Joseph, adored by his father, despised by his brothers, owned by his enemies, employed by a foreign king, then reunited with his family – it’s not about you.
Week 4 of It’s Not About You took us back into Genesis to study the life story of a man that mimics Jesus himself, Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. The message today actually inspired two images, both requiring color in order to communicate properly. Instead of posting the concept drawings and notes I made during worship, I created a digital drawing of each image to translate what went on in my head.
The Eight Portraits of Joseph
The core of Joseph’s life progresses through eight key stages, eight separate chapters of a life, eight portraits of a man. As Ray was teaching us about each stage of Joseph’s life, I spent time contemplating on the emotional and physical environment where Joseph found himself, settling on a color to adequately represent that stage.
Portrait 1: The Favorite Son
Portrait one is yellow; bright, warm and comforting. As Joseph’s story begins, he is the favored son by his father, Jacob (that’s Jacob that coerced his father, Issac, into giving him the birth rights due to his older brother, Esau. Yeah, that Jacob). Joseph’s in a pretty good place. As a sign of his esteem, Jacob has an elaborate coat made for Jacob, the garment we know as the “coat of many colors” (subtly alluded to in the overall image). All things considered, Joseph has it made.
Portrait 2: The Despised Brother
Portrait two is a drab, dark green; symbolizing discontent and envy. Joseph is not an only child. Naturally, his siblings do not appreciate the favoritism he’s receiving from their father, Jacob. The flashy coat was the last straw in a long line of offenses. With Judah instigating the deal, Joseph’s brothers devise a plan to remove him from the equation and earn their father’s favor by default. Joseph will be sold into slavery, his coat strategically torn and dipped in an animal’s blood, and the trail covered by explaining how Joseph was torn to shreds by wild animals to their father. The plan seemed impeccable.
Portrait 3: Enslaved
Portrait three is a drab, dark green; drab to make you taste the awkwardness experienced by Joseph’s brothers, green to symbolize the envy that awkwardness spawned. Judah and his brother’s observed a caravan of Ishmaelites passing through on their way to Egypt and chose to capitalize on an opportunity to get rid of Joseph without carrying the guilt that would follow murder. For twenty shekels of silver (about $228 USD in today’s conversion rate), life as Joseph knew it was over. He became legal property to a band of foreign traders. Jacob was destroyed at learning of the “death” of his beloved Joseph, to the wrath of wild animals, as his other sons re-told the scene.
Portrait 4: The Pure Servant
Through every stage of Joseph’s life, his constant was purity. Purity in body and in spirit in complete devotion to his God. Pure white, the universal symbol of purity, the fourth portrait of Joseph.
Upon reaching Egypt, Joseph’s ownership changed hands; the Ishmaelites sold him to the captain of the Pharaoh’s guards, Potiphar. Joseph, a hunk in modern vernacular, drew the eye of Potiphar’s wife. She immersed herself in the pursuit of Joseph’s body, taking control of a moment when her husband was absent to seduce the object of her lust. The scenario did not play out with Joseph becoming Mrs. Potipher’s Mr. Grey, like she had hoped. Joseph ran, as his master’s wife literally tore the clothes off his body! Enraged by the rejection she’d experienced, Potipher’s wife created a scene using Joseph’s clothes, accusing Joseph of attempting to rape her and condemning him to prison.
Portrait 5: The Slandered Prisoner
As a result of his devotion to purity, Joseph was imprisoned in, what I imagine as a dank, dirty environment. Dusty, blue-grey was the only color I imagined to represent the coldness Joseph must have felt in this chapter of his story.
Joseph’s life and legal status changes once again, he is now property of the Egyptian government, as an inmate. While serving his time, some of the pharaoh’s servants are imprisoned with him. Joseph brings out one of his innate big guns, and interprets the dreams of the two servants; a cup bearer and a baker. The dreams become reality, as Joseph predicted, and the cup bearer was restored to his position, beginning to create a path for Joseph into the royal court.
Portrait 6: The Celebrated Leader
Purple, the rarest, most expensive dye in Joseph’s culture; obtainable only by royalty. Now a member of the royal court, Joseph’s sixth portrait is purple, but not free of some subtle dark streaks to remind him of his past.
Despite being forgotten by the restored chief cup bearer, Joseph receives an opportunity to interpret a dream for the Pharaoh himself. His successful interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream earned him a get out of jail free card, straight into the Pharaoh’s employment, as governor over Egypt, no less. Distributing food in Egypt, during the seven-year famine predicted through Pharaoh’s dream by Joseph, becomes a responsibility of the governor and leads into the next portrait.
Portrait 7: The Brother Who Restores
The color for portrait seven didn’t come quite as easily as the others, how can a color represent the emotional release of restoration on its own? I thought further about what Joseph restored and the catalyst for its restoration. He restored his family through food distribution. Red and yellow are colors proven to inspire hunger (hence major fast food chains utilize them in the marketing designs), what color results from combining red and yellow? Orange. To represent the dirtiness of restoring a broken family, particularly this family, streaks of brown flood the orange hue.
As Joseph is distributing food in Egypt, familiar faces approach from the line of families praying for food; the faces of his brothers. Joseph is face with a choice, given his position. Feed the men who are his family by blood, or condemn the men to sold him into slavery and completely altered the course of his life to certain starvation by denying them the rations they wait for. His presence unbeknownst to his brothers, they approach and reach for their portion. Joseph stops them and accuses them of being foreign spies and locks them up for three days, despite their denial of any conspiracy. Joseph has a plan.
Portrait 8: The Reunited Son
Joseph’s story now comes full circle, back into the arms of his father Jacob along with the rest of his family. To symbolize this, the final portrait mirrors portrait one, the same warm yellow.
At the end of the three day stent in the Egyptian prison, Joseph reveals his identity and offers a deal to his brothers. Return home with enough food to feed their families, but leave the youngest brother behind. Confess to Jacob all that has happened and return for both members of their family.
These eight portraits of Joseph’s life are a foreshadowing of another’s, Jesus. From his rightful place at his father’s side, to despised by his brothers, sold into captivity, brutalized despite his purity, justified his accusers by his mercy, and now back at the right hand of his father.
What else can we learn from Joseph’s ordeal besides the imagery predicting Jesus? God is sovereign, no matter your situation. We have a responsibility to perform the tasks God directs us toward, but his sovereignty follows the mission through to completion, even when we drop the ball. Judah was the instigator of Joseph’s plight. Jesus is a direct ancestor of Judah. Despite Judah’s envy and poor decision-making, God’s son was born out of his blood line. God’s sovereignty is balanced with our responsibility.
The background of this image is a deep, heavy blue which reflects the weight of our personal responsibility. Our success or failure at fulfilling our responsibility can bring us pleasure or it can result in pain. Judah’s irresponsibility brought with it pain; first for Joseph, then for himself. God’s sovereignty opened the doors for his ultimate mission, delivering the Messiah, to succeed through Judah despite his failure with Joseph. God’s providence is the only foundation we have for experiencing pain in life. As we learned during week one, God doesn’t owe us an explanation, even for our pain.
God’s sovereignty flows like a waterfall over our responsibility. The flow separates at the top of the image, curling back together as it splashes against the bottom of the page. Turning the image upside down reveals a heart shape forming over our responsibility. Further inspection of the heart reveals the updraft of the waterfall of sovereignty impedes on the center of the heart, breaking it in half. Like any good parent, it pains God when a child fails and must experience the consequences of their actions. With greater ability than any other parent, God’s sovereignty allows an ultimate goal to be accomplished through the consequential pain.