Joseph (Hebrew Bible)

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Joseph was the first son of Jacob by his second wife Rachel, and the eleventh son Jacob had fathered. He was favored by Jacob as the favorite son, and so was sold into slavery by his brothers in jealously. Despite the predicament, God was with Joseph and so he eventually rose to become his master's attendant.

After his master's wife tried to get Joseph to have an affair with her and he refused, she had Joseph imprisoned. Eventually the Egyptian Pharaoh began to having strange dreams, and when Joseph successfully interpreted them was given authority over the whole land of Egypt. When a famine arose in Canaan, Joseph's brothers came to ask for his aide, not realizing it was their brother. He then invited his family to move into Egypt.


Early life 

Jacob's wife Rachel, had not been bearing children to her husband.[1] She became jealous of her sister and so had Jacob sleep with a servant Bilhah to bear her children[2]. Rachel's sister Leah became jealous of Bilhah's offspring and when she stopped having children had her servant Zilpah sleep with Jacob in order to compete with her sister.[3]

When God gave Rachel the ability to conceive, she bore a child named Joseph, as a statement of faith that she would have more children[4].

Favored Son 

Joseph was a favored child among the sons Jacob because he fathered him in his old age. He gave Joseph an ornate "coat of many colors",[5] which made his brothers angry and jealous of him.[6] At age seventeen, Joseph was a shepherd who attended the flocks alongside some of the other brothers.[7]

Joseph's dreams 

At one point Joseph had a dream: he and his brothers were preparing bales of grain and when Joseph's grain stood up and the brother's grain gathered around and bowed to it.[8] He told this to his brothers,[9] who hated him even more because of it.[10] His brothers became fearful that perhaps Joseph thought he would reign over them eventually.[8]

Then Joseph had another dream,which he also told his father and mother along with his brothers—he saw the sun, moon, and eleven stars all bowing down before him.[11] This time his father rebuked him for telling the dream, wondering if that meant even he and his mother will have to bow before him.[12]

Brothers plot to kill Joseph 

One day Joseph's brothers were out working Jacob's fields in Shechem,[13] and so Jacob send Joseph to go visit them.[14] When he got to Shechem and didn't see his brothers, he asked a stranger who told him his brothers went to Dothan.[15]

So Joseph went to Dothan, and his brothers saw him heading towards them in the distance and so they plotted to kill him.[16] They mockingly called him a dreamer amongst themselves,[17] and planned to kill him and throw him in a well and say that a wild animal killed him.[18]

Reuben, wishing to save Joseph,[19] told them to just put him in a pit and don't lay a hand on him.[20] Reuben said this as he planned to rescue Joseph and bring him back to their father.

Sold into slavery 

So when Joseph arrived, his brothers stripped him of his "coat of many colors"[21] and he was dumped into an empty cistern.[22] As Joseph was trapped in the well, his brothers ate a meal and when they saw Ishmaelite traders passing by,[23] Judah suggested that they should sell him and have him be taken away.[24] So when the merchants came by, they raised Joseph out of the well and sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver,[25] then after he was led away they took his coat and dipped it in fresh goat's blood before showing it to their father.[26] Jacob felt for sure his son had been killed by a wild beast and so mourned for him in sackcloth.[27]

Under Potiphar 
Well Favored 

So Joseph was taken to Egypt[25] and was sold by the Ishmaelites to Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh's guard.[28]

God was with Joseph while in servitude, and blessed him in everything he did. He lived in Potiphar's house.[29] Eventually Joseph found favor with Potiphar and so was made his personal attendant; in charge of managing the entire house and all the property.[30]

Joseph deals with Potiphar's wife 

Joseph, being handsome, attracted the attention of Potiphar's wife, who wanted him to to sleep with her.[31] But Joseph refused,[32] saying that his master hasn't kept anything back from him but his wife, and that would[33] be sinning[34] against God.

Potiphar's wife continuously asked Joseph to be intimate with her, and Joseph refused every time.[35] Joseph kept refusing her[35] until one day when he was alone in the house with the wife,[36] she grabbed him by the coat, and he ran[37] off, leaving the coat in her hand.[38] She then had Joseph framed in front of her husband for "trying to commit adultery" with her and making her "a sport".[39] This angered Potiphar[40][41].

