Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"The Joseph Blessing"

Genesis 39: 1-6a

Psalm 105: 16-22

 

There are two famous Joseph’s in the Bible.  The Joseph folks are most familiar with is the New

Testament Joseph; carpenter in Nazareth; husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus.  The other

famous if less familiar Joseph is a character we meet in the very first book of the Old Testament.

Before we read our lead text from Genesis, let’s spend a few minutes getting to know this Joseph.

      He was born the eleventh son of Jacob, and the first born son to Jacob’s second wife Rachel,

whom Jacob deeply loved.  The boy Joseph was the apple of Jacob’s eye, and was surely raised as

such.  His ten older brothers were born to Jacob’s first wife Leah, to Leah’s maiden Zilpah, and to

Rachel’s maiden Bilhah.  Needless to say, men of that era were not monogamous.  In a manner of

speaking, they liked to spread their seed around.

            You talk about the makings of a prime time soap opera or reality show.  From all that we can

ascertain, the ten elder siblings were treated like most young men of that day.  They were sent out

into the fields to farm or to shepherd at a tender age.  They would have come to wear thick callouses on hand

and foot, and leathery skin from constant exposure to the elements.  They also may have worn some degree of

resentment, especially toward a favored son.  Baby brother Joseph was certainly that.  While Scripture tells us that

 Joseph worked in the fields like his brothers, he no

doubt enjoyed privileges of favorite son-ship which the others did not.  This is illustrated by a role

Joseph was assigned by his father to play.  His job was to be daddy’s eyes and ears; often sent out

into the fields to check up on his brothers; how hard they were – or were not – working; how they

were getting along; how much they were – or were not – getting accomplished.  By all accounts,

Joseph was not bashful about bringing “ill report of them.”  As we might imagine, this didn’t set

well with the older boys.  Adding insult to injury, Jacob had made for his beloved youngest son a

“long robe with sleeves.”  You may have seen the musical or film adaptation of “Joseph and the

Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” based on that very robe; a symbol of familial envy.

     To make matters worse, Joseph was a dreamer.  Here’s an example recorded in the 37th chapter

of Genesis:  “Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even

more.  He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed.  There we were, binding sheaves in

the field.  Suddenly, my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and

bowed down to my sheaf.’”  We can rest assured that the brothers did not say, “Dude, what a cool

dream!  Tell us another one.”  Rather it compounded their bitterness; that this pipsqueak would

suggest that they would someday bow down and serve him. 

     One day, Jacob again sent Joseph to check up on his brothers.  But this was the proverbial straw

that broke the camel’s back.  When they saw him coming, the ten devised a plot to murder Joseph,

toss him into a pit, and tell dad that a wild beast had devoured him.  But eldest brother Reuben

convinced the others to not shed Joseph’s blood, but to simply throw him in a deep pit where he

would die of thirst.  What Reuben didn’t reveal to his brothers was that he planned to come back

later, save Joseph out of the pit and then become a hero to his father. As it turned out, his brothers

stripped Joseph of his coat and threw him into a pit.  Then in Reuben’s absence, they sold Joseph to

a caravan of Ishmaelite traders who were taking their goods to Egypt.  So the brothers went north

with that amazing Technicolor dreamcoat, which they dipped in the blood of a goat, and with the

sad story of Joseph’s untimely death.  Meanwhile, Joseph was taken south to Egypt; stripped of his

robe, his freedom, and his identity.  Here is where we pick up the storyline.

           (Read Genesis 39:1-6a)

       What a turnaround of fortunes!  And not for Joseph only.  Joseph was sold to a captain of the

Egyptian guard by the name of Potiphar.  I suppose Potiphar might be the equivalent of a modern-

day high-ranking FEMA official.  It is quite amazing that Joseph - a Jew - in the house of Potiphar - a

pagan - would prosper.  But prosper he did!  Even the pagan he was, Potiphar recognized that the

Lord was with Joseph, and saw that Joseph was a success in all that he did.  Potiphar was so impressed

with this young man that “he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.” 

Then comes the part of the story which is the basis for this morning’s message:

“From the time that he made him overseer in his house…….the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house

for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that [Potiphar] had.”  I’d like to draw three

points from this passage.

      The first is this: God can bring blessing out of the pits.  Joseph could not have been much worse

off.  He was torn away from the father who loved him; the home he knew; the privileged life he’d

enjoyed; betrayed by his own blood; stripped of his robe, freedom and identity; sold as a piece of

property into a strange household in a strange land.  That was the pits!  Yet somehow, God took 

this altogether horrible situation, and brought good out of it.  Primarily for Joseph, who found great

favor in the sight of his master, actually being elevated from slave to overseer.  I find it ironic that

overseer was the very role his father Jacob had cast him into with regard to his older brothers. 

