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Families! The life of Joseph

To recognize that family life can be hard sometimes.

by Susan MacLean

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To recognize that family life can be hard sometimes.

Preparation and materials

  • Photo of members of your family.


  1. Ask the pupils to tell you the name of one person who is special to them.

    Show your family picture. Tell the children who is in the picture and why they are important to you.
  2. Say that we’re going to think about a man called Joseph, whose story is in the Bible. There were quite a few problems in his family.

    Joseph lived with his father, whose name was Jacob, and his mother and his ten half-brothers in the land of Canaan. He was his father’s favourite, and his half-brothers were jealous of him.

    One day Joseph’s brothers saw the chance to get rid of him. They sold him to a group of men going to sell spices and perfumes in the markets of Egypt, about three hundred miles away. His brothers then told their father that a wild animal had killed him.

    In Egypt, Joseph was thrown into prison for a long time. He was set free after telling the king the meaning of the king’s two strange dreams. Joseph said the dreams meant there would be seven years with good harvests and plenty of food, and then seven years with bad harvests and no food. He advised the king to store up lots of grain during the good years so there would be bread to eat during the hungry years. The king thought this was a good idea and gave Joseph the job of sorting out the food situation for when the famine came.

    The king’s dreams came true. But in Egypt Joseph was ready. When the bad harvests came, there was still food, and the people didn’t starve.

    But it was not only in Egypt that the harvests failed. There was famine far away in Canaan. Joseph’s dad, Jacob, told his sons to go to Egypt and buy what grain they could so that they would not all starve.

    Ten of his sons, the ten half-brothers who had sold Joseph, went to buy grain. But Jacob did not send Benjamin – who was the youngest. Benjamin had not been born when Joseph had disappeared. Jacob was worried that something might happen to Benjamin, so he kept him at home.

    In Egypt, Joseph was the person selling the grain. Joseph’s brothers bowed down before him. They didn’t recognize him. But Joseph knew who they were. Were they still jealous and cruel? Joseph decided to test them.

    The brothers said that they had come to buy food. They said they were all brothers, and the youngest was still at home. Joseph didn’t know he had a younger brother. Joseph pretended he didn’t believe them and he put them in prison for three days on the charge of being spies. 

    Then Joseph said, ‘Prove you are telling the truth. One of you will stay here in prison. The rest of you, go home and come back with your youngest brother. If I see your brother, I’ll know you are honest and I’ll set your brother free.’

    One of the brothers – Simeon – stayed in prison. The other brothers paid for their grain and put the bags of grain on their donkeys. They didn’t know that Joseph had told his servants to put the money they had paid back into their bags. 

    The brothers set off on the long journey home. That first night, when they stopped to rest, one of the brothers opened his bag, and found his money inside. And they were scared.

    Back home, they told Jacob everything that had happened. They told him that Simeon was being kept in prison until they came back with Benjamin. Then they opened their bags and found that all their money had been put back in their bags – now they were really scared! Jacob, too. The test was for a good purpose, but they didn’t know that. It seemed like a trap.

    Jacob was particularly upset because he had already lost Joseph, and now Simeon, and he was afraid that he would lose Benjamin, too. So he said that he was not prepared to let Benjamin go.

Time for reflection

Even if we fight with our brothers and sisters, they are still very important people in our lives. Our falling out can cause all sorts of trouble, so it’s better for us to be friends with each other as far as we are able.

When we fall out with each other, this can hurt other family members, too. Jacob was still grieving the loss of Joseph, though years had passed.


If someone who has behaved badly towards you comes to you and says ‘sorry’, how can you tell if that person is serious?

Thank you, God, for all you give us.
Thank you for our families.
Help us to love each other even when that is hard.  


‘Come, my brothers, praise the Lord’ (Come and Praise, 20)
You might like to add, ‘Come, my sisters’.

Publication date: December 2012   (Vol.14 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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