LESSONS I LEARNT FROM JOSEPH’S LIFE.
N.B: this is going to be a long article but hopefully, an impactful one…enjoy!
I know, the topic seems cliché. If you’re an African, precisely a Nigerian, you’ve probably heard that phrase before. But hopefully you’d learn something different today. By the way, I don’t mean an actual prison or an actual palace…they’re metaphors for our trials and successes.
Joseph was the son of Jacob and the first child Rachel had after many years of barrenness. If we go through the story of Jacob in (Genesis 29:21-30) we’d see how Jacob had served Laban for 14 years just to have Rachel’s hand in marriage. So, it’s easy to imagine just how much Jacob had loved Joseph especially that Joseph was a son of his old age. And Jacob wasn’t discrete about it. The Bible records it in Genesis 37: 3 that Jacob had sewn a coat of many colours for him. However, Jacob’s action had set things in motion against Joseph unknowing to him. Joseph’s brothers began to hate him because of their father’s special love for him (Genesis 37: 4).
The first lesson I learnt from Joseph’s life is that God doesn’t work with pride. God might have shown you visions of the great person you’re going to be or He might have said it to you countless of times but if you are a proud person, God would break that pride in you before working with you. If you are not willing to humble yourself, He’d humble you. Joseph had two dreams which meant the same thing. He dreamt that he was standing and he saw his 11 brothers and parents bow to him (Genesis 37: 5-11). If he had made this statement in a humble way, keeping the actual meaning to himself, things might not have spiralled for him that way. Instead, Joseph spoke in a way of arrogance (Genesis 37: 5-7). But after he had been in prison, he learnt the importance of humility. He had every reason to ‘carry his shoulder up’ when his brothers eventually bowed to him but he didn’t. That initial pride in him and been turned to humility. ‘Prison’ had reformed him to a humble man, set for the ‘palace’.
Joseph’s life was a very crooked rollercoaster ride. His travails started when his brothers had plotted to kill him but it was God speaking at that time when Reuben suggested that he be thrown into a pit instead of being killed (God had spared his life) Genesis 37: 22. Joseph probably felt like “being a slave isn’t as bad as being killed” and so he had hope again. His initial joy might have even doubled because he was just not any slave, but the slave to Potiphar, the chief of security in the whole of Egypt…talk about a classy slave. Because of the favour he had found in God’s sight, he also found favour in the sight of Potiphar, his boss, such that Potiphar had made him the head of all other slaves (servants)…he supervised their works (Genesis 37). That’s an improvement compared to his original ordeal but Joseph’s trials were far from over. Joseph had been tempted by Potiphar’s wife and in his bid to not sin against God, he ran away leaving his robe and Potiphar used it as a leverage to put him in trouble (Genesis 39: 7-20).
He was thrown into jail and he probably thought all was lost. Maybe from time to time thoughts like “did God save me just to make me suffer?” had crossed his mind. But again, he found favour in sight of the prison warden…a reminder from God that He had not left him. When Joseph interpreted the dreams of his cell mates and one had good fate, he told him to put in a word for him that he had been imprisoned unjustly and maybe a spark of hope ignited in him again when that cellmate( the butler) was released, but the butler had forgotten about Joseph’s request. It was not until two years after that the butler remembered Joseph. His travails were many but not once did he lose trust in God and God didn’t fail him…God was always with him (Genesis 39: 1 -23). So, I learnt a second lesson: no matter how many or how tough your trials may seem, trust God and better days are sure to come.
The third lesson I learnt from Joseph’s life was that ‘God’s timing is not always as soon as we expect’. When Joseph had the dream that revealed God’s plan for him, he would never have thought that that dream would not come to pass until 20 years after (13 years that he spent in ‘prison’ and 7 years he spent in the ‘palace’ before his brothers came to Egypt to bow to him). It took time for God’s word to come to pass but the timing was perfect. He was at the right place at the right time and so he and his family were saved from the great famine that shook the world. Also, when God reveals a thing to you, he prepares you for it. Joseph’s revelation was bigger than he had thought but God knew just how far He was taking him…hence, it took 20 years for Joseph to be prepared for the manifestation of his dream and God’s plan for him (Genesis 37: 2-10; Gen 41: 43-46,48-49,53-57; Gen 42: 6) . Joseph’s patience is another admirable quality we all should pray for.
When Joseph finally became a mighty man in a foreign land, one would expect his head to ‘swell’ but he didn’t get proud. We might say ‘oh that’s because God already dealt with pride in his life’ but how about resentment? Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers and to order their death or that they be sent away without food when they came to Egypt during that famine but he didn’t. He didn’t do what most of us including myself would have done. He didn’t start telling them ‘you see yourself? All your evil plans to kill me and my dream were scattered and here you are, bowing to me’. He didn’t! Rather, he gave them enough food and still returned their money and eventually found them a good settlement in Egypt (Genesis 45: 1-5; 9-15). Hence, the fourth lesson I learnt was that we should not be resentful, even to our worst enemies. His enemies were his pedestal to greater heights anyway!
Lesson five: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8: 28). When the butler and the baker had been put in jail, it was aligned to work for Joseph’s favour. They could have been simply sacked or at worst banished for their crimes but they were put in jail because someone there had to receive his miracle. But how come the fate of the butler turned for good? How come when he was restored, he wasn’t restored as just an ordinary butler? Why was he restored as the chief butler again? Why did it even have to be him, why not the baker? First of all, it was God working in Joseph’s favour. The baker unlike the butler would not have been able to have the same access to Pharaoh as the butler would have…and the chief butler even had more access than any other butler. God had all these planned in an orderly manner for the fulfilling of Joseph’s dream. Again, maybe if he hadn’t been disliked by his brothers or they hadn’t sold him into slavery or Potiphar’s wife hadn’t implicated him, he might never have been who he dreamed he’d be. All his challenges, all his problems fell in an orderly manner to produce the long-awaited end result (Genesis 41:9-44). When God says all things work together for our good, trust Him…He doesn’t lie.
Finally, I learnt the importance of us fulfilling our purpose. In a previous article, I had said that everyone has a purpose and really, we all have. Joseph finally discovered his purpose. He discovered that his dream was not about his family bowing to him (although they eventually did), but about the lives he had to save. The things that happened to him happened to him, he was where he was, because of the things he had to do for God at that particular time. There was a process that Joseph had to be part of before he could actually realise his dream…let alone, fulfil it. If he had given up or shied away or had been nonchalant about it, many, so many would have perished. But he submitted to God’s will and never lost faith in God and he was able to save the lives of his family members and even Egyptians…hence, he fulfilled purpose. (Genesis 45:5-8)
P.S: It is possible to walk with God and still not credit him. Joseph did that. For he to have found favour in the sight of everyone he met, for he to have been vindicated many times, it showed God was with him. But it was after he had been in jail for a while, he began to understand the importance of crediting God. When Potiphar asked him to interpret his dream, he said it is God that interprets. Finally, Joseph got a good hang of it…he understood he had to give honour to whom honour is due. It wasn’t about him but about God (Genesis 41: 16 AMP).
Joseph had been in prisons of various sorts many times before he finally got to the destination, the palace. Your prison might not be the same as Joseph’s but take encouragement today from his story, knowing fully well that the prison comes before the palace. Trust in the process as Joseph did and trust God even more. The bible reassures us that the present trials are incomparable to future glories that would be revealed in us…Romans 8: 18.