Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

Ending or Beginning?

Posted: September 7, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 49:29 – 50:26, “Ending or Beginning?”

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where one thing ends and another begins. Typically books are more clear-cut, the end of one often coming at the words “The End,” on the page…but sometimes the story goes on. Such is the case with many books of the Bible, particularly the five books of Moses (the Penteteuch).

When studying any passage of Scripture, it’s important to look at both the previous and following context (what came before, and what comes after). In this particular case, what came before is the entire book of Genesis, and what comes after is the entire book of Exodus. With the end of the lives of Jacob and Joseph, what is on display is not only the previous work of God in forming a people for Himself, but a glimpse looking forward to the day that this people becomes a nation, moving forward to the Promised Land (all in anticipation of the Messiah).

So let’s back up. What has led us to this point? Through an act of His will, God created the entire universe, giving life to mankind, and everything was good…until it wasn’t. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, and all of creation fell with them, to which God promised a Savior who would right everything that went wrong: the Seed of the Woman, to be brought forth in future generations. Genesis detailed the family lineage of that Seed (the Messiah) all the way through the worldwide destruction from the global flood, up until the singular calling of a single man whom God knew would walk by faith: Abraham. Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he trusted the word of God, Who made him a unfaltering covenant promise of a land, a people, and a Messiah. Genesis 12:1–3, “(1) Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. (2) I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” Over the course of time, God’s promise would vary a bit in wording, but the essence of it was given to the father (Abraham), repeated to the son (Isaac), and repeated again to the grandson (Jacob). This was the family who would bring a blessing (the Messiah, the Seed of the Woman) to the entire world, and this family would be given a permanent home and grow into an innumerable people.

Because this was the promise of God (repeated promise, at that!), it was certain & sure. Nothing would change God’s mind nor His word. Not the imperfections of this family (though there were many), nor the trials of the world. God would use all of these things to bring about His perfect will, which was exampled in the life of Joseph. The second-youngest son of Jacob/Israel, Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his ten older brothers, only to have that tragedy turn into triumph as God elevated Joseph to being 2nd in command of all Egypt, thus able to save his family from a terrible famine that threatened to destroy God’s chosen people from the face of the earth. God had delivered His people as an act of grace, in spite of their sin, and God even used their sin as the instrument of His deliverance. The work of God is amazing!

As the book of Genesis comes to a close, it does so by not only concluding the narratives of Jacob and Joseph, but looking forward to God’s promises to this family of Abraham. At the time, the clad of Israel was alive, but living outside of the Promised Land. What would happen in the future? Would God’s promises remain true? Yes, and both Jacob and Joseph knew it! They trusted the promises of God, and knew by faith that God is powerful and sovereign enough to see His will done, despite circumstances that could be seen.

Trust the promises of God! What He says, He will do. Of that, we can be sure!

Genesis 49:29–33

  • Israel’s last request (29-33)

29 Then he charged them and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.”

  1. Jacob/Israel was well aware of impending death. Although he hadn’t lived to the age of his father or grandfather, he knew his time had come, and he made his final preparations by informing his sons of his final wishes. (There is basic wisdom here! Don’t leave your family guessing.) No one wants to die, but there is an upside to the realization that death might be soon: we prepare. Few things get a person to think about eternity than the thought of seeing God face-to-face, and Jacob was getting ready for that day.
    1. We don’t all know when we’re going to die, but we all know that we are going to die. The time to prepare isn’t the future; it’s now. Are you ready? If you were to see the Lord God tonight, what would you say? Better yet, what would He say to you? Be prepared!
  2. Interestingly, as Jacob prepared to die, he demonstrated his trust in God’s promise. How so? Because he wasn’t looking at Egypt, but to his possession in the Promised Land. Obviously, Jacob knew he would not be alive to walk around in the land of Canaan, but he knew that was the place promised him by God. That was the place where he wanted his burial – the place where future generations would remember him. Egypt may have been a place of sojourning, but that sojourn was temporary. God promised him the land that had been shown to Abraham, and that was where Jacob/Israel wanted to be.
    1. We also live in a place of temporary sojourning. This world is not our home; heaven is! Live with your real place of residence in mind…
  3. Jacob had a family connection with the land, knowing that it was the burial place of his parents and grandparents. It would be his burial place as well, along with his last remaining wife, Leah. (Rachel had died years earlier, and buried near Bethlehem.) The family connection was important, as it was the reminder of the family covenant he had with God. Again, this was Jacob trusting in God’s promise. He might need to be carried out of Egypt in a wooden box, but he knew God’s word would prove true!

33 And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

  1. Jacob was 147 years old when he died (Gen 47:28). Of all the patriarchs, he perhaps had the roughest experiences coming to faith in the Lord, but he certainly died full of faith. He “was gathered to his people,” being reunited with his loved ones in death as he trusted the promises and person of the Living God.

Genesis 50

  • Israel’s burial (1-14)

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him, and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for him, for such are the days required for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

  1. Although Jacob was not an Egyptian, Joseph commanded the Egyptian custom of embalming for his father. It seems that Joseph believed this to be necessary in order to accommodate his father’s wishes. Not only was it a high honor generally bestowed only upon Egyptian royalty or other high officials, but if Jacob’s body was to be transported along the roads between Egypt and Canaan without the stench of decomposition, something needed to be done. Typically, Hebrews would allow bodies to decompose in a tomb, only many months later to open the tomb, and gather the bones into an ossuary for permanent storage. This would have been impossible in Jacob’s circumstance, which is perhaps why Joseph ordered the embalming (mummification) beyond the idea of honor.
  2. There’s some question whether the mourning lasted 70 days, or 110 days (40+70) total. Either way, it was more than what was required for the custom. All of this points to the high honor bestowed upon Jacob/Israel, not only by his immediate family, but by the entire nation of Egypt. And think of the irony: the Egyptians mourned a Hebrew shepherd, normally considered an abomination (Gen 46:34). That was the impact Israel made upon Egypt!
    1. As Christians, we may not be mourned by the unbelieving people around us, but may we make an impact upon them! May they see our lives, hear our words, and know without a shadow of doubt that we are servants of the Most High God!

4 Now when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the hearing of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back.’ ” 6 And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

  1. Joseph, his family, and the Egyptians had mourned well over two months for Israel (perhaps closer to four!), but things didn’t end there; Jacob still had to be buried in Canaan. And for that, Joseph needed to acquire permission from Pharaoh to go. Interestingly, it seems that Joseph did not speak directly to Pharaoh, although he was the grand vizier (prime minister) of the nation. It’s possible that by this point a different Pharaoh sat on the throne, and Joseph did not have the same political position (although still a trusted advisor), but it seems more likely that due to Joseph’s state of mourning, it would have been inappropriate for him to approach Pharaoh directly. Recall that when Joseph was first pulled from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he had to be shaved and clean (Gen 41:14). Due to his mourning for his father, Joseph probably allowed his beard to grow, thus prohibiting a face-to-face conversation with the Egyptian king.
  2. Whatever the reason for passing along his request to Pharaoh via the royal house, Joseph made him a promise. Actually, there were two promises made: (1) from Joseph to his father, and (2) from Joseph to Pharaoh. Earlier, Joseph had made a solemn oath to Jacob that he would ensure Jacob’s burial in Canaan (Gen 47:31), and now Joseph promised that if Pharaoh allowed him to travel, that he would quickly return to Egypt. Joseph’s reputation had never been in doubt in the past, but his faithfulness is shown here, yet again. Since he was keeping his word to his father, he would surely keep his word to his king. (Likewise, we ought to be men & women of our word! Let your yes be yes, and your no be no; Mt 5:37) 

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds they left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great gathering.

