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January 18, 2015

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…  His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed. (Genesis 39:2-3)

The experience of a Christian believer in this world is always mixed.  At times it may even seem contradictory.  The Christian is loved and favored, though hated and despised, and at the same time, blessed and successful.  How can all these be true at the same time?

As a Christian, you are living ‘in Christ,’ yet at the same time you are still ‘in the flesh.’  You are a citizen of heaven and yet you are living on earth.  Don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to make sense of your experience.  At the same time, you experience both the pain of what is and the joy of what is to come.

The story of Joseph is wonderfully helpful because it lays out multiple snapshots of a godly life, but there is something else here.  The story of Joseph is given, not only to show us a godly life, but also to shine a floodlight on Jesus Christ.  It can help us understand who he is, what he has done, and all that is ours in him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say that the message of the Old Testament is the same as the message of the New Testament, except that in the Old Testament it is easier to understand.  I remember the first time I heard that, I thought he must have gotten it the wrong way round, because to my mind the Old Testament was harder than the New Testament.

But this was his point: The New Testament is full of profound spiritual truth.  The Old Testament is full of earthy human stories.  The stories are given to us in order that we may understand the spiritual truth that they were intended to convey.

For example, in the New Testament Jesus Christ lays aside his glory and comes into the world as a servant.  There’s a staggering thought.  But in the Old Testament we are given this picture: Joseph had a coat of many colors and it was laid aside.  So when he appeared in Egypt nobody saw the coat.  He arrived in the form of a common servant, and nobody saw that he was the loved and favored son.

The Old Testament stories are given to us as windows through which we can view the great truths about Jesus Christ.  This is why it is so valuable for parents and grandparents, and uncles and aunts, and Sunday school teachers to tell the great Bible stories to our children.

But we must try to teach them in a way that shows the connections to Jesus.  These stories are given to us so that we will grasp the great saving truths of Jesus Christ.  If we don’t make the connections to Jesus, we will miss the whole point of the stories, and instead we end up focusing on moral truths.

So today, we are looking at Joseph, blessed and successful in Potiphar’s house.  We are going to see what it means to be blessed in Christ.  Even a child can understand this story.

The outline of the story is very simple:

  • God’s blessing was on Joseph
  • Potiphar put Joseph in charge of all that he had.
  • God’s blessing came to Potiphar through Joseph

God’s Blessing Was on Joseph 

Now Joseph was brought down to Egypt.  (Genesis 39:1)

The great Egyptian project of building pyramids began before Joseph and it continued after Joseph, but it was at its height during his lifetime.  Joseph’s eyes must have widened as he saw those amazing geometric structures, some recently completed and some still being built.

The Ishmaelites put Joseph up for sale, and so he came to the house of Potiphar, “and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there” (Gen. 39:1).

Then we are told that “the LORD was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2).  Joseph was separated from his father, but nothing could separate him from the presence of God.  The brothers had taken his robe, but no one could take the blessing of God from him.

“The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master” (Gen. 39:2).  This was quite a journey for Joseph.  He arrived at the house of Potiphar just seventeen years old, and most likely he would have started out working in the fields.

What follows is the story or a remarkable career in which Joseph keeps being promoted: He is brought into the house (39:2).  He becomes Potiphar’s personal attendant (39:4).  He becomes overseer or manager of the household (39:4).  Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of all that he has, both the household and the fields (39:5).  This is a man with a remarkable career!

By any standards, Joseph was a big success.  The Scripture underlines this, “The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man” (39:2).  “His [Joseph’s] master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (39:3).  What we have here is a snapshot of a very successful career.

Joseph’s work

The Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.  (Genesis 39:3)

What did Joseph do?  The first thing he needed to do was learn a foreign language.  Then, in order to manage the household, he would have to learn accounting.  He would need to learn management skills, and there were no online courses!  All that Joseph learned would have come from observation, by asking questions, and from taking the initiative.  But Joseph gave himself to this, and God gave him great success.

This tells us something very important about your daily work.  Your work matters!  It matters to God, and so it should matter to you.  And how you do this work matters too.

It is clear from the story that Joseph did his work well.  He was reliable.  He was conscientious.  He stayed focused on the job; he wasn’t easily distracted.  He was honest.  He was loyal.  He had a pleasant demeanor.  Joseph brought nothing but good to Potiphar and to his entire household.

