SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Genesis 37:1 through 50:26
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:7)
Joseph’s birth is recorded in Genesis 30:22-24, and then his story begins in chapter 37, opening a new section in the book and covering fourteen chapters. Like his father Jacob, grandfather Isaac, and great-grandfather Abraham, Joseph was a chosen man. The hand of God was evident on his life in each situation portrayed, ruling and overruling the plans and decisions made by men.
Joseph was the eleventh of Jacob’s twelve sons, and the elder son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel. Of all his sons, Jacob loved Joseph the most, and this obvious favoritism caused a spiraling resentment in Joseph’s half-brothers that brought seeming tragedy into the young man’s life. However, Joseph’s commitment to the principles of truth, right, and faith in God were already entrenched in his heart, and those attributes served him well in the ensuing traumatic events. Though he faced betrayal, temptation, false accusations, and unfair imprisonment, his positive responses and consistent faithfulness to God transformed each adversity into something God could and did use.
The story of Joseph cannot be fully understood without a clear grasp of the Lord’s involvement in the proceedings. Years before Joseph was born, God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham. However, He had also revealed to the patriarch that “thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them” (Genesis 15:13). God used the harsh events in Joseph’s life to relocate him, and ultimately his whole family, to Egypt, which was part of God’s foreordained plan. Joseph’s story offers us insight into how the mysterious workings of our sovereign God are threaded through all the endeavors of humankind, and His purposes will ultimately prevail.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- In Genesis 37:3 we read that Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colors. What did the coat represent? How did this garment impact his relationship with his brothers?
The coat of many colors given to Joseph by his father was a symbol of Jacob’s preference for Joseph. As such, it added to the resentment of his brothers, which was already growing because Joseph had given his father a bad report about them (see verse 2). Historians suggest that the coat may have been a long, colorful, embroidered or striped robe with sleeves; ancient writings suggest that it may have been an ornamental tunic such as royalty might wear. Colorful dyes were difficult to procure and therefore rare in those days. Clearly, Jacob must have put much thought and money into this coat for his most-loved son. The dangers of preferring one child above another in a family may be discussed here.
- Joseph had some unusual dreams, and he shared them with his already antagonistic brothers. What effect did Joseph’s dreams about the sun, moon, and stars, and the sheaves have on his brothers? Genesis 37:5-9
The brothers’ resentment escalated as a result of hearing about the dreams. Discuss with your class that while Joseph’s recitation of the dreams stirred up the jealousy of his brothers, his simple frankness may actually point to a spirit that was without guile. Possibly he was only mildly conscious of the significance of the dreams, and merely related them because of their somewhat unusual nature. Joseph likely had no idea that his brothers would hate him “yet the more” because of what he told them. While he may have been short on tact, we can already see the commitment to the principles of truth, obedience, and faith in this young man — attributes that would serve him well in traumatic events that occurred later.
This could be an opportunity to discuss the danger of allowing the slightest amount of animosity or bitterness against another individual to creep into our hearts. Harboring those feelings led Joseph’s brothers to hostility, rage, and attempted murder.
- The brothers’ anger at Joseph led them to conspire to murder him when he came to them in Dothan at his father’s request. Which two brothers intervened, and what was the outcome of their intervention? Genesis 37:18-28
Reuben and Judah intervened, and God used their efforts. Reuben kept the other brothers from killing Joseph outright, and persuaded them to cast Joseph into a pit instead, planning to deliver him later. When a band of traders approached, Judah suggested that they sell Joseph into slavery instead of slaying him.
Follow up this question by discussing God’s involvement in this sequence of events. What befell Joseph was tragic and unjust. However, God used these events to fulfill His prophetic announcement to Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a land that was not theirs (see Genesis 15:13-16).
- In Egypt, Joseph became a slave in the household of Potiphar, an officer of Pharoah. Genesis 39:2-6 tells us that Potiphar put all his affairs into the hands of Joseph. Why did he do this?
In spite of the fact that Joseph was merely a slave in Potiphar’s house, his life and demeanor earned the confidence of Potiphar. For that reason, Potiphar put the young man in charge of all his affairs. This account provides a good opportunity to emphasize the value of a clean life and a credible witness before others. Stewardship, faithfulness, dependability, and honesty are traits that we should develop in our lives. We want others to see in us, as Potiphar did in Joseph, that the Lord is with us.
