In another time and another place there lived a man of God named Jacob and his twelve sons. If they were alive today, we would say they were extremely dysfunctional. It began when Jacob was born. His twin, Esau came out first, however, through deceit instigated by Jacob’s mother, Jacob received the blessing meant for the firstborn. As you can imagine, when Esau learned of the deceit, he flew into a rage and threatened to kill his brother. You see, they weren’t much different then than we are today. So Jacob was forced to leave his father’s household, land, and possessions and make it out on his own.
Jacob found a beautiful young maiden named Rachel and agreed to work seven years for her father, Laban, for her hand in marriage. Jacob dreamed about Rachel at night and longed for her more than he had ever thought possible. He loved and wanted her so much and it seemed the seven years would never be over. When his end of the bargain was fulfilled, he prepared for the wedding. Rachel was also excited for she felt the same type of love for Jacob. However, Laban had other plans. The night the marriage was to be consummated, he locked Rachel up in her room and sent Leah, her older sister to Jacob. He adorned her in a richly wedding costume, head covered so that Jacob would never know until it was too late. When Jacob discovered the treachery, he wailed and moaned in despair. How could he live out his life with a woman he did not love. He didn’t want to hurt Leah, but he worked hard to get Rachel, his only love. She had won him, heart and soul, and he could never belong to another.
His heart ached inside with love for her. He’d do anything. Rachel hated what her father had done. She had been afraid there would be no hope of ever having her love at her side. Then Jacob came up with a plan. He would work seven more years for Rachel. Laban agreed. Fourteen long years. Nothing could take his love for her away. Not even the birth of his sons by Leah could bring the same sparkle in his eye, the smile on his lips, or the love in his heart.
He was overjoyed when Rachel was finally his own. She was so beautiful, so soft and warm. Her eyes danced like the stars and her voice was like a joyous melody filling him with gladness. However, having now two sisters in the same household married to the same man didn’t exactly bring harmony to his life.
The sisters were very jealous of each other. Leah was envious of Rachel because Jacob loved her, and no matter how hard she tried, or many sons she gave him, she could not win his love. On the other hand, Rachel was barren and envied the sons Leah gave to Jacob. In that time and place, bearing a son was a woman’s highest calling in life so that the family name could be carried on from generation to generation.
Rachel prayed daily that God would open her womb and allow her to bear a son for Jacob. It just didn’t seem fair to her that her father would deny her and Jacob their love for so many years, and now, when they were finally together, she still had to suffer because she was barren. Many years passed, and finally God heard Rachel’s prayer. She bore Jacob a son, Joseph, and later bore another son, Benjamin. Tragically, she died giving birth to Benjamin.
The contention between Leah and Rachel was passed on to their sons. The jealousy and hatred was fueled by Jacob’s obvious favoritism toward Joseph. Joseph was born to him in his old age, so he naturally doted on him. He made Joseph an ornamental coat as a token of his love and favor. When the brothers saw this coat, they were enraged. To make matters worse, Joseph had two dreams that he couldn’t just keep to himself. He told his brothers that in the dreams, they were bowing down to him. This was just too much.
One day while tending their father’s sheep, they saw Joseph coming in the distance. They conspired to kill him on the spot and dip his “silly” coat in blood and rip it to shreds so that it would look like an animal had devoured him. Reuben, a more sympathetic soul, suggested they put him in an old empty well instead. He thought he would rescue him later and take him back to their father. Joseph pleaded for his life, but the brothers paid no heed.
Later, however, when Reuben went to get him out, Joseph was already gone. The others had sold him to a caravan of men on their way to Egypt. They took his coat and put blood on it and tore it. They took it to Jacob and said they found it in a field on their way back home. Jacob was convinced his son had been devoured by wild animals and mourned the loss of his beloved child.
On the long journey to Egypt, tied up like the slave he now was, Joseph fought back the hot tears and sobs that threatened to rack his body. Nothing in his seventeen years prepared him for this. He overheard his brothers schemes to deceive his father. His thoughts went to his dad. He wondered what he would do when he was told. Would he ever get over the believed “death” of his son. It wasn’t that long ago that Rachel, his own mother and his dad’s beloved wife died. At least his father still had Benjamin.
How he missed his dad, his mom, his brother, even the brothers that had done this to him. What would become of him now? He would never see his family again. He would never know freedom again. He wondered how his brothers could do this to him. What did he do to deserve such treatment? And those dreams—”yeah, right!” he thought. “My brothers bowing down to a slave. What a fool I turned out to be. They are certainly laughing at me now.”
At times, fear gripped his heart. He couldn’t help but wonder where he was going to end up, and how he would be treated. He even questioned if the God of his fathers would be with him, or if he had deserted him, too. So many questions, perhaps never to be answered. Alone in the night, he couldn’t stop the flow of tears. His heart ached for his family. Even the precious coat his dad had made him was gone. He had nothing left.