It would have been easy for Joseph to arrive in Egypt with a chip on his shoulder, Life isn’t fair!  Why should I have to labor in doing this miserable job?  I don’t like this work anyway.  Why does God allow my brothers to get away with the shameful way they’ve treated me?

But there isn’t a hint of this in Joseph.  God is glorified in the way that Joseph does his work.

Try and put yourself in Joseph’s shoes.  God has spoken to you and you know that he has a great purpose for your life.  Here you are laboring in the fields.  Can you imagine asking yourself, What in the world does this have to do with the will of God for my life?”

Later, you are promoted.  You become the chief accountant, the general manager, the CEO.  Now you’re not out in the fields.  You sit at your desk, in your nice office and still sometimes you wonder, “Why am I doing this?  I am doing all this work for Potiphar, what does this have to do with serving the Lord? 

Well, it has everything to do with serving the Lord!  Because this is the work God had given him to do.  The New Testament way of putting this is that he worked for Potiphar “as to the Lord” (Eph. 6:7).  That’s a Christian view of the workplace.  This is what God has given you to do.  This is where God has set you down.

Joseph’s perseverance 

Joseph served in Potiphar’s house for 11 years.  We know this because Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold as a slave (Gen. 37:2), and he was thirty when he was appointed prime minister by Pharaoh (Gen. 41:46).  As we will see next time, Joseph spent two years in prison (Gen. 41:1).  So, 30 (years old) minus 17 (years old) gives you 13 (years), minus 2 (years in prison), gives you 11 years that Joseph spent serving as an employee in Potiphar’s house.

Some folks have the idea that success should come quickly, but this story shows us a better way.  If God should grant you sudden success, be on your guard.  Sudden success is fraught with spiritual dangers.  It is fertile ground for pride, presumption, and ambition.  Why?  Because you don’t have the opportunity to prepare for the responsibility that comes with it.

Martyn Lloyd Jones used to say, “The worst thing that can happen to a man is that he should succeed before he is ready.”  God knows when you are ready to be trusted with more.

Trust is earned.  Nobody has a right to be trusted.  You earn trust by proving faithful over time.  Joseph had the favor of God long before he had the favor of Potiphar.  The favor of God is a gift of grace that flows to you in Jesus Christ.  You don’t earn it.

But Joseph won the favor of Potiphar by his loyalty.  He earned it by the quality of his work over time, “Joseph found favor in [Potiphar’s] sight” (Gen 39:4).  This growing trust that was earned was the reason why he kept being promoted.

Here’s the principle, right from the Bible: “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (Mat. 25:21).  Be faithful over what God has entrusted to you now.

Focus your best effort on what God has given you to do right now.  It’s easy to waste your life, always looking at the next thing, but the best place to flourish is where God has set you down.  Whatever God has given you to do, do it with all your heart!  My pastor used to say, “Colin, there are no perfect places.  The best place to flourish is where God has set you now.”

It’s easy to get taken up with what you are going to do.  Whatever opportunities may open for you in the future will in large measure be shaped by the way you apply yourself to what you are doing now.  Always do your best work.  Others are watching, and you never know who might be measuring you for a larger task.

Joseph’s testimony 

His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.  (Genesis 39:3)

If you are successful in your work, your success is a gift from the Lord, so make sure that you give thanks to him for it.  “The Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (39:3).  Potiphar saw this.  He saw that Joseph was successful, as he applied himself to whatever work he was given.

But there’s more here.  Potiphar saw that “the Lord” was with Joseph!  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the great I Am.  Never fall into the temptation of saying, “My hand did this for me.”  Make sure all the glory goes to God.

Potiphar lived in a culture of multiple gods associated with the sun, the moon, and with rivers.  Through Joseph he came to hear about the great God who made the sun, the moon, and the stars, and set the rivers on their courses.  He saw that Yahweh was with Joseph!

The quality of Joseph’s work opened a door for him to give spoken testimony to the great God who was the ruler of his life.

Potiphar Put Joseph in Charge of All That He Had
Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.  (Genesis 39:4)

Now let’s look at this story through the eyes of Potiphar.  If Potiphar was here today, I think he would say something like this:

Joseph was the best thing that ever happened to me.  The first time I saw him, he was pretty messed up.  The Ishmaelite traders told me some story about him being beaten up and thrown in a pit.  But he was strong, so I decided to take a chance on him.  

Well I’ll tell you, everything I asked this man to do got done.  And when he was done he wanted to know what else he could do to help.  You can’t buy that kind of enthusiasm! 

