Lesson Focus: Joseph trusted God, in the good and bad times.
Big Question: Why should I trust God?
Key Words: DREAMS, SLAVERY, FORGIVENESS
• God’s actions are more providentially inclined rather than interventionally inclined in this story.
• Joseph’s brothers come up with a plan to rid themselves of their pesky little brother, but Joseph’s fate, and theirs, turns out far differently than they supposed.
• Joseph preserves the lives of the Egyptians (and therefore the world, it is implied) and his family, God’s chosen ones, with his economic plan designed to keep everyone eating during a long famine.
• God’s promise for goodness doesn’t happen off in a corner, but plays itself out in the world at large.
• Throughout the story, the narrator is careful to have us know that it was not Joseph himself who worked these wonders, but rather God working through Joseph.
• God is at work in the ugly places of jealousy and heartaches and breaks.
• God’s intent is always for good, even when ours is not.
The story of Joseph is a masterpiece of Hebrew and world literature. With a fabulous plot, intrigue, and suspense, it is a story suitable for reading on a lovely or rainy (confirmation) afternoon! Children love it, composers of music love it, artists love it, and clearly, the biblical writers found it to be a rich source of teaching about God and humanity. In terms of the biblical story line, it provides a bit of a bridge between the books of Genesis and Exodus, beginning with the ever-increasing chosen family in Canaan and ending with the family-turned-nation residing in the best part of Egypt.
Again, we find the familiar themes of deception, favoritism, and the pain of family relations rearing their ugly heads. But in this story, God retreats a bit (not in the sense of vanishing from the story)—God’s actions are more providentially inclined rather than interventionally inclined. There are no extraordinary theophanies or dramatic revelations in this story—no visits from angels, no long talks with the Divine, no mysterious wrestling in the dead of night. Instead, God appears indirectly in the claims made about Joseph and in the divine communication Joseph has via his dreams. Joseph is considered to be wise, and that indicates that God is with him, we are told. He also has both the gift of having dreams filled with portents of the future and divine communication and the gift of dream interpretation. The meaning of this is ambiguous in the text. Clearly God is working with Joseph in these more hidden ways.
Just as Jacob loved Rachel to the disappointment of Leah, he now loves Joseph, Rachel’s son, to the pain of Joseph’s siblings. Joseph is given a special robe and special favors, and his brothers hate him for it. They come up with a plan to rid themselves of their pesky little brother who was always telling them of the dreams he had of his own greatness and their lack. Once Joseph is gone, however, their father is never the same, and Joseph’s fate turns out far differently than they supposed. Again, providentially so.
Joseph is sold into slavery, but his intelligence and rather charmed life gets him out of that quickly. He is favored by others and enjoys quick success. His only setback is a time in prison, falsely accused of behaving improperly with Potiphar’s wife. But even in prison, God is with Joseph, and Joseph remains faithful to God. He waits patiently for things to be righted; and they are, in rather dramatic fashion. Joseph rises to second place in the land of Egypt, a position of amazing power, gained because of his gift at dream interpretation (i.e., because God is with him).
The story is long. In the end, Joseph preserves the lives of the Egyptians (and therefore the world) and his family, God’s chosen ones, with his economic plan designed to keep everyone eating during a long famine. God’s promise for goodness doesn’t happen off in a corner, but plays itself out in the world at large. Throughout the story, the narrator is careful to have us know that it is not Joseph himself who works these wonders, but rather God working through Joseph.
To what degree is God involved in personal, familial, or national history? The story of Joseph makes its claims. All of us have stories as well. The Bible’s claim is that God is at work in the ugly places of jealousy and heartaches and breaks. God works with our neighbors’ and our own shortcomings and sins. Most importantly, this story emphasizes that divine intent is always for good, as Joseph says at the end, even when our intent is not.
The stage is set for Exodus. The chosen family-nation is in Egypt. They are enjoying the best and most fruitful land. There has been some degree of reconciliation. There are 12 sons and probably many wives and nearly countless children. God’s promise to Abraham continues to be realized. Soon Old Abraham will have as many descendants as the stars and grains of sand. What will this mean for the world? What does it mean for us today?
Why should I trust God?
