Books of the Bible
- Old Testament
The Story of Joseph
Epiphany 7, Old Testament Series Genesis 43:3-11, 15;
(This is an example of a
dialog sermon and can be watched on video after reading the sermon,
if one so desires. The dialog is between the two pastors at Grace
Lutheran Church, Ed Markquart and John O’Neal.)
Grace to you and peace
from God our Father,
And our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today, John and I are doing a dialogue sermon. That means, we
studied the text together, we asked what it meant for the two of us,
and we talked about its meaning for you people in our congregation.
The best parts of that dialog are presented here today.
Today we are talking about the story of Joseph that is thirteen
chapters long, from Genesis 37 to 50. The story is beautifully and
artistically woven together like a novel. It is one of the best
pieces of literature in the whole Bible.
There are other pieces of literature like this novel in the
Scriptures. The story of Ruth and King David are other examples of
tightly woven short stories that can be easily read at one sitting.
Our lesson for today is about three-fourths of the way through the
Joseph story. We want to retell the whole Joseph story because it is
a “Biblical classic.” We want to retell the Joseph story so that
everybody here understands this epic story.
We begin with Jacob, the father of Joseph. Jacob, the old man, had
two wives and two servant women. Lumpy Leah who was the mother of
six boys; his two female servants gave birth to four boys, and
Ravishing Rachel (here name means pearl), who was the mother of
Joseph and Benjamin. These two sons from Rachel were the obvious
favorites. Rachel tragically died in childbirth when Benjamin was
born. So, there were six sons from Leah; four sons from servant
women, and two sons from Rachael. Six, four and two adds up to
twelve, and so the twelve
sons of Jacob became
the twelve families or tribes in the Old Testament. Joseph and
Benjamin were favored.
Joseph was spoiled! The story says that Jacob loved Joseph more than
his other sons. Why was Joseph the favorite child, the most loved
child? Because his mother was Rachel, the favorite wife. Because
Joseph was born when his father was old, the first son of Rachel.
Joseph was spoiled rotten as a little boy. He had an elevated
opinion of himself. There are three evidences that Joseph was
spoiled rotten and thought too highly of himself. Joseph had a dream
that eleven sheaves of wheat bowed to him in reverence. He told his
brothers that they too would bow to him. He had another dream that
the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to him in reverence, and
Joseph told his family that this meant his mother, father and eleven
brothers would kneel before him in homage.
His father also gave him a multicolored robe and nobody else
had such a fancy, colorful coat. In other words, Joseph felt he was
the center of the world, and all his family would bow down to him.
Of course, his brothers came to hate him and wanted to get rid of
Then one day, Jacob sent Joseph out to the fields to check up on his
ten half-brothers who were tending the sheep. When Joseph got there,
the half-brothers decided to kill him because they hated this
dreamer so much. But Rueben, the oldest, tried to save Joseph and
suggested they throw Joseph into an empty well and then Rueben could
rescue Joseph later. But
about that time a caravan was coming through and was heading to
Egypt. The brothers then decided to sell Joseph to these slave
traders for twenty shekels of silver.
Then they took Joseph’s coat, killed a goat and put the
blood of the goat on the coat so it would look like a wild animal
had killed him.
The ten half brothers took the bloody colored robe of Joseph to show
it to their father. The old man, Jacob, was stunned by the news of
his favorite son’s death, the first child by Rachel, and he never
recovered from that shocking grief.
Shortly thereafter, Joseph arrived in Egypt and was sold as a slave
to Potiphar, one of pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
The story says that God was with Joseph and he prospered at whatever
he did. Joseph was a
great administrator and Potiphar put him in charge of everything he
had. …Then the plot
wife took a liking to Joseph who, the Bible tells us, was handsome
and well built. In other words “he was hot.”
She tried to seduce him but Joseph was a man of character and
good morals and would have nothing to do with her.
So she framed Joseph to make it look like he seduced her and
that got him thrown into prison.
Before you knew it, Joseph was running the prison. In other words,
wherever Joseph went, he ended up the manager. In that prison, there
were two people in prison because the Pharaoh was angry with them.
The Pharaoh’s butler and baker. The two men, the butler and the
baker, had dreams. No one could interpret those dreams, but Joseph
said he could. He was a dreamer, we remember. Joseph interpreted
their dreams and said that the butler was to be restored to the
Pharaoh’s favor in three days; the baker was to be hanged in three
days. Three days passed. The butler was restored; the baker was
hung. Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams was accurate. Joseph
told the butler to remember him positively to Pharaoh.
