An excerpt from my book Joseph: From Pit to Palace.
Enjoy, and feel free to leave your thoughts!
Chapter 1 – The Tragic Gift
ZAPHNATH-PAANEAH—every knee in the kingdom bowed at that name.
In the fair East African country, he stood—a foreign governor. Under normal circumstances, Egypt would not allow this. The people would never have stranger a control them. So what made this Arabian an exception?
It was the power of Jehovah, the All-Knowing One. No one could deny the Force in his life, but to the minds of a heathen people, it seemed that this force was the “spirit of the gods.”
Still, the question remains: how does a shepherd become second-in-command of a growing metropolis like Egypt? The answer lies in the place where his life began: a camp at Beersheba, a region of the land of Canaan—and in a gift received from his father, Israel.
This is the story of Joseph, and his journey from PIT to PALACE.
סיפורו של יוסף
The sun beat down hard on the teenage boy. A hundred droplets of sweat rolled down his body as he darted from one position to the next, feeding another herd of sheep. He didn’t like the task, but he never complained. Instead, he sang the Hebrew melodies he had learned many years before. His father was Jacob, a man who God called Israel, meaning, “He perseveres with Jehovah.” He received the name after wrestling with God for a night, refusing to give up until he felt the desired blessing.
Rachel, the boy’s mother, gave him the name Joseph, meaning, “God will increase.” Quite fitting for the firstborn of a woman whose sister already had six children with their mutual husband. Before Joseph’s birth, Rachel was infertile—unlike her sister, Leah, who had several children. Jealous, Rachel urged her husband to marry her servant girl so she could have children for her. Leah did the same with her maid, though she had really had no reason to. All of this made Jacob’s household a bitter one, full of tension and rebellion. Could one expect anything else? Such a family structure—one man married to four women with thirteen children—spelled disaster from the start. It just goes to show that all who fail to obey the Most High will suffer the consequences.
Consequences? Yes. The words of this story will reveal them. They will tell of disobedience and the grief it brings, yes—but best of all, they will show how the power of an Almighty God can take a bad situation and turn it around for the better.
סיפורו של יוסף
After doing it for so many years—it was second nature to him now. Joseph heaved the sack into the air and poured several ephahs of grain into the last feeder. Finally, one more chore—finished. He laid the empty sack on a ledge and splashed his face from the washbasin. A terrible noise filled the air. Startled, Joseph glanced toward the tents. A group of young men carried on like lunatics on their way home from the grain fields.
Joseph’s heart caught in his throat. In a half-whisper, he choked, “Oh, my brothers…”
It was true. His half-brothers were noisy and caused only trouble. Reuben, the eldest, was unstable and hard to trust. Simeon and Levi were especially close, and spent so much time doing evil that they couldn’t be trusted.
Judah was Jacob’s first trustworthy child, but still—he wasn’t a saint. The next two, Dan and Naphtali, looked a little different from the others. Rachel called them her children, but they were the sons of Bilhah, her maid. Quiet Gad and Asher, the jokester, were also surrogate children—born to Leah’s maid, Zilpah. You’d think those were enough, but no—Leah added two more sons of her own, Issachar and Zebulun and then she had a daughter, Dinah. Finally, Rachel became pregnant and she added Joseph and Benjamin to the overwhelming series.
It seemed that the first ten sons were born with a rebellious streak, very different from the sweeter characters of Joseph and little Ben. Not surprisingly, Joseph found his brothers’ mischief very disturbing, and over the years, he would report incident after incident to their father. Soon, the boys came to see him as their father’s personal spy – or, as they put it, “the ‘eye’ of Jacob.”
The bitter title rang in Joseph’s mind as his brothers came up to his work place. He turned away, nervous—his thoughts screaming. “Don’t say anything. Please. I can’t take another word …” “Well, well—check this out: it’s the ‘eye’ of Jacob! Working with his hands—not his mouth—for a change.” Noting Joseph’s expression, Simeon feigned a sympathetic smile. “Aw, what’s the matter, shepherd boy? Hard work too much for you?”
Joseph looked his brother in the eye as the others giggled at Simeon’s quip.
“I’m not the only shepherd in the family, am I Simeon? And no—hard work isn’t a problem.” Simeon raised an eyebrow. “I know hard work isn’t a problem for you in some cases—but boy, you do have a problem working hard at the right activities.”
“You should know. Look, there’s something mom says often…”Simeon turned to the other siblings.“…Don’t get me wrong, boys—I hardly care for what women say, but this seems appropriate.” Simeon cleared his throat and mimicked his mother’s pose. “It goes something like this: ‘if you have nothing good to say and nothing good to share, then keep your mouth shut and never say a needless word.’”
