One of the most abused verses by prosperity teachers in Scripture is Genesis 39:2 about Joseph after he had been taken down to Egypt, having been sold by his own brothers into slavery. The King James Version renders the verse, “And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man: and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.” Prosperity teachers love to use this verse to say, “Just wait, your day is coming,” or one popular teacher has said, “God is personally interested in your success. … When you believe that you will also start to depend on his unmerited favor for success in every area of your life.”1
First, it must be noted that this text is about Joseph, it is not about you or me or anyone else; it is not a promise that all Christians will be successful in any sense of the term. Many faithful Christians have gone through their entire lives and seen no success, utterly destitute. Furthermore, the text does not say that Joseph was either successful or prosperous. The fact is, God is not interested in any of us being successful in what we do; He is concerned with one thing alone and that is His Glory.
It is difficult to see how a man in Joseph’s position could be prosperous in any sense of the term, even from a spiritual point of view. Joseph had almost no influence on anyone, not even on his own family who had forsaken him and sold him into the situation he now found himself in on the auction block. Joseph was not a success at this point in time and the rendering “was a prosperous man” is a bad translation of the vav-consecutive imperfect, וַיְהִ֖י, vaYehiy. This is seen clearly from a simple comparison of translations.
The NASB renders the verse, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian.” The ESV says, “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…” The HCSB is very good, saying, “The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master.” The LEB says, “And Yahweh was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…” Lastly, the Michael Kelley Translation, I rendered a bit more functional rather than formal in order to get the point across, “The LORD was with Joseph, and he began to succeed in his enslavement to his Egyptian master.”
This text is a turning point in the life of Joseph. Until this point in time all that Joseph had were promises in the form of dreams. He was hated by his brothers and that hate had culminated with him being thrown into a deep well and soon thereafter sold into slavery. Yet the Scripture now says that the LORD was with him and “he began to succeed in his enslavement.” The Lord had chosen to intervene on Joseph’s behalf to make him successful, eventually elevating him to 2nd ruler of all Egypt. It did not matter what anyone did to Joseph – not Potiphar, not Potiphar’s wife, not the prison guards, no one – God had sovereignly decreed that He would advance Joseph. God does not promise this to every Christian, to make every Christian successful in the position in which they find themselves. Rather, it is a declaration that if we do find a little success in this life then it is wholly because of God and to give Him glory, thanks, and praise for such a wonderful blessing from His hand to sinners who only deserve hell (cp. James 1:17). Joseph was not successful because of his personal faith in God nor because of a positive attitude he had; it was solely due to God’s sovereign decree.
Yet, the popular prosperity preacher Joseph Prince says that he began to claim Genesis 39:2 every day, saying out loud, “‘Jesus is with me, so everything I do will succeed.’ I was practicing the presence of Jesus.”2 As I have explained, however, Genesis 39:2 is not a prescriptive promise for believers; it is a descriptive statement about Joseph. Just because Joseph had success does not mean that you or I will have success. We can apply it by acknowledging if we do have some success then we ought to thank God and give Him the glory for it, but we should not expect God to give us success because He decided to do so for Joseph.
The apostle Peter exhorts Christians (1 Peter 5:6):
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…
It should be noted that the “proper time” may not be in this present world. It is the worldly-wiseman who attains glory by saying wonderful things about himself in the morning such as claiming Genesis 39:2 for himself, saying, “Jesus is with me, so everything I do will succeed.” That is human-centered moralism, not God-centered exegesis. Scripture exhorts Christians to “regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). The secret of Joseph’s success was merely that God decided to give him success; success cannot be manufactured no matter how much faith we have in the Lord, how much we pray, or how often we repeat to ourselves the presence of Jesus. It is all up to Him; His divine decision.
- Joseph Prince. Unmerited Favor. Introduction.
- Ibid., p. 8.