Then pharaoh himself had some dreams that troubled him and he needed
someone to interpret them for him. The dreams were about seven
healthy and seven starving cows and seven healthy heads of grain and
seven thin heads of grain. Symbolically,
the seven starving cows ate the seven healthy cows and the seven
thin heads of grain swallowed up the healthy ones.
But no one could tell pharaoh what the dreams meant.
Then the butler remembered Joseph. Joseph was still in
prison. In the blink of an eye, Joseph was standing before pharaoh
and interpreted the dreams. Joseph interpreted that there would be
seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. The seven
skinny cows ate the seven fat cows. The seven thin ears of corn ate
the seven plump ears of corn. That made sense to pharaoh who needed
someone to manage his country during the years of plenty and famine.
Pharaoh then put Joseph in charge of all of Egypt and made him his
right-hand man with a position second only to pharaoh himself.
Joseph got a new gold ring, a new gold necklace, and a new
chariot that rode right behind the Pharaoh’s. Joseph managed all
the grain storage operations in Egypt during the years of plenty.
When the great famine came, all the nations had to come to Egypt to
buy food. The famine
was so great that it eventually affected Joseph’s family in
So Jacob sent his ten sons to Egypt to buy grain but he kept
Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother, Rachel’s other son, from going
with them. When the ten sons arrived in Egypt, Joseph recognized his
half-brothers but they didn’t recognize him. Joseph slyly asked
questions about the family. Was
their father still alive? Did
they have any other brothers? Then
Joseph kept Simeon as a hostage and told the other brothers to take
the grain back to their family but they were to come back and bring
Benjamin with them. He would then give them more grain.
The ten half-brothers went back to Israel and told their father
everything. The old man refused to let Benjamin go to Egypt.
Benjamin, his only remaining son from Rachel, could be killed or
sold as a slave. But the famine got worse and the brothers would
have to return to Egypt to get more food. The brothers finally
convinced their elderly father to let Benjamin go with them.
So the half-brothers and Benjamin returned to Egypt to buy more
grain. When Joseph saw Benjamin, he became very emotional but
covered it up. Eventually,
after much tension and discussion, Joseph then sent them home with
grain but he had his steward put his own silver cup in Benjamin’s
pack so it looked like Benjamin stole the silver cup. Then Joseph
sent his steward after them. The steward caught up with them and
found the silver cup in Benjamin’s backpack. He brought them back
to Egypt, and all the brothers are really frightened. The brothers
wondered out loud if God was punishing them for what they did to
Joseph so many years ago. They
discussed their guilt in selling Joseph so many years ago, not
knowing that Joseph could understand them.
Finally, Joseph couldn’t
handle it any longer and he ordered all the Egyptians out of
the room, so he was alone with his brothers. He then revealed his
true identity to them, and what was his first question of them?
“How is my father?” Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion and
cried so loudly, that the Egyptians heard him sobbing. There was an
emotional outburst of tears and feelings in this climax to the
Then the whole family, laden with treasures and food and wagonloads
of gifts, was sent back to land of Canaan to get their father Jacob
and all their families. All of them, seventy in number, came to
settle in the land of Goshen in Egypt where Joseph took care of
Thus we come to the end of the story and the end of the book of
Genesis. Jacob and all the twelve tribes, all the twelve sons, were
now in Egypt. Their twelve families were expanding and prosperous.
And we are ready for the next book in the Bible. We are ready for
the Book of Exodus and the story of Moses.
So, Ed, this is a great story, but what does it have to say to us
today. What is the
meaning of this story for our lives in 2001?
What does it teach us?
First of all, it teaches us that
God can turn evil into good. Joseph said in Genesis 50:20: “You
brothers meant evil against me but God meant it for good.”
Joseph was sold into slavery, but that evil event turned out
to be part of God’s plan.
