The story of Joseph is found in Genesis 37-50. The narrative of his life occupied a good portion of the book of Genesis. With this in mind, it should not be a surprise to learn a lot of lessons from Joseph’s life.
Joseph is the first son of Jacob by Rachel. Since Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah and his concubines, it is a natural thing for Jacob to love Joseph more than his other children. For this reason, Joseph’s brothers resented and hated him. This resentment even grew when Jacob gave a highly decorated coat to Joseph. To make things worse, Joseph narrated to his family a prophetic dream which tells them that Joseph will rise into power and be more influential than his brothers and parents.
Joseph’s life is filled with so many untold suffering, anguish, and sadness. As this might be the case, Joseph is among the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. So what are the lessons we can learn from his life?
Lesson no. 1: Doing the right thing does not always lead to physical relief
The jealousy, hatred, and resentment of Joseph’s brothers led them to sell Joseph to the Midianite traders. Joseph was brought to Egypt where the Midianite traders had sold him to Potiphar, “an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36).
Joseph stayed faithful and obedient to the commandments of God even in a strange land. Because of this, the “LORD was with Joseph and he became a successful man” (Genesis 39:2). The blessings of God helped Joseph to find favor in the sight of his master and eventually made him be the overseer of his house.
However, the story doesn’t end there. The wife of Potiphar “casts longing eyes on Joseph” (Genesis 39:7) and seduced him to lie with her. However, Joseph is better than that. He refused and strongly overcame the seduction of his master’s wife.
The seduction did not just happen once, but it happened day by day until Potiphar’s wife had to force herself to Joseph as a last resort. She forced Joseph to lie with her but Joseph fled.
Joseph did the right thing, but this did not lead to something good, at least for the moment. The wife of Potiphar accused Joseph of “mocking” her and Potiphar’s anger was aroused against Joseph. So Joseph was imprisoned for doing the right thing.
You can just imagine how Joseph would have received this punishment. After all, he did the right thing and he “deserves” to be fairly dealt with.
Life is unfair. But God is always fair.
This is the reality every Christian must face. Doing the right thing will not always lead to better outcome. Jesus Christ is perfect and He did not even commit a single sin. Yet, He suffered the most excruciating and agonizing death penalty man has ever conceived.
Being a Christian is not easy. However, God has this to say for those who still choose to follow Him:
“For it is a sign of grace if a man, desiring to do right in the eyes of God, undergoes pain as punishment for something which he has not done. What credit is it if, when you have done evil, you take your punishment quietly? But if you are given punishment for doing right, and take it quietly, this is pleasing to God. This is God’s purpose for you: because Jesus himself underwent punishment for you, giving you an example, so that you might go in his footsteps” (I Peter 2:19-21, BBE).
Jesus Christ added:
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be EXCEEDINGLY glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).
Every Christian must realize that following God and Jesus Christ is not always convenient. It will lead to difficulties and persecutions. If your Christian life is always smooth sailing, you better think twice whether you are really on the right track and on your way to eternal life or not. Because if you are not suffering, it is most probably that you are on the wrong boat.
Life is expected to be hard and full of challenges. So it is only natural that we suffer during this lifetime. If we are going to suffer, then why not suffer for God? Why not give our suffering a worthy reason and cause? Why not suffer for living the life God has called us to live?
Though our Christian walk may be tough, we can all be assured that our reward is all worth it. So just keep the faith. God will see us through!
Lesson no. 2: God will make all things work together for good
The life of Joseph might have begun with the wrong note. He was loved by his father so much – something he has no control of – to the point that his brothers resented him. Because of this, his brothers sold him and was brought to a foreign and unfamiliar land. After about 11 years of faithful service to Potiphar, he was rewarded with imprisonment.
When he was in prison, he met Pharaoh’s chief butler and baker. Both of these prisoners had a dream and Joseph interpreted the dreams for them. The butler’s dream meant that he will be reinstated to Pharaoh’s house while the baker was hanged. All these happened according to Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams.
After the showing goodness to the butler, Joseph was again repaid with unkindness. Instead of remembering Joseph after the butler’s release, the butler forgot Joseph (Genesis 40:23).
When all hopes seem to fade and vanish, Pharaoh had a troubling dream that no one in his court was able to interpret. All of a sudden, the butler remembered Joseph and mentioned him to the Pharaoh.
The pharaoh immediately sent and called Joseph. This could be the golden opportunity for Joseph to turn around his life, from being a slave and prisoner to become freeman again. But Joseph’s expectation is nothing compared to what he is about to be rewarded!
Joseph’s faith remained strong throughout the years of his stay in Egypt. He confirmed his faith to God by acknowledging Him to be the supreme giver of knowledge and wisdom. He said, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Genesis 41:16).
After interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and suggesting a very wise counsel on how to deal with the great famine that will soon befall the land of Egypt, Pharaoh pronounced this to Joseph for everyone to hear:
“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:39-41).
What a remarkable turn of event! Joseph, who was just a mere prisoner, was suddenly turned into the most powerful ruler in the land of Egypt next to the Pharaoh! This is how God works. If God wills it, he can turn the table in just a moment.
Christians must realize that no matter what happens in our life, we can always have the confidence that God is in ULTIMATE control.
God is in charge. He is ultimately in control.
