The story of Scripture transitions from focusing on Jacob to focusing on how God begins to fulfill his promises to Abraham through Jacob’s sons. Much of the narrative then highlights one of the youngest sons, Joseph. As we will see, Joseph is treated horribly by his brothers, but it is through that hardship that the Lord begins to show his power and blessing to other nations (remember, God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him).
Joseph’s story begins in Genesis 37, where we see that Joseph is the favorite son, and his father gave him a coat of many colors, which was a symbol of honor and blessing. If you have siblings, it’s not hard to guess that the rest of the family would despise Joseph because of the favoritism. In fact, the story states that “they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (v. 4).
Already on a bad foot with the siblings, Joseph kind of makes things worse for himself. We see that he dreams two dreams, both suggesting that the rest of his family would one day bow down to him (vv. 5–11). It’s not Joseph’s fault for dreaming dreams. The story makes it clear that these are from the Lord, and when we see dreams described in Scripture they are just about always important. But if we use our imaginations a little, it seems probable that Joseph didn’t just tell his family about these dreams because he thought they should know—there may have been a little taunting, perhaps? Regardless of whether Joseph carries any fault, his brothers grow to hate him even more because of their jealousy.
One day, Jacob sends Joseph to check on the brothers that were tending to the sheep, and they seize their opportunity to get rid of him. They initially wanted to kill him, but Reuben, the oldest, convinces them just to throw him in a pit instead. This was probably self-serving, because Reuben made a huge mistake in chapter 35, causing his father to take away the blessing of the oldest son. We see that Reuben was hoping to “rescue” Joseph to get back in his father’s good graces (v. 22). However, Judah and the other brothers end up selling him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver (vv. 25–28), and then lie to their father by suggesting that he had been killed by a wild animal (another case of Jacob’s deceiving his father coming back to haunt him?).
Chapter 39 carries the story forward by showing that even in his slavery in Egypt, the Lord is with him. We see this phrase or a similar one repeated multiple times throughout the chapter (vv. 2, 3, 5, 21, 23), so we know that the author is trying to drive this point home. Joseph could have turned his back on the Lord, since the God who was supposed to bless him allowed him to be sold into slavery by his own brothers. But Joseph trusted the Lord through it all, and the Lord blessed him and those whom he served.
His master’s wife, however, continually tried to seduce Joseph and entice him into adultery. Joseph remained faithful and obedient to the Lord, though, even when it ended up causing him to be falsely accused and put in jail (vv. 14–20). Yet, even in prison, the Lord was with him and continued to bless him (vv. 21–23).
I think there are a few important things to note about this story so far. First, we see that God is absolutely faithful to his promises. God’s promise to Abraham has been slowly unfolding throughout Genesis, and we see that continue here as he blesses Joseph, and blesses those who treat Joseph well. There is also an important promise in Genesis 15 that Abraham’s descendants would be sojourners and servants in a foreign land (v. 13), and this is the beginning of that fulfillment. Second, we see that God is with us, even in the hardest times. Joseph was treated unfairly and unjustly multiple times, but the author makes it clear that the Lord was still with him. Finally, we see that we should trust God and obey him even while we wait in those hard times. Joseph remained faithful and obedient, even though it would have been so easy to turn away from God since no one around him worshipped him. But Joseph’s faith and obedience bless those in his life, and as we will see in weeks to come, end up blessing the whole world. Our obedience and faith are just as important today.