Joseph—a Faithful Witness of Jehovah
“ALL Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” This is true of God’s Word, not only by reason of its inspired precepts and commandments, but also by reason of its inspired records of God’s dealings with his servants. A fine illustration of this is the Scriptural record of Joseph, one of the twelve sons of the patriarch Jacob. His is one of the noblest lives recorded anywhere. He was a faithful witness of Jehovah, bringing honor to his God both by speech and conduct, setting an example for all servants of Jehovah God today.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
Joseph was both the eleventh son of Jacob and the first-born of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. She it was that named him Joseph, meaning “Increaser.” As the son of Jacob’s old age, Joseph was especially loved by his father. One of the ways Jacob showed his fondness for Joseph was by giving him a long, striped garment with sleeves, such as was worn only by the wealthier classes. Not that Jacob allowed his fondness for Joseph to spoil him. No, for the record that Joseph made as a faithful witness of Jehovah makes it clear that his father did indeed rear him “in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.”—Eph. 6:4.
Our story begins with the year 1750 B.C. In mighty and cultured Egypt the Hyksos or Shepherd Kings had only recently begun their rule of some two centuries.* In the region later to be known as Palestine dwelt the scattered pagan Canaanites as well as Jehovah’s servant Jacob, together with his large household. He had settled down in the valley of Hebron, where he farmed, although his sons, when pasturing their flocks, wandered as far as Dothan, seventy miles to the north.
By now Joseph was seventeen years old and occasionally accompanied his half brothers in their shepherding. He had already given evidence of his faithfulness by once reporting the wrongdoing of the four sons of Jacob’s concubines to his father. Quite likely it was because of this that Jacob now sent him to see if all was well with his sons and his flocks. By the time Joseph located them he had traveled all the way to Dothan.—Gen. 37:12-17.
His half brothers, with envious eyes, saw him coming from afar. Was not this “papa’s darling,” the one that had received that distinctive garment? And to add insult to injury, had he not—with freeness of speech and with no fear at all of displeasing them—told of his having dreamed, once that all their sheaves bowed down to his sheaf, and then again that even the sun, moon and eleven stars did him obeisance? This dreamer! We’ll fix him! Kill him, and then let us see what becomes of his dreams!—Gen. 37:18-20.
It was the intervention of Reuben and, later, of Judah, both sons of Leah, Jacob’s less-favored wife, that prevented Joseph’s being killed outright or left to die in an empty waterpit. Instead, he was sold to a passing caravan en route to Egypt. There Joseph was sold to one Potiphar, a court official of Pharaoh. To cover over their foul deed, Joseph’s half brothers soaked his distinctive garment in blood and sent it home to Jacob. Hardheartedly they left him to conclude that his favorite son Joseph had been killed by a wild beast.—Gen. 37:21-36.
IN POTIPHAR’S HOUSE AND IN PRISON
Particularly did Joseph show himself a faithful witness of Jehovah while in Potiphar’s house and later while in prison. Far from becoming “discouraged in the day of distress,” he applied himself with such good will that, with Jehovah’s blessing, Potiphar put him in charge of all his household. From then on Jehovah blessed all that Potiphar had. What a lesson for us not to let unjust circumstances prevent us from giving our best, but always to keep in mind that our actions bring either honor or dishonor to Jehovah!—Prov. 24:10; Gen. 39:2-6.
Because Joseph had grown “to be beautiful in form and beautiful in appearance,” Potiphar’s wife became infatuated with him. Daily she shamelessly importuned him, but Joseph said to her: “Here my master . . . has not withheld from me anything at all except you, because you are his wife. So how could I commit this great act of wickedness and actually sin against God?” Once she even tried to force him but Joseph fled. Having failed to seduce him, she accused Joseph of having tried to force her. As a result her husband had Joseph thrown into prison. Love of God and fear of displeasing him, together with neighbor love, will likewise enable us to triumph over temptation.—Gen. 39:6-20.
Joseph’s lot was getting worse and worse, still he did not rebel or despair. In prison he likewise proved himself a faithful witness so that, whatever he did, “Jehovah was making it turn out successful.” Here also he was placed in charge of everything. When about to interpret the dreams of two fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker, Joseph, the faithful witness, said: “Do not interpretations belong to God?”—Gen. 39:23; 40:1-23.
Two years went by. Joseph was thirty years old when one day Pharaoh had a dream in two parts: First appeared seven well-fed cows grazing and then seven lean cows that devoured the well-fed ones. Next he saw seven fat ears of grain that were swallowed up by seven lean ears. In vain Pharaoh sought an interpretation from his magicians and other wise men. Then the chief cupbearer remembered that while in prison Joseph had correctly interpreted his dream and that of the chief baker. Pharaoh at once sent for Joseph. Again Joseph as a faithful witness honored his God before this sun-worshiping ruler: “I need not be considered! God will announce welfare to Pharaoh.”—Gen. 41:16.
AS FOOD ADMINISTRATOR
After hearing the dreams Joseph gave their interpretation: The two dreams refer to the same thing, thereby firmly establishing the matter; seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph then recommended that a discreet and wise man be made food administrator, to direct the collection of foodstuffs and grain against the years of famine. Said Pharaoh to his servants: “Can another man be found like this one in whom the spirit of God is?” Joseph’s testimony as well as his manner—he had learned much as overseer of Potiphar’s house and of the king’s prisoners—so impressed Pharaoh that he made Joseph not only his food administrator but also his viceroy, second only to himself in all Egypt. Additionally he changed Joseph’s name to Zaphenath-paneah, meaning “Revealer of hidden things,” and gave him Asenath, the daughter of the priest of On,* as wife.—Gen. 41:17-46.