  1. Of note is how many Egyptians were in attendance for Jacob’s funeral. No doubt, much of this was due to support of Joseph, being the high official he was in the court of Pharaoh, but it seems that this was a full-court press. Everyone was there with the exception of Pharaoh himself. Again, it’s striking how many prominent Egyptians joined in the mourning of this Hebrew shepherd. They viewed him as highly blessed by God, partly due to his age & partly due to his parenting of Joseph. They had multiple opportunities to witness his life with their own eyes as Jacob resided in Egypt, and whatever it was Jacob did among them, it left an impact. Although there’s no indication that this generation of Egyptians came to faith, it was certainly a witness of God among them.
    1. This is how Jesus tells us to live: Matthew 5:14–16, “(14) “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Words are incredibly important, but as the cliché states: actions speak louder than words. Don’t get the wrong idea – it’s not that we should do as what is often attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words if necessary.” Words are necessary to the gospel, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). But human words without action are just noise. People need to not only hear of our faith, but see it in action as well. When they witness our sincere love & worship of God, our love for our fellow Christians, and our compassion upon the lost world around us, they will not be able to deny the transformation that has taken place in our lives through the work of Jesus Christ.
  2. Of course, not only were there many Egyptians, but there were many Hebrews present as well. The grand patriarch of their clan had passed, and everyone who was physically able to travel to Canaan for the funeral, did. It was a massive convoy of people from Egypt to the Jordan River – a mixture of Hebrew and Egyptian together. (A miniature preview of what would follow in 400 years’ time, when the nation of Israel and the mixed multitude of Egypt began their Exodus!) 
  3. In light of Exodus, there’s an interesting contrast with Moses. In one of his numerous interactions with Pharaoh, Moses was told by Pharaoh that the Hebrew men could go into the wilderness to worship God, but not the children or their flocks, which Moses promptly refused. (Exo 10:9) With the funeral, the children and flocks stayed behind. Why? It wasn’t yet time for the family of Israel to leave Egypt. Keep in this in mind for later…

10 Then they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. He observed seven days of mourning for his father. 11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

  1. Where was the “threshing floor of Atad / Abel Mizraim”? The text is a bit ambiguous. Usually “beyond the Jordan” is an indication of the Transjordan region, on the east side of the Jordan river. At the same time, it seems necessary for the threshing floor to be rather close to the cave of Machpelah. A couple of different thoughts are suggested: (1) “beyond” could be translated “edge,” meaning that the threshing floor was simply close to the river banks of the Jordan. (2) If Joseph and the convoy took a similar route as Moses & Joshua, then they would have approached the Jordan from the east, needing to cross over it to the west, making it “beyond” the river. Either way, if we have difficulty identifying the precise location, it was certainly known by the people at the time. The convoy that arrived was huge. This was a big deal, attracting much attention! The location was even renamed by the locals. “Abel Mizraim” literally = “Mourning of Egypt.” The arrival of Joseph and the other made a lasting impact!
  2. That was the entry point into Canaan; it wasn’t the final destination. There was even more mourning that took place at this gathering place, and it was only after that time that the convoy continued to the burial cave.

12 So his sons did for him just as he had commanded them. 13 For his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as property for a burial place. 14 And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who went up with him to bury his father.

  1. The family followed through on Jacob’s last request. Jacob was buried in the precise cave he specified, the one belonging by purchase deed to his family. Bottom line, Jacob was finally back in the Promised Land.
  2. Afterward, Joseph kept his promise to Pharaoh & returned to Egypt. Question: Why? This was Joseph’s chance to be home! If the family of Israel had taken all of their children and flocks with them, they could have returned to the land of Canaan and avoided 400 years of slavery. This was the land that God had specifically & repeatedly promised to them, and the 7 years of famine had long-ended by this point. Why go back to Egypt – what was the need? Answer: the famine may have ended, but God’s timing for His people wasn’t yet right. There were other promises and purposes that needed to be fulfilled. God made this clear to Abraham two generations earlier: Genesis 15:13–16, “(13) Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. (14) And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (15) Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. (16) But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”” God spoke this to Abraham right at the same time that God promised Abraham a physical heir to come from his body, Abraham believed unto righteousness, and God made a one-sided covenant promise to him. God affirmed that Abraham’s future descendants would indeed have the land of the Canaanites and Amorites as their home, but before they would receive it, they would dwell outside of it being afflicted. Their affliction had a specific expiration date: 400 years. Why? Because that was the time it would take for the Amorites to fill up on the full measure of their guilt. God was giving this pagan people clear opportunity to repent of their sins, while knowing they would not do it, and the Hebrew people would serve as God’s own instrument of judgment when they finally returned from Egypt. In other words, the 400 years was time enough (1) for Israel to truly grow beyond a clan into a full nation of their own, with their own ethnic identity, and (2) for both God’s mercy and judgment to be displayed to the then-current inhabitants of the land, the Amorites. If Joseph and his brothers had returned to Canaan at the time of Jacob’s funeral, none of that would have happened. God’s timing was perfect for God’s plan, so God had to be trusted.
    1. It’s no different with us. How many times have you found yourself trying to rush the plans of God? Perhaps you have an inkling of what God has in mind for you, but instead of waiting on God to bring it to pass, you resort to your own efforts to get things moving. You wouldn’t be the first to do so, nor the last…but it never works out. God’s work has to be done by God’s power in God’s time, which all assures it is according to God’s will & word, for God’s glory. Wait upon the Lord! By all means, actively proceed with what He has given you, but do not push to do things according to your will & your timing. When it’s right, God will let you know, and you’ll rejoice in how it glorifies Him!

So ends the account of Jacob/Israel – truly the end of an era in the history of God’s people. His sons realized this as well, and feared that things might not work out too well for them…

  • Joseph’s grace (15-21)

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.”

  1. The ten older brothers were worried about retribution, perhaps justifiably so. Joseph had a special relationship with their father, and would never have done anything to cause him grief. But with Jacob dead, their “buffer” was gone. Perhaps this would be the time Joseph would seek revenge.
  2. Note: If Joseph had done so, the brothers understood they deserved it. For perhaps the first time in all the years they had been in Egypt, they openly acknowledged their act of evil. Joseph had never restrained himself from talking about it how it was (Gen 45:5), and Jacob had been informed of the evil at some point (Gen 49:23), but Genesis does not record a direct personal confession of the ten brothers. Finally, it’s spoken aloud. What they did to Joseph was truly “evil,” and there was no excuse for it.
    1. Confession doesn’t make excuses for sin; it calls it by its name. Too often, we want to relabel things: lying is “my own truth,” theft is “what I was owed,” lust is “just being human,” etc. The ten brothers could have said, “Yes, what we did to Joseph was wrong, but we didn’t have a choice…” There are no “buts” when it comes to sin. Sin is simply sin – it’s evil – it’s rebellion against God – it is the reason Jesus died upon the cross. When God brings conviction to our hearts, the proper response is clear confession. Agree with God that it is what it is & that you need the forgiveness and cleansing of Jesus…and the promise is He will give it! (1 Jn 1:9)

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.” …

  1. Question: Was this a truth or a lie? Had Jacob really said this in his last days? Technically, we don’t know, as this is unsaid in Genesis. Perhaps there is an implication that this was a lie, or at least an embellishment on behalf of the brothers.
  2. Either way, the idea of forgiveness is very In the Greek New Testament, the idea of forgiveness is often that of “release;” in the Hebrew here, it’s similar: “lift up / take away.” Whatever guilt Joseph had the right to press against his brothers, he is asked to graciously lift off their shoulders. Their crimes are labeled three different ways: trespass, sin, and evil – no holds barred in calling it what it was…but the request was to take it all away. Not because they deserved it, but because they served “the God of your father.” The brothers weren’t owed forgiveness in the slightest (the deserved vengeful justice); it was only because of God that forgiveness was asked.
    1. Forgiveness works no differently today. Why do we not hold the trespasses of others against us? Because of Jesus’ sake! [Parable of Unforgiving Servant] Matthew 18:32–33, “(32) Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. (33) Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’” How can we withhold from others what Jesus has so freely given us? We don’t forgive others because they deserve it; we forgive them because we didn’t deserve it either, yet Jesus still granted it!

… 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.”

  1. Yet another fulfillment of Joseph’s initial dreams. (Number 5?)
  2. The brothers were humble, and Joseph was soft-hearted for his family. He wept and demonstrated his own humility, acknowledging his own dependence upon the Lord…

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.