When the caravan arrived in Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh. Joseph believed he had to accept this unexpected turn of events and make the best of it he could. He quickly received favor in Potiphar’s eyes. Everything he took charge of for Potiphar prospered. Because Joseph did so well, Potiphar put him in charge of his entire household.
As Joseph matured, he grew strong and handsome. It wasn’t long before Potiphar’s wife began to notice him. She had long since lost any desire for her husband, but now she found this young man very appealing. She put it in her mind that she had to have him. Every day she would elicit Joseph’s attention. She would wear her sexiest clothes, and when that didn’t work, she brazenly invited him to her bed. Each time Joseph refused explaining that Potiphar had been good to him and had given him charge of his entire household, with the exception of his wife. He could not betray his master.
One day, when all the other servants were out of the house, she tried again to seduce him. She threw off her clothes and grabbed his cloak to pull him to her bed. Joseph was stunned and embarrassed. This was his master’s wife. He could be killed if caught here with her. He did the only thing he could think of—he ran leaving his cloak in her hands.
Stung by so blatant a rejection, she wildly waved his cloak before the servants and said Joseph had attempted to seduce her. When Potiphar came home, she told him the lie. Potiphar was dumbstruck. He really liked and trusted Joseph. It was difficult to believe he could or would do such a thing. He had never seen a more loyal slave before. Joseph was different than anyone else he had ever known. And God was certainly with him.
But he was trapped. He couldn’t lose face and take the side of a slave over that of his wife—and certainly she wouldn’t lie about something like this. And she had Joseph’s cloak. Then, as he let what she was saying sink in, his anger began to burn inside. He didn’t like being made a fool of. He had Joseph put in Pharaoh’s prison.
Joseph couldn’t believe what was happening to him now. It was bad enough being a slave, but now a prisoner. Where was God anyway? What good did it do him to keep believing, to keep praying to a God who had surely abandoned him long ago. Already the thoughts of his father and brothers were like a foggy dream. It was too painful to remember what life had once been like. The memories and feelings were tucked away, out of sight, out of reach so they could no longer haunt him. He never heard anyone speak his native tongue, so it almost seemed as though he had always lived here in Egypt as a slave, and now—a prisoner. In prison, Joseph again did the best he could with the circumstances life threw him. He found favor with the warden and was placed in charge of all that was done in the prison. Again, God gave him success in whatever he did.
When Joseph was 28 years old, two of Pharaoh’s servants, his baker and cup bearer, were put in the prison with him. They each had a dream and Joseph interpreted their dreams for them. Joseph’s interpretations both proved true—the baker was released then beheaded, and the cup bearer was released and restored to his position. The cup bearer promised to mention Joseph to Pharaoh. As time passed, Joseph realized he had again been forgotten. In hopeless despair, he cried out to God, but it felt like his prayers clung to the cold, damp walls around him— a prisoner just as he was.
Two years had passed since the cup bearer made his promise.
Pharaoh had a dream that no one in his kingdom could interpret and then
the cup bearer remembered the man who had interpreted his own dream and
the baker’s correctly.
Pharaoh was impressed with this man. He sensed God was with him and knew there was not a wiser man in his kingdom to oversee the work that was before them. He made Joseph governor of the land, placing him in charge of everyone in his palace and kingdom and gave him a wife. Everyone would be subject to Joseph except Pharaoh. Joseph began the task of harvesting and storing up the surplus grain for the coming seven-year famine. During this time, Joseph had a son and named him Manasseh, because he said God had made him forget his troubles and his father’s household.
When the seven years of good harvests came to an end and the people of Egypt were running out of food, they began coming to Joseph and purchasing the grain from his storehouses. Other countries around also heard word of food in Egypt and brought their possessions to Joseph in order to purchase the grain. Joseph turned all the profits over to Pharaoh. When people ran out of possessions, they gave their land to Joseph for food. Pharaoh owned all the land, except that of the priests, when the famine was over.
In Canaan, the famine had also hit hard. Jacob summoned his sons and sent all but Benjamin to Egypt to purchase the grain he had heard about. Benjamin was all he had left of his beloved Rachel, and he couldn’t bear to let anything happen to him so he wouldn’t let him go.
When the brothers reached Egypt, they were escorted to the governor. They bowed their faces to the ground. They did not recognize Joseph, but he recognized them at once and began to accuse them of coming to spy on Pharaoh. He asked questions about any other relatives so he could learn of his father and younger brother. He asked through an interpreter so they would not suspect his identity.
They were afraid of this man. He demanded they prove their intentions by leaving one brother in an Egyptian prison while they went and brought Benjamin to him. The brothers, not knowing Joseph could understand, spoke of what they had done to their brother, Joseph, and how God was now making them pay for their sin.
