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“The Success of Joseph”
Lesson Text: Genesis 41:37-46, 50-52
Background Scripture: Genesis 41
Devotional Reading: Genesis 49:22-26
Genesis 41:37-46, 50-52
37 And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants.
38 And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
39 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:
40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;
43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.
44 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.
45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.
46 And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.
50 And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.
51 And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.
52 And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.
To reveal how Joseph's insight and wisdom caused Pharaoh to elevate him to the second highest position in Egypt.
To illustrate that when God's people are faithful, He will bless them and use them for His glory.
To remember that while we might not know how God will use us in the future, we should prepare for anything by being faithful to Him.
Cream rises to the top!
The familiar idiom cream rises to the top is not used as much as it once was. In a literal sense, it refers to the butterfat in milk. In a figurative sense, it refers to those individuals in groups who rise to the top because of their outstanding abilities. To use the expression is usually a compliment. But “rising cream” can create challenges. A church in a southern U. S. town had a new associate minister for music and youth. He was very capable in both areas, and soon he was making a solid impact for Christ. Young people were being baptized, and the church was growing. The students at the high school voted him to be their commencement speaker.
The senior minister had never been selected for such an honor. He could have been very pleased to have a wonderful associate to receive such recognition, but the green-eyed monster of jealously reared its ugly head and dissension resulted. Handling the favors that others receive can create difficulties.
The situations Joseph found himself in had their origin in sibling jealously and envy (Genesis 37:11). Yet Joseph managed to rise to the top in ancient Egypt in three different areas. His dedication and efficiency prompted his rise (1) in the household of Potiphar, (2) in the prison where he had been placed because of a false accusation, and (3) in the leadership of the nation of Egypt. This lesson develops the third of these occasions.
Time: 1884 B.C.
The final verses of the previous lesson depicted how Joseph, the eleventh and favorite son of Jacob the patriarch, came to have a prison record. Even so, the last phase of that lesson affirmed that the Lord was with Joseph.
Joseph always tried to live honestly before God, but he also experienced the dishonor of being sold by his brothers, becoming a slave, and being placed in prison on a false charge. An ordinary man may have resigned himself to these things, surrendered all hope, and given in to bitterness. But Joseph was not an ordinary man.
Joseph's conduct in prison caused history to repeat itself. Previously he had risen in the sight of Potiphar to be in charge of his household. In prison, Joseph found himself functioning as an assistant to the warden, in charge of the prison and the prisoners (Genesis 39:22,23).
Joseph was then given a new responsibility-to be personal attendant to two political prisoners (Genesis 40:4). They were the cup bearer and the baker for the Pharaoh in Egypt. The two held very important places of service, for they oversaw what the king drank and ate. One ancient Jewish source conjectures that there was a plot against Pharaoh, and the reaction was to imprison any possible culprits until the situation was investigated. This source also stated that this arrangement lasted for “days”, an indefinite period of time.
Both of the special prisoners had dreams, but there was no one to interpret them. Dreams were considered to be very important in ancient times, and manuals of Dream books were used to provide meanings. In Egypt, such books were guarded closely so as to preserve the importance of the priests. Joseph's viewpoint was that valid interpretations belong to God. So Joseph asked for the prisoners to tell their dreams to him (Genesis 40:8). Joseph supplied the interpretation, and what he said was fulfilled exactly (40:9-22).
Up to that point, four dreams are associated with the life of Joseph: the two he had as a youth that caused his brothers to resent him (Genesis 37:5-11) and then a dream by each of these two officials. Two years later, Pharaoh had two dreams (41:1-7). The wise men of Egypt were not able to provide an interpretation. The cupbearer (butler) who was out of prison, suddenly remembered Joseph. This provided an opportunity to tell how the interpretation given by Joseph came to pass (41:9-13). Joseph was summoned to come from the prison into the presence of Pharaoh, where Pharaoh related the contents of his two dreams (41:14-24). Joseph provided the interpretation, gave God the credit, and suggested a plan of action for the pending years of abundance and drought (41:16, 25-36). Pharaoh's reaction is where today's lesson begins.
JOSEPH'S FAVOR (Genesis 41:37-39)
1. Why did Pharaoh appoint Joseph to such a lofty position in his kingdom? (vs. 37-39)
Pharaoh likes what he hears! Joseph has provided a detailed and decisive approach to deal with the coming years of famine (Genesis 41:33-36). This king of Egypt is very impressed with the straightforward approach that Joseph proposes. Joseph does not offer the kind of vague proposals that are subject to more than one interpretation that royal counselors often give.
Since Joseph's suggestion was “good in the eyes of Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:37), Pharaoh’s praised Joseph by affirming that he understands that God is the one who has revealed these matters to Joseph (v. 39). Pharaoh also knew that he could find “none” as wise Joseph anywhere.