I started him out in the fields, but before long I said to my wife, “That Joseph has something about him.  I like him.  I think we should bring him into the house and give him more responsibility.”  And so we did, and then I started giving him more to do. 

What Joseph didn’t know, he found a way to learn – language, accounting, management.  He mastered it.  Whatever Joseph did was always done well.  Over time, I found that when something important needed to get done, my first thought was, “Give it to Joseph!” 

One day I told Joseph that I really appreciated the quality of his work.  Of all the people I employed, I felt that I could trust him.  There was an integrity about him.  And when I asked him why, he told me about his God. 

We have all kinds of gods in Egypt,” I said. So, what’s so special about yours?”  He told me about how God had appeared to his great grandfather, Abraham, and given him promises of an heir who would bring blessing to people of all nations.  Then he looked at me and he said, “Potiphar, that would include you!  

Then he told me about his grandfather, Isaac, whose life would have been laid down, except that this God provided a sacrifice in his place.  “That’s how God saves people,” Joseph said to me, “he provides a sacrifice in our place.”

Then he told me about his father, Jacob, who had been a devious man a cheat and a liar.  Well, we all know that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” so I said to Joseph, “How did someone as honest as you come from a father as twisted as Jacob?”

That’s the grace of God, he said.  God brought a great transformation in my father’s life and it’s the same grace of God that is at work in me.” 

“But what about your brothers?” I asked.  “They beat you up and put you in a pit.”

He looked me straight in the eye: “One day, God’s grace will come to them too,” he said.

I’m a business man, and I know a good opportunity when I see one, so here’s what I figured: If God is blessing Joseph, maybe that blessing can come to me as well.  If God is for him, it makes sense for me to be for him too!  So I thought, “Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll put Joseph in charge of everything I have.”

So I said to him, “Joseph, you run my life!  Run the household.  Use all that I have in the way that you think best.  I trust you. 

I have to tell youthat was the best decision I ever made!  I put all that I had in Joseph’s hands, and all I can tell you is that the blessing of God came to me because of him. 

God’s Blessing Came to Potiphar through Joseph 

From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field.  (Genesis 39:5)

God’s blessing was on Joseph.  Potiphar put Joseph is charge of all that he had.  God’s blessing came to Potiphar through Joseph.

The blessing of God came to Potiphar, “from the time that he made [Joseph] overseer in his house” (39:5).  The blessing of God is on Joseph.  Put Joseph in charge, and the blessing of God comes on you.

The blessing of God came to Potiphar through Joseph and because of Joseph, “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake” (39:5).  Now all of this is pointing us very wonderfully to the blessing that can come into our lives through our Joseph whose name is Jesus Christ.

Think about how this whole story points to him.  Jesus Christ is the loved and favored Son of God: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Mk. 1:11).  The Father sends the Son on a dangerous mission to seek the good of his rebel brothers.

So, what does the Son do?  The Son lays aside his glory and he becomes a servant (Phil. 2:5-7). The Bible says of the servant, “The will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isa. 53:10).  He is the blessed man of Psalm 1 – whatever he does prospers.

God’s blessing is on Jesus and through Jesus it can come to you.  This is the great New Testament truth that in Christ, through Christ, and because of Christ, the blessing of God comes into the lives of people.  We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

How this happens is beautifully pictured in the story that is before us today.  Put Christ in charge of all that you are, and all that you have, and the blessing of Jesus will rest upon you. Here’s what the world wants.  It wants everyone to have the blessing of God, without the favored Son.  But the blessing of God never comes without the Son.

Could it be said of you today that Jesus Christ is truly the overseer of all that you have and all that you are?  Could it be said that all you have is in his hands, and he has the freedom and the authority to do with you and with your life whatever he thinks is best?  Have you placed everything into his hands?  Have you given him charge of everything?

And if not, why not?  Would you not want this to be true of you, that from the time you made Christ overseer of all that you have, the Lord blessed your house for Christ’s sake?  Friends, the blessing of God is on Jesus, and through him that blessing can be on you.  Why would you not say to him today, “Be the overseer of my life, and of my house; take charge of all that I am and all that I have.”

Place it all in the hands of the Servant.  Make him the Lord of your life.  Give all that you are and all that you have into his hands, and the blessing that is on God’s loved and favored son will also rest on you.  You will be blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.

© Colin S. Smith

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