Righteous Joseph the Patriarch icon
Orthodox icon of the Righteous Joseph the Patriarch, ο Πάγκαλος Ιωσήφ. Copy of a contemporary icon.
Commemorated March 31.
The Righteous Joseph the Fair was the son of the Old Testament Patriarch Jacob and his wife Rachel (Genesis 37:3). He had eleven brothers: Jacob's first wife Leah (the daughter of Laban) gave birth to six sons: 1) Reuben, 2) Simeon, 3) Levi, 4) Judah. Then Leah thought she could not have any more children. His second wife, Leah's sister Rachel, also seemed to be infertile, was jealous of Leah, so she gave her servant girl Bilhah to Jacob “so that she may give birth on my behalf” (Genesis 30:3). The concubine Bilhah bore two sons to Jacob: 5) Dan and 6) Naphtali.
In those days, when a wife could not bear children, it was not uncommon for a female servant to have the husband's child on behalf of the wife. The expression "she shall bear upon my knees and I shall have children by her" (Genesis 30:3) refers to the rite of adoption whereby the new-born child was placed on the lap of the adopting woman to indicate that she had legally borne the child. The fact that Rachel gives the name, rather than Bilhah, demonstrates that she is recognized as the child's mother. When Leah thought she could no longer give Jacob sons, she gave her servant, Zilpah to Jacob, who bore him 7) Gad and 8) Asher. These two, however, were legally Leah's sons when she adopted them, in the manner previously described.
After some time, Leah did conceive two more sons: 9) Issachar and 10) Zebulun, and a daughter: Dinah, who is first mentioned in Genesis 30:21 as the daughter of Leah and Jacob, born to Leah after she had borne six sons to Jacob. Finally, Rachel gave birth to 11) Joseph, and 12) Benjamin.
Joseph's brothers became jealous of him because their father loved him more than his other sons, since he was the son of his old age. They feared him because he revealed his dreams, which foretold his future greatness. One dream was that he and his brothers were binding sheaves in the field. Joseph's sheaf rose up, and the sheaves of his brothers arose and bowed down to it. In another dream the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. Jacob rebuked him for implying that his father, mother, and eleven brothers would also bow before him one day.
The brothers decided to kill Joseph, but the eldest son Reuben persuaded them not to do so. "Do not shed any blood. Cast him into this pit ... but do not lay hands upon him" (Genesis 37:32). Reuben intended to come back later and rescue Joseph, but his plans were thwarted. They stripped Joseph of his coat and threw him into the pit, and then sold him for twenty gold coins to merchants who were traveling to Egypt in a caravan. After killing a goat, they smeared its blood on the coat and brought it to Jacob saying that they had found it on the ground. Jacob recognized the coat and concluded that a wild animal must have killed Joseph.
In Egypt Joseph was sold to Potiphar, a captain of the guards. Because his master saw that the Lord was with Joseph, and that he was a successful man, he made him the overseer of his house, placing him in charge of all his possessions. The Righteous Joseph was fair of countenance, and Potiphar's wife wanted him to lie with her. He would not consent to this, but the shameless woman continued pestering him. One day she repeated her request, and he fled from her. She seized his garment as he ran away, and showed it to her husband when he returned home. Out of malice and spite, Potiphar's wife slandered the Righteous Joseph before her husband, saying that he had attempted to rape her. Believing the lie, Potiphar confined the innocent young man in a prison. There, Saint Joseph the Fair gained fame when he interpreted the dreams of two men in the prison (Genesis chapter 40).
After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's two dreams (Genesis chapter 41), predicting seven years of plenty, and seven years of famine and misfortune for Egypt, he advised Pharaoh to appoint overseers to store one fifth of the grain harvest each year, and to reserve it for the time of famine. The Righteous Joseph was set free and was given charge of Pharaoh's household, and became the Lord of Egypt. Pharaoh was still the ruler, but Joseph answered only to him.
When famine also struck his home in the land of Canaan, ten of Joseph's brothers were sent to Egypt by Jacob in order to buy some grain. Only Benjamin stayed at home with his father. Joseph recognized them, but they did not know him. He threw them into prison for three days, then released them. He gave them provisions and sent them on their way, ordering them to send him their youngest brother.
Later, Joseph revealed himself to them, and he wept. He told them to bring his father and his entire family to Egypt. After Jacob's death, Joseph's brothers feared that he would repay them for all the evil they had done to him, so they asked for forgiveness. He replied, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20).
Before his death around 1700 B. C., the Righteous Joseph ordered that his bones be taken from Egypt to the Promised Land, which was done in the time of the holy Prophet Moses (September 4), 1496 B.C. As the father of Manassah and Ephraim, Saint Joseph is placed at the head of two of the tribes of Israel.
Saint Joseph is also commemorated on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, and on Great and Holy Monday.