While most rulers would not make such a hasty decision, especially elevating a lowly servant to second in command, the statements by Pharaoh show that must have been fully convinced that Joseph was the right man for the job. Pharaohdemonstrates that he wants what is best for his country, and he is able to assess Joseph and his abilities correctly and quickly. Based on the testimony of the butler, as well as what the king had just seen, the monarch decided that no further search was needed. Joseph was the “discreet and wise” man needed for the proposed economic plan.
JOSEPH’S PROMOTION (Genesis 41:40-44)
2. In what areas did Pharaoh give authority to Joseph? (v. 40)
Pharaoh has now made Joseph the prime minister or vizier of the country of Egypt. Two very important areas are assigned to him: (1) managing the household of the king in the palace and (2) ruling over all the people of Egypt. The phrase “only in the throne will I be greater than thou” essentially means that Joseph is second-in-command (compare Daniel 2:48; 5:29; 6:1,2).
Joseph’s assignment to be over the household of the king makes us wonder if Potiphar provides any testimony of endorsement for Joseph by relating how his household prospered when Joseph served him (see last week’s lesson).
Pharaoh immediately clarifies the tremendous scope of the position that he has just assigned to Joseph (v. 41 of today’s lesson). To be placed over “all the land of Egypt” speaks volumes to any and all persons who are witnessing what has just transpired. They know with certainty that Joseph is to be obeyed in every matter. They may seek information about certain details, but the final decisions belong to Joseph.
What Do You Think?
Should Christians seek political office? Why or why not?
Talking Points For Your Discussion
-Temptations of power
-Possibilities of good
-Conflicts with ministry
3. What three personal things symbolized Joseph’s new role? What did Pharaoh do publicly (vs. 42,43)?
Joseph went from Pharaoh's prison to his side. For Joseph to have been released from prison and given a job in Pharaoh's court would have been amazing enough. What happened, however, was beyond belief; only God could have done that.However, you already know that when God does things, He does them right! (even if we might not understand His process).
Now Pharaoh’s three symbolic actions confirm what is said (v. 42). First, the transfer of the official ring from Pharaoh’s hand to Joseph’s means that Joseph now has the authority to validate policy and decisions by the use of this ring. Its distinctive design is pressed into the wax seal of official documents.Joseph has already changed out of his prison clothes (Genesis 41:14), but these garments of fine linen are an additional improvement. Linen is made from flax, and its qualities are its strength and sheen. Egypt is renowned for the quality of its linen (see Ezekiel 27:7).
Lastly comes a gold chain to adorn Joseph’s neck (compare Daniel 5:29). This type of chain usually has a precious stone, set in gold, attached to it.
The three items of the previous verse are personal in nature. Now Pharaoh takes care of Joseph’s public recognition by having him ride in a chariot that demonstrates to others that Joseph is second only to Pharaoh (v. 43 of today’s lesson). Men are assigned to go before Joseph and to give a command that alerts people along the way that the one who is passing is Joseph. Bow the knee is a possible translation, although the exact meaning of what they say is uncertain. It is similar to a Hebrew word meaning “to kneel”; and it can also be an Egyptian word meaning “attention.”
4. With position comes power and changes. What authority was given to Joseph in Pharaoh’s court (v. 44)?
Pharaoh said to Joseph: “I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all of the land of Egypt” (v. 44). This statement emphases Joseph's authority and power in that no one is to do anything unless Joseph approves it.
Even vice presidents, princes and prime ministers in modern nations do not have the kind of authority given to Joseph. Modern governments do not even issue carte blanche authority (complete freedom) to their presidents, kings and premiers. Many times when dictators reign over nations, they do so by creating the fear of death among those beneath them (Dan. 2:1-13, Mark 10:42-45). Sometimes one who has risen to power is tempted to misuse his authority. Joseph possessed great authority but he never abused it. He had been tested on several occasions and passed. This, no doubt, was one of the reasons the Apostle Paul warned against appointing to leadership in the church one who is a “novice” (1 Timothy 3:6,10).
CHANGES IN JOSEPH’S LIFE (Genesis 41:45)
5. What changes were made in Joseph’s personal life (v. 45)?
Joseph’s new position brings with it changes in his personal life. First, his name is changed (compare Daniel 1:6,7), and his new name seems to be Egyptian in origin. The exact meaning is uncertain. More recently it is thought that the name might mean “God speaks, and this one lives.”
Second, Joseph’s new life needs to be complete by his having a wife. So Pharaoh gave Joseph a wife, Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, the head of a privileged, priestly Egyptian family. It was considered a great honor to be given a wife from a priestly family. Priests and religious teachers were revered and highly respected in ancient times. Joseph's father-in-law, Potipherah, priest of the city of On, which is located in northern Egypt, about seven or eight miles from the present city of Cairo.
Joseph’s father-in-law, Potipherah. We caution that Potipherah is not the same as Potiphar, although the names are similar.
