Joseph’s Trials

Trials and testings come into the life of every person. If you are not going through any at the moment, wait a while. Sooner or later, they’ll come. Most of us face little trials every day. Someone once called them “The Charge of the Mosquito.” On the other hand, several times during the normal course of a lifetime, most people face major trials that might be called “The Charge of the Elephant.”

How should a believer face trials? If we depend on our own strength, it is easy to fall apart. But we do have a choice: We can try to face them alone, or we can rest in the sovereign will of God, knowing that He will work things out for His glory. When we cast all our burdens on Him, we can move through the trials of life with calmness and inner peace.

One specific Bible character who suffered numerous trials was Joseph, the son of Jacob.

Jacob had 12 sons by four women: Leah and Rachel (his wives) and Bilhah and Zilpah (his wives’handmaids). Joseph was the first son of Rachel, born after many years of barrenness.

Genesis 37 records that when Joseph was 17 years old, he was feeding his father’s flocks with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and brought his father an evil report concerning his brothers. This was the beginning of all of Joseph’s problems.

Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons. He showed this love by making the boy a special coat woven of many colors. The brothers became jealous and severed their relationship with him. Their jealousy eventually grew into hatred. And so Joseph’s trials continued within his own family.

Joseph then related to his brothers two dreams he had, causing even more animosity in his family. The first dream involved binding sheaves of harvested grain in the field. Joseph’s sheaf stood up, but those of the brothers bowed down to his. The brothers realized that this dream meant Joseph would rule over them, and it caused them to hate him all the more.

In his second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars made obeisance to Joseph. This added more fuel to the fire of his brothers’hatred. Even Jacob rebuked his son, asking if he expected him, his mother, and his brothers to bow down to him.

One day the brothers took the flocks north to pastureland without Joseph. Then Jacob sent Joseph to see how things were going in the pastures. Before he arrived, his brothers had already conspired to kill him and throw him into a pit.

Reuben intervened and recommended that they throw Joseph into the pit alive; he secretly planned to release him later and return him to his father. While Reuben was away, the other brothers stripped Joseph and threw him into a pit, intending to kill him later.

While they were eating, an Ishmaelite camel caravan passed by on the way to Egypt to sell their goods. Judah suggested that they sell Joseph to them so that the brothers would not be guilty of murder. Joseph was taken from the pit and sold to the Ishmaelites for 20 pieces of silver, eventually to be resold in Egypt as a slave. The brothers then killed a kid (a baby goat), splashed its blood on Joseph’s beautiful coat, and took it to Jacob, telling him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Meanwhile, Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, a captain of Pharaoh’s guard in Egypt.

Scripture clearly shows how God moved through these seemingly tragic trials in this young man’s life.

The biblical account does not record Joseph’s thoughts during that time; however, Scripture clearly shows how God moved through these seemingly tragic trials in this young man’s life.

As Stephen said in his address to the Sanhedrin immediately before his martyrdom, “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; but God was with him” (Acts 7:9). Psalm 105:17–19 states, “He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant, Whose feet they hurt with fetters; he was laid in iron, Until the time that his word came; and the word of the Lord tested him.”

No matter how Joseph handled this awesome trial, he had not been forsaken by God. God was with him, working to preserve His people, Israel. It was not the brothers who tried Joseph, but the Lord. God used tragic circumstances for His glory, although Joseph most likely did not realize it at the time.

Potiphar, to whom Joseph was sold as a slave, was a very powerful man in Egypt. He soon recognized that the Lord was with Joseph and prospered him in all that he did. Therefore, he made Joseph overseer of his house, putting his affairs in Joseph’s able hands. From that time on, Potiphar’s house was blessed for Joseph’s sake.

At this point in Joseph’s life, he was a respected man with great responsibility. However, ominous storm clouds were gathering. Joseph was not aware that the trials ahead would be far worse than those he had already faced.

With a handsome young man serving her husband, doing such a good job, and constantly in the house, Potiphar’s wife tried to entice Joseph into having an affair with her. Joseph simply reminded her that he was totally committed to her husband and would not betray his trust. Further, he would not commit such a sin against his God.

Day after day, she pleaded with Joseph to enter into a relationship with her, but without success. One day, when Joseph was working alone in the house, she sought to entice him yet again. Although Joseph again refused, she tore off one of his garments as he fled.

Immediately Potiphar’s wife called for the other men of the household and accused Joseph of trying to assault her. She claimed to have cried out, causing Joseph to flee and leave his garment behind. When Potiphar learned of the incident, he became angry and had Joseph incarcerated.

The situation looked bleak for Joseph, but the worst was yet to come. However, before that next major trial there was a brief respite for the honorable young man. The Lord was with him through his imprisonment; therefore, by His hand, the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners. Again, in whatever Joseph did, the Lord prospered him. But yet another serious trial was soon to befall Joseph.

Imprisoned with Joseph were Pharaoh’s butler and baker. Each had a dream in the same night, and neither could understand them, leaving them anxious and depressed. Joseph asked why they were sad and was told about the dreams. He told the butler and baker that God could give him the interpretations of the dreams. The butler related his dream, and Joseph told him that his dream meant that in three days he would be released from prison and restored to his former position in Pharaoh’s household. Joseph also interpreted the baker’s dream, telling him that in three days he would be hanged. Both interpretations came to pass as Joseph said they would.

Joseph asked but one favor of the butler when he was released from prison. He asked that he mention his name to Pharaoh, so that he too might be freed. But the butler forgot Joseph, and he languished in prison for another two years.

Then one night Pharaoh had two dreams that deeply troubled him. In the first dream he saw seven well-fed cattle, followed by seven very thin cows. The thin cows then ate the well-fed ones. In his second dream, Pharaoh saw seven full ears of corn, followed by seven thin ones. Again, the seven thin ears devoured the seven good ears. Pharaoh was disturbed and sent for the magicians on whom he usually depended for interpretations of his dreams, but they couldn’t help.

The butler finally remembered the ability God had given Joseph to interpret his dream while in prison and told Pharaoh, who then sent for Joseph. Joseph told Pharaoh that he could not interpret the dreams, but that the Lord could give him the ability to do so. He then told Pharaoh that his dreams concerned seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine. He suggested that Pharaoh appoint someone to oversee the situation immediately.

Pharaoh, impressed by Joseph’s ability to interpret his dreams, appointed him to oversee this situation and made him the second ruler over the whole land of Egypt. The worst of his trials were over. He led the nation safely through its time of trouble with the blessing of the Lord upon him.

Several things should be noted about Joseph’s trials.

Joseph never complained about the difficulties he faced. He had learned to trust the Lord in the midst of very difficult and depressing situations.

Joseph never lost his ability to trust in the Lord, even in the most difficult times. This was specifically evidenced by his faith that the Lord would grant him the ability to interpret dreams (an ability upon which his life depended).

In spite of being forsaken by his family, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and forgotten by the other prisoner, Joseph’s faith remained strong, and he finally experienced the victory that led to the deliverance of his own people.

God had a purpose for Joseph’s suffering. In speaking later to his brothers, who had been the source of his trials, he said, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

We all face trials in life, and at times the burden becomes very heavy, often oppressive. It is only as we recognize that God allows trials to come into our lives for His glory that we can face them. We must learn to walk through life as Joseph did, patiently waiting for the Lord to accomplish His purposes through us. This is the way to victory in the midst of trouble.

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