Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master.”
As a culture, we are obsessed with success. You can find evidence of this if you do a search in Amazon with the words “success books.” You’ll find bestselling volumes such as The Success Principles, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Thousands of books focus on success in specialized fields, such as Gardening Success with Difficult Soils, Success in Marriage, and Big Success with Soup Recipes. Your search on “success books” will turn up over 273,380 hits on Amazon; if you were to scan this list, devoting only five seconds to each book, it would take you three full days without sleeping to scroll through the list. Like I said, we’re obsessed with success.
Though this cultural obsession has its own particular character, interest in success is nothing new. In fact, you can find it in Scripture. In Genesis 39, for example, we pick up the story of Joseph. At the end of chapter 37, Joseph had been sold by his brothers to some Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials (37:28, 36). On the surface, this sounds like bad news for Joseph. But, as it turns out, “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man” (39:2).
Why was Joseph successful? Genesis reveals that he had unusual management and leadership capabilities. But our passage does not point to Joseph’s skills as the root of his success. Rather, as it says in 39:2, “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man.” Verse 3 makes it even clearer that God is the ultimate reason for Joseph’s success: “the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hands.” The Hebrew word translated as “to prosper” in this verse is the same word translated as “successful” in verse 2. The Lord made sure that everything Joseph did in service to Potiphar was successful. Thus Joseph became a successful man in his work.
Genesis 39 reminds us that God is the ultimate source of all goodness, including success in the workplace. This does not mean that human effort makes no difference; but, the example of Joseph shows us that success is not a matter of simply getting the right principles, laws, or mindset. Our success depends on God, on God’s grace, wisdom, provision, and sovereignty. If we want to be successful in our work—not to mention other aspects of life—we begin by relying on God in all things, seeking his ways and his glory.
Something to Think About:
When you think of success, what thoughts or images come to mind?
Long ago, God caused Joseph to be successful in his work. Do you think God still does this today?
As you think about your own accomplishments, can you see God’s hand of blessing in them?
How might you rely more consistently on God in your daily life and leadership?
Gracious God, thank you for the example of Joseph and for the reminder that success comes ultimately from your hand. As we seek to be successful in our work and in every other part of life, may we rely on you. May we seek you and your ways in all we do. May we be guided by your truth. May our success be a demonstration of your blessing. May we receive it as a gift from you, something to steward well for your purposes. Amen.