What is the story of Joseph in the Bible?


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The story of Joseph is recorded in Genesis chapters 37—50 and is summarized below:

The story of Joseph’s early life

Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel, he lived in Canaan with one full brother and ten half-brothers, and at least one half sister. Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn and Jacob’s eleventh son. He was favored by his father. For he Jacob gave his son a long coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3). Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more so they hated him (Genesis 37:4). His brothers also were also angry with him because when he was about seventeen years old, he had a dream that indicated he would rule over the whole family (Genesis 37:5–11).

One day, while grazing their flocks far from home, Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him. But Reuben, the oldest, didn’t approve of the killing and instead suggested that they throw Joseph into a pit. Ruben planned to come back and save his brother. But, while Ruben was away, Judah suggested that they sell Joseph into slavery to Ishmaelite merchants. The merchants took Joseph to Egypt. The brothers then took Joseph’s colorful coat and smeared it with a goat’s blood and gave it to Jacob their father. And the father believed that Joseph was devoured by a wild beast (Genesis 37:18–35).

The story of Joseph in Potiphar’s house

The merchants sold Joseph to an Egyptian named Potiphar who served as captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph excelled in his service and was appointed as overseer of the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39). And the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake (Genesis 39:5).

Sadly, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39:7) but he rejected her advances by saying that it would be “a wicked thing and a sin against God” (Genesis 39:9). Persistent in her efforts, Potiphar’s wife caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled. In rage she fabricated the lie that he attempted to rape her and Potiphar was obliged to send Joseph to prison (Genesis 39:7–20).

The story of Joseph in Prison

Because of God’s grace, Joseph again won the favor of his superiors in prison (Genesis 39:21–23). One day, two high ranking servants in Pharaoh’s house who had been thrown into prison asked Joseph to interpret the dreams they had the night before. Joseph gave them interpretations which came to pass. One was set free and returned to his previous position as the king’s cup-bearer but the other was killed (Genesis 40:1-23). Joseph asked the cup-bearer to remember him before Pharaoh, but unfortunately he forgot. Two years later, the king had a couple of disturbing dreams. It was then that the cup-bearer recalled Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation and told Pharaoh about it testifying to his own experience.

The story of Joseph being appointed governor of Egypt

The king called Joseph and narrated his dreams. Joseph gave the interpretation which revealed that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine in Egypt. Then Joseph counseled Pharaoh to prepare for this famine by storing grain (Genesis 41:1-37). Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph’s wisdom that he appointed him ruler of all Egypt. Joseph got married, had two sons named Manasseh and Ephraim, and carried out his role as governor of Egypt, storing up food during the years of plenty to sell to the Egyptians and neighboring nations during the years of famine (Genesis 41:38-57).

The story of Joseph and his brothers

When the famine started, Jacob sent ten of his sons to Egypt to buy grain (Genesis 42:1-3). But he kept Benjamin, Joseph’s brother from Rachel, with him (Genesis 42:4). When the brothers met Joseph in Egypt, he knew them but they didn’t recognize him. To test their character, he charged them of being spies and kept them for three days. Afterwards he released all but one and sent them with grain for their families. He requested that they bring Benjamin back as proof of their original story of being 12 sons of Jacob (Genesis 42:6-20).

At this point, the brothers felt that this experience was payback for what they did to their brother (Genesis 42:21-22). Joseph heard what they discussed and left them to weep (Genesis 42:23-24). He kept Simeon and sent the others back and also returned their money in their grain sacks Genesis 42:25). The brothers were terrified when they found the money in their sacks (Genesis 42:26-28, 35). When they returned home, they told Jacob that they would need to take Benjamin with them once they ran out of grain, but he refused.

The story of Joseph testing his brothers

Eventually, the famine forces Jacob to accept to send his children to Egypt. And Judah convinced his father to send Benjamin with them, giving his own life as a surety for his brother’s life (Genesis 43:1-10). This time, Jacob sent gifts and doubled the money for the grain with them (Genesis 43:11-14). When the brothers reached Egypt, Joseph commanded his servants to prepare a special meal for his brothers that he may eat with them (Genesis 43:15-17).

The brothers explained to Joseph’s steward about the money that was placed in their sacks and Joseph’s servant brought Simeon out (Genesis 43:18-25). When Joseph came to meet them, the brothers bowed to him, thus fulfilling the dream he had seen years ago (Genesis 43:26). Joseph asked about his family and was moved with emotion when he saw Benjamin his brother, and left the room to weep (Genesis 43:27-30). At the table, the brothers were seated according to their birth order. Benjamin was given five times more food than his brothers (Genesis 43:31-34).

Joseph again tested his brothers by returning their money in their grain sacks but this time he placed his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. When his brothers left, he sent his servant after them accusing them of theft and threatening to take whoever had stolen the cup. They came back to Joseph and Judah begged for Benjamin’s life, saying that, if something happened to Benjamin their father would die. At this point Judah offered his own life for Benjamin (Genesis 44:18-34).

The story of Joseph forgiving his brothers

Upon seeing this evidence of love, Joseph knew that his brothers had changed. He dismissed his servants and wept so loudly that Pharaoh’s house heard him. He revealed his identity to his brothers who were shocked and then scared of what Joseph might end up doing to them in retaliation for what they had done to him long ago (Genesis 45:1-8). Joseph forgave his brothers and told them that even though they meant harm, God overruled their evil work for good (Genesis 50:15-21). Joseph sent his brothers to bring Jacob and his family back to Egypt that they may live in the land of Goshen (Genesis 45:9-47:12).

The story of Jacob reuniting with Joseph

Jacob reunited with his beloved son Joseph. And he blessed Joseph and his son, giving the greater blessing to the younger of the two sons (Genesis 48:12-20). Jacob’s descendants lived in Egypt until the time of Moses. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, he took the bones of Joseph with him, as Joseph had instructed (Genesis 50:24-25; Exodus 13:19).

When we read the story of Joseph we see that even though he was treated with evil and malice, he did not abandon his faith in God nor stray away from His ways. Joseph lived a pure and spotless life in a pagan land and remained faithful to God amid the most difficult of circumstances. And when God promoted him to be second in command over all Egypt, he showed forgiveness and kindness to his brothers instead of vengeance and hate.  He exhibited full submission and unwavering trust in God’s providence.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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