All the ground checks for United Flight 232 were complete and cleared. Two hundred and ninety eight passengers were nestled into their seats, hearing the familiar speech about seatbelts and exits. Capt. Al Haynes, a 35-year veteran pilot for United Airlines brought the DC-10 into position for another routine flight—layover in Chicago, final destination, Philadelphia. Minutes later, the plane comfortably leveled off at 37,000. The flight attendants were already servicing the passengers, most of whom were reading, working, napping. From all appearances, everything looked normal, predictable, stable.

But at exactly one hour and seven minutes after take off, to quote many of the survivors, all hell broke loose. The number-two engine, mounted high on the tail, suddenly made a resounding “boom.” The flight panel immediately showed that the engine had failed, its hydraulic system ceasing to function. That normally would concern the captain but not alarm him because every DC-10 is equipped with three independent hydraulic systems so that a failure of one would not disable the plane.

Truth be told, over the entire plane, there existed only one small vulnerable spot to these three independent hydraulic systems, a four-foot square space located toward the tail section where all three hydraulic systems converge. The odds of anything going wrong in that small target area were calculated at 1 to 10 to the 23rd power, or a billion to one. It had simply never happened.

But on July 19, 1989, the odds were against those aboard Flight 232. At 3:09pm, the pilot and crew experienced total hydraulic failure. Ailerons, rudders, flaps, elevators—no longer functioned. Controlling the plane became a living nightmare! What is more, the brakes were not working, nor the on-ground steering, so if they managed to land, they didn’t know how to bring the plane to any kind of controlled stop.

Over the course of the next several minutes, the captain and crew assessed that they could turn right slightly, and direct the plane by varying the thrust of the remaining engines. They turned toward a small airport in Sioux City, Iowa, and managed to delicately maneuver the crippled craft toward the ground. The right wing touched the ground first, which sent the plane cart wheeling over the ground and bursting into flames. But when it was all over, 187 lives were saved; 111 people died.

When the National Transportation Safety Board presented the findings from their investigation of the cause of the disaster, they pointed to the fan disk in engine number-two, which exploded, sending shrapnel ripping through the tail section of the plane, severing the hydraulic lines in that isolated four-foot section.

But the investigation didn’t stop there. Because the fan disk for a jet engine is so specialized, there were extensive paper trails that lead investigators back to the ingot of titanium from which it was made and the forging process. It was determined that the process, performed years before, lead to the fatal crash of Flight 232. You see, when parts for jet aircraft are forged, molten titanium is subjected to hammering force and intense pressure that is almost unimaginable. No less than 50,000 tons of pressure is exerted on the liquid metal, and the purpose is to eradicate any trace of gas bubbles that might be trapped inside.

In the report that was issued, it was found that the processes used at the time left a tiny amount of nitrogen in the particular piece of titanium from which the fan disk was made. Microscopic pockets were formed inside the titanium that would eventually lead to metal fatigue and the disintegration of the fan disk. It took 15,503 take-off and landing cycles before that happened, but the minute, almost invisible flaws present in the formation of that fan disk eventually became a deadly defect.1

What’s the moral of the story? Flaws in the formative stages—even small ones—can lead to disaster later. How many times has this played its way out in families? We’ve all learned a new word in the last three decades when it comes to families: the word “dysfunctional.” Flawed parents act out of their on misguided conclusions and inability to deal with emotion while raising children. But it doesn’t end there. One of the common dynamics in dysfunctional families is the children grow up and repeat the same patterns they saw in dad and mom.

Each generation adds one more link in a growing chain of pain that seems unbreakable…unless someone recognizes what’s wrong, deliberately rejects the examples played out before his or her eyes, and chooses to follow the ways of the Lord. It is hard to live for God and do what is right in a dysfunctional family. But it’s not impossible, as the focus of our study this morning makes triumphantly clear. Take a journey with me, beginning today, that will continue in the weeks to come, tracing the ups and downs of a man who was born to a very difficult family, but stands forth in the OT as one of the most consistently godly men in all the Bible. His name is Joseph, and his story occupies Genesis 37-50.