Impressed, Asher slapped his brother on the back. “What a genius, Simmy! You actually remembered the whole line.” “What?” Simeon snapped. “Of course I do. As I said, mom says it often. I’m just wondering where Joseph was at the time.”
Laughter filled the air as Joseph’s face turned red. Not knowing what else to do, he stooped down to inspect a baby lamb. He had already done a health check, but doing it again was better than facing brothers who seemed to hate his life. Minutes passed and the laughter died down. Indignant at Joseph’s silence, the men’s anger mounted until the tension in the air was thick enough to slice. How could he be so quiet in spite of their taunts? Why wouldn’t he fight back? Curses poisoned the air. Simeon walked away, returning to the camp.
One by one, the others followed.
Relieved, Joseph wiped his brow on his sleeve and watched the last man disappear among the tents.“Either they’re bored, or they don’t have much to do besides pick on me.”
Joseph shook himself out of his muse and looked up, shading his eyes from the sun. Temperatures soared in that country, and taking breaks to avoid heatstroke was a real concern. Joseph decided it was about time for such aopened the gate and stepped out, closing it behind him. It was a short walk to his tent, so he didn’t rush.“Out here smells better than the tents anyway,” he laughed. He reached the door and ducked inside. Although the air was musty, as usual, Joseph had to admit that it was much cooler inside. Lying down on his sleeping mat, he began to doze. A few minutes later, he heard a familiar voice.
“Joseph? Joseph! Where are you?”
The boy jumped to his feet and crawled out of the tent. His father was calling—but from where? Joseph looked around, and then spotted him at the other side of the camp. He would have run to Jacob’s side, but at seventeen years old, he felt that walking would be more dignified. “Yes, Father. You called me?” A smile graced the shepherd’s face as he touched his son’s shoulder.“Yes, I did. My, you’ve grown. I feel like an old man!”
“Dad, you’re not old. You hardly have grey hair.”
“Well, maybe not too many,” Jacob chuckled, “but old age comes to all, ready or not. It’s because of the curse our first parents brought into the world.”
Joseph studied the rusty peg fastening the tent to the ground. “Sometimes, I’d rather not think about that,” he thought. “Adam and Eve made a terrible decision. They lost the Garden of Eden as a home and brought these all the curses of life on us.” He looked at his father. “I know, Dad…I know.” Jacob smiled and ruffled his son’s hair.“Anyway Joseph, I didn’t interrupt your nap to have us stand in the heat chatting. Come with me, I have something for you.” Jacob entered the tent with Joseph close behind. He walked to the corner and reached into a basket, bringing up a small package.Joseph’s face lit up. “ I wonder what’s in there—a gift, maybe?”
Jacob was silent for while. Joseph sensed that he was thinking hard about something, so heminutes passed. Then, Jacob looked up.“My son.”He paused, looking deep into Joseph’s eyes.“This is yours.”
Joseph took the gift and untied the string. As the wrapping fell to the floor, his jaw dropped in amazement. He was speechless for just a moment.
“Dad, you can’t be serious. This is mine?”
“Of course it’s yours. I said so.”
The boy ran his fingers over the soft material. He traced the colors and felt the seams. Could such a masterpiece really be his to keep? Puzzled, he frowned. “I have never seen a coat quite like this before, Dad. I’m almost afraid to wear it. This is fit for … royalty.” As the words left Joseph’s mouth, a strange feeling came over him. This coat was special. It wasn’t an everyday gift. Joseph knew it was more than that.
He met his father’s gaze.
“Dad, this is excellent quality—not for common shepherd boys, working in the dust and grime. A beautiful coat like this belongs to a prince—like the prince of Egypt!’”
“I’m serious Dad! What made you do this for me? I’m almost the baby of the family. If anyone gets this coat, it should be Reuben, shouldn’t it?”
Joseph looked at his father and smiled. It was obvious that Jacob paid no attention to his questions. Indeed, Jacob’s mind was far away, seeing the boy as a curious blend of himself and his beloved Rachel.
“Eldest or not, you’re my prince—the firstborn son of my sweet Rachel. You remind me so much of her, Joseph. Same smile, same spirit, same … everything.”
A tear threatened to escape from Jacob’s eye. He brushed it away, hoping his son hadn’t noticed. The two stood in strained silence for what seemed like hours. Finally, unable to bear the silence any longer, Jacob chuckled. “Well son, let’s see how well this coat actually fits you.”
