Joseph’s troubles started when his mouth did. He came to breakfast one morning, bubbling and blabbing in sickening detail about the images he had seen in his sleep: sheaves of wheat lying in a circle, all bundled up, ready for harvest. Each one tagged with the name of a different brother—Reuben, Gad, Levi, Zebulun, Judah . . . Right in the center of the circle was Joseph’s sheaf. In his dream only his sheaf stood up. The implication: you will bow down to me.
Did he expect his brothers to be excited about this? To pat him on the back and proclaim, “We will gladly kneel before you, our dear baby brother”? They didn’t. They kicked dust in his face and told him to get lost.
He didn’t take the hint. He came back with another dream. Instead of sheaves it was now stars, a sun, and a moon. The stars represented the brothers. The sun and moon symbolized Joseph’s father and deceased mother. All were bowing to Joseph. Joseph! The kid with the elegant coat and soft skin. They, bow down to him?
He should have kept his dreams to himself.
Perhaps Joseph was thinking that very thing as he sat in the bottom of that cistern. His calls for help hadn’t done any good. His brothers had seized the chance to seize and silence him once and for all.
But from deep in the pit, Joseph detected a new sound—the sound of a wagon and a camel, maybe two. Then a new set of voices. Foreign. They spoke to the brothers with an accent. Joseph strained to understand the conversation.
“We’ll sell him to you . . .”
“ . . . trade for your camels . . .”
Joseph looked up to see a circle of faces staring down at him.
Finally one of the brothers was lowered into the pit on the end of a rope. He wrapped both arms around Joseph, and the others pulled them out.
The traders examined Joseph from head to toe. They stuck fingers in his mouth and counted his teeth. They pinched his arms for muscle. The brothers made their pitch: “Not an ounce of fat on those bones. Strong as an ox. He can work all day.”
The merchants huddled, and when they came back with an offer, Joseph realized what was happening. “Stop this! Stop this right now! I am your brother! You can’t sell me!” His brothers shoved him to the side and began to barter.
“What will you pay for him?”
“We’ll give you ten coins.”
“No less than thirty.”
“Fifteen and no more.”
“Twenty, and that is our last offer.”
The brothers took the coins, grabbed the fancy coat, and walked away. Joseph fell on his knees and wailed. The merchants tied one end of a rope around his neck and the other to the wagon. Joseph, dirty and tearstained, had no choice but to follow. He fell in behind the creaking wagon and the rack-ribbed camels. He cast one final glance over his shoulder at the backs of his brothers, who disappeared over the horizon.
No one turned around.
“His brothers . . . sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites who took Joseph with them down to Egypt” (Gen. 37:28 MSG).
Down to Egypt. Just a few hours ago Joseph’s life was looking up. He had a new coat and a pampered place in the house. He dreamed his brothers and parents would look up to him. But what goes up must come down, and Joseph’s life came down with a crash. Put down by his siblings. Thrown down into an empty well. Let down by his brothers and sold down the river as a slave. Then led down the road to Egypt.
Down, down, down. Stripped of name, status, position. Everything he had, everything he thought he’d ever have—gone. Vanished. Poof. Just like that.
Just like you? Have you been down in the mouth, down to your last dollar, down to the custody hearing, down to the bottom of the pecking order, down on your luck, down on your life . . . down . . . down to Egypt?
Life pulls us down.
Joseph arrived in Egypt with nothing. Not a penny to his name or a name worth a penny. His family tree was meaningless. His occupation was despised.1 The clean-shaven people of the pyramids avoided the woolly bedouins of the desert.
No credentials to stand on. No vocation to call on. No family to lean on. He had lost everything, with one exception. His destiny.
Those odd dreams had convinced Joseph that God had plans for him. The details were vague and ill defined, for sure. Joseph had no way of knowing the specifics of his future. But the dreams told him this much: he would have a place of prominence in the midst of his family. Joseph latched on to this dream for the life jacket it was.
How else do we explain his survival? The Bible says nothing about his training, education, superior skills, or talents. But the narrator made a lead story out of Joseph’s destiny.
The Hebrew boy lost his family, dignity, and home country, but he never lost his belief in God’s belief in him. Trudging through the desert toward Egypt, he resolved, It won’t end this way. God has a dream for my life. While wearing the heavy chains of the slave owners, he remembered, I’ve been called to more than this. Dragged into a city of strange tongues and shaved faces, he told himself, God has greater plans for me.
God had a destiny for Joseph, and the boy believed in it.
Do you believe in God’s destiny for you?
Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013).
We have just completed a Bible study to guide through the life of Joseph. It consists of 6 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.