  1. Right here is the primary theme of the entire Joseph narrative! From Genesis 37 forward, this is the theological statement that is so clearly made. “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” What the brothers did to Joseph was sin, plain & simple. It was trespass, sin, and evil (50:17), with no excuse whatsoever made for their actions. But their evil was overcome by God’s good. Just like the evil that took place in the Garden of Eden was overcome by the good promise of God’s Savior, so was the evil done unto Joseph overcome by God’s plan of salvation for the family of Israel. Jacob’s family had been in danger, not just from 7 years of famine, but from being assimilated into the culture of the Canaanites and Amorites. If Jacob’s family was in danger, then the promise of the Messiah was in danger…and that endangers everything! God had known and foreseen all of this from before the foundation of the world, and His plan perfectly accounted for it, using even the terrible sin of the brothers as an instrument to accomplish God’s perfect good. Both actions were “” The ten brothers did intentional evil to Joseph, but God used the brothers’ evil for intentional good. (God’s will, will always be done!)
    1. What was Joseph acknowledging? God is sovereign! There is no situation or circumstance that can undo or undermine God’s perfect will. This isn’t to say that we are mere robots, with no inclination of freewill, or no real choice over our actions. That is clearly not the case. God tells us not to sin, yet we sin. In order for rebellion to exist, there must be ability to rebel, which we plainly possess. But as true as that may be, the Bible is also clear that there is nothing we do that is beyond God’s power – there is no choice we can make that He has not already foreseen and planned – there is no act of our will that does not ultimately lead to the perfect will of God as He enacted from eons before Creation. God is sovereign! He is powerful enough to give us freewill, and powerful enough to still enact His perfect will over our freewill. 
    2. And this ought to bring much comfort! God’s sovereignty is not a doctrine that ought to trouble us; it’s one in which we ought to rejoice! Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” All too often, this is a verse quoted out of context at inappropriate times (such as offering cold truth when we ought to be weeping with those who weep). But used rightly, this is a truth of gold! There is nothing outside of the ability of God to be used for His glory in the lives of His children. “All things” mean “all things” – even the worst crimes against us and other Christians around the world. Those things (by definition) are not good, but God works them for His good. And because He does, we can rest in that fact! His sovereignty offers us tremendous peace.
  2. It was because of Joseph’s trust of God’s sovereignty that Joseph could so quickly offer forgiveness to his brothers. He gave them both mercy and grace. Mercy = no revenge. Grace = provision. He didn’t have to give them anything except prison; instead, he offered wonderful gifts out of compassion. He “spoke kindly” to them – literally meaning that he spoke to their hearts. He knew their need, and he graciously met it. Joseph knew the Almighty Living God, and because he did, he could leave all things in His hands.
  • Joseph’s last days (22-26)

22 So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s household. And Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. 23 Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were also brought up on Joseph’s knees.

  1. Joseph’s final days were blessed in Egypt, being able to see his grandchildren to the third generation. All in all, Joseph lived 93 years in the land of Egypt, but it never was his home. He knew it, and he looked forward to the future and the fulfillment of God’s promises…

24 And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

  1. The Hebrew grammar is of note: there’s an emphasis on God’s act of visiting (the infinitive absolute). God would surely keep His promises, and come to them (so to speak). They were His people, and He had appointed for them a day of deliverance, with there being no doubt He would keep His appointment!
  2. God never forgets His people – He never forgets His promises! As grand as this is regarding the temporal promises of God (promises for wisdom for those who ask, peace for those who pray, etc.), how much better this is regarding His eternal promise of salvation through Jesus Christ! Has Jesus forgiven those of us who have faith in Him? Surely, yes! There is no condemnation for those in Christ, and nothing (height nor depth nor any created thing) can separate us from Him & His love! Trust Him – rest in Him. What He says, He does, guaranteed!

25 Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

  1. Like his father, Joseph also desired to be buried in the Promised Land, although he doesn’t specify that he be buried in the same family burial tomb in Machpelah. (Jacob is later buried in Shechem, after Joshua leads the people in conquest of the Promised Land – Josh 24:32.)
  2. Joseph had faith that God would get him there…and God did!

Conclusion:

The book of Genesis ends with two deaths, but it really ends with the promise of life. The people of God were in Egypt, but God would not leave them there indefinitely. There was a new beginning on the way. There was a promise of deliverance, and faith that God would accomplish it. The children of Israel had a covenant guarantee of a future home and a future Messiah, and God would see it done. And He did, because God is always true to His word.

Trust the promises of God!

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Jacob’s Blessings

Posted: August 30, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 48:1-49:28, “Jacob’s Blessings”

Some things are too important to leave unsaid. Few people know how many days we are given in this life, so it’s important to say the things that need to be said while we have the opportunity to say them. This is especially true the older we get. Not long ago, I took the opportunity to write letters to my aging parents, thanking them for their sacrifices through the years, and my love and respect for them. I didn’t want the end to come without them knowing how I felt, so I put it down on paper.

It’s unlikely that Jacob thought his own words would be put in writing – much less read by millions of people over the course of thousands of years – but Jacob did something similar with his own sons and grandsons. Knowing that the end of his life was approaching, he gathered his children to himself and said the things that needed saying.

It wasn’t always cheery, but it would prove to be always true. In Chapters 48-49, Jacob functions not only as a patriarch, but as a prophet. He speaks not only of the things on his heart, but the things of the mind of God for the future of the nation of Israel. In the process of blessing his sons, Jacob spoke of the ultimate blessing: the Messiah. The 12 tribes of Israel set the stage for the future king of Israel, the future King and blessing to all the world!

By now, we’re familiar with the background. After years of slavery and prison – after elevation from the dungeon to the highest positions of the Egyptian palace – Joseph was finally reconciled with his brothers and reunited with his father. The whole family of Israel came to the land of Egypt in the midst of a terrible famine, and was delivered from the remaining five years of suffering. Pharaoh granted his permission for the Hebrews to dwell in the land of Goshen, which allowed them to continue working as shepherds, in addition to being incubated as a nation. Although they were in Egypt, they were effectively quarantined from the Egyptian culture, able to multiply exceedingly with their own cultural and national identity. Seventeen years soon passed, and as Jacob/Israel prepared to die, he had Joseph swear to return his body to Canaan. Although Jacob was glad to be delivered in Egypt, he was trusting in the promise of God, and knew that Egypt was not his (or his children’s) permanent home.

It’s at this point he calls his children for their final blessings. These are not Jacob’s final words (so to speak), but they are his final “official” words to his children. This was when he delivered the double-portion birthright, and passed on the covenant of God that had been passed to him from Abraham and Isaac. But unlike with previous generations, the covenant was not passed to one son; it was passed to all, in specific yet different ways. They would all be blessed to various extents, but there were different roles for them in the future. The most important of which, would be given to a son not even Jacob expected: Judah, as his lineage led to the future Messiah.

All in all, it didn’t matter what Jacob planned for his children; what mattered was God’s plan. God does have a plan for His people, and His plan is salvation through Jesus Christ!

Genesis 48: Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons

  • Initial greeting (1-7)

1 Now it came to pass after these things that Joseph was told, “Indeed your father is sick”; and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And Jacob was told, “Look, your son Joseph is coming to you”; and Israel strengthened himself and sat up on the bed.

  1. Time passed from Jacob and Joseph’s last encounter – how much, we do not know, although we know that Jacob lived 17 years in Egypt beyond his initial arrival at 130 years of age. At some point, Jacob became weak to the point he realized that death was approaching, and he wanted to put his final affairs in order. That’s when he sent for Joseph, who lived among Pharaoh’s household rather than Israel’s household in the land of Goshen. This was the two of them preparing to say “goodbye” to each other – a bittersweet moment, indeed.

3 Then Jacob said to Joseph: “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession.’

  1. Remember that Luz = Bethel. These were the events of Genesis 28, 35, when God twice appeared to Jacob and Jacob was committed to following the Lord in faith. Although Isaac had promised the covenant to Jacob, it was God Himself who personally affirmed it, and it was something Jacob never forgot. God promised to make him a fruitful nation, and that this nation would dwell in a fruitful land.
  2. There is one addition here not listed earlier in the earlier accounts: the land was to be “an everlasting possession.” It was forever! This may not have been recorded when Jacob encountered the Lord in Bethel in Genesis 28 & 35, but it was recorded much earlier when God spoke to Abraham (Gen 17:8). Jacob was well aware of the fact that the covenant he received from God was the same covenant passed down from his grandfather. It was this same covenant he was passing forward to future generations.
    1. As New Testament Christians, we cannot pass forward our faith. Each generation must individually put his/her faith in Jesus in order to be saved. We can, however, pass on an example of faith. We can model godliness for our children, teach them the Scriptures, and raise them up in the way they should go. They too, can experience the same walk with Jesus that we have, being brought into the same covenant that we have with Him. But it must be presented to them. We can’t expect them to learn it on their own – we’ve got to put forth the effort to teach it to them.

5 And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. 6 Your offspring whom you beget after them shall be yours; they will be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.

  1. Joseph’s sons were made to be full heirs of Israel. This was Joseph’s double-portion inheritance. There is no tract of land within Israel named “Joseph,” but Joseph is still represented in the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Every time we see that in our Bibles, we can be reminded of the double-portion received by Joseph from his father.
  2. Normally, this would have been given to the firstborn, and although Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, he wasn’t the firstborn of Israel; Reuben was. Yet Reuben forfeited that position, and Jacob would have longed to give it to Joseph even if Reuben hadn’t done anything wrong. Culturally, it belonged to Reuben, but by an act of Jacob’s right & will, he gave it to Joseph.
    1. That’s the way grace works. By way of justice, we shouldn’t receive anything at all from the Lord, except punishment and wrath. Instead, by an act of God’s will through the work of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven, made a part of God’s family, and graced to share in the inheritance of Jesus Himself. That’s a double-portion indeed!