Hindsight is 20/20. Middle and high school students do not have the years of experience to teach them that immediate outcomes are just a part of God’s big picture. Most young people deal with the here and now, and they don’t usually look beyond the immediate situation. The culture conditions them to look for immediate solutions and immediate gratification.
Helping your students realize that God wants good in our lives can be a difficult concept in the midst of what they see regarding success resulting from cheating, from ingesting illegal drugs, and from rapidly dissolving relationships, wars, fighting, and an attitude of looking out for yourself without regard for anyone else. Help students see that all may not be what it seems. Establishing a solid sense of questioning the reality of what they see, and developing criteria for what they believe is true will help them on life’s journey. The one thing that is absolute is God’s love for them; most everything else is subject to scrutiny.
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
DREAMS: thoughts, visions, or mental images that occur during sleep and can relay a message. Joseph interpreted his dreams and the dreams of others.
SLAVERY: a condition of bondage when a person is in servitude to another; drudgery, toil. Joseph was sold as a slave by his own brothers.
FORGIVENESS: relief from a debt or a weakness; pardon; wiping the slate clean. Joseph forgave his brothers when they thought that would never happen.
Choose one of the following three options to introduce the lesson. Then lead students in the Opening Prayer.
Option 1: Science Connection Option: Silver Egg
Before the lesson, assemble the supplies, read through the experiment, and do a trial run.
• Candle with a long, blackened wick
• Kitchen tongs
• Hard-boiled egg
• Clear water glass
God’s ways may often seem to be hidden from us. Sometimes we react in a situation without thinking about the consequences that we may face. When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they reacted quickly and sold him into slavery. But God had a better plan. From this one evil act of the brothers, many good things happened for Joseph, for his family, and for God’s people.
Light the candle and have a student hold it steady. Hold the egg firmly with the tongs, high above the flame where the smoke is forming. Turn the egg through the smoke until it is entirely covered with soot. It should be totally blackened.
Ask another student to fill the glass with water and gently drop the egg into the glass. Watch! It will look as if the egg turns from black to silver. By looking closely, you can see that the silver is just a thin film of air that is trapped by the black soot.
Debrief the science connection with these questions:
• What conclusions can you draw about God based on this egg experiment?
• Even when the world may seem to be a dark and confusing place, who is there for us?
• What are the dark moments in your life that need to be turned around for good?
Option 3: Wordplay Option: God’s Hero
Write the word GOD on your presentation board. Using the D, write the word GOOD vertically. Then use the G to write GUIDES vertically.
Ask you students to work in pairs to create a similar acrostic puzzle using the word HERO. Have them write as many words as they can that relate to a hero. You could give them a variety of pen colors, in the style of Joseph’s coat.
Debrief the wordplay with these questions:
• Looking at the God acrostic, what do the words say about God?
• What words did you come up with that describe a hero?
• How would you describe a hero for God?
Psalm 23 makes an appropriate Opening Prayer for this lesson. Reinforcing the idea that God brings good from evil, Psalm 23 speaks of God’s companionship and power shown in drastic and dangerous situations. Divide the class into two groups to read odd and even verses of Psalm 23 as a responsive prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 2: Music Option: Skin
Play the song “Skin” by Rascal Flatts from Feels Like Today (Lyric Street Records, Inc., 2004). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
In the narrative of Joseph, we can more closely relate to how we usually understand God to be working in our contemporary world—behind the scenes. God doesn’t send evil to us; it’s a result of sin or evil in the world. Evil can come in many forms. This song by Rascal Flatts is the story of a young girl who has been diagnosed with an illness, the treatment for which causes her hair to fall out. We hear how good comes from evil when a special boy takes the girl to the prom after shaving his head so his head looks just like hers. God truly works through people and events in wondrous ways.
Use these questions to discuss how the message of the song relates to today’s lesson.
• What are some ways you experience evil in your own life?
• Have you been able to see how God may have brought good out of those evil events?
• Where else in the world do you find God’s actions for good, especially those places where there is also evil?
Option 3: Role Play Option: From Evil to Good
Divide the class into groups of three or four students to prepare a short role play that shows how evil in Joseph’s life was used by God to bring about something good. Use these episodes from the story: Joseph tells his brothers about his dreams (Genesis 37:5–24); Joseph’s brothers sell him to merchants as a slave (Genesis 37:25–36); Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:1–49); Joseph forgives his brothers (Genesis 45). Students may need to review the stories before preparing their skits.