Joseph at once showed himself an able food administrator. He made a thorough tour of Egypt and arranged for the storage of foodstuffs and grain. As time went on, the amounts they stored under Joseph’s direction became so great that “finally they gave up counting it, because it was without number.” During this time also there were born two sons to Joseph, Manasseh, meaning “Making forgetful” or “One who forgets,” and Ephraim, meaning “Doubly fruitful” or “Fruitland.”—Gen. 41:49-52.
Then came the famine. Not only the Egyptians but also all the peoples of the surrounding country came to get food from Pharaoh, who referred them to Joseph. One day who should appear before Joseph but his half brothers! However, they did not recognize him. Feigning not to recognize them, Joseph accused them of being spies, upon which charge they asserted they were ten brothers who had left behind them at home their father and a younger brother, and that another brother was no more. But Joseph insisted that they were spies and put them in custody. On the third day he said to them: “Do this and keep alive. I fear God. If you are upright, let one of your brothers be kept bound in your house of custody, but the rest of you go, take cereals for the famine in your houses. Then you will bring your youngest brother to me, that your words may be found trustworthy, and you will not die.” No doubt it was his thus witnessing to his fear of God that caused his brothers to see in this demand divine retribution for their hardheartedness in having sold Joseph, which was just what he intended.—Gen. 42:18-22.
For Jacob this was indeed bad news, and only acute famine conditions forced him to accede to the demand and let Benjamin go. Upon their return to Egypt they were invited to have dinner with the food administrator, who set them at their table according to their age, much to their amazement, and gave Benjamin portions five times as great as the rest. Were they now envious? Hardly!—Gen. 43:33, 34.
As on the previous visit, Joseph had each one’s money put back in his bag, and additionally had his silver cup placed in Benjamin’s bag. Then after they had gotten under way he had them overtaken and charged with stealing his silver cup. Imagine their consternation when the cup was found, and in Benjamin’s bag at that! With heavy hearts they returned to Joseph, before whom they again prostrated themselves, thereby repeatedly fulfilling his childhood dream.—Gen. 44:1-17.
Joseph told them that they could all return except the one with whom the cup was found. Had they still the envious spirit of Cain? If so, they would agree to leave Benjamin behind, taking no pity on their father. But no! This time they felt differently. Anyone else but Benjamin! With touching eloquence Judah pleaded their case, offering to take Benjamin’s place lest their father die from grief because of Benjamin’s failure to return.—Gen. 44:18-34.
Joseph was so greatly touched by Judah’s plea that he could no longer contain himself. Ordering all strangers from his presence, he made himself known to his brothers. Faithful witness that he was, Joseph told his brothers not to be angry with themselves, “because for the preservation of life God has sent me ahead of you.” This was the second year of famine and there would be five more, “consequently God sent me ahead of you in order to place survivors of yourselves in the earth . . . So now it was not you who sent me here, but it was God.” Yes, God, God, God, was being honored by Joseph. What a good example to follow!—Gen. 45:1-8.
Joseph then loaded his brothers down with gifts, and, with the wise and knowing counsel, “Do not get exasperated at one another during the trip,” sent them back to their father in Canaanland. (Gen. 45:24) With what joy 130-year-old Jacob finally accepted the good news that Joseph was alive! “Ah, let me go and see him before I die!” Because of the famine Joseph sent an invitation for his father and all his household to come to Egypt, which they did. Pharaoh gave them the choice section of Goshen, where they settled down and were nourished during the remaining years of the famine.—Gen. 45:28; 47:1-10.
As the famine continued year after year the Egyptians gradually exhausted all their possessions to buy food and in the end even sold themselves to Pharaoh that they might live. This permitted Joseph to settle them where he saw best. He gave them seed for their crops of which they were required to pay back one fifth to Pharaoh for the use of the land.—Gen. 47:13-26.
When Jacob died, within his 147th year, Joseph respected his request to be buried in the field of Ephron where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Leah were buried. But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s half brothers, still plagued by a guilty conscience, feared how they would fare at Joseph’s hands. Here again Joseph honored his God by his speech and conduct, saying to them: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you had evil in mind against me. God had it in mind for good for the purpose of acting as at this day to preserve many people alive. So now do not be afraid. I myself shall keep supplying you and your little children with food.”—Gen. 49:29-32; 50:15-21.
Joseph survived his father by fifty-five years, reaching the age of 110 years. Just before his death he once more showed himself to be a faithful witness by referring to God’s promise to Abraham: “By faith Joseph, nearing his end, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and he gave a command concerning his bones,” namely, that when the Israelites finally left Egypt they were to take his bones along with them. No doubt this command of Joseph served as an added ray of hope to the children of Israel during the long years that they endured tyrannical bondage in Egypt.—Heb. 11:22; Gen. 50:24.
Truly Joseph was a faithful witness of Jehovah. He brought honor to his God by his conduct toward his brothers, in Potiphar’s house, in the king’s prison and as Egypt’s food administrator. And never did he miss an opportunity to witness to the supremacy of his God: to Potiphar’s wife, to his fellow prisoners, to Pharaoh and then repeatedly to his brothers. Surely the record of his life helps to equip us completely for every good work.
In addition to his exemplary life, Joseph is of interest to us because Jehovah God used him to picture the true Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, the great Administrator of spiritual food. And for his course of faithfulness Joseph in the resurrection will be one of those from among whom Christ, the One whom he pictured, will appoint princes in all the earth.—Ps. 45:16.
Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands, W. F. Albright.
Or Heliopolis the city dedicated to the worship of Hélios, the sun.