Trappings or Tools?
Before the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, many Americans lived as if they were wealthier than their financial situation permitted. For example, it was possible to lease a car that was much more expensive than one would have been able to purchase. Easy credit persuaded many that they could afford an impressive home. Cruises, designer clothes, and dining at expensive restaurants became other trappings of success. When the meltdown came, the trappings disappeared.
Joseph himself ended up with many of the symbols of success when the king gave him the royal ring, royal clothing, a chariot, and even what today we might call a “trophy wife”! But Joseph did not allow himself to become “trapped by the trappings.” The things the king gave him became Joseph’s tools to accomplish an important task: the saving of many (Genesis 50:20).
To live a life of prosperity is a double-edged sword. The “stuff” of prosperity we possess can either be trappings or tools to us. If we make the mistake of becoming trapped by the trappings, God may do us a favor by taking those things away! —C. R. B.
6. How old was Joseph at this time?
We use verse 46 (not in today’s lesson) to compare Joseph’s age of 30 here with his age of 17 on being sold into slavery (see Genesis 37:2), it means that Joseph has been in Egypt 13 years by this time. He will be here another 80 years, dying at age 110 (50:22).
Joseph has a new name, a new wife, and new responsibilities—indeed, it seems that he has an entirely new life! It is time for him to begin his service. His previous places of service probably did not include any travel. Now he needs to conduct his personal survey throughout Egypt in order to know how to organize the people and the places in preparation for the coming years of famine.
Verses 47-49 (not in today’s lesson) summarize Joseph’s work during the seven years of plenty. Every city has storage facilities for the grain, and the quantity of grain is so great that keeping records of the amount is not practical.
JOSEPH'S TWO BOYS (Genesis 41:50-52)
7. What did Joseph name his two sons (vs. 50,51)?
Before the years of famine came, God blessed Joseph and his wife with two sons. The first born son of Joseph was named “Manasseh” which means “forget.” Biblical names often evolve around events related to a person's birth. Later name changes often reflect something of the circumstances in a person's later life. (cf. Gen. 32:28). At this point in Joseph's life he was exceedingly blessed. He had an important position, a wife, and now a son. The happy events of his current life were helping him forget these unpleasant past experiences. Thus Joseph gave his son a name that would remind him to forget.
Joseph's and Asenath's second son was named Ephraim (v. 52 of today’s lesson). “Ephraim” comes from a Hebrew word that means “fruitful.” Since God had caused him to be fruitful in the land of his affliction, Joseph so named his second child. Joseph doesn't forget God, even when times are good. God is the cause of his prosperity. He keeps the proper prospective when he exclaims that: “for God hath caused me to be fruitful.”
8. How will Joseph's sons play an important part in God's providence?
Joseph's sons will be significant in the history that unfolds. The tribe of Ephraim will produce Joshua, who will be Moses' assistant, general, and successor. Jeroboam, also of this tribe, will be the first king of the northern nation after the nation divides into two: Israel to the north and Judah to the south (1 Kings 11:26).
The tribe of Manasseh is distinctive in that it will be the only tribe to receive two land allotments when the nation if Israel begins to take possession of the promised land. Half the tribe will settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River (Joshua 1:12-14). The other half will be assigned land adjacent to Ephraim on the western side of that river (Joshua 16,17).
1. God's gifts, used for God's glory will seldom go unnoticed by others (Genesis 41:37,38).
2. The providence of God will get you to the right place at the exact time God wants you there (vs. 39,40).
3. Do not be afraid or ashamed to take any opportunity that God gives you (vs. 41-43).
4. Final leadership always requires accountability and responsibility (vs. 44,45).
5. Success should make us more thankful to God (vs. 50,51).
6. True success is found in glorifying God wherever He places us (v. 52).
Up to the point of this lesson, Joseph was able to handle successfully the trials and adversity that came his way. He handled adversity without blaming God, and he resisted sexual temptation without yielding. But at the age of 30, Joseph was confronted with his greatest challenge: how to handle position, power and wealth. To become exceedingly powerful and wealthy brings with it a temptation to wallow in luxurious decadence. It may be a blessing for some not to receive great wealth, lest they be unable to handle the temptations that come with it!
One preacher cited the example of an acquaintance who regularly made statements about what he would do for his church if he just had the money. Then oil was discovered on his land. The preacher's observation was this: “He became rich overnight, and he went to Hell just as fast.”
Many events of the Old Testament serve as negative examples so that we will not desire the evil things that the people of Israel did (see 1 Corinthians 10:6-11). But the story of Joseph is a positive example, for his life is worth emulating.
Almighty God, I come to you in Jesus' name to thank You for the favor You have given to me. Please grant me the spiritual maturity to handle my blessings successfully, to recognize that they are from you, and to use them wisely for Your glory. In Jesus' name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Handle favor with care!