Joseph In The Old Testament: Bible Character Profile And Study

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is one that has been dramatized many times by the entertainment industry, both on screen and on Broadway. His story is the grand introduction to the history of Israel as it relates to their bondage in Egypt. However, his story also serves as an example to Christians of God’s faithfulness and our calling to fulfill God’s purpose for us no matter what the circumstance.

Joseph’s early life (Genesis 37)

Joseph was born the 11th of 12 sons to his father Jacob. He was also the first born of his mother Rachel, whom his father loved more than any of his wives and made Joseph Jacob’s favorite son (Genesis 29-30:24; Genesis 37:1-4). As Jacob’s favorite son, he received from his father a coat of many colors, which made his brothers jealous to the point of hating him and they would not speak to him.

Joseph In The Old Testament

By age 17, Joseph developed a habit of spying on his brothers and reporting back to his father what they were doing while they tended to the family flocks. This only added to their animosity toward him. Yet, despite the growing rift between Joseph and his brothers, he told them of a dream he had which made them hate him even more.

In Joseph’s first dream, he was working in the field binding sheaves of wheat with his brothers. His sheaf stood upright and their sheaves bowed to his. When he told his brothers, they were angry with him. Joseph had a second dream where the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowed to him and he was quick to share this dream with his brothers and his father. After telling his brothers and father, his father questioned him, asking if he and Joseph’s mother along with his brothers would come to bow down to him. While his brothers envied Joseph, his father noted what Joseph had told him.

The story continued with Joseph’s brothers going off to feed the flocks. His father told him to go see how his brothers were doing and come back with a report. Joseph set out to find his brothers and eventually found them about 50 miles north of home. When he approached his brothers, they hastily made a plan to kill him and toss him into a nearby waterless pit. The oldest brother, Reuben, however, countered their plan by telling them that they would not kill him, but only put him into the pit, then take him back to their father later.

The brothers agreed and took Joseph, stripped him of his coat, and threw him into the pit. It was then suggested by Judah that they instead sell their brother to an approaching caravan. The brothers agreed and they sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver. The caravan took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Joseph’s brothers returned home and created an elaborate story of how Joseph was killed and eaten by an animal. This made their father Jacob so heartbroken, he went into deep depression.

Joseph’s testimony (Genesis 39-50) 

In Egypt, Potiphar assigned Joseph to be a servant in his house. Potiphar quickly saw that the Lord was with Joseph and everything prospered under his hand. Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his entire house, which resulted in Potiphar’s entire estate being blessed. However, Potiphar’s wife tried to have an affair with Joseph. He resisted her and explained that he could not do such a wicked thing.

One day they were alone in the house together and she again insisted that he have an affair with her. Joseph ran out of the house, but not before she had grabbed a piece of his clothing. Potiphar’s wife, being rejected, called for help and told a lie that Joseph had tried to rape her and fled. She later retold the lie to Potiphar and he had Joseph sent to prison.

In prison, the prison keeper also saw that the Lord was with Joseph and he put Joseph in charge of the prison. Like before, everything under his hand prospered. One day Pharaoh had dreams that his magicians could not interpret. His butler told Pharaoh how Joseph had correctly interpreted dreams so Pharaoh send for Joseph to come to interpret the dreams. Joseph told Pharaoh that his dreams were a prophecy of seven years of abundance that would be followed by seven years of famine. Since the magicians could not interpret the dreams, Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of preparing for the famine.

When the famine came, Jacob sent some of his sons to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph, now married and with two sons of his own, saw his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Joseph concealed his identity and questioned his brothers about their intentions. He then accused them of being spies and locked up his brother Simeon. He then insisted that they come back with Benjamin, his younger brother by birth to his mother, Rachel, to prove that their story was true.

The brothers went home and after some time they returned with Benjamin. Joseph decided to frame Benjamin to make it look like he had stolen a cup, after which he insisted that Benjamin go to prison. Then his brother Judah, remembering their father’s depression over the loss of Joseph, confessed his sin for selling Joseph and faking his death. He then offered to go to prison in place of Benjamin.

Upon hearing this confession, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. Their terror turned to tears of rejoicing. Joseph asked if his father was still alive and they assured him that he was. Joseph told them that they should not grieve or be angry over what they had done, because their actions resulted in Joseph saving the family from the famine. When Pharaoh heard the news he insisted that Joseph bring his family there to live. Joseph sent for his family and upon arriving he set them up with a plot of land and provisions.

They continued to live out their days in Egypt, but when their father died, the brothers were afraid that Joseph would seek revenge. However, Joseph told them that it would not happen because what they meant for evil, God meant for good. Joseph and his brothers spent the rest of their lives living in Egypt and Joseph died there at the age of 110 years. 

Joseph’s legacy

  • Joseph started his life being the favorite son that annoyed his brothers: Genesis 37:1-11
  • Joseph resisted temptation to remain pure and faithful to God and his master: Genesis 39:7-20
  • Joseph had the gift of interpretation of dreams: Genesis 37; Genesis 41:1-40
  • Joseph used his blessings and gifts to help others: Genesis 39:1-6; Genesis 39:21-23; Genesis 41:46-42:34
  • Joseph gave credit to God instead of himself: Genesis 41:16; Genesis 45:4-13; Genesis 50:15-21
  • Joseph quickly forgave others: Genesis 50:15-21

Conclusion

Joseph used his life and calling to serve others even during the worst of circumstances. His insistence upon purity and faithfulness to God enabled him to do God’s work in a way that blessed others. Although Joseph was applauded by many for his abilities, he always gave God the credit. Joseph serves as an example to believers of how nothing can stop us from serving God and forgiving those who have done us great harm.

Something else to read: Christian Dream Interpretation

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim at Growing Faith March 21, 2015 at 9:15 am

I enjoyed reading your article, thank you for posting it.

Reply

Dr. Michael Williams March 24, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Thank you for you comment Jim. I hope you were blessed. Dr Mike

Reply

reasonandreligion March 23, 2015 at 10:05 pm

The one thing which stops most of us from serving God is our attachment to ego and materialism.

Reply

Dr. Michael Williams March 24, 2015 at 6:55 pm

Thank you so much for your observation. 1 John 2:15-16 and James 1:12-15 tells us the same thing. Our greatest challenge is being selfless instead of selfish. This requires a change of heart to motivate us (1 John 4:9).

Reply

There'ssomethingnotrighthere October 23, 2018 at 1:11 pm

As you can se in my name, there’s something not right here

How could you possibly know that Joseph lived till 110 years of age

Reply

Jack Wellman October 23, 2018 at 1:17 pm

How can you possibly know he wasn’t? The Bible, being the Word of God, says this, and that’s enough for me. Apparently you do not believe in the Bible, so I pray you will someday before He returns (Rev 20:12-15).

Reply

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