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4. Properly Handling Success and Prosperity (Genesis 41)

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…Then Pharaoh summoned Joseph. So they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; he shaved himself, changed his clothes, and came before Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard about you, that you can interpret dreams.” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “It is not within my power, but God will speak concerning the welfare of Pharaoh.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing by the edge of the Nile. Then seven fat and fine-looking cows were coming up out of the Nile, and they grazed in the reeds. Then seven other cows came up after them; they were scrawny, very bad-looking, and lean. I had never seen such bad-looking cows as these in all the land of Egypt! The lean, bad-looking cows ate up the seven fat cows. When they had eaten them, no one would have known that they had done so, for they were just as bad-looking as before. Then I woke up. I also saw in my dream seven heads of grain growing on one stalk, full and good. Then seven heads of grain, withered and thin and burned with the east wind, were sprouting up after them. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. So I told all this to the diviner-priests, but no one could tell me its meaning.” Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Both dreams of Pharaoh have the same meaning. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows represent seven years, and the seven good heads of grain represent seven years. Both dreams have the same meaning. The seven lean, bad-looking cows that came up after them represent seven years, as do the seven empty heads of grain burned with the east wind. They represent seven years of famine. This is just what I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the whole land of Egypt. But seven years of famine will occur after them, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will devastate the land. The previous abundance of the land will not be remembered because of the famine that follows, for the famine will be very severe. The dream was repeated to Pharaoh because the matter has been decreed by God, and God will make it happen soon. ”So now Pharaoh should look for a wise and discerning man and give him authority over all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh should do this—he should appoint officials throughout the land to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should gather all the excess food during these good years that are coming. By Pharaoh’s authority they should store up grain so the cities will have food, and they should preserve it. This food should be held in storage for the land in preparation for the seven years of famine that will occur throughout the land of Egypt. In this way the land will survive the famine.” This advice made sense to Pharaoh and all his officials. So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find a man like Joseph, one in whom the Spirit of God is present?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Because God has enabled you to know all this, there is no one as wise and discerning as you are! You will oversee my household, and all my people will submit to your commands. Only I, the king, will be greater than you. “See here,” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I place you in authority over all the land of Egypt…

Genesis 41 (NET)

How should we handle success and prosperity? In comparison to all the books and sermons that discuss how to handle adversity or trials, very few speak about how to handle success. Chuck Swindoll said this:

Few people can live in the lap of luxury and maintain their spiritual, emotional, and moral equilibrium. Sudden elevation often disturbs balance, which leads to pride and a sense of self-sufficiency—and then, a fall. It’s ironic, but more of us can hang tough through a demotion than through a promotion. And it is at this level a godly leader shows himself or herself strong. The right kind of leaders, when promoted, know how to handle the honor.1

Success and prosperity are hard on a person. Not many can handle the new authority and freedoms that come with it. How often do we see successful pastors, athletes, businessmen, or government officials fall? Saul fell when success came, and so did David and Solomon. Unfortunately, prosperity and the temptations that come with it often cause many to fall.

With that said, there is probably no greater success story than Joseph’s. Not only does he go from rags to riches within twenty-four hours, but he also handles the sudden elevation well—not only to his benefit but the benefit of many. He goes from prison to overseeing all of Egypt, which was probably the most powerful nation during that time period. Most people couldn’t handle such a quick elevation. Certainly, we see this with professional athletes. They frequently leave their college years, during which they had few financial resources, to quickly having millions of dollars. Many don’t make it. It’s common to hear of bankruptcy stories soon after leaving the professional ranks or how they fell into drugs and other negative traps.

In God’s sovereign plan, Joseph had thirteen years of slavery and prison to prepare him for this elevation, and his example tells us something about how to properly handle success and prosperity. We learn not only from how he handles his personal success, but how he handles Egypt’s prosperity as governor.

Big Question: What principles can we learn about properly handling success and prosperity from Joseph’s example in Genesis 41?

To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Seek to Glorify God in Everything

Then Pharaoh summoned Joseph. So they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; he shaved himself, changed his clothes, and came before Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard about you, that you can interpret dreams.” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “It is not within my power, but God will speak concerning the welfare of Pharaoh.”

Genesis 41:14-16

Observation Question: How many times does Joseph mention God to Pharaoh?

