Grades 3-6 Lesson 47 for Sunday School:
Joseph: Part 5
Changes – Outside & In
Author’s Notes: We’re going to continue looking at the life of Joseph, this week. And as Joseph once again encounters his brothers, we’re going to consider a question posed in Jeremiah 13:23: can a leopard change its spots? The answer to that question, of course, is no. But if God makes of it a whole new creature, like 2 Corinthians 5:17 talks about, then that leopard can become a spotless lion!.
Has anyone ever heard the expression: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? What about this one: a leopard can’t change its spots. What do these expressions mean? And do you think it’s usually true? (Allow the students to share their thoughts.) Both of these refer to the idea that change is very hard for many people. For some, it seems nearly impossible.
I want you to think about the meanest person you know. Do you know any mean people? Most of us can probably think of at least one or two. Do you suppose that the mean person could just decide tomorrow that they’re going to change, and become nice? Most mean people act that way because of something that happened in their past. And lots of times what happened can’t be changed. But there is something that can change.
If a leopard remains a leopard, then he can’t do anything about his spots. But what if he becomes a lion? It may sound like a silly question. But if a leopard were to change into a lion, would he still have spots?
Our memory verse, today, talks about a change that only God can make, that turns a person into a whole new creature; kind of like changing from a leopard into a lion.
In today’s lesson we’re going to be talking about changes in the lives of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph’s changes are going to be just on the outside. But for his brothers, we’re going to see some big changes on the inside. And God is the one who works in hearts to make that happen.
So let’s learn today’s verse, then jump right into today’s lesson.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for the changes you make in hearts and lives each and every day. Help us to learn, today, that people can change, when You work in their hearts. Remind us to never give up on anyone, because You might just be in the process of making a lion out of them. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: Changes – Outside & In (Genesis 41:41 – 42:26)
Last week we found Joseph finally leaving the dungeon to become Egypt’s deliverer. Does anyone remember what Joseph did that led him to that promotion? He interpreted Pharaoh’s dream for him. And what did Pharaoh’s dream predict was going to happen?
There were going to be seven years of bountiful harvests in Egypt. But after that would be seven years of very severe famine. And the last seven years would be so bad that the people would not even remember the seven good years.
After interpreting the dream for Pharaoh, Joseph had recommended that Pharaoh appoint someone to manage the gathering of extra crops through the first seven years, so that they would have food for the people when the famine hit. Pharaoh agreed with that idea. And who did he appoint over that task? Joseph! And that’s where we’ll pick up our lesson, today.
Joseph’s life is about to change in more ways than he could possibly imagine. But his heart is going to remain loyal to his God. Let’s look at our Bible passage, to see what happened when Joseph got his big promotion:
41And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
42And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;
43And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.
44And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.
It might seem like this is a big stretch, for a Hebrew servant to be made governor of Egypt, second in command only to Pharaoh. But God had been preparing Joseph for this position of leadership for many years. As a boy, his father had given him the responsibility of overseeing his brothers’ activities. When he became a servant, Potiphar had eventually given him charge of his entire household and lands. And while in prison, “the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.” (Genesis 39:22) Yes, Joseph had been training for this promotion to governor for many years.
So, in honor of Joseph’s new position of authority, Pharaoh decided he needed to make some changes in Joseph’s appearance that would fit his new position. What did Pharaoh give Joseph? One thing was his ring. This may very well have been something called his “signet ring,” which Pharaoh would have used to seal official documents. If that were the case, then giving the ring to Joseph would signify Pharaoh’s giving Joseph the authority to make important decisions in his place. Pharaoh would only have done that with his most trusted official.
What else did Pharaoh give Joseph? The fine linen and gold probably gave him the look of royalty. And the chariot would have been a great status symbol. As he rode through the streets, everyone would have known that Joseph was a man of great importance and influence.
Now that Pharaoh had dressed Joseph as an Egyptian ruler, he wanted to finish the transformation with a couple more things – a new name, and a new family.
45And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.
Because Joseph’s new name was Egyptian, and then translated into a Hebrew Bible, the meaning of the name seems to have been lost. Many have guessed at the meaning by looking at different parts of the name. But no one seems to know, for sure, what all of the parts mean. So, to this day, Joseph’s Egyptian name is a bit of a mystery. That’s rather ironic, since he was the one revealing mysteries to others. Some scholars, in fact, believe that his name had something to do with that very thing…perhaps “revealer of secrets.”*
Lastly, to finish off the Egyptian makeover, Pharaoh also gave Joseph an Egyptian wife. Her name was Asenath. And if we jump ahead a few verses, we’ll find that during the first seven years of plenty, Joseph and Asenath had two sons.
50And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him.
51And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house.
52And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.
