Biblical People

Biblical People: Joseph (1)

We’ve already encountered a bit about Joseph in previous chapters. Joseph is Jacob’s eleventh son and Rachel’s first. Since Rachel is Jacob’s favorite wife, it shouldn’t surprise us that her firstborn, Joseph, becomes Jacob’s favorite son.

Jacob gives Joseph a brightly-colored coat, which sets him apart from his brothers. He has a dream about his family bowing down to him, which irritates his brothers even more.

Later, Jacob sends Joseph out to check up on his older brothers as they tend to the flocks. They decide to kill him, but Reuben talks them out of it.

They throw Joseph into a pit instead, and Reuben secretly plans to rescue him. But before he can, the other brothers sell Joseph as a slave to make some extra money.

Then they fabricate evidence to suggest that wild animals killed Joseph. Jacob mourns the apparent death of his favorite son, and his brothers forget about him—for the most part.

Fast-forward two decades, and we see Joseph’s brothers bowing before a ruler in Egypt as they seek to buy grain so they won’t starve. They don’t know they’re bowing before Joseph, just like his dream foresaw.

Eventually he reveals himself to them and they reconcile. Then Joseph sends for his entire family to come live in Egypt.

Between these two events in Joseph’s life, however, he undergoes difficulties and suffers greatly. Here’s a synopsis:

First, the slave traders sell him to Potiphar. Joseph conducts himself well, and Potiphar’s household prospers under Joseph’s direction. But Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph. He resists but ends up in prison in spite of his integrity.

There Joseph finds favor with the warden, who puts him in charge of the other prisoners. While incarcerated, Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of two fellow prisoners.

As predicted, one is executed and the other freed. Joseph requests that the released prisoner ask Pharaoh to free him. The man doesn’t.

But when Pharaoh has a troubling dream, the man remembers Joseph. Joseph interprets the dream and offers wise advice on how to prepare for an upcoming seven-year famine.

In the end, Pharaoh honors Joseph’s wisdom by putting him in charge and gives Joseph an Egyptian wife. They have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Unlike his brothers, Joseph doesn’t have a tribe named after him. Instead, there are two: the tribe of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim.

Do we act like Joseph and hold onto our integrity even if we might face punishment? Regardless of our circumstances, do we always do our best work?

[Read Joseph’s story throughout Genesis 37 and 39–50. Discover more in Exodus 13:19; Psalm 105:16–22; Acts 7:9–15; and Hebrews 11:21–22.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at