What do you focus on when bad things happen?


Joseph had a lot of ups and downs in his life. He was born into a wealthy family, but then he was sold into slavery. Next, he rose to a position of power in Egypt, but then he was thrown into jail. Did Joseph wallow in self pity when these bad things happened, or did he have a different, perhaps better view of why all this was happening to him?

Let’s start with some background on Joseph. Joseph was the eleventh son of a man named Jacob.

Jacob had a total of 12 sons.

Joseph and Benjamin were the youngest sons and they were the only sons of Rachel. Jacob dearly loved Rachel, but she died while giving birth to Benjamin, and this led to some favoritism within the family.

Gen. 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.

Gen. 37:4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

Notice that the words “more than” appear twice. The text is clear that Jacob favored Joseph over his other sons.

Look at the word “hated”. That is a very strong expression for how Joseph’s brothers felt about him. They really did not like him.

Well, it came about that Jacob unwittingly gave his sons an opportunity to act on their hatred.

Gen. 37:13 Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “I will go.”

Here is Shechem. Joseph went to Shechem, looking for his brothers, but when he arrived, he was told that his brothers had gone to Dothan.

Here is Dothan. Joseph went and found his brothers at Dothan. This was when his brothers took action against him.

Gen. 37:23 So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him;

Gen. 37:24 and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it.

Gen. 37:28 Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.

Notice the word “sold”. Joseph went from being the favored son of a wealthy man to being a slave.

Notice also that he was taken to Egypt.

This gives you an idea what the journey from Dothan to Egypt would have been like. Most of the journey was along the sea coast, so it would have been a fairly easy walk on level ground. Once in Egypt, Joseph was sold to one of Pharaoh’s officers.

Gen. 39:1 ¶ Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there.

Gen. 39:4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.

In verse 1, Joseph was at a low point because he was a slave.

In verse 4 he was at a high point because he had proven himself and was elevated out of slavery to a position of authority.

Unfortunately, Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of assaulting her, and he once again hit a low point.

Gen. 39:20 So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail.

While in jail, Joseph interpreted a dream for Pharaoh’s cupbearer. Joseph thought this was an opportunity to get out of jail, so he asked the cupbearer to speak to Pharaoh and deliver him out of prison. However, Joseph’s hope turned to disappointment.

Gen. 40:23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

So Joseph spent some more time in jail, but then he interpreted a dream for Pharaoh himself and informed Pharaoh that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph once again went from the valley to the mountaintop.

Gen. 41:39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.

Gen. 41:40 “You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.”

Gen. 41:41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”

Joseph went from prison to second in command of Egypt. During the seven years of plenty, Joseph used his position to store the excess food, and then when the famine came, he opened the storehouses and began selling the extra food so that people had food during the famine.

Eventually Joseph’s brothers also came to Egypt to buy food from Joseph because of the famine. Joseph’s youngest brother Benjamin came also. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Meeting Benjamin was an emotional moment for Joseph.

Gen. 43:30 Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there.

The word brother refers to Benjamin.

Think about the words “deeply stirred”, “weep”, and “wept”. Benjamin was the only full brother that Joseph had. All his other brothers were half brothers. Joseph had been away from his only brother for many years and he was deeply moved when he finally saw Benjamin again.

Gen. 43:31 Then he washed his face and came out; and he controlled himself and said, “Serve the meal.”

Joseph ate with his brothers and then it was time for them to go home. Since his brothers did not recognize him, Joseph tested them. He planted his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack and threatened to enslave Benjamin as a thief. When Judah pleaded for Benjamin’s release, Joseph could no longer keep his identity secret.

Gen. 45:1 ¶ Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, “Have everyone go out from me.” So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

Notice the phrase “could not control”.

Gen. 45:2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it.

Once again, notice the word wept. Notice also the word loudly.

Gen. 45:3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

Think about the word “dismayed”. Joseph’s brothers had hated Joseph and they had lived years thinking he was gone for good. Now they were suddenly face to face with him, and he had power over them.

Gen. 45:4 ¶ Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.

Gen. 45:5 “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.

Look at the word “not”. Joseph told his brothers not to have regrets about selling him. Instead, Joseph was looking on the positive side and realized that God had sent him to Egypt so that he could save his family from the famine. Joseph continued speaking to his brothers.

Gen. 45:6 “For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.

Gen. 45:7 “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.

Joseph said again that God was the one who sent him to Egypt.

Gen. 45:8 “Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Joseph said a third time that God was the one who sent him to Egypt.

There’s something else here that is interesting. Joseph claimed that he was father to Pharaoh. This indicates that the Pharaoh at that time was very young, perhaps just a child. If Pharaoh was a child, perhaps that is why Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of storing up food during the years of plenty rather than doing it himself. Joseph continued speaking to his brothers.

Gen. 45:9 “Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.

Gen. 45:10 “You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have.

Gen. 45:11 “There I will also provide for you, for there are still five years of famine to come, and you and your household and all that you have would be impoverished.”’

Gen. 45:12 “Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth which is speaking to you.

Gen. 45:13 “Now you must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here.”

Gen. 45:14 Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.

Gen. 45:15 He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.

Let’s look again at verses 5 & 7.

Gen. 45:5 “Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.

Gen. 45:7 “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.

Joseph had had some terrible experiences. He was torn from his family, sold as a slave, and falsely imprisoned; yet, he saw the good that came out of all that. He realized that all the bad things that had happened to him had put him in a position where he was able to save his family from the famine.

What about us? What do we focus on when bad things happen to us? Do we wallow in self pity or do we look around to see the good things that are coming out of our problems? Do we notice the good things that happen when the economy goes bad? Do we notice the good things that happen when sickness strikes or when we are forced into a job change or early retirement?

Just as Joseph saw that something good came out of his suffering, so too we should realize that good things can and will come out of our suffering. Suffering is not pleasant, but rather than wallow in self pity, we should follow Joseph’s example and notice the positive things that suffering brings to our lives.

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”