Secondarily, God brought good out of it for Potiphar, whose only exposure to Israel’s God was witnessing

God’s blessing in Joseph’s life.  We’ll return to that in a moment.

      Have you had a situation in your life which was in every way the pits, and God brought good out

of it?  For example, illness stinks.  But we often find that illness slows us down in such a way that

we’re forced to reflect and to reprioritize; to set things in right order; to stop taking things for granted

, and to appreciate again those things which count the most – family, friends, faith, church, the capacity to work. 

We certainly don’t seek out illness, or loss, or brokenness, or lost opportunity.  But when such things seek us out,

in their wake usually come unexpected and abundant blessings, almost always clearly seen in hindsight. 

I wonder how often Joseph looked back and thought to himself:  “Wow, Lord!  How did you pull that off?  Thanks!”

     The second point has to do with Potiphar: The presence and influence of godly people can bring

blessings to those around them.  Note that Potiphar never said to Joseph, “I want to know the god

you worship.”  Potiphar simply observed the power of God working in Joseph’s life, and was strongly influenced by it.

  Yes, in a self-serving way, Potiphar saw that Joseph was successful in all he endeavored, and he wanted a piece of that. 

And is it not true that we often gravitate toward successful people, hoping that their success might rub off on or benefit us,

even in a spiritual sense?  It is clear that Joseph’s blessings became Potiphar’s blessings; although not for Potiphar’s sake,

but for Joseph’s, and as a testimony to the power of God whom Joseph served.  There is no evidence that Potiphar ever

became a God-fearing or God-worshiping man.  I suspect he remained a pagan. I would think, however, that at the

very least, Potiphar recognized that Joseph’s God was a good deity to have in one’s corner, and a force to be reckoned

with by those in the opposing corner.

      Perhaps this has something to say regarding Christian witness, and the influence we can have in

the lives of others.  We can use all the words in the dictionary to try to convince others of our faith

perspective, and invite them to join us in that perspective.  And there is great value in such verbal

witnessing.  But when it comes to influencing people toward change, there is no more effective

means of witnessing to Christ than to let others see Christ’s power and influence operating in our

 day-to-day lives.  That’s what turns people on.  I do believe Potiphar must have thought to himself

at some point:  “I’d sure like to know more of this God whom young Joseph serves, and who brings

him such success.”  Let us understand, though, that it’s not all about touting our successes.  It’s

more about demonstrating to those around us how we handle failures; how we respond to adversity;

how we deal with loss; how we relate to God when everything isn’t sweetness and light.  But in the pits

may cause them to inquire:  “I’d like to know more of this God whom you serve, and who appears to give

you the strength to go through what you’re going through.”  The point is, hanging with people on a faith journey

can bless and influence the one who has yet to take his or her first step.

      The third and final point is this:  As we remain faithful to God, God will bring increase.  This

morning’s passage resolves by telling us that “[Potiphar] left all that he had in Joseph’s charge;

and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.”  As the blessings

of Potiphar’s house increased, so too did all which Joseph oversaw; even to the point of his

becoming the manager of virtually everything!

      Some believe that when we talk about God’s increase in our lives, it’s all about things; money

and material stuff.  That’s the core belief of the so-called “name it, claim it” theology adopted by so

many evangelicals in our day.  But God’s increase is, I believe, more about increase in the “fruits of

the Spirit” as the apostle Paul calls them: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,

faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  When these spiritual fruits are operational in our life,

we are more apt to recognize the abundant blessings God manages to bring out of the worst of situations.

 And when these fruits are alive and active in our life, we are more likely to bring blessings to those around us through God’s presence and influence.

      So in summary:  The Joseph blessing – God’s power to bless us, whether on the mountaintop, or

                                                                           in the pits.

                                    The Joseph blessing – God’s power working in our lives which can impart

                                                                            blessing to those around us.

                                    The Joseph blessing – Bringing increase to us as we remain faithful to God.

 

May this threefold Joseph blessing characterize our faith journeys as we journey in Jesus Christ.

 

 

It amazes us, O God, that you can take the worst of situations, and bring good out of them.  That

you can make us a nexus of blessing to those around us.  That as we remain faithful to You, You

increase us in all good things, and in every good fruit of Your Spirit.  Lord, we thank You that

whether in the pit or on the mountaintop, you are with us.  Amen.