7 But as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

  1. Why mention Rachel? (1) Rachel was Joseph’s mother, and the true beloved of Jacob’s life. (2) Jacob was looking forward to being reunited with her in death. She may have been buried in a different location than where Jacob would be buried, but he would soon see her again.
  • Ephraim and Manasseh blessed (8-22)

8 Then Israel saw Joseph’s sons, and said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place.” And he said, “Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!”

  1. Had Jacob never met his grandsons? This seems impossible to believe, especially considering that he had lived in Egypt for 17 years by this point. Far more likely, Jacob asked the question due to his age and failing eyesight. (Problems with eyesight and cataracts seem to have been a genetic issue with the family of the patriarchs. Isaac’s eyesight failed as well, which was how Jacob was originally able to trick him to receive the greater blessing.)
  2. Even though Jacob had likely met his grandchildren years earlier, he was still overjoyed at the opportunity to know them. When Joseph had disappeared, Jacob was ready to die. Now he not only knew his son, but his grandsons…all due to the mercy and grace of God. 17 years was not enough time to fully rejoice! (Nothing would be!)
    1. Do we rejoice over God’s blessings? Do we thank Him once, and never think of it again? Be constantly amazed over His grace & His mercy! May we look at Jesus every day, and be overwhelmed at His gift of grace!

12 So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth.

  1. FYI: Some have read this, and assumed that Ephraim and Manasseh were young children at the time of the blessing, hiding behind their father’s legs before receiving their blessing. This seems unlikely. Genesis 41:50 states that the sons were born to Joseph during the years of Egyptian abundance, “before the years of famine came.” If Jacob had been in Egypt for 17 years, and there were two years of famine before he came, that meant the sons were a minimum of 19 years old, and likely in their early-twenties. Thus, the picture here isn’t of young boys hiding behind their father, but of young men kneeling on the ground and positioned behind him in submission, until Joseph brings them forward to receive the blessing.

13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn.

  1. Joseph arranged his sons for the culturally appropriate blessing. Jacob purposefully gave the reverse. The younger would be blessed more than the older. This is a common theme in Genesis: Abel’s sacrifice was better than his older brother Cain’s; Isaac received the covenant instead of his much older brother Ishmael; and although Esau and Jacob were twins, Esau was born first while Jacob received the birthright.
  2. In fact this whole event was nearly mirrored in the earlier generation of Jacob and Esau. Not only was Jacob destined by God to receive the greater blessing, over his older twin-brother, but it was their nearly-blind father who gave it to him. This time, however, the blessing of the younger was intentional; not done as a result of deceit.

15 And he blessed Joseph, and said: “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day, 16 The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

  1. Jacob gives a three-fold naming of God. (Perhaps indicative of Trinity?)
    1. The God of his worship: This is the God of his fathers, the One whom his whole family worshiped. This is the God who made a covenant with his ancestors, and in Whom Jacob was totally invested.
    2. The God of his provision: This is the God who “fed” Jacob every day of his life. When he first left Canaan to go to Padan Aram in search of a wife, he had his walking stick & the clothes on his back. When he returned, he brought a massive family and great wealth. God provided for Jacob every step of the way – exactly as God had promised to do.
    3. The God who was the redeeming Angel of the Lord. This is the God who appeared to Jacob, and wrestled with him until the breaking of day. This is the God who gave Jacob a new name, calling him Israel. Question: How can we be sure this is a reference to God & not just an angel? Because of Hebrew grammar and poetic style. “Angel” in verse 16 is parallel to “Elohim” (God) in verse 15. This Angel is God Himself, made visible to Jacob. Who is this Angel? The Redeemer (Goel, גֹּאֵ֨ל)…Jesus!
      1. We have a Redeemer: the Lord Jesus Christ! Like Jacob, we were once known by our sin, enslaved to it. But Jesus has paid our redemption price & we are free!
    4. Jacob has called upon God as his God in praise – now he prays the blessing over the lads: may they be blessed in that they are brought into the covenant. They will be named by the name of Israel, inheriting the covenant blessing of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
      1. What happens when we are brought into the family of God? We are blessed! (John 1:12)

17 Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’ ” And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

  1. No small irony here: a blessed younger son (Joseph) was displeased by the decision of his father, and tried to stop his younger son from receiving the greater blessing. The name order indicates priority. Of course, both sons were blessed; it’s just that God’s will for the greater blessing was for the younger.
    1. God’s ways are not our ways. (Isa 55:8-9) Praise God that they are not! If God were like us & thought like we think, none of us would be saved, (That being the case, we ought to trust God’s ways more often!)

21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”

  1. Jacob was dying, but the covenant was not. God’s promises would remain true, and Jacob’s descendants (including Joseph’s descendants) would inherit the promised land.
  2. Question: When did Jacob ever fight for any piece of the promised land? There’s no record in Genesis of him raising his own sword and bow against the Amorites. Scholars acknowledge this is unclear, but we perhaps get a hint in the Hebrew word for “portion” (or “shoulder”): “Shechem” (שְׁכֶם). Recall that Shechem was the town against which Simeon and Levi fought, destroying all the males due to the mistreatment of their sister (who was potentially raped – Gen 34). Although Jacob condemned it at the time (and still does, as seen in Chapter 49), the actions of his sons were as if he himself did the act. Earlier, Jacob had purchased a piece of property that was there (Gen 33:19), and the right of conquest assured the rest was his as well. This land was not given to Simeon or Levi, but to Joseph, and Joseph was later buried there after his bones were brought back from Egypt (Josh 24:32).

Genesis 49:1–28 : Jacob blesses Jacob’s sons

1 And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: 2 “Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob, And listen to Israel your father.

  1. Jacob called his sons to receive a prophetic word and blessing. Presumably this happened shortly after Jacob blessed Ephraim & Manasseh, while Joseph was still in Goshen. The text does not say.
  2. Last days” could be translated “after-days” or “future days.” Although there’s some here that applies to what we might consider to be the end-times, that’s not necessarily the focus of Jacob. Much of what he prophesies takes place during the days of the judges, and the years of the kingdom. Some does apply far beyond, particularly regarding Judah, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Even so, it is future, at least from Jacob’s point of view when he spoke these things.
    1. Need we be reminded? God knows the future! Trust Him and His plans! Who better to determine what’s to be done: ourselves, who do nothing but guess – or God, who truly knows all?
  • Sons of Leah (3-15)

3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn, My might and the beginning of my strength, The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall not excel, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it— He went up to my couch.

  1. What Reuben should have been: the might and glory of his father. He should have been the first example of what a son of Israel was.
  2. What Reuben became: a disgrace, and ultimate failure. Reuben had bedded Bilhah, Jacob’s wife (Gen 35:22), and it left a lasting stain on his character and his relationship with his father.
  3. Objection: Reuben’s sin had been decades earlier! Shouldn’t his father have forgiven him? To an extent, it seems apparent that Jacob did forgive him. After all, Reuben wasn’t cast out of the camp, nor executed (which Jacob surely had the right to do in that culture). Even so, Reuben permanently disqualified himself from the place of honor as the firstborn.
    1. Sin has consequences! We have forgiveness in Christ, but there may be earthly consequences that last the rest of our lives.

5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. 6 Let not my soul enter their council; Let not my honor be united to their assembly; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.

  1. Referencing the conquest of Shechem (Gen 34). The brothers were linked together in their sin. They had acted in rage, and unrestrained anger is dangerous! One man had sinned against their sister, and the men of an entire city were slain. Anger can be righteous; theirs was not. They did Jacob far more harm than good, which Jacob references as how “they hamstrung an ox.” 
  2. How were Simeon & Levi “divided” and “scattered”? The tribe of Simeon was surrounded by Judah, locked in by them, and eventually absorbed by them. Levi was literally “scattered” throughout the land as the tribe did not receive a specific piece of land, but individual cities throughout the whole of the land in their service to God.
    1. The use of Levi by the Lord is a wonderful picture of redemption! The wrath of their forefather was unrestrained, but generations later it was focused to be used as the holy instrument of God (Exo 32:25-29). As a result, they were given the blessing of being priests and servants to the Lord. This is grace! 

8 “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s children shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?