The story takes place two years after Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream. At the end of that time, Pharaoh had two dreams that haunted him. He saw seven cows that were fat and well-fed coming out of the Nile. (This was not an unusual occurrence, as cows and other animals would stand in the river to drink and experience relief from the heat.) Next, seven thin, anemic cows came up after them and stood next to the fat ones and devoured them. This would have been especially startling as cows represented divinity in that religious culture.2 This dream shocked Pharaoh so much that he awoke. Then, Pharaoh fell back asleep and had a similar dream with seven, healthy heads of grain—possibly corn—and seven, thin, heads of grain which devoured the first seven.

Since the pharaohs were considered divine, a great deal of credence was given to their dreams.3 Pharaoh sought competent people throughout his kingdom to interpret these two dreams; however, all failed. Then the cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh the story of Joseph interpreting both his and the baker’s dreams, and how the dreams came true. So, Pharaoh sent for Joseph.

After being released from prison, Joseph immediately shaved and washed up. Unlike Hebrews who grew beards, Egyptians were clean-shaven. They would only let their hair and beards grow during periods of mourning, as they generally gave extreme care to cleanliness.4 It was appropriate for Joseph to approach the king in a suitable fashion.

When the king acknowledged Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, Joseph replied, “It is not within my power, but God will speak concerning the welfare of Pharaoh” (v. 16). In fact, three other times in this narrative, Joseph pointed to God (vs. 25, 28, and 32). In verse 25, he says, “‘Both dreams of Pharaoh have the same meaning. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” In verse 28, he says, “God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.” In verse 32, Joseph says, “the matter has been decreed by God, and God will make it happen soon.”

Joseph could have just told Pharaoh the interpretation without continually referring to God, but he didn’t. He always pointed to the divine cause of the dream and the future events. Joseph was totally consumed with giving glory to God. He did the same thing when interpreting the cupbearer’s and baker’s dreams while in prison. He said, “Don’t interpretations belong to God?” (40:8). Then he asked them to tell him the dream. This is a very important principle that we must practice if we are going to handle success and prosperity well.

For many, when they become successful, instead of becoming consumed with God and his glory, they become consumed with themselves and their glory. Therefore, life becomes all about their brand and promoting it at every venue. They become obsessed with seeking opportunities to gain a greater following and make more money. However, when Joseph had a chance to promote himself and possibly seek to earn freedom and wealth from Pharaoh, he did not pursue it. While in slavery and prison, God weaned him from self-promotion. As a young boy, he seemed to struggle with this, as he boastfully shared his dreams with his brothers, who eventually enslaved him (Gen 37). However, before Pharaoh, who could release him, he simply glorified God: “I can do nothing; God will interpret your dreams.” “God has declared this to happen” (paraphrase). Even after Joseph advised Pharaoh to select a wise person to oversee the kingdom in order to prepare for the famine, Joseph didn’t volunteer himself. He didn’t lay out his resume: “My father had me overseeing my older brothers when I was only a young shepherd; Potiphar had me overseeing the slaves in his household, and I also oversaw the prisoners while in prison. I would be great for the job!” Joseph didn’t do that—though it wouldn’t necessarily have been wrong to do so.

Interpretation Question: Why does Joseph not self-promote?

Probably, for at least two reasons:

  1. Joseph probably didn’t self-promote because he believed that ultimately promotion comes from the Lord. Psalm 75:6-7 says, “For victory does not come from the east or west, or from the wilderness. For God is the judge! He brings one down and exalts another.” Joseph had experienced this many times: within his father’s house, at Potiphar’s home, and in the warden’s prison. Above all the factors in his exaltation and humbling was God’s sovereignty. If God was in control, why brag before men? First Samuel 2:30 says that God will honor those who honor him.
  2. Joseph probably didn’t self-promote because he wanted God to receive all the glory, so that others would be drawn to God. Joseph believed the promise passed on from Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to him: that the true God wanted to bless the world through their lineage. Joseph desired for not only Potiphar and the prison warden to see God through him, but also Pharaoh and everybody else. Like the church today, Israel was called to be missionaries to the world—teaching everybody about the true God. For this reason, Joseph points to God instead of himself.

