My favorite story in the Bible is about Joseph from the book of Genesis. Joseph’s experiences and perspective illustrate many of the spiritual lessons I have learned about in my life.
Joseph is one of 12 sons born to Jacob, who has children with four women (two wives and two of his wives’ handmaidens.) Jacob and his family live in Caanan, which is the site of modern-day Israel. Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son, because he was the first son born to Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. Joseph is spoiled by his father, who gives him a multicolored coat, which was very expensive in those days. Jacob asks Joseph to go with his some of his brothers while they are working as shepherds. Joseph reports back to his father when his brothers misbehave. Unsurprisingly, Joseph’s brothers dislike him because of jealousy and as he is a tattletale.
Joseph also is a dreamer. He reports to his father and brothers about two dreams he has had that imply that his family members will bow down and be subservient to him. His brothers hate him because of these dreams, and his father scolds him for having such thoughts.
One day, when Joseph is 17-years-old, Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers. Joseph becomes lost on the way but meets a man who points him in the right direction. If Joseph does not meet this man history would never have occurred in the way, it was meant to unfold. This man is one of Joseph’s important life guides.
Joseph finds his brothers far from home. They see him coming and come up with a plot to kill him because of their hatred. Reuben, the oldest brother convinces them instead to capture Joseph, remove his multicolored coat and throw him into a pit. The brothers stain the coat with goat’s blood and plan to tell Jacob that all they found was the bloodied coat, which implied that Joseph must have been eaten by a wild animal. Judah, the fourth oldest brother and who is their leader, ends up convincing his brothers to sell Joseph to some merchants who are headed to Egypt.
Joseph in Egypt
In Egypt, Joseph first is sold to Potiphar, who is a high-ranking official in the Egyptian government. Joseph turns out to be highly successful in running Potiphar’s household, as God blesses him. Unfortunately, Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph and when he refuses, she accuses him of attempted assault. Joseph appears to have grown up to be a righteous individual.
Potiphar believe his wife and Joseph gets thrown in jail. Joseph also is very successful in jail and helps the Head Jailer to run the institution. He meets the Pharaoh’s wine steward and baker who also are jailed, and they tell him that they have had dreams they do not understand. He tells them that God can help him interpret their dreams. This is reminiscent of asking the subconscious to explain the meaning of dreams. I wonder if people can tap into realms outside of themselves through their subconscious. These realms might include God, if He is within your belief system. Joseph tells the wine steward that his dream means that he will be returned to his job in 3 days, while the baker’s dream means that he will be put to death in 3 days. This is exactly what happens. He asks the wine steward to tell the Pharaoh that he was jailed unjustly, but the steward forgets to do so.
Two years later, the Pharaoh has two dreams. In one, seven thin cows devour seven fat cows next to the Nile River. In the second, seven thin heads of grain devour seven full heads of grain. The Pharaoh asks his court magicians to interpret these dreams, but no one comes up with a good answer. The wine steward then remembers Joseph who is hustled up from the jail. Joseph explains to Pharaoh that with the help of God he can interpret the dreams. He tells him that the dreams predict the same event that God will orchestrate: There will be seven years of plenty in Egypt, following by seven years of famine. Joseph recommends that the Pharaoh appoint someone to oversee collecting grain during the seven years of plenty so that there will be food to eat during the following seven years.
Pharaoh is appreciative of the dream interpretation and appoints Joseph as his viceroy to direct the program of gathering the grain during the first seven years. Joseph sets up the first tax system recorded in the Bible, and collects a portion of everyone’s grain, which he stores in large warehouses. When the famine hits, Joseph sells the grain to the Egyptians. First the Egyptians give him their money to pay for the food. When the money runs out, they turn over their livestock, their land, and ultimately become Pharaoh’s indentured servants. By the time the famine is over, the Pharaoh controls everything in Egypt.
Joseph’s Reunification with His Family
Meanwhile, the famine also hits Canaan. Jacob hears that there are food stores in Egypt and sends 10 of his sons to buy some food. He keeps his youngest son, Benjamin, at home because this was his only other son born to Rachel, his beloved wife. The 10 sons go to Egypt where they are brought in front of the viceroy who is in charge of grain sales. Joseph immediately recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him because 20 years have passed since the pit incident, and they think he is dead. They tell him that their father remains alive.
Joseph puts his brothers through some trials to test whether they have changed their ways. First, he accuses them of being spies, and later of being thieves. The trials last for several months, during which Joseph has no opportunity to see his father. One might wonder why Joseph did not ask to see his father earlier, because of his advanced age and the chance that he would die before the trials were completed. One answer is that given his dreams, Joseph knew that his father would at some point see him again.
Joseph finally ends up disclosing his identity to his brothers. The brothers at first are frightened because they think he will seek revenge against them. However, Joseph tells them that they should not fear him. He tells them that it was God’s plan for them to sell him to the merchants, so that he could be taken to Egypt and end up saving the region from the ravages of the famine. Thus, Joseph interprets life from the perspective that God has a plan for how it should unfold.
Finally, Joseph is reunited with his father. His family moves to Egypt where they reside in the province of Goshen and do very well. Many years later, Jacob’s descendants end up enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, which leads up to the Moses led exodus from Egypt. The slaves who left Egypt at that time become the Jewish people.
This story reinforces some of the major lessons I have learned in my life:
We are guided through life.
Strive to be good.
Dreams and other interactions with the subconscious can be a source of important insights.
Keep things in perspective. There is a plan for our lives.
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