  1. Jacob uses a lot of word-play throughout the series of blessings, and the first example is found here. Judah = “praise,” and Jacob declares that Judah would one day be the recipient of his brothers’ praise. In fact, Judah would be victorious over his enemies and have authority over his brothers.
  2. Sound familiar? Just like Joseph did, so Judah would do. The 11 brothers of Joseph bowed to him in Egypt; the future tribes of Israel would bow to the royal descendants of Judah. Judah would be invested with massive power – so much so that he could be described as a lion, treated with utmost respect and fear.
    1. This is Jesus! He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah! (Rev 5:5) We know Him as being meek & mild, but He is far more! Jesus is the ultimate Warrior, having total victory over the devil, death, and sin. He has power unimaginable and unlimited, being none other than God in the flesh. He is to be loved, yes, but He is also to be feared & worshiped!

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.

  1. The future reign of Judah is described in several ways. The “scepter” = symbol of rule. The “lawgiver” = the judge and king. Among the tribes of Israel, there will be no question who it is that reigns. This wasn’t always the case during the kingdom years, but it will be the case during the Millennial Kingdom!
  2. Notice: “Shiloh.” Although this is capitalized in the NKJV, this isn’t necessarily a proper noun as a name (though it might be considered a title). This is a simple transliteration of the Hebrew word. There is a proper noun of this word in the Bible, but be careful not to confuse this “Shiloh” with the town of “Shiloh” where the tabernacle eventually came to rest (1 Sam 1:3). The spellings are different in Hebrew, and this particular spelling of the word (שִׁילֹה) is used only one time in the Bible, right here in Genesis 49:10. Although it’s debated, the most likely meaning of the word is “he whose it is,” or “that which belongs to him” (BDB). Contextually, what is it that might belong to someone? The scepter/right to rule. To whom, then, might this refer? Messiah, Jesus!

11 Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, And his teeth whiter than milk.

  1. The idea of kingly rule and might continues. The Shiloh Messiah comes in on a donkey’s colt, being bound to his people (the vine of Israel). If this isn’t a direct prophecy of what was later fulfilled in Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, it at least has foreshadowing of the event.
  2. Beyond the 1st Coming are shadows of Jesus’ 2nd From the humble donkey-rider to the victorious warrior, Shiloh-Messiah washes His clothes in wine – often a symbol of blood. He is glorious in His appearance, and mighty in His arrival. Perhaps the apostle John had this imagery in mind when he wrote of the angels reaping the grapes of wrath in God’s judgment of the earth (Rev 14), and King Jesus coming in glorious raiment and power at the Battle of Armageddon (Rev 19).
  3. When it comes to the town of Shiloh, the name might indicate a “place of rest,” but when it come to the Person of Shiloh, the name indicates incredible power and rule. We find our rest in Jesus, but the reason we can rest in Him is because He is victorious over every enemy – including death itself!

13 “Zebulun shall dwell by the haven of the sea; He shall become a haven for ships, And his border shall adjoin Sidon.

  1. The blessing upon Zebulun is a bit more difficult to decipher. In their appointment of land, Zebulun was neither on the coast, nor immediately touching the area of Sidon. Was Jacob inaccurate? Not likely. The trade routes that led to the Mediterranean went straight through the region of Zebulun, which could explain a bit of poetic rendering. Some have theorized that at one point Zebulun held some different areas of land, but they weren’t able to hold on to them. 
  2. Keep in mind that we may not have all the information required to properly see the interpretation of this prophecy. To this point (and beyond) Jacob’s words are proven absolutely true. Based on the things we do understand and see, we ought to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt on things we don’t understand nor see.

14 “Issachar is a strong donkey, Lying down between two burdens; 15 He saw that rest was good, And that the land was pleasant; He bowed his shoulder to bear a burden, And became a band of slaves.

  1. As with Zebulun, the words to Issachar are somewhat mysterious, although they seem plausible based on what we know from history. Jacob basically affirms that this tribe would be consisted of hard workers, but those workers would eventually work for someone else. Once in the promised land, they would not maintain their own identity for long. Sure enough, the same could be spoken of many of the northern tribes. Eventually the northern kingdom of Israel is known as Ephraim or Samaria, with the individual tribal designations gone. It’s not that the tribes are lost (God knows exactly where they are!), but they merged into one another.
  • Sons of Bilhah & Zilpah (16-21)

16 “Dan shall judge his people As one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, A viper by the path, That bites the horse’s heels So that its rider shall fall backward.

  1. Jacob returns to word-play. Dan = judge. The other tribes were to be careful of Dan, as they would strike unexpectedly. This might predict the events of Judges 18 when they were one of the first tribes to give themselves largely over to idolatry. 

18 I have waited for your salvation, O LORD!

  1. Jacob takes a break, and interjects a quick prayer. Some of the things he has foreseen for his children are not good, and it’s no wonder he cries out to the Lord!
  2. Jacob is waiting for YHWH’s salvation…He’s waiting for Jesus! The Hebrew prayer is rather short: לִֽישׁוּעָתְךָ֖ קִוִּ֥יתִי יְהוָֽה׃ ; Yeshua (יְשׁוּעָה). Long before Jacob knew the name of the promised Messiah, he called out to Him, for “salvation” is His name!
  3. Jacob’s words to the next three sons are rather short…

19 “Gad, a troop shall tramp upon him, But he shall triumph at last.

  1. Word-play is all over this. “Gad” is derived from the word for “troop,” and the word (or words that sound like it are used 4 times. It’s as if Jacob says, “Regarding Troop, a troop will troop down on him, but he shall troop over them in the end.” No real specifics are given regarding the battle in question, but Jacob knows that although his son will be attacked, he won’t be destroyed. The people shall endure in victory.

20 “Bread from Asher shall be rich, And he shall yield royal dainties.

  1. There’s no word-play here; just a straightforward prophecy that Asher will be well-off economically. Being that they were so close to the rich city of Tyre, it makes sense that they would enjoy some of the wealth of the area.

21 “Naphtali is a deer let loose; He uses beautiful words.

  1. Likewise with Naphtali, there’s nothing specifically prophetic – simply a commendation of the tribe’s future freedom and beauty.
  • Sons of Rachel (22-27)

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall.

  1. As might be expected, Jacob reserves the bulk of his blessing for his favored son Joseph. In a sense, he’s already pronounced a blessing for Joseph when he blessed Joseph’s sons (being that they were the double-portion of what Joseph was to receive, having the appointed right of the firstborn). That thought continues somewhat here. Jacob specifically named Joseph in the blessing, but the wording of “fruitful” points to Ephraim (the younger, but greater-blessed son). “Ephraim” is similar is spelling to the root word for “fruitful,” indicating that perhaps Jacob had Ephraim in mind for the future blessing, but reserved a special blessing for Joseph in the present time.
  2. That Jacob looked to the present is seen in the following…

23 The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. 24 But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),

  1. This did not describe future events, but past ones. By this point Jacob was well-informed of what his other sons did to Joseph when they betrayed him. But he also knew how Joseph was protected by God, and was strengthened by the ultimate Strong (Mighty) One.
  2. Once again, God is described in three ways: (1) The Mighty…of Jacob. (2) The Shepherd (3) The Stone of Israel. Here, there is no question that Jacob worships the one true God, as this is not the God of his father Isaac, but the Might of Jacob himself. And this God is revealed how? In the person of Jesus Christ: the Good Shepherd and our Solid Rock!

25 By the God of your father who will help you, And by the Almighty who will bless you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.

  1. God is named one other way in verse 25 – the same way God revealed Himself to Jacob on the two times He personally appeared to him in the past: El Shaddai. It’s beautifully portrayed in the Hebrew, as the title is actually divided, but the terms “God” and “Almighty” (25a, 25b) are put in parallel with one another. The Mighty God of Jacob, the Shepherd, and the Stone are all the same: He is El Shaddai, God Almighty – the all-powerful unlimited One!
  2. By this God, what is Jacob’s prayer for Joseph? That Joseph would be blessed. Six times in two verses, the word “blessing” is used somehow, with the idea that Joseph is to be blessed by God with everything from everywhere. God would glorify Joseph in every way imaginable (which He had already done in raising him to the 2nd throne in Egypt).
    1. More than Joseph, this would seem to paint a picture of Jesus, Who will one day be blessed and praised by everything that is in existence! (Phil 2)

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he shall devour the prey, And at night he shall divide the spoil.”

  1. If Judah was like a lion, Benjamin would be like a wolf. The tribe of Benjamin would also rule for a time (via Saul), although leadership would not remain with him. Even so, the rest of the tribes ought to be careful of him. Benjamin would prove to be dangerous.
    1. Perhaps looks forward to the terrible events of Judges 19-20 when a horrendous crime in Benjamin brought the nation to civil war.
  • Conclusion (28)

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them. And he blessed them; he blessed each one according to his own blessing.