These realities are important for us to embrace because they will keep us from pride and from becoming consumed with ourselves when exalted. If we believe promotion comes from others, then we will exalt ourselves or other people in order to seek favor. However, if we believe God promotes those who promote him (cf. 1 Sam 2:30)—those who seek his kingdom first (cf. Matt 6:33)—then we will focus on God and his kingdom, instead of ourselves.

Proverbs 3:6 says, “Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.” When we put God first and seek his glory in everything, he will guide our steps, open and shut doors for us, protect us, and give us his peace in the midst of chaos. When he is first, he leads us into the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Ps 23:3). If we don’t put him first, we will often miss God’s guidance and blessing. This is an important practice, especially when experiencing prosperity.

Seeking God’s glory in everything doesn’t mean we never say, “Thank you,” when people compliment us and only respond, “To God be the glory!” Joseph clearly pointed to God when interpreting the officials dreams in prison (Gen 40:8) and when talking to Pharaoh (Gen 41:16). Since Potiphar recognized that God was with Joseph (Gen 39:3), we can assume Joseph was vocal about his faith there as well. However, more important than always being vocal about God is the character and condition of one’s heart. Honoring God is much more a matter of our heart attitude. It’s the type of heart that says like David, “May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my sheltering rock and my redeemer” (Ps 19:14). It’s the kind of heart that seeks to honor God in everything, including the mundane. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do, it should all be done for the glory of God.

Are we seeking to glorify God in everything we do—our social life with friends and family, our professional life at work, our religious life with other believers, and our private life when nobody is looking? This is the type of life that can handle success and prosperity well—a life that is all about God’s glory. Otherwise, we will grow in pride and become consumed with our own glory. As mentioned, in 1 Samuel 2:30, the Lord says, “For I will honor those who honor me.” Lord help us to be consumed with your honor and glory, especially in times of success and prosperity.

Application Question: Why is it so easy to become consumed with our glory in various areas of life—socially, vocationally, religiously, and privately? How is God calling you to seek to glorify him more in various areas of life? How can we seek to glorify God in everything without demonstrating false humility—where we never accept compliments?

To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Seek Divine Wisdom

Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the whole land of Egypt. But seven years of famine will occur after them, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will devastate the land. The previous abundance of the land will not be remembered because of the famine that follows, for the famine will be very severe. The dream was repeated to Pharaoh because the matter has been decreed by God, and God will make it happen soon. “So now Pharaoh should look for a wise and discerning man and give him authority over all the land of Egypt. Pharaoh should do this—he should appoint officials throughout the land to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should gather all the excess food during these good years that are coming. By Pharaoh’s authority they should store up grain so the cities will have food, and they should preserve it. This food should be held in storage for the land in preparation for the seven years of famine that will occur throughout the land of Egypt. In this way the land will survive the famine.”

Genesis 41:29-36

Observation Question: After interpreting the dream, what advice did Joseph give Pharaoh?

After Pharaoh shared his dreams, Joseph interpreted them: There would be seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. The famine would be so extreme that the years of plenty would be forgotten. Then Joseph gave Pharaoh advice: (1) He should find a wise man and give him authority over all of Egypt. (2) He should appoint officials under this man to oversee various districts. (3) These officials should collect twenty percent of the produce during the years of abundance in order to provide for people during the famine.

Historical records show that it was normal for Egypt and other nations during that time to give a tithe to their kings. So instead of only receiving a tithe, Pharaoh would collect a double tithe during the years of prosperity. It is not clear whether the people were just commanded to give a higher tax, which would have caused a great backlash, or whether the government paid for the extra food. Obviously, since the food would be so plentiful during the years of abundance, the cost would go down, as a high supply would lead to lower demand. Therefore, the government could buy all the excess inexpensively and keep everybody happy. They probably used both methods—taxing the normal ten percent and purchasing the rest.

However, the main principle we need to see in this text is the divine wisdom that Joseph demonstrated. This is seen in both the interpretation of the dreams and also his prudent plan to survive the famine. Clearly, all this wisdom came from God. Even Pharaoh could discern it was divine in origin. After Joseph’s suggestion, Pharaoh said: “Can we find a man like Joseph, one in whom the Spirit of God is present?” (v. 38). Similarly, if we are going to handle success and prosperity well, we must have the Lord’s wisdom.