Memories flooded Joseph’s mind as he listened. For a fleeting moment he was seventeen again—he could feel his father’s big arms around him, hear his rough, but loving voice. He could smell him, see him, feel him. He could hear his brothers scorning him, and felt again the terror of their plot to end his life. Tears fell, and he turned quickly toward the wall until he could compose himself.
Joseph had their packs filled with food and had the silver, given as payment for the grain, sent back with them as well. When the brothers arrived back at their father’s house, they told their father of their fate and that they were ordered to not return without Benjamin. Neither would their brother, Simon, be released till they returned. But Jacob couldn’t let Benjamin go. He said he had already lost one precious son and would go to his grave if he lost Benjamin, too. But soon their food ran out, and Judah vowed to Jacob that Benjamin would return to him unharmed. Reluctantly, Jacob allowed him to go.
When they arrived at Joseph’s headquarters, Joseph looked
upon his young brother. He ran from the room and wept in his private chambers.
After composing himself, he returned and sat down to eat with them. Seeming
to be satisfied that the brothers were telling the truth, he let them have
the grain and allowed them leave. However, he arranged with his steward
to place the silver they brought for payment back in their bags, and had
his own silver cup placed in Benjamin’s bag. Soon after the men left, the
steward chased them down, rebuking them for stealing the governor’s own
cup. The brothers said they would not do such a thing, and vowed that if
it was found on any of them, that person would become the governor’s slave
The compassion they were showing for their aged father moved Joseph. He could see the pain and remorse in their eyes. He couldn’t continue the farce any longer. He sent the servants away and wept so loudly that his cries were heard throughout the palace. As he wept, he saw that God had a bigger plan than the schemes of his brothers. His brothers meant evil for sure, but God meant it for good. He brought Joseph ahead so that many people, including his own family, would be saved from the famine.
It was so strange—once he wanted revenge. He hated his brothers for what they had done. Then he forgot them. Now he felt wonderfully free and he wanted his family back. Their remorse certainly touched him. No longer were they the same selfish, vengeful, hot-tempered men he had known so long ago. The years, and their own shame had mellowed them. Their secret had tormented them all this time, and they were now willing to pay the price for what they had done by offering themselves as slaves. He saw how God had indeed been with him, even in the dungeon. God had been preparing him, shaping and molding him for the task he was called to do—saving God’s people from starvation.
Although his brothers had unmercifully wanted to kill him, then sold him as a slave, he now saw that behind it all was a plan God weaved together, he being the central figure to bring it to completion. As he saw God’s plan unfolded before his eyes, he saw that his brothers were mere pawns used to bring it about. Yes, they had intended evil and harm, but God intended good. In that moment, as the tears fell like a morning rain, cleansing his mind and heart, he was able to come to terms with his life and the seeds of forgiveness began springing to life. He no longer wanted to see them suffer, no longer wanted to play these silly games. He wanted his family back with him. He wanted to share his blessings with them. So he revealed himself to his brothers.
They were terrified. The dreams Joseph told them so many years ago now flashed before their very eyes. They realized Joseph had come to a place of power, and now had power over them all. They were trapped, doomed. They deserved whatever he wanted to dish out. So often each had wondered where Joseph was and if he were still alive. But none had dared speak of him or of what they had done. Joseph sensed their fear and knew their thoughts. He assured them he would not harm them. He told them what he now knew, that it was God’s plan all along that had brought him here and he told them they were forgiven.
The brothers were sent back to get their father and bring him to Joseph. Jacob was disbelieving at first, but he was wiling to do anything if it meant seeing his beloved son again. All the brothers, their wives, servants and children prepared for the journey. They took all their possessions with them. The brothers were still afraid. They weren’t quite sure how to take all that had happened these last months. They wanted to believe Joseph had really forgiven them, and they certainly were taking a risk moving to Egypt with their father. They knew his tears were genuine. They knew they would not be alive today if not for his position in Egypt. Just maybe…
Jacob lived another twelve years in Egypt. He was so happy and blessed to be near his son again. When he died, Joseph honored his last request and buried him back in Canaan. The brothers once again became fearful that now that their father was dead Joseph would take out his revenge, but Joseph again assured them they were forgiven.
Joseph suffered rejection, abandonment, grief, loneliness,
pain, humiliation, slavery, imprisonment, and finally glory. Whatever state
he found himself in, he put his heart and mind to doing the best he could
do. The outcome was getting that rare opportunity to see the “big picture”,
and in seeing that, and in realizing that God’s plan for his life superceded
everything else, he could forgive and live the rest of his life in freedom—freedom
of heart, soul, and mind.
© Copyright: Annie Nelson: 1990: All rights reserved