- Potiphar’s wife was a woman devoid of moral standards. She made Joseph the target of her attention, and one day when the master was away, she propositioned him. How did Joseph respond to this temptation? Genesis 39:7-12
Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife by saying that yielding would not only be unfair to his master, who had entrusted him with great responsibility, but would be a sin against God. Joseph’s response was based upon a solid commitment to the principles of God. Potiphar’s wife evidently thought she could erode his determination by persistence, for she “spake to Joseph day by day.” However, when she caught him by the garment, he ran from her presence, leaving his garment behind.
Ask your class to discuss how we should respond when faced with temptation. Joseph’s response — to resist and flee — is an excellent strategy.
- Because Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph, he was put into prison. However, once again his exemplary life was noticed, and before long he was placed in charge of many details of prison life. He won the confidence of his fellow prisoners, including Pharoah’s butler and baker. To whom did Joseph give the credit for interpreting the dreams of the imprisoned butler and baker, and later, of Pharoah himself ? (See Genesis 40:8; 41:16.) What does this tell us about Joseph’s character?
Joseph told the butler and baker that the interpretation of their dreams was from God, rather than using the situation to make himself look good. Contrast his humble demeanor with the self-assertive attitude that is common in society today. Note also that it was not Joseph’s knowledge of dreams that helped him interpret their meaning, it was his knowledge of God. Knowing God will help us to face any eventuality life may bring our way. Many times what may seem to be a dead end for us may actually be another step in God’s full plan.
- Numerous events in Joseph’s life could have caused him to feel that God had forsaken him: the anger and resentment of his brothers, their selling him into slavery, the false accusation that resulted in his imprisonment, and the fact that even his kindness to fellow prisoners was forgotten. However, we see no indication that Joseph was discouraged or embittered. What do you think was the secret to his remarkable attitude? Genesis 39:2,21,23
While the circumstances of Joseph’s life could have led him to view his situation as hopeless, Genesis 39:2, 21, and 23 point out that the Lord was with Joseph. His experience with God had taught him that while he could not anticipate being exempted from trials and harsh injustices in life, he could expect the Lord to be merciful and gracious to him in whatever circumstance he found himself.
You may wish to use this question to discuss ways we can keep from succumbing to discouragement in times of trial and hardship. Joseph’s attitude has been a glowing example through thousands of years to the power of God to sustain an individual in the midst of exceedingly hard places.
- Two years after he correctly told the baker and butler what their dreams meant, Joseph was called to stand before Pharoah and reveal to Egypt’s ruler that a national disaster was impending. What was the nature of that disaster, and how did Pharoah respond? Genesis 41:28-32; 38-45
Pharoah’s dream foretold that seven years of plenty in the land of Egypt would be followed by seven years of terrible famine. Pharoah recognized that the Spirit of God was in Joseph, and that God himself had revealed to Joseph the events that were about to take place. He promoted Joseph to a position of leadership in Egypt second only to himself, and put the former slave and prisoner in charge of implementing the strategy that would preserve Egypt from the devastating effects of famine.
You may wish to point out to your group that the assurance and stability of God’s promotion is in great contrast to the instability and uncertainty of self-promotion.
- Acts of harsh unkindness and a period of twenty years stood between Joseph and his brothers. When they came to Egypt to procure provisions, Joseph orchestrated a series of circumstances that revealed their attitudes truly had changed. Then he made the startling disclosure to them: he was their brother, Joseph. (See Genesis 45:4-8.) What did Joseph understand about God that helped him give such a merciful and kind response to his fearful brothers?
Joseph understood that God is sovereign. He was able to recognize that God’s plans are not dictated nor altered by man’s activities. Man’s intentions may be evil but God will overrule and make all things work together for good for those who trust Him.
Joseph’s connection with God allowed him to survive and prosper in spite of extremely trying circumstances. He was betrayed and deserted by his brothers, falsely accused and imprisoned for doing the right thing, and forgotten by those he had helped. Still, his positive reaction transformed each obstacle into a step forward. When we face setbacks, a Joseph-type response will help us navigate through difficulties!