Application Question: How can we gain divine wisdom, so we can properly handle success and prosperity, as well as difficult seasons?

1. Divine wisdom comes from God’s Word.

Psalm 19:7b (NIV) says, “The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” God has given us divine wisdom in his Word. For many circumstances, Scripture tells us exactly what to do. For example, we should always tell the truth and never lie or steal. And for other situations, Scripture presents godly principles: There are principles about marriage, parenting, friendship, business, and conflict management. We must know Scripture in order to gain God’s guidance. David said God’s Word was a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path (Ps 119:105). By being in God’s Word, he gained direction.

Now certainly, Joseph did not have Scripture, as it had not yet been written. Therefore, God spoke to him in more charismatic ways. But God has given us his completed Word, and therefore, we have access to clearer principles than Joseph had. Joseph had a dream of God working things out for him, and he learned it was so by experience. But God has taught us these same truths clearly apart from dreams or experience. According to Romans 8:28, all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.

If we are going to handle success and prosperity well, we must have God’s wisdom which comes through Scripture. If we don’t drink deeply from God’s Word, we will often make bad decisions and reap their negative consequences.

2. Divine wisdom comes through prayer.

We don’t clearly see Joseph praying, but we can have no doubt that he lived a life of prayer and that God directed him through prayer. Similarly, God will give us supernatural wisdom through prayer. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Both in our trials and times of prosperity, we should pray for divine wisdom.

3. Divine wisdom often comes through God’s people.

In this text, Pharaoh sought the wisdom of God through one of God’s children, Joseph. In the same way, many times God will give us direction through others. He has made the church a body (1 Cor 12)—one person may function as the hands, another the eyes, and another the feet. If the foot says to the eye, “I don’t need you,” that person will be directionless. The metaphor of the church being the body tells us we must be dependent upon one another to receive much of God’s grace. We should not be afraid of asking for help from other believers. By God’s grace, some may function as the ‘eyes’ for our situation. Proverbs 11:14 says, “there is success in the abundance of counselors.” Many lack God’s wisdom simply because they are unwilling to be humble and vulnerable before others.

We especially need this wisdom in times of prosperity and success. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required” (Lk 12:48). God gives us success and prosperity to provide for our future and bless more people, and therefore, we have a greater accountability for how we use the extra authority and resources he gives us.

Application Question: Why is it so important to have divine wisdom, especially in times of success and prosperity? In what ways is God calling you to seek his wisdom for a specific situation you are in? How has he given you insight and wisdom in the past?

To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Be Good Financial Stewards

We see this principle clearly in Joseph’s plan to collect twenty percent of the food during harvest time for the coming famine. But another aspect of this situation must be pointed out: Pharaoh delegated someone to steward Egypt’s thriving economic years, rather than simply advise the Egyptians to store up resources on their own for seven years. Why? One reason is that when most people have plenty, they spend plenty. If they have greater wealth, they buy a bigger house, a better car, the best cell phone and laptop. For this reason, bankruptcy is a problem for rich people as well as poor people. Therefore, Pharaoh placed a person, in whom God’s Spirit dwelt, to collect and manage the wealth for the whole nation.

Scripture actually speaks about money more than heaven and hell. It is very important to God how we handle our wealth because it reveals what’s in our hearts. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Therefore, if we look at our receipts, we can tell very easily what our priorities are—whether that be God, food, education, entertainment, or family. Unfortunately, many people mishandle their finances, which is probably what would have happened if the Egyptians, apart from Joseph’s leadership, had been given responsibility to prepare for the famine.

Application Question: How can we be good stewards of our financial resources?

1. To be good financial stewards, we must recognize that our finances are God’s.

This is where many believers fail. They think ten percent (if that) of their wealth is God’s, and the rest is theirs. However, it’s all God’s. Psalm 24:1 says, “The Lord owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it.” If our wealth is God’s, we must prayerfully and wisely use our resources. One day, God will hold us accountable for how we use his wealth. Luke 16:11 says, “If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches?” One day, God will reward us based, in part, on how we used the financial resources he gave us. We have to understand this concept if we are going to use our wealth well.

