Character Sketches » Joseph
Joseph was born in Haran of Northern Mesopotamia to Rachel the wife of Jacob. When he was five or six years of age his family moved to Palestine where he spent most of his youth.
The fact that Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his children is evidenced by two specific events. When Jacob heard that Esau was coming to meet him, he sent everyone else ahead but he put Rachel and Joseph to the rear of all his caravan. Later in life Joseph made a “coat of many colors” for Joseph alone of all his sons.
Jacob and his family were bedouins or nomads, and as such, had tribal cheiftans. The tribal chieftans wore special coats much like Joseph's, and it is considered probable that Jacob had ever intention of exalting Joseph as the chieftan over all his brothers.
At the age of seventeen Joseph was working with his brothers and he shared two dreams with them. Dreams were to be considered prophetic in those days, and his father and his brothers immediately perceived the interpretation of the dreams. His brothers were already jealous of him because of his father's favor, and the dreams only served to enrage them further.
One day Joseph came to Dothan to give food to his brothers, and they plotted to kill him, but Ruben intervened and they threw him in a pit instead. The intensity of their hatred and jealousy is clearly indicated as they sat unmoved by the pit and ate, and later deceived Jacob while seemingly hardened despite his deep anguish over Joseph.
Joseph is sold to a passing caravan for twenty pieces of silver (about $15.00) which is the price fixed by Moses for slaves in Leviticus 27:5. The caravan travels to Egypt where Joseph is sold to an Egyptian captain of Pharoah's guard whose name was Potiphar. It is curious to note that the scripture makes significant mention of Potiphar as an Egyptian and it fits the hints that the court of Pharoah was composed of foreigners. This could indicate the Hykos dynasty of shepherd kings who ruled Egypt. It could also indicate why “an Egyptian” was expected in the court, and needed to have specific mention of his nationality.
In Potifphar's household the Lord increases Joseph until he has nearly complete control of everything. Unfortunately for Joseph, Potiphar's wife becomes interested in Joseph and has him imprisoned because he refuses to commit adultery with her. It is evident that Potifphar was not fully convinced by his wife's story because he didn't have Joseph killed as was to be expected for a slave caught in such a tremendous offense to his master. It is also a tribute to Joseph's trustworthiness and integrity that his punishment was so light.
In prison Joseph was exalted because of his character and nearly ran the prison by himself. During this time Joseph was able to interpret dreams for the Pharoah's chief butler and chief baker, and the dreams were precisely right. Eventually this led to Pharoah calling Joseph up out of prison to interpret two dreams that he had, and God blessed Joseph to be able to interpret Pharoah's dreams exactly as he did with the two royal prisoners. This pleased Pharoah so much that at 30 years of age Joseph was made the most powerful man in all of Egypt, second only to the Pharoah himself. With this power he had virtually unlimited control over the whole land of Egypt. He was given Pharoah's ring as his authoritative symbol, fine cotton and linen to mark his adoption into the priesthood, a gold chain about his neck and a beautiful wife who later bore him two sons.
Famine came as Pharoah's dreams had foretold, not only in Egypt but in all the face of the earth. (Genesis 41:56) In Caanan Jacob prepared to send his sons into Egypt to buy food because they famine was so great in all the land. Only Benjamin, the youngest son was to be left behind as the brothers journeyed to Egypt. What a sight it must have been to these simple tent dwelling shepherds when they saw the majesty and power of Egypt! They must have trembled inwardly when they stood and then knelt before Joseph, the splendid dignitary, in his home. They could not possibly have recognized him as they bowed in fulfillment of Joseph's dream of some 23 years previous. Joseph clearly knew who they were, although he chose not to reveal himself at the time.
The story is all too familiar of his trickery in dealing with his brothers before he reveals himself to them. It is well worth noting that Judah's speech to Joseph on behalf of Jacob is perhaps the most pathetic ever in all of written literature. In his wilful laying down his life he clearly faces the doctrine of the cross head on. The affect is more than Joseph can bear, and his cries are heard throughout the house of Pharoah as the reunion is brought to pass. Joseph tells his brothers that God, in his providence, allowed them to act as they had in order to preserve Israel, and then he sends them home to bring everyone else to Egypt to live there and be delivered from the famine.
Jacob shortly moves all his people and possessions to Egypt and Pharoah grants them permission to dwell in the land of Ramses. Joseph sets them up in the best of the land. Jacob lived 17 years in the land of Egypt and died at 147 years of age. Before he died he blessed all his sons and prophesied over them. He also prophesied over Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manneseh and blessed Joseph over all his brothers.
Joseph, his brothers and a large company made the journey 300 miles to Caanan to bury Jacob, the last of the patriarchs. It is interesting to note that all three patriarchs gave up a son, and in a sense, received them from the dead.
Joseph lived out his life in Egypt and dealt kindly with his brothers. He died at 110 years of age, a happy grandfather who brought up his grandsons upon his knees. He was embalmed and put in a coffin in Egypt. He wasn't buried until the Jews entered into Caanan many years later.
Joseph's character was marked by very positive qualities. He loved God and was devoted to him no matter what the cost. He was pure in heart, magnanimous as a ruler, showed admirable restraint in dealing with his brothers, had penetrating insight, and displayed kindly virtue.
Joseph was undoubtedly a type of Christ in many ways. He was loved of his father, his brethren wouldn't believe him, he was sold for silver, he had a gentile bride to share his glory, he was imprisoned on false charges, he wrought salvation for those who rejected him, he was humbled in order to be exalted, he forgave those who used him and plotted his death and all people had to come to him or perish.
C R Lord © 1980