  1. All of them received a blessing, but some received more, “each one according to his blessing.” There is no question that Joseph receives the double-portion of the firstborn, but note that he does not receive the Messianic promise. For the first time, these aspects of the Abrahamic covenant are divided. All of the sons are promised the land, with Joseph receiving one-sixth of it as well as the overwhelming love of his father. However, the Messianic promise is given only to one son: Judah. In the long-term, there would be conflict between Joseph (Ephraim) and Judah, as seen in the battles between the northern and southern kingdoms. In the end, the southern kingdom (Judah) prevails – something acknowledged by Jacob even while he reserved his best words for his favorite sons. From within Judah alone would emerge the Shiloh-Messiah, and no personal favoritism from an earthly father would undo it.

Conclusion:

Some of the blessings pronounced by Jacob may not sound like “blessings,” but there’s no question that they were words given by the Lord. (And any word received from God is a blessing in itself!) God knew what the future held for each one of the sons of Jacob (grandsons, too), and despite what the plans of men might have been, it would be the plans of God that prevail.

Praise God that they did! If Joseph had his way, Manasseh would have been the larger of his two tribes, and who knows what would have been the result in the Promised Land? Half of the tribe of Manasseh didn’t even want to cross over the Jordan River to possess the land…it doesn’t exactly invoke confidence in their ability to lead! If Jacob had his way, no doubt Joseph would have received not only the double-portion of the land, but also the Messianic promise, and we would have no David, no Solomon, and the life and ministry of Jesus would have been vastly different (if known at all). It was only the plan of God that brings about Jesus as we know Him, the Shiloh to whom all power belongs, and the Redeemer of our souls.

If God had such a specific plan in mind for the tribes of Israel, think of what plans He has in mind for you, for your family, for your grandchildren & beyond (should the Lord tarry). Think of what He has in mind for His church. Too often, we try imposing our will upon God and asking Him to bless it; what we ought to do is look to the Lord for His will and walk in the blessing He already promised.

As we do, we’ll walk with Jesus. How could we not? When we walk in the will of God, we’ll be walking hand-in-hand with our Savior, because we will be right where He wants us to be. And that’s the very best place of all to be!

Going Down to Egypt

Posted: August 23, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 46-47, “Going Down to Egypt”

Two steps forward; one step back. That’s the way it can feel a lot of time when it comes to “progress.” Just when we think we’re moving ahead, it seems like we’re going in the opposite direction. As frustrating as that can be at times, progress is still progress. Sometimes (as my parents would often say when teaching me how to drive), “You need to go wrong to go right,” meaning that sometimes you need to take a different direction than what you might think, in order to end up where you want to go. Confusing? Perhaps…but that’s life.

The same thing can take place in our walk with Jesus. We think we have an idea of what God’s plan for us may be, and then all of a sudden, we find ourselves going in another direction. We whine and complain to the Lord in prayer, but when we give Him enough time to do what He wants to do, we find that we’re actually right on track for where we need to be. In hindsight, the only “hiccups” along the way were the ones we caused by our whining and complaining. 😊 Far better to walk in faith, trusting that Jesus knows what He’s doing.

This was a lesson for Israel and his family, when they left the land of God’s promise to go to the land of Egypt. From the perspective of the time, it would have seemed to have been the wrong direction, but it was indeed God’s plan. They needed to go wrong to go right; they needed to go down to Egypt in order for God to deliver them from death and prepare them for the Promised Land forever.

How was it all possible? Remember the context. Years after being sold into slavery, which in turn led to prison, Joseph became the Grand Vizier (the Prime Minister) of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. Joseph led Egypt through seven years of supernatural economic boom, saving up food and grain for seven years of terrible famine to follow. Shortly after the famine began, Joseph unexpectedly encountered his brothers who had betrayed him, as they had come to Egypt to purchase food. Being disguised to them, Joseph tested his brothers, eventually learning that not only was his youngest (full-blooded) brother alive, but that the other ten had reformed and changed. Even Judah (the one who suggested selling Joseph into slavery) had changed, being willing to sacrifice himself in order to save the life of Benjamin. That act of sacrifice was all it took – Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, and they were reconciled.

All of that was wonderful, but there was still a problem: five more years of famine remained. If the family of Israel was to survive, they needed a steady source of food. In this, God’s purposes regarding Joseph were revealed. God had sent Joseph to Egypt so that deliverance might come to Israel. The family needed to pack all they had and leave the land God had promised them. Leaving the land now was the only way they’d be able to live in the land later. It was the only way they would survive and return to their inheritance forever.

That move takes place in Genesis 46-47. Like the old TV show sang, the family of Israel “loaded up the truck and they moved to Bev-er-ly,” Goshen, that is, in the land of Egypt. Of course, it all depended on faith. Did Israel trust God enough to leave the land? Leaving the land wasn’t necessarily leaving God’s promise…not if it was God’s will. Israel needed to walk by faith. So do we.

Genesis 46

  • God’s word to Jacob (1-4)

1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

  1. Israel/Jacob is prepared to leave, having gathered up all his family and all his possessions. But before he does anything, he seeks the Lord. Worship came first. He “offered sacrifices,” and presumably prayed as he did so. Before he gave his time and effort to travel, he gave himself over to God.
    1. Worship isn’t a side-note, nor is it limited to just a few songs sung a couple of times per week. We are to give our whole selves to God in worship, as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). Our worship of God must come first; never as a left-over.
  2. More than being just a good idea, this was necessary. Remember that years earlier, God had specifically forbidden Isaac from leaving Canaan during a famine to go to Egypt (26:2); now Jacob is about to do this very thing. The circumstances seem to be vastly different (they were), but Jacob needed to know God’s will before proceeding. More than what looked to be wisdom according to human planning, he needed to know if it was God’s wisdom & will for him.
    1. The wisdom of men is rarely the wisdom of God! Was it wise of John the Baptist to live in the wilderness eating locusts & honey? Was it wise of Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave family fishing businesses to follow a travelling preacher in Galilee? Was it wise of Paul to abandon a promising career among the Sanhedrin to become a missionary to the Gentiles? From the perspective of men, none of these things make sense, but from the perspective of God it is wonderful! Throughout history, men and women of God have done “foolish things” in the eyes of the world, when it meant that the gospel of Jesus would be made known. The gospel itself is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God! (1 Cor 1:18) Choose to seek and follow God’s wisdom!
  3. Thankfully, God answered…

2 Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 So He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. 4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.”

  1. There are several items of interest. First, note the name change: the narrator referred to “Israel,” whereas God called out for “Jacob.” Twice earlier, God had changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and the narrator used the names somewhat interchangeably, with perhaps an emphasis placed on “Jacob” as the name of the man operating in the flesh, and “Israel” of the name of faith. Why would the two here be mixed? Ultimately, we cannot say for certain, as the Bible simply does not tell us. But consider this: it took faith for Israel to seek the Lord’s will, but it was only because Jacob was so uncertain about God’s will and provision in the first place. There was a bit of the man that operated in faith, and a bit that operated in his flesh at the same time.
    1. Isn’t that so often the case with us? It’s not that on any given day we’re 100% walking in the Spirit, only to be followed the next day by a complete and total failure without any appearance of our Christianity at all. Most of our days are mixed: there are times we respond in faith & times we respond in our flesh. There are times we believe & times we doubt…and sometimes it can be about exactly the same issue! (Praise God for His grace! Praise God for His leading of His Spirit through His word!)
  2. Secondly, notice how God refers to Himself. It never seemed to be the same way twice. In the past at Bethel, God had told Jacob His covenant name (YHWH, 28:13); at Penuel when Jacob wrestled with the Lord, God specifically avoided giving His name (32:29); when Jacob returned to Bethel to rededicate himself and his family, God referred to Himself as El Shaddai (35:11); and that’s the last encounter we read of Jacob and the Lord until Genesis 46. In fact, after the “death” of Joseph, Jacob is rarely recorded even speaking of the Lord, until he deals with the possibility of losing Benjamin (43:14, “God Almighty,” El Shaddai). Finally, after 22 years of possible silence, God speaks again to Jacob, using a different designation altogether: “I am God, the God of your father.” What makes this interesting is that it’s almost generic. This is not a personal name like YHWH, or a title like El Shaddai – it’s not even the typical way the Hebrews referred to God: “Elohim,” using the plural of majesty. It’s simply “El.” But even here, there’s nothing simple about it. The personal pronoun “I” is emphasized, and the term “Elohim” is used, but indirectly. It could be rephrased: “I Myself, the God, Elohim of your father…” On the surface it is indirect, but the implication is so direct that it’s a smack in the face. God is saying, “I am God, your God, the God your father Isaac worshipped, and the God you have come to worship and trust. You know Me!” He is identifying Himself clearly to Jacob/Israel, so that Jacob would know that this word could be trusted.
    1. We have a revelation of God as well: the Lord Jesus! Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,” (Jn 14:9), and that those who are His sheep hear His voice and follow Him, knowing Him (Jn 10:27). When we know Jesus in faith, we know Jesus in truth…and that means we can trust His word.
  3. With the names given, what is said? God had a plan for Israel in Egypt. Jacob shouldn’t be afraid to go, because God would always be with him, and God would be sure to bring him home. Like God’s promises to us through Jesus, He never leaves us nor forsakes us (Heb 13:5) – He will complete the work He has begun (Phil 1:6). What assurance Jacob had! What assurance we have! We never need to be afraid to follow His leading and His word. When the Bible challenges us to step out, we do it!
  4. How did Jacob respond to this word from God? In faith…
  • Jacob’s family moves to Egypt (5-27)

5 Then Jacob arose from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the carts which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6 So they took their livestock and their goods, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him. 7 His sons and his sons’ sons, his daughters and his sons’ daughters, and all his descendants he brought with him to Egypt.