Rising in Rank 

So Potiphar imprisoned Joseph in the royal prison.[42] While Joseph was in prison, God was with Joseph showing him kindness and Joseph found favor with the prison warden[43] and so was put in charge of all the prisoners,[44] without supervision.[45]

Interpreting his first dreams 

At one point the Pharaoh's chief cupbearer and chief baker angered the Pharaoh and so they were imprisoned in the royal prison.[46] Potiphar had jurisdiction over the prison and assigned them under the care of Joseph.[47] While under Joseph's management, both the baker and the cupbearer had dreams on the same night,[48] and Joseph seeing their sadness[49] offered dream interpretations from God.[50]

In the cupbearer's dream he saw[51] three branches on a vine that budded three bunches of grapes.[52] The Pharaoh's cup was being brought before the Pharaoh and the grapes were squeeze and given to the Pharaoh.[53] Joseph explained that the three branches represented three days[54] and that in that time frame he would be given his role back.[55] Joseph also asked the cupbearer to remember him after his position was restored, and to plead for a release from imprisonment.[56] Joseph went on to tell the cupbearer that he had been forced[42] into prison and did not break any law.[57] The baker seeing Joseph had given a fortunate interpretation went on and told his dream: there were three baskets on his head,[58] with the topmost one having baked goods, and birds were eating from it.[59] Joseph explained that the three baskets are three days,[60] and on the third day he would be released and be hanged for the birds to eat his body.[61]

So on the third day during the Pharoah's birthday festival,[62] the cupbearer's position was restored[63] while the baker was executed, just as Joseph had predicted.[64] The cupbearer forgot[57] Joseph[65] and so Joseph remained imprisoned.

Interpreting the Pharaoh's dreams 

Two years later, the Pharaoh had two dreams:[66] one where seven fat cows were eaten by seven thin cows,[67] and another where seven thick stalks of wheat were devoured by seven thin stalks of wheat.[68] So the Pharaoh called for his magicians who were unable to explain the meaning of Pharaoh's dreams,[69] but his cupbearer recalled[57] Joseph who explained the dreams he and the baker had that came true.[70] So Pharaoh had Joseph brought out of prison into his court (after he had been shaved and changed clothes).[71] The Pharaoh then explained to Joseph he had a dream that no one else could interpret. but having heard that he had the ability to do so, he needed him to interpret it.[72]

Joseph responded to Pharaoh that he could not interpret dreams, but rather God would answer[73] his prayers. Getting word from God, Joseph told him that the dreams were God's message to Pharaoh: the seven fat cows and seven thick stalks of wheat were seven good years of crops, while the seven thin cows and the seven thin stalks of wheat were seven years of famine that would follow after. He advised the Pharaoh to store up grain during the seven good years so that the nation would not perish. Realizing that the Spirit of God was in Joseph, the Pharaoh made him ruler of Egypt and gave him power and authority as second to himself on the throne. During the seven good years, Joseph went out and had all the grain stored up, which was beyond counting. Joseph was given Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Phera priest of On (Heliopolis), as a wife, and she bore him Manasseh and Ephraim. When the seven years of famine started, Joseph began to sell the grain that was stored up to both Egypt and the surrounding nations.

It was then that Joseph saw his brothers again, when they except for Benjamin were sent to Egypt by their father Jacob to buy grain. Joseph recognized them and treated them rather harshly, accusing them of being spies to see where Egypt was not defended. Joseph put them in prison for three days, and then sent them back to their father while keeping Simeon in custody, telling them to bring their youngest brother with them or else they won't see his face again. He also put their money back in the sacks after having them filled. They would return a year or so later with Benjamin under Judah's care, promising his father his safe return. Joseph then released Simeon unto them and had them eat with him in his house, giving Benjamin five times the portion his brothers were given. Before they left, Joseph had his servant put his silver cup into Benjamin's sack and then go after them and accuse them of stealing the cup he "uses" for "divination". When his brothers found the cup in Benjamin's sack, they returned to Joseph and Judah pleaded for him to take him into custody in place of Benjamin for fear that his father would die if Benjamin was not safely returned. It was at that point that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and told them to bring their father and their house to Egypt, where they will live.

Joseph responded to Pharaoh that he could not interpret dreams, but rather God would answer[74] his prayers. Getting word from God, Joseph told him that the dreams were God's message to Pharaoh: the seven fat cows and seven thick stalks of wheat were seven good years of crops, while the seven thin cows and the seven thin stalks of wheat were seven years of famine that would follow after.

He advised the Pharaoh to store up grain during the seven good years to ensure national survival. Seeing that God was with Joseph, the Pharaoh made him ruler second in command in all of Egypt. Joseph followed through with his own advice, storing immeasurable amounts of grain. Having become a powerful leader, Joseph took a wife of the priestly caste, Asenath, daughter of Poti-phera. Together they would have two sons, Manneseh and Ephraim.

Two years into the famine, after Joseph had begun to sell the stored grain, ten of his brothers came to Egypt in search of grain for Jacob's extended family back home in Canaan. It had been 15 years, but Joseph recognized them and treated them rather harshly, accusing them of being spies. Having imprisoned them for three days, Joseph kept Simeon in custody, to assure their return with Benjamin, his full brother.

As the famine continued, Joseph's brothers resisted returning, for they feared for their father's health if he lost Benjamin as he had Joseph. After Judah promised to forfeit his own life if any harm came to Benjamin, the ten brothers returned to Egypt. Upon their return, Joseph released Simeon and invited them to a feast at his palace. For one final test, Joseph had his "divination cup" planted in Benjamin's sack of provisions and sent them back to Canaan, having lavished their youngest brother with five times as much stuff.

