There’s a story in the Bible that is almost unbelievable. A teenager goes from favored to hated status, to one deeply wronged and punished, to magnified stature, power, and blessing. All within 13 years. ◊
The Bible may seem confusing at times. It need not be. It needs to be read like a history book as well as page-turning murder mystery. The characters and locations are real and historic. The plot line is rich and complex played out over centuries with tangible application and relevance to every generation that would venture to read and understand it.
Starting in the 12th chapter of the Book of Genesis’ 50 chapters, the story dives into the lives of Abraham, his miracle son Isaac, and then Isaac’s wily son Jacob who himself had 12 sons.
Jacob’s favorite son was named Joseph.
We are introduced to Joseph when he is 17 years old. His engrossing story is told in Genesis chapters 37 through 50.
Young Man Mistreated
Joseph was the 11th of the 12 sons of Jacob (later renamed Israel). He was Rachel’s first born in a very dysfunctional, nomadic family of four wives (two of which were maids). This favored son, even as a young teenager had the sense of right and wrong, honesty and bold frankness. This boldness got him into deep trouble after sharing his odd but compelling dreams that his brothers and parents would one day bow down to him in authority. (see Genesis 37:2-11)
After this, in an incredible act of sibling cruelty, Joseph is sold into slavery (to Ishmaelites, descendants of his grandfather’s step-brother!) by his own jealous brothers and is subsequently transported from Canaan to Egypt. There, Joseph is employed by a wealthy man, Potiphar, who learns to trust him with his household and land holdings which prosper under Joseph’s management. At least until Joseph is cast into prison after slanderous and false accusations are levied against him by Potiphar’s lusty wife.
At this point one would expect Joseph to be devastated by his misfortune and mistreatment. But there is no evidence that suggests that young Joseph lamented in self-pity or anger at God or his fate.
Young Man Blessed
We are actually told twice that “the Lord was with Joseph” – once when he gains the trust of his master Potiphar (Genesis 39:2), and then again after he is cast into prison where Joseph thrives and wins the trust of the jail keeper. He is a blessed young man – given success even while in prison – “the Lord caused all he did to prosper in his hand” (Genesis 39:3), as well as love and human favor – “the Lord showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:21)
Yes, in addition to being a good and righteous young man, Joseph was amazingly patient, steadfast and forgiving. He provides a God-inspired interpretation of the mysterious dreams of Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker who were imprisoned for offending the king of Egypt. (Genesis 40:1-23) Though proving accurate with his interpretation, Joseph remains in prison for 2 years.
Young Man Magnified
Poor Joseph was a slave to Potiphar and then is put in prison for a total of 13 years of his life. Through these trying years, Joseph could hardly have known that God was orchestrating circumstances which would make possible the fulfillment of his original teenager dreams as a 17-year old that Joseph himself would someday rule over his brothers and parents.
But God moved again. Pharaoh himself has a disturbing dream “that no one could interpret.” (Genesis 41:8) Joseph is called up from prison and remembered as the “young Hebrew who interpreted dreams.” (Genesis 41:12) Joseph’s God-led interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream is what catapults him from prisoner to second-in-command over all the land of Egypt.
We are told that Joseph was 30 years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Genesis 41:46) It’s an incredible ride of blessings and righteousness further played out in his revelation to his brothers and father after over 20 years since they had last seen him. (Genesis chapters 42-45) This part of the story alone is an amazing climax to a heart-moving adventure!
Then we’re told that the Lord blessed Joseph further until his death at age 110 (Genesis 50:26). And not incidental to the entire Old and New Testament narrative, Joseph’s whole extended 70-member family who arrived into Egypt under his care and watch would eventually become, after 400 years, the Hebrew nation (Israel) enslaved by a later Pharaoh and delivered by another patient and righteous man.
Read that amazing mystery, the story of Moses, another vessel of God, in the subsequent Book of Exodus.
Do you know the full Bible narrative?
When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. – Genesis 37:4-5