Study 8 THE PERSISTENCE OF FAITH – JOSEPH
Studies in Hebrews Eleven
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portions: Hebrews 11:22; Genesis, chapters 37-50)
In Hebrews 11:20-22 we are given portraits of three men who exercised faith in God in the dying hour. In each case, faith had been operative all through their lives, but the particular emphasis made in Hebrews Eleven is that the faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph ‘outreached the horizon of time and took in eternity.’ We have already seen in Isaac an illustration of the vision of faith, in Jacob an illustration of the worship of faith. Now we shall look at Joseph, seeing in him an illustration of the persistence of faith. We shall observe in particular how the principle of faith persisted all through Joseph’s long life of adversity, temptations, sorrow, disappointments, success and prosperity. To have faith at all is a wonderful thing; but the great need today for every one of us is for a faith that is undaunted and that triumphs.
If possible, read the whole story of Joseph in one sitting. In doing so you will notice what a beautiful and striking type Joseph was of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Seven outstanding events in his life wonderfully foreshadowed similar events in the life of our Saviour:
- Joseph was especially loved by his father, as was the Lord Jesus - look up Genesis 37:3, and compare Matthew 3:17; John 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 17:24.
- Joseph was hated and sold by his brethren, as was the Lord Jesus - look up Genesis 37:4, and compare Luke 19:14; John 1:11; 15:25.
- Joseph was unjustly condemned, as was the Lord Jesus - look up Genesis 39:19-20, and compare Luke 23:41.
- Joseph was raised to a position of great power and authority, as was the Lord Jesus - look up Genesis 41:41-44, and compare Acts 5:31.
- Joseph became a blessing to the Gentiles and took a Gentile Bride – and so did the Lord Jesus - look up Genesis 41:1-45, and compare Acts 15:14.
- Joseph revealed his identity to his brethren, and so will the Lord Jesus – look up Genesis 45:1-15, and compare Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:1, 5, 25, 26; Hebrews 2:11-12.
- Joseph assured his brethren of his unchanging love, and so does the Lord Jesus - look up Genesis 45:15, and compare Ephesians 2:7.
Turn now to Hebrews 11:22. This verse refers to the end of Joseph’s life, but at the same time sums up what had been for Joseph a long life in which the principle of faith had persisted. What can we say about this persistent faith?
1. A PERSISTENT FAITH IS NOT SHAKEN BY FIERCE ADVERSITY.
In Genesis 37:3, we read that Joseph was the favourite son of his father Jacob; verses 4, 5 and 11 tell us that his brothers hated him, and verse 18 tells us that they decided to kill him, but that on the suggestion of Reuben he was cast into a pit instead - look up verses 20-24. Joseph was then sold and taken to Egypt, where he became Potiphar’s slave - look up Genesis 37:28 and 36; 39:1. Such experiences would be enough to shake anybody’s faith, but they did not shake Joseph’s. In Genesis 39:2 we read that ‘the Lord was with Joseph’. Instead of saying, ‘Everything is against me!’ - look up Genesis 42:36, he preferred to say – look up Romans 8:31! Tears, homesickness, sorrow, distress - but God was with him! His faith in God was unshaken by these trials.
2. A PERSISTENT FAITH IS NOT SPOILED BY SUCCESS OR PROSPERITY.
Before long, Joseph prospered - look up Genesis 39:2-6; and remember, we are more likely to be overcome and our faith is more likely to suffer a relapse in times of prosperity than in times of adversity! When everything is going well, that is a dangerous time for the child of God. Later, Joseph was to become Prime Minister in Egypt and was to be exalted to the highest position in the land, but through all his success and prosperity his faith persisted. These successes did not take away his sense of dependence upon God; he always attributed his success and prosperity to God.
3. A PERSISTENT FAITH IS NOT MOVED BY THE MOST SUBTLE TEMPTATION.
Read Genesis 39:7-12, and remember that the Devil is always on the warpath seeking to trip up the child of God - just as he tried to trip up Joseph. When faith persists, however, the Devil is defeated and routed, even in the midst of the most cruel onslaughts. See the glorious thing that Joseph said in Genesis 39:9, and think it over carefully. The world is so full of evil and the Devil is so strong and subtle. Our only protection is to be armed with all the armour of God - look up Ephesians 6:10-17. Read Genesis 39:12; to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
4. A PERSISTENT FAITH IS NOT DISTURBED BY FALSE AND UNJUST ACCUSATIONS.
After this fierce attack upon Joseph had been successfully resisted, a further attack came – look up Genesis 39:13-23. Poor Joseph was cast into a dungeon and bound, but the Lord was with him - look up and compare Acts 16:25. It is hard to hold on to God when we are falsely accused and misunderstood, but a persistent faith does so. And what is the reward? If we honour the Lord we can be sure He will honour us - look up 1 Samuel 2:30. Joseph honoured the Lord, and the Lord saw to it that His servant found favour with the keeper of the prison – look up Genesis 39:21-23, and compare Galatians 6:9. It always pays to trust God.
5. A PERSISTENT FAITH IS NOT PERTURBED BY BROKEN PLEDGES.
We make this point because today many have their faith tested in exactly this way. In Genesis 40:1-23 we read of Joseph’s two fellow-prisoners, of Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams (and his words in Genesis 40:8 show his faith in God), and of the butler’s promise to remember Joseph. But the butler did not keep his promise! So what did Joseph do? Did he say, ‘God has let me down!’ No, and although it is true that ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’ - look up Proverbs 13:12 – Joseph’s faith persisted; he trusted in God to see him through.
6. A PERSISTENT FAITH IS NOT INFLUENCED BY HUMAN REASONINGS.
In all his experiences of adversity and sorrow there is no hint that Joseph ever questioned the loving wisdom and will of God. He had been hated by his brethren, cast into the pit, sold into slavery in Egypt, assaulted, let down badly by the butler - but God was still on the throne. He had never abdicated, even for a moment. See the glorious thing that Joseph said in Genesis 45:4-8, and compare (of course) Romans 8:28.
7. A PERSISTENT FAITH IS NOT CONFINED BY TIME’S HORIZONS.
This kind of faith looks beyond time into eternity, and the words recorded for us in Hebrews 11:22 mean that Joseph said, ‘I shall not be allowed to see it, but God will fulfil His word; and when that time comes, carry my bones with you!’ That is a faith which persists – look up Genesis 50:25 and Exodus 13:19.