Giving his brothers a small headstart, Joseph sent men to look for his cup. Knowing nothing of the cup, they confidently offered the life of any of them in whose sacks it would be found. Joseph told them that their offers of servitude would not do, but that they could all go free if Benjamin stayed with him. However, seeing Judah's sincerity, and having proven the integrity of his brothers, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and told them to bring their father and everyone else back to Egypt to live.

At first, Jacob could not believe that Joseph was a live, but the evidence in the riches from Europe convinced him to bring all the families, servants and livestock down into Egypt. After a glorious reunion, Pharaoh declared some of the best land in the land -- in the delta-- would be their new home. As the sons of Israel settled in, money began to run out in the cities along the Nile. Without money, the heads of households had to submit to servitude to pay for the grain needed for their families. By law, the Egyptians became tenant farmers on their former land, owing a payment of a fifth of their future production to the state.

Joseph's father Jacob would surprise him as he gave his blessings from his death bed. He gave the double portion to the younger son, Ephraim. Only then his brother receive the prophetic blessings. Having secured an assurance that he would be buried in the family burial ground at Machpelah, Jacob climbed in bed and died. As Joseph's father, Jacob was treated with a state funeral. Many Egyptians had even gone to Canaan to continue their support.

After their return to Egypt, the brothers feared the wrath of their powerful brother, so they told of how Jacob told them to ask for pardon. Whether the story was true, Joseph held no grudges. He told them not to be afraid, for though they thought to do evil against him, God had planned it for good so that they could be saved.


Joseph lived to be 110 years old, seeing Ephraim's children to the third generation. His brothers had sworn to bring his bones out of Egypt at such a time as God would bring the people back to Canaan. For the better part of a century he had led a life of service in Egypt. When he died, he had a full state funeral, but unlike Jacob, his body would stay in Egypt until after the exodus.


During the time of Moses, Joseph's bones were brought out of Egypt, and after the children of Israel had settled in their land, he was buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of silver, which had become an inheritance of the sons of Joseph.

Verses 1.↑ Gen 30:1 2.↑ Gen 30:3-8 3.↑ Gen 30:9-21 4.↑ Gen 30:22-24 5.↑ Gen 37:3 6.↑ Gen 37:4 7.↑ Gen 37:2 8.↑ 8.0 8.1 Gen 37:8 9.↑ Gen 37:6 10.↑ Gen 37:5 11.↑ Gen 37:9 12.↑ Gen 37:10-11 13.↑ Gen 37:12 14.↑ Gen 37:13-14 15.↑ Gen 37:15-17 16.↑ Gen 37:18 17.↑ Gen 37:19 18.↑ Gen 37:20 19.↑ Gen 37:21 20.↑ Gen 37:22 21.↑ Gen 37:23 22.↑ Gen 37:24 23.↑ Gen 37:25 24.↑ Gen 37:26-27 25.↑ 25.0 25.1 Gen 37:28 26.↑ Gen 37:29-32 27.↑ Gen 37:33-34 28.↑ Gen 37:36, 39:1 29.↑ Gen 39:2 30.↑ Gen 39:3-4 31.↑ Gen 39:7 32.↑ Gen 39:8 33.↑ Gen 39:9 34.↑ Exo 20:14, Lev 18:20, Rom 13:9, James 2:11 35.↑ 35.0 35.1 Gen 39:10 36.↑ Gen 39:11 37.↑ Prov 5:8,1 Cor 6:18, 2 Tim 2:22 38.↑ Gen 39:12 39.↑ Gen 39:13-18 40.↑ Gen 39:19 41.↑ Numbers 5:14,29-30; Prov 6:26, 29, 34-35 42.↑ 42.0 42.1 Gen 39:20 43.↑ Gen 39:21 44.↑ Gen 39:22 45.↑ Gen 39:39 46.↑ Gen 40:1-3 47.↑ Gen 40:4 48.↑ Gen 40:5 49.↑ Gen 40:7 50.↑ Gen 40:8 51.↑ Gen 40:9 52.↑ Gen 40:10 53.↑ Gen 40:11 54.↑ Gen 40:12 55.↑ Gen 40:13 56.↑ Gen 40:14 57.↑ 57.0 57.1 57.2 Gen 40:15 58.↑ Gen 40:16 59.↑ Gen 40:17 60.↑ Gen 40:18 61.↑ Gen 40:19 62.↑ Gen 40:20 63.↑ Gen 40:21 64.↑ Gen 40:22 65.↑ Gen 40:23 66.↑ Gen 41:1 67.↑ Gen 41:2-4, 18-21 68.↑ Gen 41:5-7, 22-23 69.↑ Gen 41:8 70.↑ Gen 41:9-13 71.↑ Gen 41:14 72.↑ Gen 41:15 73.↑ Gen 41:16 74.↑ Gen 41:16