Humble Heroes: Joseph

Joseph’s story can be found in in Genesis 37, 39-50.

Joseph’s life is a classic example of someone starting life on the bottom and rising to the top. We love movies, musicals, and stories about this idea. Yet, in an “American” version, the person rises the ranks due to hard work, perseverance, and a winning idea. That’s not how it works with Joseph, however. In Joseph’s life, God does all the work and Joseph is just along for the ride, doing his part when called upon.

Humility shines forth in Joseph’s story first in his origins. He’s the younger of 11 brothers. He’s the baby. In ancient times, the youngest—especially of so many others—typically meant that when your father died you were left with just about nothing. It wasn’t a position of honor. Though anyone reading through Genesis would know we should expect the younger brother to get all the glory. Just like what happened with Isaac. And Jacob. And if you back farther, even Seth! There’s an excellent line in Gen. 43:33, where the text says: “And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth.”

Joseph also makes many selfless choices. Based on my reading for the story, I think that Joseph did struggle with pride (like when he tells his brothers about his dream or tests them when they don’t know who he is). Ultimately, however, his goodness and selflessness wins out. When Potiphar’s wife asks to sleep with him, he refused. His reasoning in Gen. 39 is interesting because he says that he is in charge of everything in the house except her. Having her would be he has all the power. But he knows his place and refuses, even though that costs him big time. Then when his brothers come to him, he could have seriously got them in trouble instead of just scarring them. He had the power to get back at them but he chose compassion.

Consistently, through Joseph’s journey from youngest brother to second in charge of Egypt, Joseph finds himself as “second in charge.” In Potiphar’s house, he runs the whole house but has no authority over Potiphar and his wife—he’s second. In the jail, he runs the whole jail but has no authority over the jailer (and he’s still in prison)—he’s second. When he becomes in charge of the famine relief program, he runs all of Egypt and builds the Pharaoh’s riches and power—he’s still second.

Joseph never seeks these opportunities for power. It’s his good character and humble nature that earns him the greater positions. I think I’d probably be tempted to move up from #2 and become the big man in charge, but Joseph has no aspirations for more power. He just aspires to do more good. Joseph is an example of what James 4:10 says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Luke 14:11 also says something similar: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Ultimately, it is in submitting to God that Joseph shows his humility. Throughout the wild journey he is “along for the ride” ready to do his best no matter what the situation is. His trust in God keeps him grounded because he recognizes he doesn’t know the “big picture.” We see this clearly once his father died. His brothers fear that Joseph will finally end them. But Joseph replies: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen. 50:19-21). Joseph knows he isn’t God. He realizes that if he humbly submits to God, God will make something good out of a mess.

Discussion Questions

  • If you were in his situation, do you think you would make the same choices Joseph did?
  • What do you admire most about Joseph’s character?
  • What does it look like to be humble even if you are in a position of great power?
  • Which of Joseph’s best traits do you need to work on in yourself?
  • How is your character and spiritual life challenged by Joseph’s story?
Photo by James C. Lewis.
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