Observations about Joseph’s Amazing Story

Let me point out a few key details about Joseph and where he fits into the Bible.

1. Joseph’s story is the longest in Genesis.

In the book of Genesis, there are eight main characters who illustrate how faith functions in our relationship with God. The most important account is of Abraham, who rises as the Pike’s Peak of faith in the OT. But Joseph’s story equals Abraham’s in the number of chapters (14 each) and is actually 25% longer than the record of the great “father of the faithful.” It’s obvious that the Holy Spirit doesn’t want us to miss the message.

2. The life of Joseph is the greatest and clearest picture of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.

Across the centuries, theologians have noted the parallels between Joseph and Jesus. Arthur Pink finds no less than 101 such connections between them. Both were innocent, both chosen and beloved by their father, both sent by their fathers to see about their brothers, both sold as slaves. Like Jesus, Joseph cast between two criminals, pronouncing the salvation of one and the death of the other.

Joseph forgave those who sought his ruin, just as Jesus did. And in the lives of both Joseph and Christ, it was the wicked plot of those who should have been the most likely to accept them that ultimately lead to the salvation of all who would come.2 There is something remarkable about this ancient man, who was faithful in small things and saw God make him ruler over many things. We will learn much about our Lord as we journey through with Joseph.

3. Joseph’s experienced the powerful truth of Romans 8:28.

It is a picture of the providence of God, working in all things for the good of those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose. What you’ll see as we walk through the details of his life is how God used small things, that on the surface looked insignificant, to order circumstances in such a way that Joseph is raised to a position through which millions of people will be saved from starvation.

What looked like simple aspects are taken by God and used to turn the tables over and over. Joseph’s colorful coat played a role in what happened; so did the passing slave traders. There was the happen-stance of being bought by Potiphar, the captain of the guard in Egypt and the wild coincidence of sharing a cell with cupbearer and baker for the King of Egypt, one of whom becomes the means by which Joseph is given an audience before that king.

When things are happening, we seldom realize that a series of effects is being created, the full ramifications of which we cannot see. But God is at work, often when we are least aware of it.

4. Joseph shows us faithfulness to God, no matter what.

Let me show you what I mean in a few insights to the opening verses of Gen. 37:

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zipah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

The Bible cuts to the chase immediately by depicting the tension in this home. But as it usually is in dysfunctional families, this little picture here is just the tip of the iceberg. Joseph’s family was so unbelievable that if it was made into a soap opera, no one would believe it.

  • He had three stepmothers, ten step-brothers, one brother, and a step sister--all living in the home at the same time.

  • His father, Jacob, though generally godly, embraced the polygamy that was common in the day, which opened the door to jealousy, insecurity and almost constant conflict among his wives.

  • Jacob was also a passive parent, whose lack of involvement and leadership brought incredible pain and confusion to his family.

  • Joseph’s brothers took turns being brutal, conniving, and openly immoral.

Sounds like something Jerry Springer would want on his show. Growing up in Jacob’s family was definitely no picnic. Yet amid the infighting and blatant sin, the bad examples and emotional manipulation, there were some spiritual markers that struck the seeking heart of young Joseph and profoundly shaped his life in the future.

Spiritual Marker: God Makes Himself Known to the Humble Who Hunger for God

Gen. 32 reports the time when Jacob hastily divided his family and flocks and sent them on ahead. It must have been a scary time for Joseph, who was only a young boy. Dad was staying behind alone at the Jabbok River to pray and ready himself to face the sins of his past. Reports were that the long-angry Esau, his father’s brother, was bearing down on his location with 400 soldiers.

The next morning, Joseph saw his father limp into the camp to lead his family to meet Esau. “Papa, what’s wrong? Why are you limping, Papa?” he must have asked. And he heard of how his father wrestled with the Angel of the Lord all night, and how when he finally submitted to God, he was blessed and got a new name from the Lord Himself. Joseph’s father had been touched the Lord Himself, and was changed for the remainder of his life. Joseph understood the lesson fleshed out in his own father’s experience—God is real! He blesses those who realize their own brokenness and guilt and long for God more than anything else. Imagine the imprint this made on this young man!