  1. Jacob’s faith is seen in his actions. He gathered everyone together and moved to Egypt. He fully trusted in God’s promise. Jacob didn’t promise one thing to God in Bethel, and then go home, waiting for God to “move” or confirm anything. Jacob already had a word from God, and God’s word was enough. Now it was time to act. That was obedience…that was faith. Faith is always linked with obedience.
    1. You say you have faith? Wonderful! Now show it. As James says, “faith without works is dead,” (Jas 2:17). We need to do more than say we have faith; we need to walk in that faith, which demonstrates that it’s real in the first place. (Beware of using prayer as an excuse not to act!)

If vss. 5-6 are an overview of the move to Egypt, the next several verses are the details. The names of Jacob’s descendants are given, to the point that the reader is given (almost) a comprehensive travel manifest. Jacob obviously had many sons, so the listing is divided out by the various mothers from which they were born.

8 Now these were the names of the children of Israel, Jacob and his sons, who went to Egypt: Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn. 9 The sons of Reuben were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10 The sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. 11 The sons of Levi were Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 12 The sons of Judah were Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan). The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13 The sons of Issachar were Tola, Puvah, Job, and Shimron. 14 The sons of Zebulun were Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15 These were the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Padan Aram, with his daughter Dinah. All the persons, his sons and his daughters, were thirty-three.

  1. The sons of Leah. Reuben is mentioned as the firstborn, and although he remained so physically, his birthright has been lost due to his sin. Otherwise, the names of the sons are familiar to us, although only a few of the grandsons. Of course, to the original readers of Genesis, all of these names were known and of great importance. After all, this was their history – this was their family tree.

16 The sons of Gad were Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17 The sons of Asher were Jimnah, Ishuah, Isui, Beriah, and Serah, their sister. And the sons of Beriah were Heber and Malchiel. 18 These were the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob: sixteen persons.

  1. The sons of Zilpah. Interestingly, another daughter besides Dinah (who was born to Leah) is mentioned: Serah. These are the only two daughters actually included in Jacob’s family tree, which seems unusual. Statistically, there chance of having boys vs. girls is almost equal (51% boys, https://www.thebump.com/a/more-baby-boys-than-girls) – it would seem unusual indeed for a family as large as Jacob’s to have 12 boys and 2 girls. (Not impossible; just unusual.) It seems likely that Jacob had other daughters, but only two are listed. As to the reason, we cannot know – any suggestion would be speculation.

19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, were Joseph and Benjamin. 20 And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him. 21 The sons of Benjamin were Belah, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22 These were the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob: fourteen persons in all.

  1. The sons of Rachel. Remember that Joseph’s children were not born in Canaan; that fact becomes important later with the overall count. Otherwise, it’s of note that Benjamin had 10 sons. He, like his father, had a large family! There is a bit of question as to how old Benjamin was at the time of this move, and whether he had time to become a father 10 times over. His older brothers refer to him as a “lad,” but considering how many years they had on him, that might have been a term they gave him even well into his 30’s.

23 The son of Dan was Hushim. 24 The sons of Naphtali were Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25 These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and she bore these to Jacob: seven persons in all.

  1. The sons of Bilhah. Her descendants had the least numbers of all, even though she bore the same number of sons as Rachel.

26 All the persons who went with Jacob to Egypt, who came from his body, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two persons. All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy.

  1. If vss. 5-7 were an overview, vss. 26-27 are a summary. Earlier, the text states that they all went; now the text states how many So which is it: 66 or 70? It depends how you do the count, which the narrator of Genesis makes clear. There was the number of “persons who went with Jacob to Egypt” (66), and the number of “persons of the house of Jacob” (70). The grandsons Er & Onan died in Canaan, while Joseph and his family were already in Egypt. So 66 went down, while 70 were included in the family.
  2. Even here, the “70” is probably a round number, which may have excluded some daughters from the list. It certainly excluded many of the sons’ wives, meaning there were more than 70 who arrived in Egypt as part of the clan of Israel. So why “70”? There are different theories: (1) It’s a summary, whole number; (2) it’s reflective of the 70 nations of the world listed in Genesis 10. Just like the nations descended from Noah, so did God’s nation descend from Israel.
  3. Whatever the final number really was, what’s most interesting is the comparison between the number that went in to Egypt, and the number that came out. According to Numbers 1:46 & 3:39, there were 625,550 males of age who came out of the land of Egypt (which probably equaled close to one million people overall). Israel went into Egypt as a large family/clan; it came out of Egypt as a nation! And that was God’s plan all along (as will be seen). The family needed to be saved from the famine, but there was a longer-range plan in mind than just meals for the next few years. God had big plans for His people…bigger than they could imagine!
  • Joseph greets his family (28-34)

28 Then he sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out before him the way to Goshen. And they came to the land of Goshen.

  1. Notice who’s leading the family: Judah. Although Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had all been born earlier than Judah, they had disqualified themselves in various ways, and Judah was the only one who had truly stepped up in personal sacrifice to ensure the family’s survival. Although Jacob’s favorite son was still Joseph, Judah was the one who assumed leadership when Joseph was absent. Eventually, even Jacob understands Judah’s position within the tribe, or at least the position of Judah’s Blessed Descendant. The true ruler of Israel is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus Christ!
  2. FYI: Where was Goshen? [MAP] More than a city (though a city has been found with that name), it was a region in Egypt on the eastern side of the Nile delta. It was a large enough area for shepherds to care for their flocks, but separated enough from the rest of Egypt to where the Egyptians did not have to interact with them. 

29 So Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; and he presented himself to him, and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 And Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are still alive.”

  1. The family may have travelled to Goshen to live, but Joseph lived elsewhere. He needed to be physically close to Pharaoh, so wherever Pharaoh’s home was, there was Joseph. That didn’t stop Joseph from arranging a happy reunion with his father, however! It had been 22 years since they last saw each other, so it’s no wonder that they wept tears of joy. Jacob was so happy that he was ready to die right then & there, having received more blessing in that one day than he had in decades.

31 Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘My brothers and those of my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have.’ 33 So it shall be, when Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 that you shall say, ‘Your servants’ occupation has been with livestock from our youth even till now, both we and also our fathers,’ that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

  1. Joseph prepared his brothers for their upcoming meeting with Pharaoh. Like an attorney preparing a witness for trial, so Joseph did with his brothers. It wasn’t that they needed to be deceptive in any way; they just needed to tell the truth in the right way to ensure the right response. Joseph is simply being wise. He wants the best results for his family, and he knew the best way to ask in order to get it. [Customs through foreign airports.] Be wise!
  2. There’s no small irony in the fact that the Egyptians viewed shepherds as “an abomination,” or unclean. After all, these were pagan Gentiles, and this was their opinion of God’s chosen people walking by faith. Who exactly was the real unclean nation?! Even so, this was all part of God’s plan for His people. This was exactly what He needed in order for them to grow into a mighty nation. One of the dangers for the children of Israel was intermarriages with the surrounding pagan cultures – something that was already creeping into the family of Israel with their marriages to Canaanite women. What they needed was time to be effectively quarantined – to be set apart by themselves without the interactions and temptations of the surrounding culture. That was the only way they could become a nation & ethnic group unto themselves. That was the way they could gain a national identity, free from the danger of assimilation into other cultures. So what did God do? He have them a large place to grow among a people who didn’t want anything to do with them! The famine forced Israel out of the land of promise into a land where Jacob’s forefathers had often compromised their faith (which seems bad!). But the way God did it was that He put them there in such a way where they couldn’t compromise, and they would have the full opportunity to grow (which is good!). It was the perfect plan not only to preserve His people, but prosper them!
    1. How many times do we need to remind ourselves that God knows what He’s doing? This wasn’t a step backwards for Israel; this was God’s plan for them to move forward. Trust God’s plan! 