Pharaoh had presented Joseph with a wife, but God went on to bless him with a family. God gave Joseph two sons, and Joseph gave them Hebrew, not Egyptian, names. Joseph may have looked like an Egyptian on the outside, but inside he was still a Hebrew, one of God’s chosen people.
Notice that the passage includes the reasons for his sons’ names. The first was Manasseh, which is the Hebrew word for “forgetting.” What did Joseph say that God was helping him to forget? Joseph was now able to focus on the blessings he had in Egypt, and forget the difficult circumstances and people that brought him there. And those blessings from God were what led to the name of his second son. Ephraim means “fruitful.”
Now that Joseph looked like a leader, it was time for him to step into the roll, and help Egypt prepare for the coming famine.
46And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.
47And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.
48And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same.
49And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.
53And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.
First of all, did anyone notice how old Joseph was when he was made the governor of Egypt? He was thirty years old. And how old was he when his brothers sold him as a slave? Seventeen. So if you do the math…how many years did Joseph spend as a slave and a prisoner before God promoted him? Thirteen! Do you suppose it was hard, waiting all those years for the fulfillment of his dreams? But Joseph had such a firm faith in God that he never gave up on God. And God had not forgotten Joseph. He had just been preparing him for service.
And that’s what God is doing with you and me, every day. Whatever challenges you may be facing, God can use them to help you grow and develop into someone He can use for His glory. That should be our goal…to live a life to serve and please Him, just as Joseph did.
So, just as God had promised, Egypt was blessed with seven years of abundant crops. And Joseph was there, to preside over the storing away of one fifth of each harvest. Because just as the plentiful years came as predicted, so did the famine.
54And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.
55And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.
56And the famine was over all the face of the earth: and Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt.
57And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.
So the famine did, indeed, come. But Joseph was prepared. When the Egyptian people needed food, Joseph opened the storehouses, and sold it to them. But where do these verses say the famine was…just in Egypt? No. It was “in all lands.” And all lands included the land of Canaan, where Joseph had come from.
You can be sure it didn’t take those other lands long to find out that while they were starving to death, there was food available in the land of Egypt. And that news didn’t escape Joseph’s father, Jacob’s attention.
1Now when Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons, Why do ye look one upon another?
2And he said, Behold, I have heard that there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.
3And Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt.
How many brothers did Joseph have? Eleven. Who do you think might have been kept at home? If you guessed Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin, then you are right!
4But Benjamin, Joseph's brother, Jacob sent not with his brethren; for he said, Lest peradventure mischief befall him.
5And the sons of Israel came to buy corn among those that came: for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
Do you think it ever crossed their minds that Egypt is where the merchants were headed, when Joseph’s brothers sold him to them? Do you think they wondered if they might see him there? Or do you suppose they had figured him as good as dead when they sold him into slavery? We don’t know if they considered the possibility of seeing Joseph in Egypt. But we’re about to find out that they certainly had not forgotten about him. And we’re also going to see that they were no longer the same people who had sold their own brother for twenty pieces of silver nearly thirteen years before.
6And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.
Does that remind you of anything from our very first lesson about Joseph? Do you remember the dreams Joseph had as a teenager? He dreamed that his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to his. Surely the dream came back to Joseph’s mind immediately, as he watched his brothers bowing before him. And what do you suppose their reaction was, seeing Joseph after all this time? Let’s find out.
7And Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them; and he said unto them, Whence come ye? And they said, From the land of Canaan to buy food.
8And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him.
Did Joseph’s brothers recognize him? No they didn’t! Why not? It had been many years since they saw him last. He had been just a teenager. Now, he was a grown man; and an Egyptian man, at that. He would have been dressed like an Egyptian. And the passage tells us that he spoke to them in a way that would not sound familiar. Joseph did not yet want his brothers to recognize him.
What do you think you might have done in Joseph’s place? Would you have realized the position you were in to take revenge on these men who had sold you into slavery as a teenager? Would you have demanded an explanation in front of all those who would gather around to hear you accuse them for the terrible things they had done? Now was his chance to get even! So what do you think Joseph did?
Instead of revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph decided to test them; perhaps to see what kind of men they had become, to see if they were still the jealous, angry brothers that he remembered from all those years ago. Or maybe…just maybe, there had been a change in those cold, calculating hearts.
9And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
What did Joseph accuse his brothers of? He said they were spies. Do you think they ever expected to hear such a thing? Let’s listen to their reaction to such a crazy accusation.
10And they said unto him, Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come.
11We are all one man's sons; we are true men, thy servants are no spies.
12And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.
13And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.
14And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies:
Joseph was not about to let his brothers off the hook. He wanted to test their reactions until he knew, for sure, what sort of men they had become. So he pushed them further.
15Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.
16Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies.
17And he put them all together into ward three days.