Spiritual Marker: God is at Work Around You All the Time

Genesis 35 tells of another spiritual marker when Joseph was 13 years old. His father took the whole family to Bethel, where he pointed to the very spot where he had a his first personal encounter to God. Years before, running for his life, Jacob laid down and slept on the ground, where he dreamed about a great ladder which came down from heaven and touched earth, with angels ascending and descending. God was letting Jacob know that more was going on than he could see or calculate.

Joseph heard his father speak of the covenant relationship that began then and there between God and himself. Then his dad called them to enter that covenant themselves. Could this have been the turning point for Joseph, as he stood on that hallowed ground and saw the passion in his father’s eyes. gave their lives over to God with fresh surrender?

Spiritual Marker: God has a Specific Purpose He Has Designed You to Fulfill

Shortly after the Bethel experience, there were three deaths that shook the family.

First, Deborah died and was buried under an oak tree at Bethel. Deborah had been the nurse to Joseph’s grandmother, Rebekah, who had died years before. With her passing, the whole story of Isaac and Rebekah’s godly life was retold again.

Second, Joseph’s own mother died. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. This loss brought home the fragility of life and the importance of making the most of it.

The third blow to the family came shortly after this when Isaac, Joseph’s grandpa, died and was buried where Abraham, Sarah, and Rebekah had been buried. Again, the unique role Isaac played in God’s purposes was brought up. Though Joseph’s current family was a dysfunctional mess, the legacy of those who had gone before him was unmistakable. Joseph stood in the long shadow of the godly. What purpose might God have prepared for Joseph as he chose to follow in the footsteps of these faithful servants of the Lord?

These spiritual markers, combined with the lessons Joseph picked up in his early years, helped him break the cycle of dysfunction and become one of the heroes of the faith.

Overcoming Difficult Starts

Well, let’s ask this. How can I overcome a difficult beginning in our lives without becoming victims who replay the same thing in our families? And how can I as a parent stop replaying the same words and actions I saw in my home growing up? Here’s a few suggestions from Joseph’s example:

1. Acknowledge God’s sovereignty.

Joseph believed in one simple truth: God is always in control of everything. He understood that every circumstance in his life happened by either the initiation or the permission of a loving God. Decades later, at the end of his story, Joseph acknowledged this conviction to his brothers when he said, “You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). He believed that God was for him, not against him. That conviction kept him going when nothing made sense.

2. Choose responsibility.

Victor Frankl, who was humiliated, tortured, and dehumanized in Nazi prison camps, made this discovery: “The last of all great human freedoms is to choose one’s response to any given set of circumstances.”3 The easier, more popular route is to use your circumstances as an excuse for personal sin, dysfunctional patterns, and foolish behavior.

Awful things have been done to some of us, and the consequences have been hard: “My parents are divorced.” “My father was an alcoholic.” “I was abused as a child.” I’m not belittling anything you’ve gone through. I’m simply saying that the phrase “you don’t know what I’ve been through” has become the launching pad for all kinds of ugly behavior. Joseph didn’t let himself become a victim. He chose to break the cycle. He took responsibility for a new way of life.

3. Take the long look.

This is especially important for parents to remember. The course of action you choose today may affect your children, your grandchildren, and even your great grand-children. Jacob’s mistakes had tragic long term affects on his family that played themselves out in Joseph’s life.

4. Look for Spiritual Markers.

God is always up to more than you can track, but He leaves clues to help you along the way.

5. Remember God Uses Trials to Purify and Strengthen Our Character.

Just as the metal used for precision parts on aircraft undergoes tremendous pressure and heat to purify and strengthen it, so you as a Christian will be subjected to the purifying pressure and the strengthening heat of trials.

1 Peter 4:12-13: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

  1. Adapted from Bob Reccord, Forged by Fire, p. 1-5.

  2. Quoted by James Montgomery Boice, Genesis, Vol. 3, “Living by Faith,” p. 859.

  3. Quoted by Bob Reccord, Forged by Fire, p. 36.

Lloyd Stilley is pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulf Shores, Alabama. He is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Leeanne and is the father of Joey and Craig.