Joseph’s dreams are at the heart of this story. The dreams come from God and are about his future. Everything that happens to him contributes to their eventual fulfillment. It all starts in Hebron, the place of the family’s encampment.
Note: This post documents Joseph’s life and dreams as given in the Bible. If you would like insights from the story in relation to your dream and purpose read here. To know more about God’s plan in the midst of Joseph’s pain (and our own) follow this. To get a detailed description of the dreams and the rest of Joseph’s life visit this page.
Jacob settled in the land of Canaan. He had children from both Leah and Rachel. Joseph was one of his twelve sons and had a younger brother named Benjamin, who was the only other child of Rachel. Joseph therefore had many half-brothers.
He was favored much by his father because he was a son of his old age and an obedient child. Jacob gave him a unique robe of many colors which he wore often; his brothers naturally did not like this special treatment and detested him. Joseph also gave report of them to their father whenever they did wrong which only made matters worse.
One day, Joseph had a dream. He dreamt that he was in the field with his brothers harvesting grain and his sheave (bundle of grain) stood upright in the middle of his brother’s sheaves and theirs all bowed down to his. Joseph told his brothers the dream. They were jealous and said, “Are you indeed going to reign over us?” This dream made them hate him even more. Joseph had a similar dream where ‘the sun, the moon and the eleven stars’ bowed down to him.
While his brothers were out feeding the flock one day, Jacob sent Joseph to where they were supposed to be: a place called Shechem. He said,”Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word” (GENESIS 37:14).
Joseph went to Shechem as his father told him but did not find them there. As he was wandering looking for them, a man saw him and told him where his brothers were; they had gone to a place called Dothan. Joseph went to Dothan to find his brothers.
The men were indeed at Dothan. When they saw Joseph from a distance, because of their deep hatred for him, and the fact they were far from home, they saw it as an opportune time to take his life. They said, “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits…then we will see what becomes of his dreams” (GENESIS 37:20). As they said this, Reuben, the eldest of the brothers, suggested they should not shed any blood but instead throw him in a pit in the wilderness and leave him there. They listened to Reuben and stripped Joseph of his robe and threw him in a dry water-well out in the wild. They then sat down to eat—away from the well.
While they were having their meal, a caravan of Ishmaelites came along and they were carrying merchandise for sale in the land of Egypt. Judah (another brother of Joseph) convinced the rest to sell Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites instead of leaving him to die in the pit. They accepted and Joseph was sold being only seventeen years of age. He joined the caravan and the merchants took him to Egypt. His brothers then covered his robe in blood from a goat and made their father believe Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Jacob was convinced and mourned his son for many days.
On reaching Egypt, the Ishmaelites sold Joseph to the captain of the guard; an officer of Pharaoh, a man named Potiphar. Joseph worked as the captain’s servant at his house. God was with Joseph and caused everything he did around Potiphar’s home to succeed. God blessed everything that the Egyptian had both in his house and in the fields because of Joseph. Potiphar recognized this and made him overseer over his entire household. He trusted Joseph so much that he was only concerned about the food he ate.
Joseph grew into a handsome young man. Potiphar was frequently away from home and Joseph worked in his house. He therefore was often in close proximity to Potiphar’s wife and she begun to cast her eyes on him. She soon told him plainly to “lie with” her (GENESIS 39:7). Joseph declined but she persisted and asked him “day by day” but he was firm in his decision. On a certain day, Joseph went to do his work in the house and none of the servants were there. Potiphar’s wife caught him by his garment and yet again asked him to lie with her. This time he fled and left his garment in her hand. When she realized Joseph had left his garment, Potiphar’s wife took advantage and called out to the men of the household claiming he had tried to force her. She said that when she cried out, he ran and left his garment. Potiphar later came home and his wife told him these same lies: he was furious. He put Joseph into a prison at his house; the place where Pharaoh’s prisoners were confined.
Although Joseph was now in prison for something he did not do, God was still with him and he quickly found favor with the keeper of the prison. The keeper of the prison set Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and he was accountable for whatever they did. God made him succeed in his work there as well.
Sometime after this, Pharaoh’s chief butler and baker offended their master and he sent them to the captain of the guard to keep them in custody. Potiphar put them in the same prison where Joseph was and instructed him to attend to them.
One night, both the butler and baker had dreams that troubled them and in the morning, they both looked sorrowful. Joseph took notice and asked them why they looked so downcast. They explained that they had dreams that perplexed them and there was no one to interpret for them. Joseph asked them to tell him their dreams and he promised that God would give the interpretations.
The butler said he had a dream where there was a vine with three branches which quickly budded, blossomed, produced fruit and ripened into grapes. He took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup after which he handed the cup to Pharaoh. Joseph gave him this interpretation: “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer.” Joseph added that the butler should show him kindness and put in a good word for him after he had been restored to office.