What seems to be evil can be turned into good. … This is often
true of us in our lives, when something that we think bad happens to
us and it turns out later to be good. Let me give you two prime
examples from my personal life. Years ago, my wife and I struggled
with infertility as many of you know. We were told that we could not
have any biological children and were told by the doctor to attempt
to adopt. It seems that we were forced into a corner, we were deeply
upset and we set about adopting. We then adopted a beautiful little
infant daughter, who became a wonderful girl, who grew up to marry
Steve, and our two grandchildren are the best in the world. So years
later, we give thanks to God for our infertility. At the time, our
years with this painful infertility seemed bad but our infertility
was turned into something miraculously good. … A second example, a
year ago I almost died. The infection attacked my aortic valve, and
now I have a new valve and new pacemaker in my heart. As I look back
on that disastrous event that wasted me for almost a year, there
have been many positive things that have come out of it for me and
us. There have been some basic and fundamental changes in my own
life. Important things in me have changed. Also people close to me
were also positively affected by my near-death experience, and they
too were changed. …
So often in life, like Joseph, something we think bad happens to us,
but in the long term, it may turn out to be part of God’s destiny
for our lives. That is true for you as well.
A second quality we learn from this story. I also believe that the
story teaches us that God is with us even (and maybe especially)
when we go through the pits of life.
When Joseph’s brothers threw him in the pit, God was with
him and protected him. When
he was sold as a slave, God went with him. When Joseph was falsely
accused of attacking Potiphar’s wife, he spent over two years in
prison but God was with him during his time in prison and he was put
in charge of the prison. Through
all of these hardships and pits, Joseph was made a person of
character. No longer was he the spoiled young son but became a fine man
who was respected as a great leader.
… I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 5: “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character,
and character, hope. And
hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into
our hearts.” Suffering can produce perseverance and character.
So even when we feel that God has abandoned us when we are in
the pits of life, God is always with us and will strengthen us.
… For example, I recently read the story of Wilma Rudolph.
When she was an infant, she had scarlet fever and pneumonia.
When she was four, she got polio and was crippled in one leg.
At eight she received a leg brace and began to walk on her
own. Then in 1960 when
she was 20 she won three Olympic gold medals in track a feat not
equaled by any other American woman. Suffering built character into
Wilma Rudolph. Likewise, God used the pits of Joseph’s life to
build him into a man of great character and I believe God does that
for us as well.
The third lesson and maybe the most important that we learn from the
Joseph story is about forgiveness. Joseph had the right and the
power to punish his ten half-brothers for doing what they did to
him. He could have gotten his pound of flesh from them, his revenge
on them, but in his mercy, Joseph forgave his brothers and wept over
them when they finally reconciled. … Some Biblical commentators
compare Joseph to God. That is, God has the right and power to
punish us and we deserve it; but rather than punish us, God has
freely and generously forgiven us, restored the relationship with us
and has abundantly and freely blessed us, just as Joseph did to his
brothers. God could
have punished us but didn’t and so Joseph is parallel to God and
God’s forgiveness and blessings, freely given. … Also, the
Gospel lesson for today invites us to “love our enemies and do
good to them who persecute you;” to be “merciful and abundant in
our forgiveness,” and God will reward us for such a life. In the
Joseph story, the enemies are the half brothers who tried to kill
him, and Joseph responds to them with love and forgiveness that is
described in today’s New Testament lesson. … We hear the words
of Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not
what they do.” Joseph forgave his brothers, for they too did not
really know what they were doing.
In the Seattle Times Parade Magazine, from April 23, 2000, the
front-page article was about forgiveness. The lives of three people
were described: a young
police officer who was shot and became a quadriplegic; a young woman
who was raped, beaten and left for dead and a boy who’s mother was
murdered and his father sent to prison for the crime he didn’t
commit. All three of them told their stories of how they came to
forgive their assailants and not only that but they used their
stories to help others to forgive. … They all talked about how
harboring hatred, vengeance and rage were like a cancer that could
have destroyed them. They
needed to let go of this vengeance within, of this cancer within.
They also said it was a daily process, forgiveness, and they had to
forgive again and again. I called Terry Reed who works for prison
fellowship, and he reminded me of this story. He told of an only son
who was murdered, the murderer was sentenced to prison, and the
family of the murdered son went to the prison and eventually adopted
the man who killed their own son. True story. True invitation for us
to have a heart filled with forgiveness.
Joseph. The story of Joseph is one of the greatest short stories of
the Bible, wonderfully told, the story of a dreamer.
Joseph had many dreams. And his dreams have relevance for our daily
lives here in the year 2001.
SOLOIST; from Webber’s, JOSEPH AND HIS TECHNICOLOR DREAM COAT, the
concluding song, “Any Dream Will Do.” This selection from the
rock-opera is a wonderful conclusion to the sermon.