have bargained for our freedom? Would we have taken credit for ourselves? Or would we have done as Joseph did--not even mentioning himself, but giving all the credit to God? Would we have been more concerned about the implications of the dreams and the preservation of life than about our own life and freedom? Joseph entrusted his life and future to God completely, and as a result he passed the test of faith with top grades. How is our "grade point average"?
As the word of the Lord tested Joseph, the word of the Lord tests us. Do we really believe that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him"? Do we really believe that God will guide us in the decisions of life, in accordance with His promise in Proverbs 3:5-6? We can be sure that our faith will be tested in these areas. Disappointment with difficult circumstances is not a sign that we're failing the test, but doubt and complaining are!
A Perfecting Process
The question is often asked, "If God is omniscient, and not only knows if we have faith, but also thestrength of our faith, why does He test our faith?" The Bible answers that question. In James 1:2-4 we read, "Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." God wants His children to be overcomers, strong and mature in their faith, people who can face a challenge and stand firm. The testing process accomplishes this. In addition, God allows various kinds of suffering to come our way in order to develop the qualities that are necessary for His servants: humility, obedience and an unselfish attitude. God wants to develop in us the servant attitude which we see so clearly and beautifully portrayed in the life of our Lord Jesus, who "learned obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).
1 Peter 1:7 gives us another purpose for testing and trials: "that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." Trials refine and purify our faith, and a purified faith can bring greater honor to our Lord! When we pass our test of faith, God is pleased and Jesus Christ is honored--just knowing this should motivate us to be more like Joseph! Knowing this should also motivate us to stop complaining and questioning God's ways.
A Picture to Appreciate
The life of Joseph is not only a God-given model for us to follow, but also a God-given picture of Christ for us to appreciate. The person and life of Joseph is an Old Testament picture or illustration or "type" of the Person and life of the Messiah to come. Although the New Testament never specifically refers to Joseph as a type of Christ, Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 seems to draw a parallel between Joseph and Jesus Christ. Stephen mentions the unfair treatment, persecution and betrayal by the unbelieving "brothers" followed by the vindication and exaltation by God of Joseph and Jesus Christ (see Acts 7:9-10 and 51-53).
The parallels between the life of Joseph and the life of Christ are so numerous that it's only logical to conclude that God intended us to see and appreciate the picture. Like Joseph, the Lord Jesus was the special object of His Father's love (see Matthew 3:17, John 3:35 and John 5:20). Like Joseph, He was sent by His Father to seek and ensure the welfare of his brethren, but (like Joseph) the Lord was hated and rejected by His own people (see John 1:11-12 and John 15:24-25). As Joseph's brothers especially hated his prophetic dreams, so the Jewish leaders hated the Lord's claims to be their Messiah and King (see Luke 19:14). And as Joseph's brothers plotted to kill him, so the Jewish people plotted against--and killed--their own Messiah (see Matthew 21:37-39, Matthew 26:3-4 and John 5:18). Furthermore, as the brothers sat down and callously ate a meal while Joseph was suffering, so the merciless Pharisees prepared to sit down and eat the Passover meal as the Lord was crucified (see John 18:28).
As Joseph's moral character was tested and proved by temptation and false accusation, so the moral perfections of Christ proved flawless as He was tested with temptation and false accusation (see Matthew 4, Luke 4, John 18:30, Luke 23:2-5, Mark 14:56-59 and Matthew 26:59-61).In addition, the word of the Lord in Old Testament prophecy tested the life of Jesus and proved his qualifications as the Messiah. As Joseph did not defend himself when he was falsely accused, so the Lord Jesus "did not open His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7) when He was falsely charged and put on trial (Matthew 27:12-14, Matthew 26:62-62, Mark 14:60-61, and Mark 15:4-5.) As God vindicated Joseph and raised him to a place of supremacy over all Egypt, so "God raised Jesus from the dead" (Colossians 2:12) and "exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow....and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11). As Joseph's brothers repented for their sin of rejecting and betraying Joseph, and acknowledged him as their superior and savior, in a coming day the Jewish people will repent for their sin of rejecting their true Messiah, Jesus, and acknowledge Him as their Lord and Savior (see Zechariah 12:10-14). And as Joseph graciously forgave his repentant brothers and reconciled them to himself, so the Lord Jesus will graciously forgive and reconcile the repentant and believing nation of Israel to Himself (see Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 11:15, 25-26.)
All of these parallels--and more-- between the life of Joseph and the life of Christ are worthy of study. There are too many to be only coincidental. The Lord Jesus surely included the story of Joseph in His bible study with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:27 says that "Beginning at [the writings of] Moses and all the Prophets, He explained what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Him." No wonder the disciples' hearts "burned within them" as Jesus opened up the Old Testament Scriptures to them (Luke 24:32)!
May the life of Joseph encourage us and convict us as we encounter the testings of our faith. Do we really believe the commands and promises in the Bible? We can be sure that we will be tested by the Word as Joseph was. May our faith, like Joseph's, "be proved genuine and result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed"