I read my son the story of Joseph, which (as a Christian but also an economist) is one of my all-time favorites. When we finished it I said to him that it was a really good Bible story, and he asked me what I meant. So I said there were three reasons:
(1) The people in the story are bad, even a lot of the “good guys.” In this one, it’s obviously Joseph’s (eight) brothers who want to kill him, but because of the wily intervention of the dissenters, it ends up they “only” sell him into slavery to merchants passing by. I told my son that this was why the Bible was so interesting, that it had realistic characters. He didn’t understand what I meant, so I said, “OK remember the Roald Dahl story we read yesterday that was for kids? That was about magical animals and a rich duke. The story we read today was about brothers selling their other brother into slavery because they were jealous. That’s absolutely awful.”
(2) God has a plan to turn the humans’ evil actions into a good outcome. In this one, the good result is that because Joseph ends up as a prisoner in Egypt, his ability to interpret dreams eventually lands him in Pharaoh’s court. He then advises Pharaoh to stockpile food during the initial 7 years of plenty, so that Pharaoh ends up making out like a bandit during the 7 years of famine. (The economist in me recognizes that this is great; sure those people have to give a lot of their wealth to Pharaoh for food, but it’s voluntary and better than starving. It’s socially useful that Pharaoh got the good advice to stockpile during the years of plenty.) Jacob and his sons (Joseph’s brothers) arguably might have died–snuffing out the Abrahamic legacy–had Joseph remained with them. But because of their wicked actions, Joseph ends up running Pharaoh’s affairs and sets them up handsomely in Egypt.
(3) The “star” of the story is a human who trusts in God’s plan. In this one, it’s Joseph of course. In one of the most touching scenes in the whole Bible, he finally reveals himself to his brothers (in Genesis 45), who at that moment are probably thinking he is going to have them executed. Later on (Genesis 50: 15-21), after their father dies and now the brothers are really sure Joseph is going to take his revenge, he spells it out clearly:
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” 16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.”’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
18 Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. [Bold added.]