Lessons From the Life of Joseph
The biblical story of Joseph shows God’s hand having a powerful impact on a young person’s life. What lessons can we learn from the life of Joseph?
Joseph was born into a family of 10 older brothers and at least one sister. His father, Jacob, had four wives, but Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, the true love of Jacob’s life (Genesis 29:30). Sadly, Joseph’s mother died when his younger brother Benjamin was born (Genesis 35:17-19). As most people know, Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. This caused his brothers to envy and dislike him (Genesis 37:2-3).
Joseph’s troubles reached a new level when he was 17. After a series of dreams showed that God would elevate Joseph over his brothers, his brothers’ dislike for him took a darker turn (verse 8).
They decided to throw him into a pit and leave him for dead. But, as they were eating, a band of Ishmaelite traders passed by, so they decided to sell him into slavery for profit instead. Joseph was then taken to Egypt as a slave. His brothers led their father to believe that a wild animal had attacked and devoured Joseph (verses 31-34).
The remainder of Joseph’s life was filled with many twists and turns. But throughout the story, God’s hand is evident.
Lessons from the story of Joseph
Let’s explore some lessons we can learn from the remainder of Joseph’s life.
Lesson 1: Joseph’s story shows God can work with young people.
Joseph was only 17 years old when we see God working in his life. His life became a powerful example of how a godly person can overcome adversities.
Many of the great heroes of faith were young when God began working powerfully with them:
- David was likely in his teen years when God chose him to be Israel’s future king.
- Esther was also a young person, who was placed in a position against her will, but who showed great faith and saved her people.
- Josiah was only 8 years old when he became king. His life is summarized as “he did what was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 22:2).
- Daniel and his friends were taken from their families and homeland when they were young, probably teenagers (Daniel 1:4). Their lives were a powerful example of courage and faith.
Joseph and these other examples show that God does work in the lives of young people—if they are willing to yield themselves to Him.
For more insight on how to allow God to work in your life, read “How to Please God.”
Lesson 2: Joseph obeyed God’s commandments.
Joseph eventually found himself working as a slave in the house of Potiphar, a man of high rank in Egypt. Joseph served Potiphar well—with hard work, skill and honesty—and God blessed everything he was involved in. Potiphar eventually saw how Joseph’s work was blessed and made him overseer of his entire household (Genesis 39:1-6).
But things soon took a discouraging turn. Potiphar’s wife became attracted to Joseph and started to make daily advances toward him, enticing him to commit adultery. Joseph continuously rejected her advances and called adultery what it was: “great wickedness, and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9).
She eventually trapped him and tried to seduce him by grabbing his garments, but he fled. Realizing she couldn’t get him to compromise, she made a false accusation against him. Instead of being rewarded for his fidelity, Joseph found himself in prison.
Just like Joseph, Christians today must not allow themselves to be drawn astray by these temptations. Joseph’s example sets a powerful lesson for us today. Our society is saturated with sexual sin and lust. In fact, many sins are considered normal today. Media is filled with sexualized images trying to use lust to sell entertainment and products. People openly sleep together outside of marriage. We could go on and on with examples.
Just like Joseph, Christians today must not allow themselves to be drawn astray by these temptations. The apostle Paul urges us to “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and “flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
For more insight on overcoming sexual temptation, read “Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Sex Outside of Marriage” and Part 1 and Part 2 of our series on lust.
Continuing the story, Joseph found favor with the prison keeper and eventually found himself running the prison as a prisoner (Genesis 39:21-23)!
Through another amazing series of events, Joseph found himself elevated to become Pharaoh’s right-hand man (Genesis 41:38-39).
His obedience, integrity and hard work paid off everywhere he found himself! Even when he was in the worst possible situations, Joseph consistently continued to make good choices.
To learn how to follow Joseph’s example and make good choices wherever you find yourself, read “7 Steps for Making Wise Decisions.”
Lesson 3: The story of Joseph’s brothers shows God will bring sin to light.
Now back to Joseph’s brothers.
They thought that their sin against their brother was buried in the past, never to come up again. But things would transpire quite differently.
While Joseph was serving Pharaoh in Egypt, the world was hit by a devastating famine. The brothers were forced to go to Egypt to buy grain. While there, they encountered a grown-up Joseph, but had no idea who he was. (They hadn’t seen him in about 20 years.) However, he recognized them (Genesis 42:8).
To make a long story short, Joseph eventually put them in prison. There they started to recognize that their troubles resulted from what they had done to Joseph years earlier (verse 21).
Just like Joseph, Christians today must not allow themselves to be drawn astray by these temptations. However, through a series of tests, Joseph determined that they had matured beyond who they were when they showed such cruelty to him. Ultimately, Joseph saw that they were willing to sacrifice their lives to save his younger brother Benjamin (his mother’s second-born son). Joseph was unable to hold back his emotions any longer and revealed himself to them (Genesis 45:1-4).
In all this, Joseph continued to show integrity, not seeking vengeance on his brothers. This is a valuable lesson for Christians today (Romans 12:17).
Despite it all working out for good, the brothers’ sin was not hidden forever. At some point, though unrecorded in Scripture, they had to come clean to their father about what they had done years earlier.
A lesson for us is that we should acknowledge our sins before God before they painfully find us out. And we must work to overcome them and change our lives instead of trying to ignore and bury our sins.
This applies on a personal and a national level. The modern descendants of Israel will face horrible punishment in the future because of their sins. To learn more about this coming time, read “What Is Jacob’s Trouble in End-Time Prophecy?”
To learn more about how to truly turn from your past sins, read “How to Repent.”
Lesson 4: Joseph’s story shows that evil can be turned to good.
Remember the dreams Joseph had when he was young? The brothers had interpreted the dreams as Joseph ruling and lording it over them (Genesis 37:8, 10). So they attacked him based on this interpretation.
It wasn’t until Joseph revealed himself that they realized the dreams weren’t about lordship, but about salvation and service. God sent Joseph before them to save them from a terrible famine that was coming. Joseph told his brothers, “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” (Genesis 50:20).
Despite everything he went through, Joseph’s suffering turned out for good. He didn’t allow his experiences to lead him away from the way of life he knew was right. We can do the same thing. To learn more about how seemingly bad things can work out for good, read “‘All Things Work Together for Good’ (Really?)”.
Hopefully, this will encourage you to read the entire story of Joseph and find more lessons.
There is plenty more to learn!