9 Life-Changing Truths from the Story of Joseph

I loved playing Uno® until one of my younger kids caught onto the game. Try as I might, they delighted in hammering me with Wild cards, Skip cards, Reverse cards, Draw Two cards, and Draw Four cards. Often I would sit at the table with a fistful of cards while they counted down: three cards, two cards, Uno, game over.

When it comes to life, you and I have been fed a line if we think that because we’re a follower of Jesus Christ, or because we’re a “good” Christian, that God “promises” to remove all the Wild, Skip, Reverse, Draw Two, and Draw Four cards from the deck. That’s a lie. I don’t care who told you otherwise. The Bible is very clear about this.

Joseph’s Wild, Skip, Reverse Story

The story of the most famous Joseph in all of history, the story of Joseph featured in a variety of award-winning films, is found in the first book of the Bible.

In Genesis 37 we find Joseph at age seventeen. I think it’s safe to say that he’s still a bit immature. Incredibly, Joseph receives an authentic vision of God’s plan for his life. Yet he’s struggling in the midst of a very dysfunctional family. First, Joseph’s brothers hate him. And second, while Joseph is favored by his father, for all practical purposes his father leaves Joseph unprotected from his brothers’ hatred.

And in that way, Joseph’s life isn’t just a story about someone who lives a long time ago. It’s a story about us. All of us.

The New Testament reminds us, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled” (Romans 15:4 NLT, emphasis added).

God Behind the Scenes

The story of Joseph’s life helps us see God behind the scenes, at work in and through the narrative of our lives. The reality is, God is always doing something bigger than you or I can see.

The great paradox of life is that suffering and humility are necessary steps to God’s best in our lives. We see that in Romans 5, in James 1, in 1 Peter 1-5, and many other Scripture passages.

That God’s preparation and training program for you and me includes hardships and trials is a very unpopular and counter-cultural message. We’d much rather enjoy a nice, comfortable lifestyle perpetually free of pain and suffering. But we might as well face reality.

When we enter the “Joseph zone,” of course, we’re talking about a way of life that’s much more comparable to life in parts of Africa than to life where you and I live. Yet we’ll find that God, and God’s principles, and life’s difficulties, haven’t changed over time.

In Genesis 37, we don’t hear God’s perspective, but His fingerprints are everywhere.      

First, God is seen in the future. Joseph’s dreams in Genesis 37 offer a picture of God’s plans for the future. Of course, at this point, Joseph has no idea what his dreams really meant.         

Second, God is also seen in the past. From Genesis chapters 1 to 36, we see God visiting Adam and Eve, visiting Abraham, and granting visions and dreams.         

Without question, Jacob must have relayed all those stories and life lessons and promises of God to his sons. And almost for certain, Joseph and his brothers must have been told a dark, foreboding prophecy about Abraham’s descendants one day being enslaved and mistreated (Genesis 15:12-16).

At some point on his journey to Egypt, Joseph must have realized he was the first of Abraham’s family to enter the bonds of slavery. He also must have known that the rest would follow. Thankfully, Joseph’s heartbroken plea for God to save him eventually became a plea for God to save his family from a similar fate. Remarkably, God answered that prayer for many generations.       

Finally, God is seen in the present. Joseph’s knowledge of God’s promises to his family in the past, and the dreams he’d had of the future, helped Joseph to deal with the crushing circumstances of his life.

God speaks to us in many ways. The best way to hear Him today is reading the Bible, including the rest of Joseph’s story in Genesis 39-50. God also can use circumstances to bend and shape and mold and refine our character. That was true as we see God at work in Joseph’s life in the present, Genesis 37.

How do we enfold this three-fold perspective into our own lives?

First, by affirming this overarching reality: Because of God’s amazing work in the past, I can trust God to bring future good for many people out of my present difficulties.

Also, by affirming these 9 life-changing truths…

9 Life-Changing Truths

I wasn’t born into a Christian home. So I remember the first time I read the book of Genesis at age 13 and came to Joseph’s story. It started out so harshly, chapter after chapter. I felt relieved when Joseph was finally released from slavery and prison, and couldn’t believe it when he rose to power second only to Pharaoh.

To say the least, I wasn’t surprised when Joseph hid his identity when his brothers came to Egypt. True, they were attempting to buy desperately needed grain for their families back in Canaan. Still, I admit I got a certain sense of pleasure when Joseph spoke harshly to them, jerking them around. 

By the time I turned the page from Genesis 44 to Genesis 45, I could sense Joseph’s revenge was right around the corner. At the climactic moment, when Joseph reveals his true identity, I expected his brothers to be slaughtered like pigs.

Instead, against all ancient Egyptian rules and protocol, Joseph yells for his armed guards to leave. Then Joseph forgives his brothers.

I broke down and wept.

After all the terrible things his brothers had done to him, I didn’t see that coming. How could he?

I had never witnessed such love.

Years later, looking at Joseph’s life anew through an informed New Testament perspective, I find myself repeatedly affirming nine life-changing truths. Difficult as they are, you may wish to embrace them as well.

1. In this life, I will be mistreated by others.

2. Even if I am not yet reconciled with the persons who have hurt me, I can experience release from bitterness by trusting in God’s plan for my life.

3. I can be sure that God has a good purpose when He allows me to experience difficult circumstances.

4. God isn’t the one to blame.

5. God wants to test my character, and cultivate my trust in Him, so I’ll be able to walk alongside and encourage others.

6. To be reconciled with those who have hurt me, I often must take the risk of revealing my heart—both my pain and my love.

7. To be reconciled, I often must invite those persons to draw close to me and speak freely with me. 

8. Reconciliation isn’t always possible, but my responsibility is to do as much as possible to live at peace with others.

9. If someone has something against me, even if they hate me, and even if I’ve done nothing wrong, I need to go to them and do as much as possible to be reconciled.         

“As much as possible” is a biblical statement (Romans 12:18) that lets us know God is the ultimate realist. He knows life on earth certainly isn’t heaven and sometimes can be hellish. 

Until the end of the story God is writing, it isn’t always possible to see how good is going to come from the losses, grief, pain, suffering, and schisms of this life.

Thankfully, Joseph’s story doesn’t end as a bitter tragedy—and your story and mine doesn’t have to either.

The late David Sanford’s book and Bible projects were published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His latest book was Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s book, Life Map Devotional for Women.