When you think about the story of Joseph in the Bible (as in coat of many colors, dream interpreter of Genesis Joseph), chances are you think of a cool Bible story for kids. We all probably learned about Joseph in Sunday School early in life, and haven’t thought much more about him since then. But the truth is there are SO many wonderful lessons from the life of Joseph that hold great value for all of us, not just kids!
I’ve always been fascinated by Joseph’s story, but in recent years his unshakable faith has jumped off the pages of Scripture and challenged me to my core! Oh how I want to have faith that endures like Joseph’s did! So let’s do a little character study of Joseph in the Bible to see what lessons we can learn from this amazing man of God!
The Story of Joseph in the Bible
We first meet Joseph in Genesis 37, and the story of Joseph in the Bible continues through the end of Genesis (chapter 50) with the exception of chapter 38, which is about Judah and Tamar. There are many unique things about his story, and probably far more lessons we can learn from it than I will cover here.
One thing that is very unusual about Joseph is that the Bible doesn’t really record any major mess ups from him. Unlike almost every other Bible character, he doesn’t seem to be so flawed we find ourselves wondering why God would ever choose to use him. On the contrary, from what the Bible tells us about Joseph, he seems to be a man of unshakable faith, unwavering integrity, and unparalleled giftedness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he sinned. He was human after all. But throughout the story he seems to exceed his human frailties, and I have a feeling it had everything to do with his faith and the God in whom it was placed!
And that is the first of our lessons from the life of Joseph – when we place a faith that endures in the God of the Bible, He really can give us the power to claim victory over sin and live exceptional lives in Him! (We’ll talk a lot more about that at the end.)
* Looking for a great family devotional book to read through with your kids? I remember noticing so many of these lessons from the life of Joseph while reading his story with our family several years ago in one of the best family devotional books we’ve ever read. It’s called The Story of the Bible, by Beverly Hubbard. You can find it here and start reading it with your family!
Joseph was Gifted by God
Though it doesn’t stay that way very long, Joseph’s story starts out from a place of extreme privilege. He was born into a wealthy family, the favorite son of his doting father, and gifted by God with a prophetic ability to see into the future.
Genesis 37:4 – But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.
Unfortunately, this high position placed him right in the line of fire of his ten older brothers’ jealousy and bitterness. It didn’t take long for their festering hatred to burst out against him and tear him away from his position of privilege. Long before he had a chance to reach adulthood, Joseph found himself sold into slavery with a very different life laid out before him.
And this brings us to the first of our lessons from the life of Joseph. You see, most of us would likely find ample reason to wallow in self-pity at that point in the story, but not our Joseph. One of the things that jumps out at me about Joseph is his perpetual good attitude and tendency toward counting his blessings over his calamities.
No matter how unbearable his circumstances got, we never find Joseph complaining. Not once! Rather, we find a man who seems to truly feel he is gifted by God, even in terrible situations, and who resolves to live his life from that position of privilege. No matter where we find him, from the palace in Egypt to the filthy cell of a dungeon prison, Joseph was always working hard, doing his best to use the gifts God had given him to bring glory to Him.
What an important lesson! Do we live our lives as he did? Do we see gifts from God where others only see hardship? Do we recognize how greatly God has gifted us, and choose to work hard, no matter our circumstances, to bring glory to Him with every chance we’re given? Do we count the trials in our lives as blessings with the potential to demonstrate the power of God in us?
Oh, how convicted I feel as I consider my own response! Lord, help me to learn these lessons from the life of Joseph. Give me unshakable faith that trusts You always! Give me a heart attitude that refuses to wallow in self pity, and instead chooses to count my blessings and live on purpose through every storm and in every valley!
Lessons from the Life of Joseph – Unwavering Integrity
Probably one of the most well known lessons from the life of Joseph comes from his unwavering integrity! Every woman who has ever felt the sting of betrayal knows how deeply she longs for a man who will RUN from temptation like Joseph did!
But as is always the case with people of integrity, we can find many more examples of his unwavering commitment to be obedient to God than just that one famous incident when he had the courage to run from a beautiful woman who threw herself at him!
Genesis 39:6-12 – So Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned…
Joseph was a very handsome and well-built you man, and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.
But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held nothing back from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.“
She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused… One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house.
Yes, Joseph will forever be the heroic gentleman who refused to objectify and take what wasn’t his, but he was also the faithful servant who never cheated his master by taking for himself some of the profits he had worked so hard to bring in. He was the prisoner who never ran when given authority within the jail. He was the faithful second in command who humbly worked for the reputation of the Pharaoh and not his own.
Joseph was the man who’s unshakable faith gave him the power to live his life in obedience to God. His story gives us hope that with God’s help we humans can be honorable and live with unwavering integrity.
