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 (Manna 64: Dealing with Calamities)
Joseph in Egypt
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Joseph in Egypt

Philip Shee—Dubai, United Arab Emirates


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?

Joseph’s 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 formula:

            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.
(Gen 39:2-4)

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.

Joseph’s 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.

Joseph’s 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.

After 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.

God’s 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.


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Author: Philip Shee