Faith Heroes: Joseph

God meant it for good!” The exclamation point is heard in Joseph’s voice as he reviews the course of his life. Yes, he was addressing his brothers’ plea for forgiveness, but the depth of his words reflected a life lived by faith, always certain that God was in control and He knew best.

We rewind twenty chapters from Genesis 50. A young woman yearned for a child of her own, but years of waiting took their toll. Sister envy culminated in an ultimatum to her husband, and a child was born to her maid. She experienced the joy of a small victory but remained unfulfilled. Was she losing her confidence in God? Then came those thrilling words: “God remembered Rachel.” At last, she would experience the joy of having a son. Her heart was full, her faith was strengthened, and as she spoke her newborn’s name, Joseph, she had no doubt the Lord would give her another son.

This child, born after many years of barrenness, would have the odds stacked against him throughout the course of his life, but Joseph’s ultimate triumph would be a testament to his unwavering faith in God.

Faith During Family Adversity

As a child, Joseph may have been too young to recognize the conflict between his father and his grandfather, but the tension was real. The rivalry between his mother and Aunt Leah, and later the clash between his father and Uncle Esau would also make their mark. Children are perceptive, and while parents may disguise conflicts and tensions, they’re not fooling the kids.

Yet all the conflicts of prior generations couldn’t have prepared Joseph for the envy of his brothers. Driven by spiritual blindness and pride, they burned with hatred against him. Believers today may experience what it’s like for family members to “not speak peaceably to them” (Gen 37:4) and to mock their dreams. Through it all, Joseph loved his brothers, content to leave things with the Lord. Instead of harboring bitterness, Joseph showed kindness and forgiveness. “Be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5 KJV). Such an attitude could only be attributed to complete trust in God.

Faith In a Foreign Land

We don’t have insight into Joseph’s thoughts while in the pit, but given his character, he likely spent the time praying. Soon he would be in the hands of strange men who spoke a foreign language, and at the auction house, yet another unknown tongue. What emotions did he experience as he was roughly passed from hand to hand, stripped of his dignity and beloved coat, with no link to his father’s house except his memories?

Until his conversation with the butler, there’s no record of Joseph’s telling anyone about his circumstances, and yet during his adjustment to a foreign tongue, people and culture, he excelled in administering everything entrusted to him. He didn’t allow the painful past nor the uncertain future to stop him from pouring his energy into the present. We may condemn Potiphar and the jailer, but their willingness to trust young Joseph is commendable. God rewarded Joseph’s faithfulness by opening the eyes of these men to his character and showing them that God was with him.

Many believers are presently experiencing the painful process of assimilating into a foreign environment. Circumstances in their native land have pushed them to emigrate to a new place, often with minimal grasp of the language and culture. Education and skills highly valued in their home country are not recognized because of language barriers, and they are forced to seek jobs at levels below their capabilities. Through tears and desperate moments of pouring their hearts out to the Lord, the sight of an interested believer approaching to show kindness, help, and even attempt to speak in their native language has caused many a heart to be revived and faith to be rekindled. Let us remember to draw near to these dear believers and help them with whatsoever they have need of (Rom 16:2).

Faith When Falsely Accused

Potiphar entrusted everything into Joseph’s hand, and Joseph embraced that responsibility, executing his duties with a clear conscience before God and man. However, Satan had his eye on Joseph, and he put a target on his testimony. Maybe this young man who has achieved so much feels entitled and will be easy prey for temptation. On the contrary, despite Joseph’s accomplishments, he remained humble, always crediting the Lord for his success. When temptation struck, Joseph immediately fled, understanding the wisdom of fleeing (1Co 6:18) rather than remaining to fight.

It must have been devastating for Joseph to be the victim of false accusations after he’d done everything right. How was it possible that he had remained morally pure and faithful, yet here he was in prison, being punished for a sin he didn’t commit? False accusations can be devastating to a believer and even more so when leveled by someone they trust.

The Lord proved His faithfulness by showing Joseph mercy and giving him favor in the sight of the prison-keeper (Gen 39:21), resulting in Joseph’s being once again entrusted with responsibility and rewarded with prosperity. The accusations were hard blows, but Joseph’s faith kept him on an even keel, preserving him from resentment and desire for revenge.

Faith When Forgotten

The addition of two prisoners brought a fresh challenge to Joseph. He gained their trust and was quick to notice their sad faces one morning. As he interpreted the butler’s dream, he was full of anticipation: “Remember me and mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this prison.” Then we hear Joseph, for the first time, express his unjust treatment: “I was stolen from my home; I’ve done nothing wrong.”

The thrill of hope Joseph felt as he watched the butler walk out the prison door would vanish as days without action turned into months and years. He’d served the man, been kind to him, and helped him in his hour of despair, and here he remained – forgotten. Joseph could have been overcome with bitterness, but we see no such evidence as he served faithfully in the prison.

It’s easy in today’s busy lives to forget about others – older believers, Christians that live far away, saints outside of our normal orbit. Before long, our relationships devolve into a Sunday morning greeting, with little thought of them the rest of the week. Is it possible that others are longing for us to remember them, first in prayer, but also by visits and phone calls? Could an older brother or sister sit quietly at home waiting for a call from a young believer he or she mentored? Some believers live very lonely lives, and just to be remembered is a source of faith and hope. Let us not forget our fellow saints whose faith is strong and who pray for us.

Faith When Wielding Authority

Pharaoh’s ring, kingly garments, a gold chain, a luxury chariot, and a princess bride would make Joseph the envy of many high-ranking officials. Abuse of power for personal enrichment would be typical for men of that station, but the man that controlled the economy of the richest nation on earth was the same man that administered his office fairly and faithfully in Potiphar’s house and in prison. As Joseph managed this vast enterprise of collecting, storing and distributing food, he never forgot to whom he owed everything.

Maybe Joseph’s greatest opportunity to wield authority selfishly was with his brothers; how tempting to finally avenge their malicious actions against him. Instead, this powerful man broke down in tears of joy as he revealed himself to those who had hated and sold him. Instead of retribution, Joseph cheered them with words of care and encouragement and promised to provide for their children. May we learn from Joseph to forgive those who wrong us and to return good for evil.

Faith That Is Forward-Looking

A single verse in Hebrews 11 is dedicated to Joseph, and unlike other heroes of faith mentioned, verse 22 commends what Joseph said rather than what he did. We learn what was on his heart at the end of life. Amidst all the fame, fortune and honor gained in his adopted country, Joseph knew that Egypt was not home.

It is unlikely that Joseph cared about his bones or the location of his grave in the context of his personal legacy, but he cared deeply about God’s promises and he wanted his people to hold those promises dear. Joseph could not have known about the heartache that Israel would endure over the next few hundred years, but his request would stand as a beacon throughout the centuries, reminding Israel that God would deliver them out of bondage and into the promised land.

Are we concerned about our legacy on earth? Is this life what we care about, or are we faithfully looking forward to what is to come? The promises of God are immutable, and we expectantly anticipate the day when our bones will be taken out of this place and we will be forever with the Lord.

May we be built up in our faith as we prayerfully contemplate the example of faithful Joseph.