(7) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good – Genesis 50:20

Jacob’s first wife, Leah, had four sons while his favourite wife Rachel had none. This caused huge tension between the wives and eventually Rachel gave her maidservant to Jacob to have children on her behalf, a common custom of the time. Jacob went on to have six more sons – two from each of the sisters’ maidservants and two more from Leah – before Rachel finally managed to conceive. Joseph, Jacob’s eleventh son but the oldest son of his favourite wife Rachel, was spoilt by his father who gave him “an ornate robe” (Genesis 37:3). The exact meaning of the word translated ‘ornate’ is uncertain, but it was clearly unsuitable for manual work. In the old King James Version of the Bible it was translated as “a coat of many colours” and this has made Joseph famous in recent times through the musical ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, which tells the story well – apart from leaving out the role that God played in Joseph’s extraordinary life.

This coat, and Joseph’s dreams of his superiority over his brothers led to them hating him and they decided to kill him. It was only thanks to an intervention from Reuben, the oldest, that he was saved from this fate and they decided to sell him into slavery in Egypt instead. As a slave Joseph was wrongly accused of raping his master’s wife, and was thrown into prison where he was left to rot for many years. Most young men going from favoured son to prisoner would turn bitter, but Joseph showed a determination to be positive in every situation, something we can all learn from. His natural leadership ability shone through so strongly that the prison warder handed over responsibility for running the prison to Joseph, which worked well as, “the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:23).

Joseph is able to interpret dreams – something he sees as a gift from God – and when two of the king’s officials are sent to his prison and have strange dreams he gives them interpretations that turn out to be 100% accurate: one is hanged while the other is reinstated to his position. He asks the cupbearer who was reinstated to put in a word for him at court but in his joy at being released the cupbearer forgets Joseph for two years.

Then Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, has a worrying dream and the cupbearer remembers Joseph. He is brought from prison to the court where he gives Pharaoh the interpretation of his dream: the land will experience seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. Joseph then draws on his administrative skills to put a proposal to Pharaoh for how the country can build up its reserves to survive the famine. Pharaoh comments that he is “one in whom is the spirit of God” (Genesis 41:38) and Joseph is given the position of Prime Minister of Egypt and he sets about organising the storage of grain.

The resulting famine triggers Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain and twenty years after they had sold him as a slave they come to face to face with him again. But Joseph is no longer the frightened teenager begging for his life, but the second most powerful man in Egypt and they don’t recognise him. After testing them to see if their hearts have changed, Joseph reveals his identity and after an emotional reunion with his father, brings his whole family to settle in the best part of Egypt.

The full extent of Joseph’s character is seen after his father’s death. The brothers fear that with Dad off the scene Joseph will now exact his revenge, but in one of the most extraordinary statements in the Bible Joseph tells them that although “you intended to harm me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). He could see the clear hand of God working in his life through the extreme difficulties he faced, as God used it to rescue his family from the famine.

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