2. To be good financial stewards, we must recognize how dangerous wealth can be for our hearts.

In Matthew 6:19-21 and 24, Christ said,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Christ warned against storing up wealth not because wealth in itself is evil. It is because our hearts are evil and therefore prone to love and idolize wealth. Essentially, wealth often becomes our master instead of God—guiding and leading us away from God’s necessary and wise direction. In 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Paul warned of this very temptation. He said,

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Many who love wealth have harmed their families by neglecting them in pursuit of wealth. They have harmed their spiritual life by neglecting it or turning away from it altogether. Having wealth can be very dangerous, and we need to understand this reality. For some, like the rich man, it is best for us to not have it, as Christ told him to give it away (Matt 19:21). For others, we must be wise in our use of it and always guard our hearts (Matt 6:19-21).

3. To be good financial stewards, we must wisely save.

Now, this may seem contradictory because, at times, it seems that God rebukes people for storing up wealth. In Luke 12:13-21, a rich man continued to fill up his barns so he could live the easy life, and Christ called him a fool because he stored up wealth and was not rich towards God (v. 21). However, his sin was not having wealth; his sin was trusting in his wealth instead of trusting in God and not seeking to honor God with his wealth (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17).

With that said, Scripture does encourage saving. Certainly, we see it implied in this narrative, as God provided wealth for Egypt to provide for future needs. Similarly, this is the primary reason we should save as well. We should save to provide for our future needs, those of our families, and for others.

Proverbs 6:6-8 says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; observe its ways and be wise! It has no commander, overseer, or ruler, yet it prepares its food in the summer; it gathers at the harvest what it will eat.” The ant gathers during harvest so it can eat when food is scarce. Proverbs 21:20, likewise, says this about wise people: “There is desirable treasure and olive oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish person devours all he has.” The fool simply devours what God gives him and doesn’t prepare for the future. Unfortunately, many people are not good with their financial resources—in part, because they lack foresight for the future.

As seen with Egypt, God blessed them to help not only Egyptians but also Israel and the surrounding nations. Similarly, it is important for us to save so we can help others. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” In order for the former thief to have something for people in need, he would have to save above his own needs. We must do the same.

4. To be good financial stewards, we must avoid debt as much as possible.

Not only does Scripture advise us to save but also warns us against debt. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” The borrower is a servant or slave of the lender. Similarly, Romans 13:8 says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Because of unwise debt, many believers can’t fulfill God’s law to love others. They can only pay their lenders. Remaining in debt hinders our ability to love others. Now with that said, God doesn’t forbid debt, he just warns against it—describing it as slavery—so we must be wise.

5. To be good financial stewards, we must use our finances for kingdom work.

In Luke 16:9, Christ said: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Since our resources are the Lord’s and because we love him, we must use them to build his kingdom, which includes seeking for people to be saved and discipled. As Christ said, if we use our resources for this purpose, when we get to heaven many will welcome us there, as they’ve come to know Christ because of our generous giving.

Those who are generous will be tremendously blessed in the coming kingdom and here on earth. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul said this about cheerful givers: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” If we’re cheerful givers, God will bless us abundantly with all our needs and also grace for every good work—serving others, evangelizing, understanding the Bible, etc. (2 Cor 9:6-11). When we’re faithful with our financial resources, God will bless us in many ways.

In Egypt, Pharaoh chose for Joseph to save for the nation’s future, in part, no doubt, because of people’s tendency to be irresponsible with money. When people have much, they tend to spend much. As seen in Joseph’s example, we must be good stewards of our finances, especially in times of prosperity. God allows prosperity so we can provide for ourselves and also for others.

Application Question: What are some good disciplines for both saving and giving money? Why is getting in debt so common and how can it hinder people from doing God’s will? In what ways is God calling you to be a better steward of his financial resources?

To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Work Diligently at Our Vocations

…Now Joseph was 30 years old when he began serving Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph was commissioned by Pharaoh and was in charge of all the land of Egypt. During the seven years of abundance the land produced large, bountiful harvests. Joseph collected all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and stored it in the cities. In every city he put the food gathered from the fields around it. Joseph stored up a vast amount of grain, like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it because it was impossible to measure.

