Joseph in Egypt
Philip Shee—Dubai, United Arab
History has no shortage of
inspirational stories of people who overcame adversities to rise to power and
of people who overcame odds to transform from rags to riches. While these
stories are often quoted in leadership or business forums to inspire listeners
towards pursuing success, they may not be directly relevant for Christians as
faith is often not an element or part of the equation of success. For
Christians, the Bible itself is a well of inspirational stories that we can
draw from to spur us in our life’s journey. The story of Joseph in Egypt is one
from which Christians can trace his rise from slave to steward, from prisoner
to governor. What was his secret of success? How did he cope with the ebb of
his life? How did he handle success?
Secret of Success—God’s Grace in his Life
Joseph’s life in Egypt started as
slave in the house of Potiphar, but he soon gained the trust and favor of his
master. Hence he very quickly became the overseer of Potiphar’s house and was
given charge over all that that he had. While Joseph was undoubtedly a
hardworking and responsible worker, his success was driven primarily by one
The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a
successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his
master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to
prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and served him. Then he
made him overseer of his house and all that he had he put under this authority.
This same formula saw Joseph
through his entire time in Egypt. When he landed in prison in a twist of
events, “the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor
in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen 39:21).
The keeper of the prison trusted Joseph and gave him charge over the prisoners
and “the keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under
Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the
Lord made it prosper” (Gen 39:23). It became even clearer that the Lord was
with Joseph when He guided him to accurately interpret the dreams of the
butler, the baker and, more importantly, the Pharaoh. The latter event
catapulted Joseph to the position of governor over the land of Egypt, second in
rank only after the Pharaoh himself. This was an incredible achievement as he
was only thirty years old at that time (Gen 41:40–46).
Many people starting their career
in junior positions within an organization would probably harbor the hope of
rising through the ranks into senior positions in the shortest possible time.
To realize this dream, some may go many extra miles beyond hard work and good
work ethics to enhance their chances of success. This may involve excessively
stretching themselves in endless pursuit of upgrading courses, indulgence in
additional social activities after work with colleagues and superiors, which
are often spent in pubs, or weekends on golf courses in hope of rubbing
shoulders with movers and shakers. While these methods may indeed be the secret
of success for some, they will inevitably distract Christians in their faith
and gradually turn them away from God. On the other hand, Joseph in Egypt
offers Christians an alternative solution and points to the real source of
success, which is God Himself.
Virtues—Tenacity and Uncompromising Adherence to God’s Commandments
God had a reason to remain with
Joseph and to bless him throughout his life—Joseph had many virtues that we can
learn from. If we were to experience similar trials as Joseph did, we would
probably end up as cynics questioning God’s love and justice. Joseph, however,
maintained his integrity and uncompromising adherence to God’s commandments,
although he had yet to understand why God had allowed him to be sold to Egypt.
When tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he firmly rejected her advances with the
remark, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen
39:9). His tenacity was further displayed as the temptation continued: “So it
was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with
her or to be with her” (Gen 39:10). Joseph’s determination to preserve his
holiness was remarkable, as he could have easily made use of the situation. He
could have played along with Potiphar’s wife behind his back and gained her
favor, thereby further consolidating his status in Potiphar’s house.
Ironically, his choice to hold fast to what was right landed him in prison
instead, as Potiphar’s wife framed him in her wrath.
We may sometimes face scenarios in
our career that put us in similar dilemmas, where sticking to Christian
principles may be unfavorable to us, while yielding to temptations may very
well provide a springboard for immediate benefits. For example, dealing with
integrity as opposed to cutting corners in business may sometimes yield us less
profit. Telling our boss what he needs to hear as opposed to what he wants to
hear may leave a negative impression with our boss. Rejecting the invitation of
our boss or colleagues to party through the night may leave us excluded from
the inner circle in the office. When faced with these crossroads, we can draw
inspiration from Joseph to hold fast to our Christian principles.
Faith—In Adversity and In Success
As we trace
Joseph’s encounters in life, we cannot but admire him for his steadfast faith
in God. A bystander in his time observing his life would probably struggle to
make any sense of it. For a start, he did not understand what he had done to
deserve slavery in Egypt. And just as God seemed to intervene and lift him up
from slavery to stewardship in Potiphar’s house, he was framed by his mistress
and thrown into prison. A glimmer of hope then surfaced when he accurately
interpreted the butler’s dream, but even this little hope was dashed when the
butler forgot about Joseph for two whole years after his reinstatement.
If we went
through similar experiences, would our faith be shattered? Would we still
believe that God is in control? Would we rely on Him to overcome our
difficulties? Would we continue to give glory to Him? Throughout his
adversities, Joseph did not murmur. On the contrary, he continued to trust and
glorify God every step of the way. When tempted by Potiphar’s wife, the
overarching factor that prevented Joseph from crossing the line was his fear of
God (Gen 39:9). When presented with the butler’s dream, Joseph’s response was,
“Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Gen 40:8). And when brought before the
Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, his response was, “It is not in me; God will
give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen 41:16). Once he had heard Pharaoh’s
dream, Joseph explained to him that the interpretation was not due to his own
ability, but that “God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do” (Gen 41:25).
Joseph overcame each challenge he encountered by putting God at the center of
his life. He consistently attributed success and glory to God alone.
interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph’s life finally turned the corner as he
regained his freedom and was made governor of the land. For some, such sudden
achievement of success may overwhelm them to the extent that they start to
trust themselves more than they trust God. Others may abuse their position to
seek vengeance against those who have wronged them previously. Joseph, however,
maintained his faith as before, putting God at the center of his life,
attributing the key events in his life to God.
When two sons were born to Joseph, he named the firstborn Manasseh, “for God
has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house” (Gen 41:51), and the
second son Ephraim, “for God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my
affliction” (Gen 41:52). God was clearly still in the heart and mind of Joseph
even in such moments of success.
When his brothers came to buy
grain in Egypt, Joseph’s interaction with them again showed God to be at the
center of his life. Joseph clearly stated that he feared God (Gen 42:18). When
he finally revealed his identity to his brothers, he was quick to comfort them that
it was God and not them who really sent him to Egypt. He recognized that God
had done this to preserve and deliver them from the famine in the land (Gen
45:5–8). Upon Jacob’s death, his brothers were again concerned that Joseph
would take revenge against them. However, he did not abuse his position or
success to seek revenge. On the contrary, he responded,
“Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order
to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen 50:19–20)
Joseph did not waver in his faith,
neither in adversity nor in success. Even at the very end of his life, his
faith was clearly seen as he told his brethren, that God would surely bring
them out of the land of Egypt and back to the Promised Land (Gen 50:24). In
addition, he took an oath from the children of Israel to carry his bones out of
Egypt when they departed.
Glory—Manifested in the Life of Joseph
Although Joseph had to face many
setbacks in his life, God’s work and glory were very clearly manifested in him.
Potiphar saw that “the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to
prosper in his hand” (Gen 39:3). When Joseph was put into prison in a twist of
events, he gained the favor of the prison keeper because he witnessed that “the
Lord was with him and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper” (Gen 39:23).
To Pharaoh, Joseph was only a foreign prisoner. Yet, Pharaoh could see clearly
that God’s glory and power were manifested in Joseph (Gen 41:37–42).
God was with Joseph because he
faithfully held on to His words and principles, put Him into the center of his
life and always attributed his success to God with a humble and thankful heart.
For this reason, Joseph’s life in
Egypt provides us with a wonderful example of how to be both a successful
employee and a successful Christian.