How did Joseph say they could prove that they weren’t spies? They would have to bring to him the brother they just mentioned. What was the problem this presented for the brothers? Their father, Jacob, would never allow them to take Benjamin to Egypt. Joseph would have guessed that would be the case. So he would soon learn whether his brothers had the same hatred for Benjamin that they’d had for him. He kept them in custody for a few days (not nearly as long as he had spent in prison because of them), to give them time to consider what they would do. On the third day, Joseph presented them with the rest of his test.
18And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:
19If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
20But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.
So in addition to bringing their youngest brother back to Egypt, what else would the brothers have to do? One of them would have to stay there, in an Egyptian prison, till the rest returned with Benjamin. Why do you think Joseph wanted one to stay behind? If they all went back home, there was no guarantee they would ever come back. If he kept one of them there, they would have to do as Joseph had said to free that brother from the Egyptian prison.
This was a perfect opportunity for Joseph to find out how the brothers felt about each other. Would they be willing to sacrifice another brother for their own convenience? Would they just leave one behind in Egypt, and never come back? Or would they disregard the feelings of their father, and drag Benjamin back? Joseph was about to find out whether there had been any change of heart in his brothers, in the years he’d been gone.
21And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.
Do you remember what the brothers had done right after they threw him into the pit? They sat down to have some lunch. There had been absolutely no sign of anyone feeling guilty about what they had done. And yet, from this conversation that Joseph was listening in on, there had, indeed, been a change of heart for his brothers. What they had done to Joseph had been burned into their hearts. And the guilt was overwhelming them.
22And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.
23And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter.
These must have been the words Joseph had wanted to hear since the moment he was sent away from them. His brothers were finally willing to admit their guilt in Joseph’s disappearance. After all that time, they were finally moved by the anguish they had seen in his face that day. And if they had just looked a little closer at the face of the Egyptian man that was standing before them, they might just have recognized that look, again. Because when Joseph realized that his brothers really had changed, he was so moved that he had to leave their presence for a time.
24And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.
Joseph chose Simeon as his captive. Reuben was the oldest, but Joseph didn’t take him. And while the Bible doesn’t tell us, would anyone like to guess why Joseph might have made this choice? Maybe it was because Reuben had been the one who had kept the brothers from killing Joseph. Remember, that was their original plan, until Reuben suggested they throw him in the pit, thinking he could get him out, later.
25Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man's money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them.
26And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.
Not only did Joseph not plan to punish his brothers, at least yet, for what they’d done to him, it looks like he was being kind to them. What did Joseph do for his brothers, as he sent them back to Canaan to get their other brother, Benjamin? He gave them extra food for their way home. And had their money put back in their sacks.
Joseph had now seen that there had been a change in his brothers, and it moved him to respond to them with kindness. But his tests weren’t yet complete. So we’ll find out next week what happened when the brothers returned home, missing one brother, and demanding to take the baby brother back to Egypt with them.
In the meantime, what can we learn from this first visit of Joseph’s brothers to Egypt? We can learn that God can change people’s hearts. Our memory verse says that God can make us into completely new creatures, if we’ll let Him. Joseph’s brothers became new creatures. They were once heartless young men who wanted to kill their brother, but settled for selling him as a slave to traveling merchants. But what they became was responsible men whose father sent them to Egypt to save the family from starvation. They became brothers who felt true remorse for what they had done to their brother.
Has God made any changes in you? Have you become a new creature in Jesus Christ? If you have not, then you’re just like that spotted leopard with no hope of getting rid of his spots. Only becoming a brand new creature can make his spots go away. And only your becoming a new creature, a saved child of God, will take away the spots of your sins.
If you have sin-spots to get rid of, today would be the perfect day to ask God to make you a new creature whose old things have passed away, while everything has become new!
And there’s one more lesson we can learn from Joseph’s brothers. No one is beyond God’s ability to change. No one is too sinful. No one is too mean. God can change them all. So if there’s someone in your life who you might have thought was beyond change, then think again. And pray. Maybe it will be your prayer that will move God’s heart to start the change that’s needed.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the story of Joseph. Remind us this week that we can be brand new creatures in Jesus. And remind us, too, that no one is beyond having a change of heart when You move in them. Thank You for not giving up on us. And help us not to give up on others. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. The famine that struck Egypt did not affect other lands. (false – it was in all the lands)
2. Joseph recognized his brothers when they bowed before him. (true)
3. Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers when they didn’t recognize him. (false – he made himself strange to them)
4. Joseph’s brothers admitted that they were guilty of harming their brother. (true)
5. Joseph sent his brothers back home with the money they had paid for their food. (true)
God can make amazing changes in the darkest heart;
Make of us new creatures; give us each a brand new start.
We can thank Him for this truth; then take a look around,
And see that God is changing hearts that once, in sin, were bound.
Lisa DeVinney, July 2014