Genesis 41:37-49

When Pharaoh promoted Joseph, he gave him the signet ring which was used to sign documents with wax. It represented Joseph’s freedom in making decisions and handling finances. He was given fine clothing and a gold chain which represented his high position (v. 42). After the promotion, he was paraded through the streets of Egypt. As he went by, officials yelled for people to bow down to their new leader (v. 43). Pharaoh also Egyptianized Joseph by giving him a new name, Zaphenath-Paneah. The translation is not clear, but many have translated it “Savior of the World” or “God speaks and lives.” He also received an Egyptian wife named Asenath (v. 45).

After his promotion, Joseph got straight to work. Genesis 41:46b (ESV) says, “And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt.” No doubt, he went throughout the land to survey its resources and strategically plan for the seasons of abundance and famine that were coming. He then set up district leaders and places to store grain near the cities. As they collected grain, it says the amount of grain stored was like the sand of the sea. Eventually, Joseph and those under him stopped counting grain because there was so much (v. 49).

We must recognize how diligently Joseph worked: he surveyed, planned, hired (and probably fired), built storage facilities, and gathered grain. When the famine occurred after seven years, he distributed grain wisely—allowing people to pay for it (v. 56-57). In Genesis 47, we see that after the people’s funds ran out, Joseph allowed the people to sell their land to Pharaoh for grain. After they sold their land, they became servants and paid a reasonable tax in order to eat. When Joseph was promoted, he worked hard and sought to excel at his vocation.

Unfortunately, when God promotes some people, for example, by giving them more resources and authority, they abuse it by their lack of discipline and effort. We get a picture of this in the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30). God gives one person five talents, another two, and another one. The first two invested their talents—doing their best with them—and God rewarded them. The third person simply hid it in the ground and God punished him. Two of them did their best to honor God, while one was lazy and thought nothing of his responsibility to his master.

As mentioned, some, after receiving success and prosperity, become lazy like the servant with one talent. Success often means less accountability and more freedom, and if we don’t have the right character, those privileges will often be abused. Unfortunately, lazy leadership typically has negative effects on the work climate, as the subordinates often become bitter or just as lazy as their leader. By God’s grace, Joseph wasn’t lazy, as that would have not only negatively affected Egypt, but other nations as well, since the famine was so widespread. He worked hard in the position God gave him, which opened the door for many to be blessed.

Similarly, if we are going to handle success and prosperity well, we must also seek to do our best by working diligently. This includes developing our abilities so we can be more effective. This might involve getting further education, attending seminars, reading books, and/or being mentored. We should do this because, first of all, it is the Lord we are serving. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Joseph not only worked hard to honor Pharaoh and care for the Egyptians: most importantly, he worked hard to honor God.

Application Question: How have you seen or experienced people who abused their positions of authority by not working hard? How does lazy leadership affect the work environment? How is God calling you to work diligently in your current vocation, as a way to honor him and bless others?

To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Faithfully Steward Our Families

Two sons were born to Joseph before the famine came. Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, was their mother. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, saying, “Certainly God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” He named the second child Ephraim, saying, “Certainly God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” The seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt came to an end.

Genesis 41:50-53

As mentioned, when Joseph was first promoted, Pharaoh Egyptianized him. Pharaoh gave him an Egyptian name, Egyptian clothes, and an Egyptian wife. His wife, Asenath, was the daughter of a pagan priest, Potiphera. Potiphera meant “devoted to the sun.” This means Joseph’s wife had a pagan belief system.

Therefore, one might ask, “Why did Joseph marry her?” Certainly, Scripture warns us against marrying unbelievers. Believers are called to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, which certainly at the minimum applies to marriage (2 Cor 6:14). Those who married unbelievers in Scripture most times were drawn away from God, as seen with Solomon and his pagan wives. Obviously, the narrator does not tell us why or the whole story. With that said, for an Egyptian, it certainly wouldn’t have been a big deal to accept Yahweh as God. Egyptians, as did most pagans, believed in many gods. There was always room for more deities in the Egyptian worldview. The more difficult thing would be accepting that Yahweh was the only God. Maybe, in marrying Joseph, she committed to following only Yahweh (just as Ruth would in the future). For a wife to submit to the husband’s belief system would not be uncommon in the ancient world, as most cultures were patriarchal, and the husband’s authority was absolute.

