Seven Subtle Insights From the Life of Joseph
Lessons abound in the story of Joseph from Genesis 37; 39–50, and many of these are obvious. Numerous insights, however, are fairly subtle and can be easily overlooked. Here are seven often overlooked principles from Joseph’s life that will benefit both kids and adults.
1. It’s important to speak up and to challenge others—even family members—to do what’s right. We learn this lesson from Joseph’s brother Reuben in Genesis 37:21-22,29-30. To his credit, Reuben did discourage his brothers from killing Joseph when he suggested that they place him in the pit, and these words may have saved Joseph’s life. However, we read that Reuben was planning to pull Joseph out of the pit “and return him to his father” (v. 22). Apparently Reuben left his brothers for a time, because verses 29-30 tell us the eldest brother came back to the pit and discovered Joseph was missing. The brothers had decided to sell him to the Midianite traders. Reuben did speak up (see also 42:22), but could he have said more? Could he have done more? After all, he was the eldest brother. His good intentions can be commended, but his strategy seems to have been weak. How can we take a stand for what’s right and encourage our friends and family members to do what pleases God?
2. Even if we don’t tell a lie with our words, we can lie through our actions and through what we don’t say. This is just as wrong as lying with our words. Genesis 37:31-32 tells us the brothers “took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a young goat, and dipped the robe in its blood. They sent the robe of many colors to their father and said, ‘We found this. Examine it. Is it your son’s robe or not?’” Jacob immediately concluded that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. While the brothers never did state a falsehood directly, they did in fact lie with their actions—and they were just as guilty of telling a lie as if they had said Joseph had been mauled by an animal. How are we sometimes tempted to leave false impressions, even if we don’t actually use words to tell lies? Such deeds are wrong.
3. Sometimes, like Joseph, a person will do nothing wrong, yet still be falsely accused. This means that someone may say a good person has done wrong or has not done something he or she should have done, and the lie is believed. This isn’t fair. We always should tell the truth about our situations—Joseph was certainly honest about his in Genesis 40:14-15. Often, however, we’re tempted to complain when things are unfair. Joseph apparently didn’t complain, even though he’d been treated wrongly. Yet God knew about his circumstances and blessed him. In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul wrote, “Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” When are we tempted to complain? How can we avoid complaining and trust God, as Joseph did?
4. Guilt lasts. The word guilt refers to having done something wrong as well as to an awareness within the person that he or she has sinned. Remember that when Joseph accused his brothers of being spies, they didn’t know he was Joseph. In Genesis 42:21, they said to one another, “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us.” What did the brothers remember the minute they found themselves in trouble? Their cruelty to Joseph, which had occurred many years before! Genesis 50:15-18 also shows us that guilt produces fear. While forgiveness triumphs over fear (see vv. 19-21), avoiding sin whenever we can is the better option. What are some of the things of which guilt robs us?
5. When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he said that God had sent him there “to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:7). Joseph could have emphasized how God was using him to save the world—but instead he stressed God’s intention to use him to save them and their families. This is entirely consistent with Joseph’s forgiving his brothers for mistreating him. In what ways can we follow Joseph’s example of being concerned for others, even people who may have wronged us?
6. Read carefully Genesis 45:24: “So Joseph sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving, he said to them ‘Don’t argue on the way.’” Joseph’s words to his brothers were so important! Why do you think Joseph gave them this advice? How can we follow it in our own situations today?
7. Genesis 47:13-27 showcases Joseph’s sterling leadership. Note especially that in verse 25, a grateful populace said to Joseph, “You have saved our lives. We have found favor in our lord’s eyes and will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” Contrast Joseph’s leadership to that of Pharaoh centuries later (see Ex. 1:8-14). The sharp differences between these leaders remind us of Proverbs 29:2, which states, “When the righteous flourish, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, people groan.” We’re reminded as well of Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-4: “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” What kinds of things should we be asking God to do for our leaders, including the president, the governor of our state, the mayor of our city, and police officers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel?
Don’t underestimate the ability of children to grasp these important concepts. Moreover, as you convey them, remember and even read to your children Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.”
No matter how hard we try, we’ll never uncover all the wonderful riches God’s Word has to offer! Thus, mining the depths of The Bible will bring incalculable rewards. Let’s keep digging!
B. Nathaniel Sullivan
Christian educator, Bible teacher, and Editor
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in SundaySchoolZone.com materials are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.