Joseph smiled, slipping his arms into the long sleeves. On his tall, sturdy frame, the coast seemed to take on a life of its own. “A perfect fit!” Jacob beamed. “You look beautiful, Joseph. Just beautiful.” Joseph threw his arms around his father in a tight embrace.
“Dad, thank you so much—I love it! I’ve got to show Benjamin.”
“Show me what?”A little voice sounded outside the tent.
“Oh … come in and see, Ben!”Benjamin crawled into the tent and stopped short.“WOW! Joseph, where did you get that?”
“‘Dad’ is the word, buddy!”
The little boy looked up at Jacob in surprise.
“You made that, Daddy?”
“Sure did, Ben. Oh, dear—you’ve grown too. How could I miss that? Soon you’ll be as tall as your brother!”
“But not half as stressed, I’m sure.”
“Ah, don’t worry, Joseph. Benjamin will carry his share of life’s burdens soon enough. For now, though, he must enjoy the sunshine and help with smaller chores.”
“I know. Actually, I wasn’t thinking about chores.” Joseph said, fidgeting with his sleeve. “I was thinking about something else.”
“Oh? And what might that ‘something else’ be?”
“Never mind it, Dad. It’s nothing to worry about.”
“Hm. Son, that doesn’t sound right. Is there something going on?”
Joseph’s heart fluttered with nervousness.
“No. I mean, yes. I mean, uh—nothing I can’t handle Dad. You know how life is; little problems here and there. Nothing major.”
He finished off with a lame chuckle, trying to sound positive—not wanting to spoil the moment discussing his brothers. Of course, Jacob wasn’t fooled. He vividly remembered using such tactics in his childhood days whenever he wanted to escape something unpleasant.
“Well, if your face is any indication, I don’t think it’s quite as minor as you’re painting it to be. But, that’s fine. If you won’t speak now, you’ll speak later.”
Not knowing what to say, Joseph dropped his gaze to the ground. The mood grew a little too quiet for Benjamin—quite puzzled by all the grown-up talk and not sure what was wrong with his brother either. He began to hop from one foot to the other, in step to some unknown rhythm.
“Oh, I’m sorry Ben!” Jacob exclaimed. “I forgot you were standing there. Are you bored?”
Ben nodded, then threw his arms around his brother and hugged him tightly around the middle.
“I want Joseph to come outside and play with me!”
“Okay, sure. Let’s go!”
Joseph tried to leave, but Benjamin clung to him, his little face pressed into his brother’s coat. Jacob laughed. “Ben? If you want Joe to play, you’ll have to stop squeezing the air out of him and set him free.”
A muffled giggle left the cloth and Ben flew backwards, landing in a pile ofshook his head.
“Only Benjamin,” he chuckled. “Come on buddy, let’s play!” Joseph urged.
Benjamin jumped up and marched behind him.“Yes sir!”
As the children disappeared, Jacob sat down and leaned against a large basket. “Oh Rachel,” he whispered, “Your children are my greatest joy and comfort. Perfect reflections of you. I have lost your presence, but the Lord did not leave me without comfort. Rest peacefully, my beloved.”
סיפורו של יוסף
Outside, Joseph and Benjamin had the time of their lives. Because there was so much work to do around camp, Joseph rarely had much time to play with his little brother. He treasured their moments together like rare jewels.
Laughter flowed freely as they chased each other over small hills and around trees. They lost track of the distance, and when they finally stopped to rest, they found themselves deep in the fields, where the golden heads of grain swayed with the pull and push of the wind. The boys knew the whole area by heart. It was their home—the sweet outdoors. They caught a second wind and began their chase again, quite oblivious to their audience.
“What’s this? Has Joseph gone back in time?” Reuben glanced at Levi with a curious look.
“What are you talking about?”
“Look, will you? He’s over there, running around with Benjamin like an immature little boy.”
“Doesn’t Joe realize he’s seventeen?”
“I don’t think he thinks keenly about anything, Judah—except what to report to Dad,” Gad added. “He’s still stuck in childhood.”
“Hah! You can say that again,” Asher remarked, joining the group.
“Joseph is still stuck in childhood.”
“You didn’t have to take it literally, Gad.”
“I know, Asher. I just felt like saying it again.”
“To annoy me, right?”
“Yeah, something like that. By the way, where’s Simeon?” Asher shrugged. “I don’t know. But knowing him, he might just appear out of no—”
“Brothers!” Everyone jumped Simeon’s yelling. He was the one son of Jacob that never had a problem with being heard. The family called him the “walking trumpet”—and worse when he was furious.