Either way, it is clear that Joseph raised his household in his faith. Though Joseph had an Egyptian name, Egyptian clothes, and an Egyptian wife, he gave his children Hebrew names—symbolizing that he was raising them in the faith of his fathers. The oldest son’s name was Manasseh, which meant “forgetting.” After thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, God caused Joseph to forget the pain in his family background. The second son’s name was Ephraim, which meant “doubly fruitful.” God richly blessed him in Egypt with two sons and great prosperity.

The important aspect to notice in this is that Joseph, though prosperous, did not neglect his family. He raised them in the Lord, which was the most important thing he could do. Unfortunately, many sacrifice their families on the altar of prosperity. To become successful, they neglect their spouse and children—often leading to resentment and discord in their home. Joseph, it appears, did not do that. He raised two children who became heads of two of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Similarly, when success and prosperity come, we must take great pains to guard and invest in our families, as there will be a tendency to neglect them. We must continue to develop their faith, pray for them, set a godly example for them, and spend undistracted time with them. After God, we must prioritize our families above everything else including career and ministry. Scripture says that anyone who neglects his or her family has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8).

Application Question: In what ways can prosperity and success (or the pursuit of these) lead to neglecting one’s family? How have you seen this happen? What types of disciplines must be put in place to protect our families, especially in times of prosperity? Are there any applications that can be taken from the fact that two of the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel were half Egyptian?

To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Trust God’s Sovereign Plan

As Joseph named his children, he essentially was saying, “The past problems I went through were for my good and God meant them to bless me.” That’s what the names “forgetting” and “double blessing” seem to imply. Joseph had trusted God throughout his thirteen years, and his trust is confirmed at this stage of his life.

It is good to consider that many times in life we will not fully understand why God allows certain things. Certainly, we always have general Scriptural principles, such as how trials are used to develop faith and character in us (cf. Rom 5:4, Jam 1:4, etc.), but how those experiences fit into God’s great plan to bless us and others is often unclear. However, at times, God may allow us to go on the mountain top where we can look back and see how those experiences—good and bad—fit into God’s perfect and beautiful tapestry for our lives. This seems to be what is inferred at this point of Joseph’s life after being exalted in Egypt and having a blossoming family of his own. His brothers’ hatred of him, being sold into slavery, becoming a prisoner, and living thirteen years in Egypt, truly were meant for his good. God’s plans were far better than Joseph could have ever imagined. His early dream was just a shadow, and the reality was much better. This is true for us as well, whether we ever get to the mountain top where we can better discern God’s reasoning for certain experiences, or not. We must trust that God’s will is good, and that one day, his wise plan will all be crystal clear to us (cf. 1 Cor 13:11-12), either during brief periods on earth or ultimately in heaven.

If we don’t trust God, whether in the prison or in the palace, we will be tempted to become bitter towards him and others. In times of prosperity, we may even be tempted to use our greater power and authority to harm those who have hurt us. However, if we, like Joseph, see God’s sovereign hand over all our troubles, we can “Manasseh”—forget and forgive even those who hurt us (cf. Gen 41:51, 50:20). Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.”

At the mountain top, for a brief period, Joseph understood that all his experiences—even the negative ones—were used by God to doubly bless him. A double blessing was always God’s plan, such as it was with Job’s suffering. We can trust that this is true for us as well, whether we only experience this in heaven or also on earth. To handle success and prosperity (as well as humbling and trials), we must trust in God’s good plan for us. Do you trust him?

Application Question: Why is continuing to trust God as important in the palace as it is in the pit? How can we continue to cultivate our faith in both seasons, and the times in between?

Conclusion

How can we properly handle success and prosperity? We learn principles from Joseph’s exaltation from prison to the palace and how he used the prosperity to bless not only Egypt but his family and the surrounding nations.

  1. To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Seek to Glorify God in Everything
  2. To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Seek Divine Wisdom
  3. To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Be Good Financial Stewards
  4. To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Work Diligently at Our Vocations
  5. To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Faithfully Steward Our Families
  6. To Properly Handle Success and Prosperity, We Must Trust God’s Sovereign Plan

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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1 Swindoll, Charles (1998-12-03). Hand Me Another Brick (p. 98). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

2 Morris, H. M. (1976). The Genesis record: a scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings (p. 576). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

3 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 476). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 Morris, H. M. (1976). The Genesis record: a scientific and devotional commentary on the book of beginnings (p. 579). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

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