Lessons from the Life of Joseph – Grace Under Pressure
Let me tell you a little something about myself. Doing what I believe is right, or what I think God wants me to do when it comes to my actions, is not something that is super difficult for me. I am by nature someone who wants to do what is right. BUT, when it comes to what gets harbored in my heart, where no one else can see it… that’s a different story!
I have a very strong sense of justice and tend to see the world as pretty black and white when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong. When I feel I’ve witnessed a wrong, my sinful heart wants to think and think and think about that wrong. I cannot tell you how many countless hours of my life have been wasted in imaginary conversations with people who needed to get a piece of my mind. It’s called bitterness… and it is a sin! A sin that holds great power over me.
Ephesians 4:31-32 – Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Something that’s pretty incredible about Joseph is, not only did he seem to actively do the right thing, even when no one was watching, but it also appears that he was able to keep his heart pure before God too! This is perhaps the most challenging and convicting of the lessons from the life of Joseph for me personally.
I am overwhelmed by the apparent ease with which he was able to forgive his brothers. It indicates a complete lack of hostility and bitterness in his heart. I can’t help but wonder, how? How could he not have held a grudge against these guys?
Genesis 45:4-8 – Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And He is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh – the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.”
But the answer is actually pretty easy. It’s right there in the story. It was effortless for Joseph to forgive because he had unshakable faith in God’s sovereignty. He understood that while people do terrible things, there isn’t anything anyone can ever do which will catch God by surprise. He’s the One who ultimately is calling the shots and he has this huge, amazing master plan that we just can’t see. He uses all those ugly things and he uses all the beautiful things too, and he weaves them all together into this magnificent tapestry of a story.
Joseph understood what a privilege it was to be a part of that story and he trusted the Author. He was happy simply to play his part, no matter what it demanded. The story of Joseph in the Bible teaches me that forgiveness gets a lot easier when I can stop seeing myself as a victim, and can instead look at injustices as part of God’s good plan for me (even when it doesn’t seem all that good).
Unshakable Faith that Endures through Anything
Something I’m starting to understand is that all the lessons from the life of Joseph really boil down to one thing: his unshakable faith. But I don’t want us to walk away from this study without understanding how unlikely such a faith was in a story like Joseph’s.
Let’s not miss the fact that he waited on God for A LONG TIME! It’s so easy to lose the weight of time in Bible stories. Years and years unfold in a few sentences. Joseph was probably about 17 or 18 when his brothers sold him into slavery and he was 30 years old when Pharaoh made him the ruler over Egypt. That’s 12 YEARS or more!
We know he had already been in prison for a little while when he interpreted the dreams of the chief cup bearer and the chief baker, and we know he was left there in prison for two more years after that! So we can assume a minimum of 3 years – probably more than that IN PRISON!
That’s a long time to be stuck in an ancient prison! (Especially for something he didn’t even do!) I promise you, there was nothing fun about that situation. And it went on for years and years you guys! I really want us to think about that. And yet, Joseph had faith that endured through it all!
All the way to the very end of his life, Joseph’s faith remained strong, and He is recorded in Hebrew’s hall of faith for believing God would keep His promises about the nation of Israel.
Hebrews 11:22 – It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left.
How many times have I felt bogged down by the time it seemed I’d been asked to spend suffering? So many years of pain and heartache have taken their toll on me and I have questioned God. I’ve thought things like, “He would never ask someone He loves to spend so much time in such a dark place. So maybe He doesn’t love me.” Poor, poor, ME!
But not Joseph! That wasn’t Joseph’s attitude at all! In fact, not only did Joseph not feel sorry for himself during all those years of suffering, but he served God with gusto without ever wavering! There is such humility in that, and a faith I can’t even hardly understand!
Joseph’s unshakable faith allowed him to trust God. No matter what! He believed God’s plan would be good, even when he was sitting in a cell, with other people’s excrement dropping through the floor onto him! That is a faith that endures!
I want faith like Joseph’s! The kind of unshakable faith that can go from being the favored son in a house of privilege to a servant in the home of a foreign stranger overnight and still decide to be the best servant there is. Joseph could have pouted, or even petitioned his new master to give him justice. He could have told his story and maybe even been returned to his father, but he didn’t do any of that. He worked hard, he did his best, he trusted God.
I want to be like Joseph – to have faith that endures through all the storms so that my story becomes one in which no one can miss the power of my incredible God! I want to have unwavering integrity, and grace under pressure. To be quick to forgive, and be patient in trials. I want to have the humility to do my best even when the future seems bleak.
Basically, I want all the lessons from the life of Joseph to sink in and be part of my story too. I want to have the kind of faith that says, I know who writes this story, and I’m so privileged that He included me, now pay attention, because He is going to knock all our socks off. Just watch!