The chief baker perceived that his friend had got a favorable interpretation so he decided to tell Joseph his dream. In his dream, the baker had three baskets on his head; the second on top of the first and third on top of the second. The topmost basket contained all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh. The birds ate from it on his head. This was the interpretation Joseph gave the baker: “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you”. Three days after this, Pharaoh had a feast for his birthday and he restored the butler to his office but he hanged the baker on a tree and the birds ate his flesh. In spite of this, the butler did not put in a good word for Joseph; he simply went on with his life.
Two years later, Pharaoh had a dream. In it he was standing by the Nile and there came – out from the water – seven fat cows and they ate the grass by the Nile. Afterwards, seven thin cows came up out of the water and stood by the fat ones. The thin cows then swallowed up the fat ones and Pharaoh woke from the dream. He the slept again and had another dream; this time he saw seven blighted ears of grain swallow-up seven healthy ears. Pharaoh awoke and these dreams troubled him.
In the morning, Pharaoh summoned all his wise men and magicians but no one could interpret the dream. At this time, the butler remembered Joseph and recommended him. Joseph was cleaned-up and brought to the palace to interpret the dream.
After Pharaoh narrated his dream, Joseph gave him this interpretation: “The seven fat cows are seven years, the seven healthy grains are seven years; the dreams are one. The thin cows and the blighted ears of grain are seven years of famine. God is showing Pharaoh that there will be seven years of plenty which will be followed by seven years of famine so intense, that the years of plenty will be forgotten”. Joseph then went ahead to give Pharaoh a solution and told Pharaoh to appoint overseers to collect one fifth of the produce of the land during the seven years of plenty and store it up for the years of famine.
What Joseph had said impressed Pharaoh and he decided to appoint him to oversee the work of collecting and storing the produce throughout Egypt. Pharaoh also appointed Joseph Governor of all Egypt and made him second to himself in authority. Joseph was clothed in fine linen, had a gold chain put round his neck and was given a chariot and wherever he went, they bowed the knee.
Joseph stored so much grain in the seven plentiful years until they could not measure it anymore. Then the years of famine began and the famine was very severe. In the years of famine, grain was sold to the Egyptians initially. When the money failed, they gave up their land for food.
Around this time, Jacob’s family in the land of Canaan were also experiencing famine and their father sent some of his sons down to Egypt to buy some grain. Since Joseph was overseer of the store houses, his brothers had to meet with him to buy grain and when he saw them, he recognized them but they did not recognize him.
They came to him and seeing he was the man in authority, they all bowed down with their faces to the ground. Joseph remembered the dreams he had so many years earlier. He spoke to them harshly (through an interpreter) and asked them where they were from. He accused them of being spies. His brothers explained that they were twelve and the youngest had remained home while one was no more. Joseph then told them to leave Simeon behind and go back and bring their youngest brother to verify that they were not spies. He also put their money in each of their sacks of grain they had bought and they returned to the land of Canaan.
They reached Canaan and told their father all that had happened. Their father was distressed and refused to allow Benjamin be taken down to Egypt.
After a while, when the famine had persisted and the family needed more food, Jacob again sent his sons to Egypt and reluctantly sent Benjamin with them to buy the much needed grain from Egypt. They also took double the money Joseph had put in their sacks on the previous journey.
They reached Egypt and were received into Joseph’s house. A meal was prepared for them. Joseph saw Benjamin and was overcome with emotion, he went somewhere to weep. He returned and composed himself and ate with his brothers but still did not reveal himself to them.
As his brothers prepared to return, Joseph ordered a servant to fill sacks with as much as his brothers could carry and also told the servant to put his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. After they had traveled a short distance, he sent his servant to catch up with them and search their sacks. The servant stopped them and accused them of stealing from Joseph. Each of their sacks was searched and the silver cup was found in the one which belonged to Benjamin. They returned to Joseph’s house.
Joseph questioned them about the silver cup and decided he would keep Benjamin as his servant since the cup was found in his sack. Judah then spoke up and pleaded with Joseph for Benjamin. He told Joseph how much his father loved the young man and how he would not be able to live without him. As Judah pleaded, Joseph could not control himself any longer and sent out all the servants. He then revealed himself to his brothers and wept aloud as he embraced them.
Joseph later gave his brothers wagons and much produce and sent them to collect their father and their belongings so they could settle in Egypt since there were more years of famine.
The men returned to Canaan and spoke to Jacob as Joseph had instructed. He was speechless when they told him Joseph was still alive and was Governor of all Egypt. He and the entire family went down to Egypt and Joseph wept much as he embraced his father. So Joseph was reunited with his people and they settled in Egypt.