The story of Joseph in Genesis mirrors the story of Christ perhaps more than any other story in the Bible. Here is a story of rags-to-riches. Or disgrace-to-honor. Or humility-to-glory. We may even call it a story of death and resurrection. This is a story of God saving the world through the humiliation and exaltation of a beloved son. Check out this excerpt from the new Message Devotional Bible on the story of Joseph. These comments and questions from Eugene Peterson help us see the Savior and ourselves through the story of Joseph.

Meandering Providence (Genesis 37:2-39:23)

In our first look at Joseph, he’s a seventeen-year-old adolescent with adjustment problems. He’s having a hard time fitting into the world he’s growing up in. His brothers are tired of his superior air, so they plot to murder him. But instead of killing him, they decide to throw him into an open cistern. Shortly after that, a caravan of traders comes by, and the brothers see their chance to make a few dollars by selling Joseph as a slave.

That isn’t a very auspicious beginning for a patriarch. It is, in fact, a rather embarrassing first chapter in the story of a man of God. We’re given no details, but something happens to Joseph between the time he’s thrown into the pit in Dothan and the time he’s sold by the traders to an Egyptian. When we see him next, he is a profoundly different person. He’s a slave in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officers. Joseph’s presence in this house, in contrast to his presence at home in Canaan, transforms the place for the good. Everything prospers. Joseph has suddenly become a mature person with great ability.

Notice the irony here: While Joseph’s immaturity got him sold into slavery by his brothers, his maturity nearly costs him his life in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar’s wife becomes infatuated with Joseph and attempts to seduce him. The egotistic Joseph of earlier days would have been easy prey for such a woman. But now Joseph has an inner strength, a certainty about himself and about God. His refusal infuriates her, and she accuses him of attempted rape. Once again Joseph finds himself in a pit, this time in an Egyptian dungeon.

This seems a meandering route for the providence of God to take. But en route, the character of Joseph is transformed. And what seems to be the most circuitous path to a career is in fact the most direct path to character.

PAUSE: Genesis 39:2 says that “GOD was with Joseph and things went very well with him”—even as Joseph’s life spiraled into greater and greater suffering. What is the relationship between God’s blessing and a life of ease? How does this change what you expect out of life?

The Wheels of Providence (Genesis 40:1-23)

Joseph’s parting words to the head cupbearer were to remember him to Pharaoh because he was innocent. But Joseph languished for two more years in prison before the cupbearer remembered his request. To Joseph, the wheels of Providence seemed to have stopped. But other wheels were cogged together, wheels that Joseph couldn’t see, each turning other wheels. Though they moved slowly, they never stopped. And though the wheels of Providence seem to us to have stopped sometimes, especially at times when we feel hopelessly imprisoned, they don’t.

God’s Perfect Time (Genesis 41:1-46)

One of Pharaoh’s dreams recalled Joseph to the head cupbearer’s memory. None of the magicians or sages could interpret Pharaoh’s dream. But when the cupbearer remembered Joseph’s skill, Joseph was released from prison to interpret the dream. He concluded his interpretation by suggesting that Pharaoh would be wise to appoint an administrator to make arrangements for the collection and storage of grain during the years of prosperity and its subsequent distribution in the years of famine.

Pharaoh was impressed and saw Joseph as the right man for the position. Suddenly Joseph—the spoiled adolescent sold by his brothers, the innocent victim of a woman’s scorn—quite unaccountably became the head of state of a world empire.

Though the wheels of Providence move slowly, they move steadily. And in God’s perfect time, they take us to some new realm of service where his divine purposes are fulfilled.

PAUSE: Why would God use slavery and imprisonment to get Joseph where he wanted him? What parallels do you see with the route God is taking you? How are you getting ready for the future God might have for you?

The Crisis Has Come, the Test Has Been Met (Genesis 44:1-45:28)

Joseph had to wonder what had transpired in his brothers’ lives. He had changed, but had they? He had surmounted the crassness of his youth, the bitterness of his slavery, and the defeat of prison and had risen to a place of power. But what about his brothers? Were they still the scheming, ruthless, intolerant gang of twenty-two years ago? Or had the guilt of their sin worked a change in them? Joseph intended to find out.

