"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". Ps 119:105
MEN OF FAITH: JosephWhat is faith? In one respect it could be aligned to other virtues that are hard to quantify. For example, hope, love, virtue and affection are all difficult to define but needful for men and women if they are to live a life in accordance with Divine principles. How does faith measure up in you and me in this thrusting, wheeling and dealing society in which many of us live? Come to think of it, where does faith come from – can anyone have it? Like so many attributes of human nature, this intangible aspect of life can play such an important role in an individual’s existence. Faith can be weak or strong and is only evident in actions or response. If faith is such an elusive characteristic, is it a matter of chance whether or not it can be of help to you and me?
The Importance of Faith
In the New Testament we have recorded the teaching of Jesus on this important subject. The disciples had said to him ‘Lord, Increase our faith.’ [Luke 17.5 NIV] Jesus said in reply:
The illustration of the mustard seed is a powerful one – from tiny beginnings hidden in the soil it will grow into a large plant. In effect, Jesus is telling us that all things are possible if only we have sufficient faith.
This is illustrated in the case of Joseph. He lived with his family in the land of Canaan (now Israel) many hundreds of years before Christ and he was, as the title of this article suggests, a man of faith. He was also to experience great changes in his personal circumstances that would have a far-reaching effect on his family and their descendants. The Joseph we are to consider was to demonstrate in the adverse circumstances of his life this elusive quality of faith. The story of his life is contained within the pages of the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, commencing at chapter 37. In many ways his life parallels that of Christ.
Hated by His Brethren
Jacob loved his son Joseph, being the second to youngest of twelve brothers. This natural love of a father for his son only provoked his elder brothers to envy, which eventually turned to hatred and a desire to destroy him. Compare this with the love that existed between God and His son, the Lord Jesus Christ and the reaction of his brethren the Jews. Joseph was indeed a type of Christ and although this is another subject, it is profitable to explore the many parallels, which exist, between them.
With this animosity already established between Joseph and his brothers, would we be like Joseph who told them about his incredible dreams, or would we reluctantly stay quiet about them? Joseph decided to tell his brothers about the dreams and their reactions were not unexpected for we read:
At this point it might be appropriate to mention the opposite of the virtues we referred to at the beginning of the article, for here we have envy, greed and all those base elements that are part of human nature. At this time we should bear in mind that Joseph was only a young man of seventeen, still growing and learning all the time. From the Bible record it becomes obvious that Joseph was different from his brothers. He was closest to his father and shared Jacob’s trust in the Almighty’s care and guidance. His faith was going to be sorely tried by subsequent events.
Events at Shechem
The family had settled in the southern part of Canaan, in the valley of Hebron but Jacob was still the owner of a parcel of land just outside Shechem to the north, which with its well to supply water was an ideal place for tending the sheep. So while Joseph stayed in the south with his father, his brothers travelled some 60 miles northwards with the flocks. Joseph appears to have been given the task of maintaining contact between the two family encampments. Genesis chapter 37 describes his traumatic experience at the hands of his brothers. When they saw him in the distance they conspired together how they might kill him.
Joseph did not know as he set out on that peaceful mission, that he was leaving the quiet haven of his father’s home for the last time. He would be separated from the family for twenty years and would endure the difficulties and hardships of a life of servitude in a country far from home. His brothers’ initial plan was to leave Joseph in a pit. Their evil characters are revealed in the opportunistic way in which they sold Joseph to a company of Ishmaelite merchants travelling from Gilead, taking their cargo of spices down to Egypt.
It is quite reasonable to suppose that Joseph’s character began to be formed while he was lying in that pit. It was at this low point in his life that he truly began to grow up. How often it is that in a situation of apparent hopelessness, the best characteristics of a man or woman will reveal themselves as in this instance. There is no condemnation of Joseph for wrong thoughts, speech or actions, prompted by a desire for revenge. Instead, this period of great tribulation engendered a character that was to stand him in good stead later in his life. He may well have thought many dreadful thoughts about certain of his brothers as he was roughly dragged along behind the merchant’s camels. Such contemplation took on a more balanced aspect, for in later life Joseph was revealed to be a young man of considerable intelligence.
Into EgyptJoseph's brothers pay homage to him
Had he acted without malice? Had his intentions and motives of telling his brothers of his dreams been pure? We don’t know. Now what of his faith in God, a faith that Jacob his father would so often have talked to him about. This faith was now his only hope. Whether or not Joseph was given explicit instructions from God,
with respect to his action or reaction to his brothers, we cannot tell. However, with the advantage of hindsight many years later, he was able to see that he had been sent ahead into Egypt for their protection – to save them from certain death. By malice and envy he had been torn from his family and placed in awful circumstances, but he trusted in his God not knowing what lay ahead of him. Truly he was an example of a man of faith, as defined in the letter to the Hebrews:
In this situation, Joseph needed faith above all else and this was to be the antidote to the wickedness, malice and envy that he had been subjected to by his brothers. It was a faith in God that shone with the brightness and intensity of a young man who had committed his way to God.