We can always trust the word of God when it says in Deuteronomy 31:6;
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
Indeed, the Bible reveals this truth:
“And we know that ALL things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The life of Joseph is among the best examples on how God works out his plan. Though we might not understand the things that are now happening, we can have the faith that God will work all things for good!
There will come a point in your life when all things would make sense to you. You will suddenly realize why God allow such things to happen. Therefore, if things are not going according to your plan, just “stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD” (Exodus 14:13)!
Lesson no. 3: There’s no excuse that’s good enough to break God’s commandments
Joseph, in a very young age, lost everything. Joseph could have all the reasons to do what is right in his own eyes and just forget God’s way of life. He was betrayed by his brothers; sold to slavery; imprisoned after resisting the seduction of Potiphar’s wife; and forgotten by the chief butler after interpreting his dreams.
Joseph could have just made excuses and just give up. After all, he could have the best life there is in Egypt by compromising his godly principles. He is in a foreign land. His parents are away. Surely, no one will scold him for doing what is wrong. No one will hold him accountable for giving in to temptation. After some years being in Egypt, he could have easily dismissed God as someone who doesn’t care.
If God’s way of life is important to you, you will find every reason to follow him instead of making excuses.
Joseph has all the excuses and reasons in the world to stop obeying God. I am sure that you and I right now have not yet experienced what Joseph experienced. But how easy it has been for us to break God’s commandments? How easy has it been for us to compromise and just give in to temptation?
What’s your excuse?
What do you say to yourself when you are rationalizing your sin? We need to come to a realization that there is really no excuse good enough for us to sin. Sin is sin. The moment you give in to temptation because of lousy excuses, you are losing the opportunity to develop godly character and to show God that you are growing into the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, get rid of all the lame excuses that we might use and let us all “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:2).
Lesson no. 4: Learn the art of delayed gratification
We live in a world where we are bombarded with many opportunities of instant gratification. Technological advancement made our life easier to the point that we feel entitled for all the good things in this life. It seems that with just a simple push of a button, we can instantly have what we want. Since this world is geared towards the way of getting, we can easily see why this world has a poverty of patience.
Part of being faithful is being patient. Joseph knew this and he was very patient for God’s promise. He remembered his dream where God revealed unto him that he will rise to power.
Whether when or how that will happen, he doesn’t know. All he know is that God will never lie (Titus 1:2) and what He has promised, He is able to deliver (Isaiah 46:10).
Joseph has learned the art of delayed gratification. It is the process of denying yourself of the temporary and immediate pleasure that sin can give in order to enjoy a greater joy and genuine blessedness in the presence of God.
A moment of pain due to following God’s commandments is worth an eternity of glory in God’s eternal Kingdom.
Yes, Joseph could have easily succumbed to the seduction of Potiphar’s wife and enjoy the pleasure of sin. But “how can [he] do this great wickedness, and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9)? Instead of giving in to temptation, he “left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (verse 13).
Notice the determination of Joseph. He did not just walked away from temptation, but he FLED and RAN. This is the type of vehement hatred every Christian should have against sin. We hated sin so much that we don’t want to even get near to it.
Satan is very wise and would present sin as something desirable. Don’t be deceived. Sin will always be sin. You will never be able to escape its ugly and deadly effect. God had set a spiritual law in motion that whoever sin will have to suffer its consequences.
Yes, sin can bring fleeting physical pleasures, but we need to remember that it will never last because sooner or later, you will have to face its negative effects. On the other hand, obeying God will bring blessings both in this life and the life to come.
So choose wisely. Will you enjoy sin for just a brief moment or will you suffer now but enjoy God’s full blessings for eternity?
Lesson no. 5: Obedience to God’s commandment brings lasting blessings
It is undeniable that living God’s way of life is tough. We can read from the scripture numerous passages that tell us how difficult it is to answer God’s calling.
As this might be the case, we need to remember that we will ultimately reap what we sow. Even though a Christian’s life may be filled with hardships, God promises us that He will always be there to support us. He will always supply our needs for “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
Obedience to God is a proof of your faith. Disobedience is a proof of disbelief.
Yes, our Christian walk may lead us to an inconvenient life. However, we must also remember that not obeying God will also lead to inconvenient and sad situations. So whichever road you choose, it will still lead to a difficult life. So why not choose the life God has called us to live? This way, our life has meaning and direction unlike to just going with the flow of sin’s influences.
We have seen the living faith of Joseph. His faith is not an “intellectual faith” that only remained in his mind. He habitually demonstrated acts of faith that serve as an evidence of his faith.
This must teach every Christian something today. Faith is dead if you don’t have any works (James 2:17).
When our faith is tested and proven to be genuine, we are positioning ourselves under the blessings of God. We must not forget that following God will result to blessings that we will enjoy not just during this life, but also during the life to come.
Of course, God will not bless us because we are righteous and we are entitled of his blessings. He blesses us because of his love and mercy. As this might be the case, God still expects us to follow His commandments for his commandments lead to eternal life (John 12:50).
Joseph’s story gives us an idea how God works in the grand scheme of things. God knows every detail of our lives. He is our Father and like an earthly father, “no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalms 84:11).
The lessons from the life of Joseph are POWERFUL. We need to remember that these lessons will be useless if we don’t put it into practice.
At the end of the story of Joseph, he said, “But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life… So now it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5, 8).
Joseph understands that all the events that had happened in his life were according to God’s plan. You can also have the faith that God has a plan for you and He is currently working with you. God is not yet done. So be patient and let God direct your life.