He did it in a very clever way. In order to get the information he needed, he put them on the defensive, accusing them of being spies. Stunned, the brothers returned to Joseph, who waited to see what would be revealed not in their sacks but in their hearts. Would they be as ready to leave Benjamin in Egypt as they had been to sell Joseph into slavery? Would they, to save their own skins, leave Benjamin behind to become a slave? Were they still basically selfish and contemptuous of their younger brothers? Or had they changed?

Judah, one of the older brothers, gave Joseph his answer. They wouldn’t leave Benjamin. Judah offered himself as a substitute. He told the tragic story of the old father still mourning the loss of Joseph and dreading news of Benjamin. He revealed the suffering that twenty-two years of guilt had caused them. As he talked he showed a heart of compassion, of love, and of courage. Joseph’s brothers had changed.

Joseph was convinced. At the same moment, he was overcome with emotion. He cleared the room of Egyptians so that just he and his brothers were together. Then he wept aloud as he told them that he was Joseph, their long-lost brother whom they had sold into slavery. The brothers were dismayed and frightened. Wouldn’t Joseph with all his power exact revenge on them? But Joseph told them what he had learned through the years, not about politics or the Egyptian culture, but about God.

The story continues, but it is all falling action now. The crisis has come, the test has been met, salvation has been achieved, reconciliation is a fact, the secret hand of God has been seen. The brothers return to get Jacob and bring him back to Egypt in splendor. And the son who has been dead for twenty-two years is finally restored to his father.

PAUSE: Why did Joseph treat his brothers so harshly? How would you have treated them if you were Joseph and possessed his power?

PAUSE: Why did God want Jacob and his family to move to Egypt—a place where the inhabitants wouldn’t even eat with them, much less intermarry with them? What was God up to? What insight does this give you into God’s plan for your life?

A Hand of Grace Raising Us to Our Feet (Genesis 50:14-26)

We can see ourselves in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Like Joseph’s brothers, we have rejected the One who is to rule over us. That rejection may have taken place many years ago, or it may have taken place yesterday. But we can’t live happily with the rejection; guilt tears us apart and makes us restless. Then famine comes and we’re forced to seek food. Our search is blind, and yet in our blindness God moves us to seek after him.

Finally we come face-to-face with him again and discover that he is the one we rejected once before. We need help, but we’re fearful that he will punish us for our past. What should we do? We would do well to fall before him in fear and trembling, the way Joseph’s brothers fell before Joseph. And when we do that, the marvelous Word of God comes to us personally, extending a hand of grace and raising us to our feet in full forgiveness.

Fifteen hundred years passed between the time Joseph’s coffin was put to rest in Egypt and the time our Lord was born in Bethlehem—and another two thousand years since then. The only thing that has changed in that time is that God’s way of salvation, which worked hidden and secret in Joseph and his brothers, has become open and exposed in Christ. God saved Joseph from opposition, temptation, and defeat so that he could save his brothers. God saved Jesus—who also spent time in Egypt, fleeing from the wrath of Herod—so that he could save us.

PAUSE: Like Joseph did, look beyond the difficulties you face and see God at work. How has he used evil to accomplish his good in your life? How can looking toward God’s purposes protect you from anger and bitterness?

The Message Devotional Bible

The new Message Devotional Bible keeps the commentary notes to a minimum and includes helpful features to focus on reflection. These features include the pause questions highlighted above, contemplative readings and questions, and personal prayers. The Message Devotional Bible enables you to hear the text and focus on your relationship with God. Swing by the store today and check out this new resource.

2 Comments

  1. Dixie Rae Strecker Reply

    I can’t seem download the Nessage Devoetional Bible on my Kindle could you tell me how to do it?

    • Brad Hoffman Reply

      Hi Dixie Rae! Thanks for the question. This blog post provides some instructions for using our app on a Kindle Fire tablet. It will also instruct you on how to download resources to the app. If this doesn’t help, then please reach out to our support department at this email: support@olivetree.com. Blessings!

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