And furious was just what he was as he stomped into the area, red as a tomato. “What’s gotten into Dad? Of all the crazy things to do, he chose the worst!”
Reuben touched his brother’s shoulder.“Simmy, calm down. What are you talking about?” Simeon brushed Reuben’s hand away and continued, only a note quieter.
“We don’t get very much of Dad’s positive attention, do we?” The others shook their heads in agreement. “Right! Yet Joseph—and Benjamin, to a point—get nearly all of it.”
“I think we’re aware of that Simeon. What are you getting at?”
“I’m getting there, Zeb—let me finish, will you?” Zebulun glared, but Simeon ignored him.
“Yes … as I was saying before I was rudely interrupted … we ten get the rough end of the stick when it comes to Dad’s emotional output. It’s been the same over the years. We’re practically a nuisance, merely because our mother’s name isn’t Rachel—so we work and that’s all. Joseph? He works—and gets a reward every time!”
“Well, that’s true. Dad always has some new trinket for Joseph, while the rest of us hardly get a passing notice—except when we, uh … misbehave.”
“You’re right, Naphtali,” Reuben added. “And I think I see what Simeon is getting at. I didn’t notice before, and since I’m rather impatient, I’ll cut right to the chase. Check out that coat Joseph is wearing.”
All eyes turned to where Joseph and Benjamin were still playing. The shock was so intense that no one spoke for several minutes. Finally, Reuben broke the silence.
“It doesn’t look familiar, does it?”
“No,” said Issachar, “in more ways than one. That sort of coat isn’t for shepherds. I can’t tell much about the quality from here, but I know none of us have a coat like that one.”
The men fell into angry silence as they watched the boys end their play and head back to the camp. Dan decided to get more information. He motioned to his brothers to keep quiet.
“Joseph! Come here!” Joseph and Benjamin turned in the direction of the voice.
“Were they standing there the whole time, Joseph?”
“I don’t know—maybe, they were. Anyway, Dan is calling me. You had better go home, Ben. I’ll find you later.”
“Okay. Are you sure you won’t need me?” Joseph smiled and hugged his little brother.
“I’m sure. They won’t hurt me, don’t worry. They bark a lot, but never really bite. I’ll see you later.” Benjamin was unsure, but said nothing. He kissed his older brother and then scampered down the road towards home. Joseph took a deep breath and walked towards his brothers. He figured that his coat was the reason why they called him.
While Joseph approached, Dan was busy giving instructions.
“Now boys, do your very best not to look angry, jealous or disturbed. I want to find out what prompted Dad to do this. Simeon, try to keep your cool this time. If you lose it, he’ll put up his defenses and we won’t learn anything.”
“Dan, I can’t promise you that. I hate the kid as much as the devil himself. I wonder if they’re related! Staying calm around him for any length of time is an exercise in futility.”
“Well, try your best.” Dan snapped. “I need to get to the bottom of this thing, and your outbursts won’t help me accomplish that.”
Simeon shrugged and spat in the dust. “Whatever, Dan. Joseph probably won’t tell you anyway, since he already distrusts us, and vice versa.”
Reuben raised his hand.“Simeon, be quiet. The boy is almost here and he shouldn’t see an argument in session. Dan, you get over here and greet him. I’m definitely not going to.”
Joseph trembled as he approached his brothers, not knowing what to expect. For some reason they didn’t look angry. “You called me, Dan?”
“Uh … ah, yes! Joseph.”
Unsure of himself, Dan gave his brother a lopsided smile. Acting nice was harder than he thought it would be. “I was, uh, wondering about that coat you have there. It looks … nice. I mean, it’s just … oh boy, what’s the word?”
Joseph glanced down, then back at Dan. “Magnificent, maybe? I don’t know.”
Simeon’s eyes filled with fire.
“Never, Dan! I hate egocentric people.”
Simeon turned to Joseph with fire in his eyes.“As for you … I would suggest that you drop ‘magnificent’ and try ‘magniloquent’ instead. It fits you much better than that coat does.”
Joseph frowned. “And that word means?”
“Proud, pompous, and boastful. Any clearer to your small mind?”
“Simeon, I really don’t think I am –”
“Listen Joe, it doesn’t really matter what you think! You will never admit to your attitude problem.”
“Me? An attitude problem? Simeon, all I try to do is to obey Dad!”
“Joseph, you—ugh! … You think you’re so holy. But really, you’re nothing but a spoiled brat. So quit fooling yourself!”
Joseph turned away and faced the faraway hills. He struggled to gain control of the tears burning his eyes and threatening to roll down his red, dusty cheeks.