In the House of Potiphar
Upon arrival in Egypt, Joseph’s demeanour at the slave market attracted the attention of Potiphar, a high ranking official at Pharaoh’s court and we read that ‘Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.’ [Genesis 39.6] At seventeen years old he was a handsome young man, but there was also an air about him that was unusual. Joseph in his service to Potiphar and his household is another example of how men and women of faith should conduct their lives. He served his earthly master to such effect that Potiphar eventually left the organisation of his household completely in Joseph’s hands. This was an extraordinary turn of events bearing in mind that Joseph was now a Hebrew slave in the land of Egypt – something not to be desired if you were seeking success in this life! All this adds immensely to his character and his faith. He was convinced that God was on his side and this is what kept him going.
We wonder if Joseph ever tried to communicate with his family while he was in Egypt, although there is no record of this happening. Surely he would have been worrying over his father’s grief at having lost his beloved son. (See Genesis 37.34,35) Yet Joseph was to endure even more tribulation and at this juncture we notice the pattern of his trials and the way in which he reacted to them. These testing events that followed in Joseph’s life, instead of causing him to become dispirited actually helped him to build a foundation for his faith.
Cast into Prison
Potiphar’s wife was the next test for Joseph. Being accused by her of improper behaviour, he was cast into prison for three years and no doubt lived among the dregs of Egyptian society. Surely this was as low as Joseph could sink. As each week and month went past, he still had faith in his God. He was supported by the great gift of understanding dreams, being enabled by the incredible gift of God to foretell some of the future events that lay before him. His explanation of the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners and witnessing their fulfilment, would have given him encouragement, knowing that he had not been forgotten by God. Eventually he was released from prison and within a very short time he came from the depths of despair and was promoted to the most powerful ruler in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. In this way his faith in God was vindicated. The position of second in command enabled him to organise and control the food distribution in Egypt during a period of severe drought and famine, which extended beyond the borders of Egypt, encompassing the land in which his father and brothers were still living.
This brings us to consider the situation where, had Joseph’s character been different and had he been eaten up with dissatisfaction and envy, complaining that he hadn’t had a fair deal, things might have turned out so differently. What revenge could have been wreaked upon those who, by force of circumstances were now starving. The family of Jacob had no choice but to go and search for food to sustain them.
Corn in Egypt
Jacob had heard that there was corn in Egypt and he instructed Joseph’s brothers to go there to buy food for the family. Suddenly Joseph was brought face to face with his brothers once again, as they joined the pathetic queues lining up for a share in Egypt’s golden stores of corn. Recognition was immediate on Joseph’s part but his brothers had no idea of his identity, for he must have changed a great deal from the young man that they sold twenty years previously. He appeared to them as an Egyptian, in speech and dress.
The scene is set for the dramatic revelation of their long lost brother. What an amazing turn of events as they were forced to bow before this powerful ruler in fear, a man who they found themselves completely dependant on for the food they needed to sustain life. Little did they realise at the time that they were fulfilling the dreams of their younger brother who they had hated so much. (See picture on page 23)
The confusion of the brothers must have been profound. Eventually Joseph could no longer conceal his joy at seeing his family and revealed himself to them with the words ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.’ [Genesis 45.4] His brothers were naturally stunned into silence and Joseph had to repeat his declaration, promising them care and protection in the land of Egypt and finally embracing them all with warm affection. Joseph had to remind them how the purpose of God had been achieved through the course of events, reassuring them with these words:
Faith in the Divine Promises
We can see then that Joseph was a man of faith in times of great change both in his own life and in a changing world. His was a faith that was eventually vindicated and rewarded after enduring many trials and tribulations most of which are beyond the problems we have to contend with. Faith will help us even in dire extremity. Faith says in our hearts ‘Thy will be done’ and although others will jeer at continued obedience to what we know must be done, it is done by faith in what He (God) has promised and we can be assured that His promises will not fail. Between the promises and their fulfilment lies faith. Between the testimony of the Scriptures and the coming again of Christ there is faith. Joseph, along with many men and women in Bible times looked forward in confidence with their faith steadfast and undiminished. Concerning them we are told that ‘these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:’ [Hebrews 11.39]
The question we asked at the beginning of the article is answered. Joseph’s experiences were the means of helping his own family, of preserving their lives and assisting in the development of the nation of Israel under the control of the Almighty. His life is a great example to us particularly throughout all his trials and tribulations in times of great change. Joseph’s faith in God was unshakeable and will be fully vindicated when the faithful of all ages stand up in the day of resurrection to receive the promise. For we read in the last verse of Hebrews chapter 11: