On a warm, arid night, under a star-filled sky, a young shepherd boy named Joseph dreamed of eleven sheaves of grain bowing down to a twelfth.
Divinely inspired, this dream would trigger a series of events spanning the next twenty years of his life, culminating with Joseph placed in a role of great influence and leadership.
At seventeen-years-old, there was little about Joseph that marked him as a leader. Regardless, God looked at his humble and devoted heart and chose him to save his people. And like all of God’s chosen leaders, Joseph’s journey was paved with suffering and redemption.
Positioned by God, Purposed for Others
You may remember Joseph for his coat of many colors, given to him by his father, Israel. Joseph was Israel’s eleventh and favorite son; creating tension among he and his brothers. Tensions were so high, in fact, that soon after Joseph prophesied his future rule his brothers sold him into slavery. He would eventually find himself a slave in Potiphar’s house, a captain of Pharaoh’s guard in Egypt. Over the next ten years, Joseph would rise to the top of his station, be accused of attempted rape, and be unjustly imprisoned.
Undeterred, Joseph would soon be granted authority over the prison. There, God would again use dreams to influence Joseph’s future and establish his good reputation, this time through his gift of dream interpretation. Years later, he would be summoned from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams foretelling God’s plan of wide-spread abundance and famine. Joseph would amaze Pharaoh with his humility and wisdom and at thirty-years-old, would be placed over all of Egypt.
If I’m honest, Joseph’s life sounds more like a horrific game of chutes and ladders than a shining example of leadership, but there is one aspect that captivates me: Joseph’s leadership positions are not achieved through happenstance or striving but through his utter dependence on God’s presence. Like a forerunner to Christ’s example of servant leadership, I believe Joseph’s humble heart and full dependence on God teaches us that true leadership is positioned by God and purposed for others.
The Game Changer
One of the most interesting aspects of this story is not what it says, but rather what it does not say. Nowhere in this story does it talk about Joseph’s strong work ethic, his integrity, or his great management skills- though surely he exhibited all of those things. Rather, time and again, we read of God’s presence and favor as the source of his success:
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and … When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned – Gen. 39:2-4
We see similar language later when he is placed in charge of the prison. The Lord’s presence is with Joseph every moment of his captivity, leading Joseph to a faith-filled dependence.
We catch a glimpse of Joseph’s reliance on the Lord when he begins to interpret dreams. To his fellow prisoners, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, he exclaims “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams” (Gen 40:8) and to Pharaoh he humbly admits, “I cannot do it [interpret your dreams]…but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” (Gen 41:16)
It is clear Joseph considers himself nothing more than a vessel to be used by God. His ultimate show of submission, however, is when he explains to his brothers what has happened to him in the last twenty years:
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you… to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. – Gen. 45:5, 7-8
A Foretaste of Jesus
In the verses above, Joseph acknowledges God’s purposeful positioning from the moment he was sold into slavery to the moment he became ruler of Egypt; he sees how God used him to save the Israelites. Each step equipped Joseph to lead Egypt through the great famine. Without his leadership, whole nations would have starved, including Israel’s family, thus ending the family line to Jesus. God gave Joseph a dream and positioned him to provide to save his people and make way for the Messiah. These details of God’s sovereign provision reveal the lengths he went to offer us salvation.
Of course, it is not only the Israelites who are blessed through Joseph’s rise in status. Potiphar’s whole household is blessed because of Joseph (Gen. 39:5), the cup-bearer learns of his good fortune through Joseph (Gen. 40:12), even Egypt itself becomes a wealthy nation due to his wisdom and planning (Gen. 47). Joseph’s position of leadership was not self-serving to boost his reputation or power status. His position was strategically used to bless others.
Perhaps like Joseph, there may not be much about us that speaks of leadership. But with a humble heart, fully dependent on God we can be positioned by him to be a blessing to others. This is the true meaning of leadership.