“I think I’ve had just about enough of this stupidity,” he sighed. Silence took over. Dan, sensing Joseph’s mood and Simeon’s exhaustion, decided to try to bring things to a state of normalcy. Then he could get the information he wanted. He flashed a warning look at Simeon.
“Joseph, may I ask you something?”
“Yes, if you must,” said Joseph, without moving.
“Look—I’m sorry about Simeon. He’s touchy today. Anyway, I was wondering where and when you got that coat. As I was saying earlier, it is very well-made.” A confused frown crept over Joseph’s face. Something wasn’t right about all that polite speech.
“They really take me for an idiot, don’t they?” he thought.
“I got it earlier this afternoon, from Dad.”
“Ah, I see. Did he buy it, or make it himself?”
“Yeah, he made it—or at least, had it custom made.” Dan thought for a moment.
“What were you doing when he gave it to you?”
“Nothing,” Joseph replied. “I had gone to take a nap, then he called me and gave it to me.”
“So, you hadn’t finished doing anything in particular, like repairing a breach in the fence or catching a stray lamb?”
“No nothing like that. Uh …why so many questions?”
“Hm, no reason, I was just asking.” Dan said quickly.
“Oh,” Joseph grew suspicious. “Anything else, or can I go home now?”
“Yes, one more thing…” Dan began. Joseph stared at the horizon.“Okay, what’s that?”
Dan cocked his head to one side. Should he ask the question or not? Finally, he blurted out,
“Um, did Benjamin get one too?”
“No, he didn’t.” Joseph felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“So that’s it,” he muttered. “Dan is as angry as Simeon—just better at getting information from his supposed enemies.”
Dan’s pretenses melted away. “Oh, I see. Okay, you can go—I have nothing else to say.”
Joseph straightened up and looked his brother in the eye. “That was despicable!”His voice, normally soft, came out with a force he rarely used. The others were startled. Their little brother wasn’t so little anymore.“I can’t believe you would sink that low, Dan! You’d feign affection to gain information? That’s worse than just getting angry—like Simeon.”
Dan looked up in surprise, and then stepped forward in defiance. Simeon spoke before he could find his tongue. “Hah! That is the first sensible thing you’ve said all day, Joseph.”
“What? Simeon, you’re a traitor! What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me Dan. I’m being myself. You, on the other hand, use craft when it’s useless. You think Joseph is a fool? Well he is, but not to that extent.”
“Simeon, why are you calling me a fool? What have I done to you?”
“Joseph, you’ve done much. Don’t get the wrong idea: I am not on your side.”
“I never said you were. I know better than that. But I still want to know why you and Dan think I’m such an utter–”
“Okay, stop it! All of you!” Reuben stepped in, separating the three young men.
“Joe, get out of here. Go home and do something useful with your time. Simeon, Dan – there’s work to do—come on.”
Joseph looked around at the faces of his siblings and saw nothing but hatred there. This was the story of his life – arguments, fights, tension and disagreement. He looked at Reuben for a split second, then wheeled around and started for home. He walked for several minutes, then turned and watched as his brothers dispersed, returning to their work. The lump in his throat would not go away, no matter how hard he swallowed.
“God, why do you let this happen to me? Why do my brothers have to be like this? I have no idea what awful thing I could have done years ago that would make them forever angry with me – day and night. All I’ve done is try to do what is right. Is that my crime?”
Joseph stood for a moment – unable to move – trying to calm his feelings. For some reason, he felt scared. He could not imagine why.
“They are never kind to me. But this is more than unkind – this is sinister. What are they up to? Why would Dan and Simeon insult each other while arguing over me – I guess – with me standing right there? Is it a ploy? A trick? And worse yet, Dan actually pretended to be nice, just to find out if I was the only one who got the gift. How could he? And look how quickly his expression turned sour after he heard what he wanted to hear. The others changed too, for that matter. I wonder … could they be … oh no, no! I don’t think they would actually want to kill me. Would they? No, of course not. We’re brothers! But still…”
Joseph shook his head and resumed his walk. He could not bring himself to think that his own brothers hated him enough to kill him. Somehow, the thought just would not leave his mind. “I hate to think this. But I can’t help it. If a man had to judge my brothers based on their expressions, he could easily have reason to wonder if they are willing to … kill.”
The gentle breezes of the Canaanite countryside suddenly felt cold and unfriendly. Joseph pulled his coat closer to his body, and quickened his steps. Though his body walked on, his mind was in another world – a world where brothers loved, a world where brothers did not hate.