Joseph was born in the Mesopotamian town of Haran, to his parents Jacob and Rachel. At the age of six, he left Haran along with his family and journeyed to the land of Canaan, eventually settling in Hebron.
Jacob displayed extra affection to Joseph, who was born to his father’s old age, presenting him with a specially-crafted garment. This prompted feelings of jealousy within his brothers, especially the sons of Jacob’s other wife, Leah. These ill feelings exacerbated when Joseph repeated two of his dreams to them, in which he was portrayed as ruling over his brethren. In the first, the brothers were gathering wheat in the field, and the brothers’ bundles bowed to Joseph’s bundle. In the second, Joseph envisioned the sun, the moon, and eleven stars (symbolizing his parents and brothers) bowing to him. Needless to say, the older brothers found this kind of boasting to be less than amusing.
Soon enough, when Joseph was seventeen, the tension came to a head.
One day, Jacob instructed Joseph to visit his brothers in Shechem, where they were tending their sheep. Little did he know that this would be the last time he would see his dear son, until their reunion a long twenty-two years later.
Seizing their chance, the brothers threw the unsuspecting Joseph into a pit. A short while later they spotted an Arab caravan passing the scene, and the brothers sold Joseph to the traders. He was eventually brought to Egypt, where he was sold to Potiphar, one of King Pharaoh’s ministers.
For a while, things started to look up for young Joseph. Divine success enabled him to find favor in his master’s eyes, and he was appointed head of Potiphar’s estate. However, this would not last for long.
Attracted by his handsome looks, Potiphar’s wife desired to be intimate with him. To her consternation, Joseph continuously refused. One day, when no one was home other than the two of them, the mistress grasped Joseph’s garment, demanding that he consent. Thinking quickly, Joseph slid out of his cloak and ran outside. This self-control earned him the appellation, “Joseph the righteous.”
But Potiphar’s wife turned the tables on Joseph, telling her husband that it was Joseph who had tried to seduce her. The angry master reacted by placing his trustworthy assistant in prison.
Joseph’s charisma followed him to prison as well, and the warden soon appointed him as his right-hand man. In time, his unique qualities expressed themselves in an additional area: when the king’s royal cupbearer and baker were imprisoned, Joseph successfully interpreted their dreams, correctly predicting that the cupbearer would be released and the baker, hanged.
Two years later, King Pharaoh himself envisioned two dreams, which none of his advisors were able to explain. Remembering the Hebrew youth from his prison days, the cupbearer suggested that Joseph be summoned. Joseph, then thirty, interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams as being a Divine prediction for seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine, and advised Pharaoh to prepare by storing grain during the first seven years. Impressed by Joseph’s wisdom, Pharaoh appointed him as his viceroy, second only to the king himself, and tasked him with readying the nation for the years of famine.
Meanwhile, the effects of the famine were felt in nearby Canaan. Hearing that there was grain in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers journeyed there to buy precious food from the viceroy, not realizing that he was their very own brother.
Joseph decided to utilize this opportunity to observe whether his brothers truly regretted having sold him. So he said: ‘You are spies. You have come to find where our country is weak.’
‘No, we are not,’ they said. ‘We are honest men. We are all brothers. We were 12. But one brother is no more, and the youngest is home with our father.’
Joseph pretended not to believe them. He kept the brother named Simeon in prison, and let the others take food and go home. But he told them: ‘When you come back, you must bring your youngest brother with you.’
When they return home to Canaan, the brothers told their father Jacob everything that happened. Jacob was very sad. ‘Joseph is no more,’ he cried, ‘and now Simeon is no more. I will not let you take my youngest son Benjamin.’ But when their food began to run out, Jacob had to let them take Benjamin to Egypt so they could get more food.
When Joseph sees his brothers coming, he was very happy to see his younger brother Benjamin. Of course, none of them knew that this important man is Joseph.
Joseph had his servants fill up all their bags with food. But without letting them know, he also had his special silver cup put into Benjamin’s bag. After they all left and had gone a little distance on the road, Joseph sends his servants after them. When they caught up with them, the servants said: ‘Why have you stolen our master’s silver cup?’
‘We have not stolen his cup,’ the brothers all said. ‘If you find the cup with any one of us, let that person be killed.’
So the servants searched through all the bags, and they found the cup in Benjamin’s bag. The servants said: ‘The rest of you can go, but Benjamin must come with us.’
The brothers were horrified, so they all decided to return with Benjamin to Joseph’s house. Joseph told his brothers: ‘You can all go home, but Benjamin must stay here as my slave.’
One of the older brothers, Judah, now spoke up, and said: ‘If I go back home without the boy, my father will die because he loves him very much. So please, keep me here as your slave, but let the boy go home.’
Joseph could now finally see that his brothers had changed. They had regretted how they treated him long ago. On seeing their devotion toward Benjamin, Joseph finally revealed his identity to his astonished siblings. Upon discovering Joseph’s identity, his brothers were sure he would utilize his imperial powers to exact revenge against them for their evil conduct. However, the sentiments expressed by Joseph were quite the opposite: “But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you... You did not send me here, but God.”
Joseph recognized that all the travails he had undergone were ordained by God to ensure he and his family’s survival in Egypt and the surrounding countries. Keeping this in mind enabled him to forgive his brothers and repay animosity with benevolence.
Why were Joseph’s brothers upset with him in the beginning?
How old was Joseph when he was taken to Egypt?
How did Joseph end up in prison?
What special gift and talent did Joseph have that helped him gain the favor of Pharaoh?
Why did Joseph accuse Benjamin of stealing the silver cup?
Why do you think God allowed all of this to happen to Joseph and his family?