Joseph Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: Either “May the Lord add” or “He has taken away”
Ancestry and family life: Jacob, Isaac, Abraham. Joseph was one of the patriarchs of Israel. Both the tribe of Manasseh and Ephraim were descended from Joseph. His father and his brothers were shepherds, like Isaac and Abraham before them. At the time Joseph was sold into slavery he was the youngest of all his brothers. His father loved him more than all the rest of his children and gave him a special multi-colored coat. This led to much jealousy on that part of Joseph’s brothers. His family had a godly heritage and worshiped the true God, though they also committed a number of serious sins.
When and where he lived: At the beginning of the story Joseph and his family were living near Hebron. This is just east of the Salt Sea and south of modern day Jerusalem. He lived approximately 1900 B.C.
Events surrounding birth: Rachel and Leah were in a struggle over who would be loved most by Jacob. Both desperately desired to bear children for their husband. After Leah had already born several God finally opened up Rachel’s womb and she gave birth to Joseph. This was while Jacob was still with Laban.
Training and occupation: Joseph appears to have began as shepherd and errand boy under his family. Under Potiphar he was a steward, a manager of Potiphar’s estates. He excelled at this both under Potiphar and at the jail. Joseph must have been multilingual to carry on conversations with the various people in Egypt. Eventually he became second-in-command over all of Egypt, making him a world-leader and practically adopted royalty.
Place in history: Joseph holds a huge place in the history of Israel, Egypt, and all believers. It is probable that most of Joseph’s immediate family would have died off unless he ended up in Egypt and able to divert the famine catastrophe. Through him much of Egypt was saved from the famine as well as Israel. If Joseph and his family died there would have been no Israel. God used Joseph to keep the line of the Messiah alive.
Special traits: God gave Joseph the power to interpret dreams (40-41). This enhanced his natural gift of shrewdness and discernment. Joseph was also a very emotional man. He was deeply stirred (43:30, 45:1-2) and wept on several occasions. He really cared about family and about life. To me, this demonstrates a softness, which would be an unusual characteristic for someone who had had such a hard life.
Weaknesses: Hard to identify any firm ones. Perhaps a lack of sensitivity, a lack of maturity, and maybe some amount of pride combined to make him keep telling his brothers his dreams about his own dominance over them (37:6-11). This hurt his relationship with his brothers.
It doesn’t mention it explicitly, but Joseph did end up marrying a foreign wife, the daughter of a priest of a false god (41:45)
Strengths: Faithfulness, stewardship (39:6,8;21-23) Resisting temptation (39:7-12)
Discernment/wisdom (41:33-37; 41:47-49) Joseph very wisely devised a way to see if his brothers repented from their behavior towards him previously or if they would treat Benjamin in a similar way (cf. 44:17). Looking at the world and his own situations from God’s perspective (45:7-8). Forgiveness (50:17-21).
Important acts and events: Sold into slavery (37:25-28). Put into prison (39:20). Made ruler over Egypt (41:39-43). Visited by his brothers (42:6-7). Reunited with his father (47:29-30). Blessed (49:23-26).
How he died: Joseph died peacefully. He had forgiven his brothers. He had seen God’s plan for his life. He had been blessed by his father .He had lived to see his great-great-grandchildren. He died at the age of 110, apparently younger than most of his brothers.
Lessons from his life:
Faithfulness- Joseph was a prime example of faithfulness during his entire life. He suffered a lot and was sold into his slavery. It would have been easy to react in anger, to grow bitter and lazy, without caring about the world around him. But Joseph didn’t do that. Whatever task God gave to him, he did it with his whole heart. Everywhere he went success followed, largely because of his shrewd managing and faithful conduct. He was faithful to his master and to he prison where he was unfairly jailed.
Resistance to temptation- Joseph is the best example in the Bible of someone who resisted temptation. He was tempted day after day after day. Yet he held firm because he realized it would be sinning against God. When the pressure built up he didn’t give in, but he ran away. His close relationship with God and sensitive conscience helped him escape the lusts of the flesh.
God’s sovereignty- Joseph’s life is also a great example of the sovereignty of God. A number of seeming disasters piled up. Many would have pronounced it God’s judgment or even ill fate. However, God was so great He used all of the evil actions of man to bring about His perfect plan. Through Joseph His people were preserved as well as many in Egypt. Joseph’s brothers and he himself learned much from the experience. In the end God greatly blessed Joseph and didn’t abandon him.
Forgiveness- Joseph was treated worst by his own family than any of us have almost surely ever been treated, or ever will be. He was made a slave in a foreign country. However, he didn’t grow bitter. He didn’t hold a grudge against his brothers. Instead he forgave them, recognizing God’s sovereignty. Joseph showed true compassion and true forgiveness.
Take advantage of opportunities given us by God- Joseph had a prime opportunity when he met Pharaoh and he fulfilled what God wanted him to do with it.