In my ongoing journey towards achieving prosperity, it has been useful to look for examples to follow. I’ve tried throughout my life to emulate those who possess character traits that I find worthy of emulation. One of my favorite historical mentors is a man who had lots of reason to give up, to consign himself to mediocrity, to adjust his values to make life easier for himself (at least in the short term). Instead he chose to persevere, to overcome his many setbacks, to maintain his standards despite temptations to do otherwise. He became a powerful, influential person who ultimately saved the nation for which he was a steward as well as his own people from starvation because of his dedication to always doing what was right. The man is the Biblical Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, the leader of the most prosperous of the 12 tribes of Israel.
There are multiple complimentary statements made about Joseph from which important lessons can be learned by anyone who wants to be successful. On two separate occasions, it is mentioned in book of Genesis in the Old Testament that because of Joseph’s presence, those with whom he associated were blessed with prosperity.
First, as the master of the house of Potiphar, a captain in the powerful Pharoah’s administration, it was observed that “the Lord made all that he did to prosper in the land.” What more of an endorsement could a man have than the idea that when you are present, whether employed at a company, as part of a family or social group, or in other settings and relationships, that group or entity performs much better than when you are absent?
After he suffered a setback because of a false accusation from Potiphar’s wife, Joseph continued to bless the lives of those among whom he had influence. While serving a prison sentence that came from his master’s wife’s accusation of attempted sexual assault, Joseph’s character and leadership were again manifested to the keeper of the prison, who “committed to Joseph all the prisoners that were in the prison.” The prison manager was so confident in Joseph’s ability to manage not only himself, but the entire prison system, that he left everything to Joseph’s management, without having to “[look to] any thing that was under his hand.” Again, in this than ideal context, it is noted that the Lord prospered whatever Joseph did.
The Story of Joseph in Egypt
Because of what an extraordinary story it is, I am going to summarize the life of Joseph, pointing out examples from his recorded experiences that I think are illustrative of how to become a prosperous, influential, exemplary person.
Joseph was the 11th of 12 sons born to Jacob, whose name is better known as Israel. The Bible says that Joseph was among his brothers the one who was most loved by his father. Although the Bible itself is somewhat cryptic about why that unique relationship existed between Joseph and his father, many scholars of the scriptures conclude that Joseph’s favor came because of his contribution as a protector and caretaker of his parents in their aging years, and because of his the many virtues his father saw in him.
Joseph’s older brothers naturally envied him, a common situation among rival siblings, especially when one is blessed because of his goodness and another (or others) don’t share similar fortunes as a result of their negative attitudes and poor choices. Joseph, an inspired visionary from a young age, shared with his brothers a dream he had that prophesied their later subservience to him, their younger brother. Joseph’s father, Jacob, another prophet, reacted differently (with more maturity) to another dream shared by Joseph, in which even his parents bowed down to him. The Biblical record says that “his father observed the saying” while his brothers were envious.
Joseph’s brothers’ envy escalated into a plan to get rid of him. At first the plan involved killing him, then his brothers relented and decided to sell him to the Ishmeelites to be be a slave. After the Ishmeelites sold him to Potiphar. The record isn’t clear about how Joseph rose from a common slave to the ruler of Potiphar’s house, but it’s clear that there was something special about Joseph. In Genesis 39:3, the suggestion is made that Potiphar “saw that the Lord was with him.”
Finding himself a slave, sold into a life of potential lifelong servitude, Joseph’s temperament led him to, instead of despair, to rise to become a leader. The irony is that his ability to rule seems closely connected to his desire to serve and to benefit those who associated with, whether he was their slave, their prisoner, or their superior. That pattern of leadership through service is a common one among those who are considered some of the world’s greatest and most revered leaders, including Jesus Christ, believed by the Christian world and others to be the greatest leader who ever lived. Joseph’s commitment to serving and blessing regardless of station or circumstance follows the pattern discussed in Matthew 23:11: But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Potiphar’s Wife – Joseph’s Temperance and Self-control
Joseph’s troubles were not entirely behind him when he rose from purchased servant to ruler of the household for a powerful member of the Pharaoh’s government. His good nature and blessed status also apparently made him attractive to Potiphar’s wife, whose advances would be tempting to most people in his position.
However, instead of indulging, Joseph, recognizing that choosing the harder right had more value than doing what would have been more natural and easier in the short term, resisted his master’s wife, questioning her with, “how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
His courage to say no would again send him into bondage, this time as a prisoner of the man who had elevated him from bondage previously.
With this second stroke of horrible luck, Joseph very easily could have conceded that his life was not meant to be one of ease, and that it would be hopeless to expect anything but hardship and misery despite his good choices. Instead, he gained the trust of the prison manager, who, like Potiphar recognized the natural integrity and goodness of Joseph, and who rewarded him with a promotion to leader of his fellow prisoners and all that happened in the prison. Again, the record comments that this happened because it was recognized that the Lord caused Joseph’s works to prosper.
While in prison, Joseph again displayed a spiritual ability to see things that others didn’t. He correctly predicted the fates of two of his fellow prisoners by interpreting dreams they related to him. One of them, the butler, was asked by Joseph to help him be released from prison once the butler was freed according to Joseph’s prediction. The butler, as would be the ungrateful tendency of too many people, did not remember Joseph until Pharaoh later sought for one who could interpret his dreams. There is no mention of Joseph holding a grudge or getting revenge against the butler for what appeared to be a lack of gratitude.
Joseph’s Vision Saves the Egyptians and His Family from Famine
Joseph’s release from being imprisoned unjustly came because of his usefulness, which extended from his goodness towards his fellowmen and society. Instead of becoming bitter, resentful, and spiteful during his time in prison, Joseph apparently continued to prepare himself to benefit an even greater population than he had previous to his prison sentence.
Joseph’s ability and willingness to interpret the troubling dreams of the Pharoah, and to establish a plan of action to save food harvested during the next seven years of feast to be prepared for the following seven years of famine show a remarkable character. A man who had been twice knocked down severely rose up to become second only to Pharaoh in the Egyptian kingdom. He was able to use his power to save not only the Egyptians, among whom he lived, but his own family. The ending of his story includes his benevolent forgiveness of his brothers and his reunion with his family prior to his father’s passing.
Joseph was as successful man because he was a giver, full of integrity, willing to make sacrifices, able to forgive, and ultimately desirous of receiving rewards for himself only through blessing and helping others.
These qualities are some of the most critical for becoming prosperous.
Joseph’s Extended Influence: The United States of America
As if saving his nation and his family from a widespread famine wasn’t enough, Joseph’s influence indeed went well beyond his era. The prophetic blessing given to Joseph by his father (what is sometimes referred to as a patriarchal blessing) revealed that Joseph’s posterity would be part of a “fruitful” population who would be separate from the other tribes of Israel. They would be settled across the waters, in the Americas, and they would be richly blessed.
According to Biblical scholars, the creation and rise of the United States of America, the most powerful and prosperous country in recorded history, was done by descendants of Joseph. The USA itself represents the embodiment of the character of Joseph. Over its more than 200 year history, the world has been blessed by the existence and influence of the United States in many ways, including the proliferation of freedom and concepts associated with rights. The United States has been a giver of more money to more causes than any other country. As we consider our heritage, that it traces itself back to Joseph of Egypt, we can better understand what character traits are expected of us in our individual and collective pursuit of prosperity.