Have the groups perform the skits to retell the Joseph story, then follow up with these questions:
• What does Genesis 50:20 mean for us?
• How have you witnessed God at work in bringing good out of an evil situation?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
Have students get together with a prayer partner to talk about how they can be available for each other to be helpful in bringing about good in each other’s lives or in the lives of others who would benefit from their help. After five or ten minutes, encourage the partners to pray together that they may be more readily available to do God’s work. Conclude with the following prayer:
God, when times get tough for us, help us trust in you and rely on the people that you have given us who care for us. We also want you to lead us to be more available and willing to work for you to bring your love to others. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• What do you think helped Joseph weather all the changes in his life?
• Where did God bring good out of evil in the story of Joseph?
• How does God communicate with us today?
Turn to this week’s activity called “Joseph True/False Quiz.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• Do you think that by showing off his special coat, Joseph sent his brothers over the edge?
Joseph’s brothers could see that their father, Jacob, favored Joseph over them, so giving him the fine woven coat must have irritated them enough to plot to get rid of him. Whether the coat was long-sleeved, and not meant for work, or was multicolored, Joseph’s brothers saw it as a sign that Jacob intended to make Joseph his heir.
• How did God intervene and use the brothers’ resentment of Joseph for good?
What started as brothers’ jealousy and sibling rivalry over a coat and unusual dreams ended up being an economic plan that averted a disastrous famine. God used the brothers’ evil to put Joseph in the right place to save his family and an entire nation.
Student Book Connection
Student Book page 67. Open your Student Books to the “Top Five Sibling Rivalries in the Bible.” Read the third one together. Then glance at the others. Joseph and his brothers did not get along well. Siblings often don’t. How do these stories of sibling rivalry help us learn how God wants us to treat our siblings? Even when we don’t get along with our families, we can trust God to lead us through.
Ask the students what keeps them interested in reading a book. Try to solicit responses from everyone, making a list on your presentation board. What genre of literature seems to be their favorite books?
Student Book page 26: Read the opening paragraphs of “How to Read the Bible.” Then assign individual students to read each of the five suggestions. All of the suggestions for reading the Bible work and make sense. For many people, however, reading a book (even the Bible) is about discovering a gripping story that keeps their attention. The story of Joseph in Genesis can draw you into the Bible. Some experts say that Joseph’s story was the world’s first novel. Its plot begins with Joseph’s dreams and follows the suspenseful events of Joseph’s life as the dreams all come true. Every episode of the story proves essential to the next.
Alert students to some of the great stories in the Bible by directing them to these sections of the Here We Stand Student Book:
“The Top 10 Bible Villains”—pages 33–35
“The Top 10 Bible Heroes”—pages 36–38
“The Three Most Rebellious Things Jesus Did”—page 39
“The Seven Funniest Bible Stories”—pages 40–42
“The Five Grossest Bible Stories”—pages 43–45
To locate some of the stories and characters referenced on these pages, have a Bible concordance available for the students to use.
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
It’s hard to plan ahead, especially when you’re a teenager. But planning ahead is what saved Joseph and the Egyptians. Help your students learn how to plan ahead and support their efforts. Bring a sample calendar that you keep to show them one way they might do this. Encourage them to follow through on their plan.
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• How do we turn evil around into something good?
• What good can come out of a friend being killed by a hit-and-run driver?
• How do you know if God is using you to do God’s work?
Gather in a circle for a prayer of peace. Suggest that each student offer a petition asking God to bring peace to a current situation; it may be peace among students at school, between siblings at home, among parents and student, between warring countries, or any other place where God needs to intervene to bring good out of evil.
God of all good, we pray today for peace where there is evil and injustice in the world. (Insert the spoken prayers of students. When no more student prayers are offered, close the prayer.) Thank you for hearing our prayer and bringing good out of evil in our world. Amen.
Before students leave, be sure to give each of them the following blessing. Trace the cross on their foreheads at the points indicated.
May the God who brought good from evil for Joseph bring good from evil here and now, for us and for the world. In the name of the Father+, and of the Son+, and of the Holy Spirit+. Amen.