Genesis 47

  • Meeting Pharaoh (1-12)

1 Then Joseph went and told Pharaoh, and said, “My father and my brothers, their flocks and their herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan; and indeed they are in the land of Goshen.” 2 And he took five men from among his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh. 3 Then Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, both we and also our fathers.” 4 And they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to dwell in the land, because your servants have no pasture for their flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now therefore, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.”

  1. Joseph took a representative group and reported back to Pharaoh. They followed through in-person, as Joseph had prepared them.

5 Then Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, saying, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. 6 The land of Egypt is before you. Have your father and brothers dwell in the best of the land; let them dwell in the land of Goshen. And if you know any competent men among them, then make them chief herdsmen over my livestock.”

  1. Pharaoh granted their request of Goshen. It was considered “the best of the land,” and truly it was wonderful land for livestock. It was fertile ground, which meant plenty of grass for grazing animals.
  2. Pharaoh also looked to the family of Israel for potential employees, offering them jobs. He had already found one extremely “competent” man in Joseph – perhaps there were others who could care for Pharaoh’s own livestock. His own Egyptian servants probably detested the work anyway (being unclean), so why not bring on someone more capable from Joseph’s family?
  3. How’s that for answered prayer? God arranged it not only that the family of Israel would live through the famine, but that they would be safe and totally secure in a temporary home. And beyond that, He gave them employment. Months earlier, 10 sons of Jacob came looking to purchase food; now they would be paid for raising it!

7 Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob and set him before Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How old are you?”

  1. If this seems like an odd question, it’s because we need to understand the culture. Although the Bible (to this point) has written of many long lives among the lineage of the Hebrews (even after Noah and the flood), this seems to have been unique among the peoples of the world. The average life expectancy in ancient Egypt was 34 for men, 30 for women. King Tutankhamen was only 18 years old at his death. (https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/2015/03/02/old-age-in-ancient-egypt/) To see a man as aged as Jacob (130 years old) would have been astounding!

9 And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” 10 So Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.

  1. Jacob’s age appeared to be blessed by God (and it was), but Jacob knew the backstory. He didn’t yet have the age of his fathers (Abraham, 175; Isaac, 180). Nor did he have their experience of faithfulness. Jacob deceived his own father Isaac in an attempt to gain the covenant blessing, and had a history of deception and manipulation. By the time of his senior years, Jacob was done making excuses for himself. He knew he had lived days of evil – any blessing he experienced now was only by the grace of God.
    1. 130 years isn’t long enough to earn righteousness, for righteousness can never be earned. We have to live & walk by faith!
  2. BTW – Did you notice that Jacob blessed Pharaoh, not once but twice? (Vss. 7, 10) The greater blesses the lesser (Heb 7:7), and between the most powerful man in the world at the time and an unknown Bedouin shepherd, there was no question as to who was greater!

11 And Joseph situated his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 Then Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with bread, according to the number in their families.

  1. The section concludes with a summary of the whole affair. The family settled in Egypt, and was saved from the famine. God had delivered them, and used a pagan nation to do it!
  2. Speaking of the famine…Joseph’s primary job was to deal with it. How did he do it? That’s where the narrative picks up.
  • Joseph’s administration during the famine (13-26)

13 Now there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought; and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.

  1. Reviews how the famine spread beyond Egypt to the rest of the ancient world. The fact that the famine affected Canaan was the reason Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt in the first place. Everyone was hungry, and everyone had heard that Egypt had massive food stores. So they came with their money to purchase, and they did. In his previous roles in Egypt, Joseph had made his former masters rich; now he did the same thing with Pharaoh. All kinds of money came into the coffers of Pharaoh, as the world came to Egypt to buy food.

15 So when the money failed in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us bread, for why should we die in your presence? For the money has failed.” 16 Then Joseph said, “Give your livestock, and I will give you bread for your livestock, if the money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the cattle of the herds, and for the donkeys. Thus he fed them with bread in exchange for all their livestock that year.

  1. Eventually the money ran out. Instead of buying food with cash, they bought food with cattle (so to speak). Joseph entered into a bartering system, using the livestock as the exchange for food.
  2. It seems ironic that although shepherds were considered unclean abominations in Egypt, it was the fruit of their labors that became used as currency. No doubt everyone in Egypt wanted to know a shepherd or rancher at this point!

18 When that year had ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is gone; my lord also has our herds of livestock. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants of Pharaoh; give us seed, that we may live and not die, that the land may not be desolate.”

  1. As with the cash, eventually the cattle ran out. Having nothing left to offer Pharaoh, the people offered themselves and their land. Basically, they proposed giving themselves as slaves. Although it seems extreme to modern ears, for ancient times it was a way of ensuring food and safety. If they were (in essence) property of Pharaoh, then Pharaoh was obligated to protect them and provide their basic necessities. They would lose their freedom, but they would be ensured of food and shelter. After all, dead or sick slaves are no good to a king; he needs healthy people. So in their minds, this was making the best of a bad situation.
  2. And Joseph agreed…

20 Then Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for every man of the Egyptians sold his field, because the famine was severe upon them. So the land became Pharaoh’s. 21 And as for the people, he moved them into the cities, from one end of the borders of Egypt to the other end. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy; for the priests had rations allotted to them by Pharaoh, and they ate their rations which Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their lands.

  1. Joseph bought literally everything in Egypt for Pharaoh. Although Pharaoh was already the sovereign king, people still had their own possessions. Now he had everything. There was no limit on his power or possessions among the Egyptians. Truly, Joseph could not have enriched his master more than what he did. Elevating Joseph to his Grand Vizier was the best decision Pharaoh ever made!
  2. Interestingly, the priests were exempt. This was likely Pharaoh’s way of currying favor with the “gods.” If he provided freely for the priests, then he was earning credit with the gods he worshipped. Obviously, the gods were fake, but the benefit to the priests was real.

23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Indeed I have bought you and your land this day for Pharaoh. Look, here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And it shall come to pass in the harvest that you shall give one-fifth to Pharaoh. Four-fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and for your food, for those of your households and as food for your little ones.” 25 So they said, “You have saved our lives; let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants.” 26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have one-fifth, except for the land of the priests only, which did not become Pharaoh’s.

  1. Not only were the people to be enslaved, but they were to be taxed. Yet this is far better than what some think it to be. The 20% tax commanded by Joseph was no different than the tax during the years of abundance (41:34). Considering that the people and land now belonged to Pharaoh, things could have very easily have done the other way: the people might have been forced to give four-fifths to Pharaoh, while only keeping one-fifth for themselves. What Joseph proposed was very generous, and it treated these new slaves more like free-citizens than mere property.
  2. And the people recognized it at the time: “You have saved our lives.” Those aren’t the words of people who feel oppressed; they were grateful! We need to be careful not to judge people of ancient times by modern cultural standards. They may have been slaves (or serfs, depending on your definition), but their slavery was nothing like the evil institution that existed in the United States until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The account of Joseph’s administration being complete, the narrator turns his attention back to his family. By this point, the famine has ended in Egypt but the family remains. What happens to them? How does this all eventually lead to the events of Moses & the Exodus? That is what the remainder of Genesis addresses.

  • Final wishes of Jacob (27-31)

27 So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and grew and multiplied exceedingly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the length of Jacob’s life was one hundred and forty-seven years.

  1. God blessed the growth of the people. Again, this was God’s whole plan from the start: to allow a family to grow into a nation. To be sure, they would grow so numerous that later Pharaohs see Israel as a threat, and God had a plan for dealing with that as well. But they had to first survive if they were to grow, and they had to grow if they were to become a nation. God ensured it was done.
  2. God blessed the life of Jacob/Israel. He still didn’t attain to the age of his fathers, but 147 is still quite old!

29 When the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers; you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” And he said, “I will do as you have said.” 31 Then he said, “Swear to me.” And he swore to him. So Israel bowed himself on the head of the bed.

  1. Made Joseph swear to bury him in the cave of Machpelah, back in Canaan. That was the burial place of Abraham and Isaac, and it was to be the burial place of Jacob as well.
  2. Why did Jacob ask for an official oath? Because that’s how much it meant to him. Remember that Abraham had his servant do something similar when sent out to find a bride for Isaac (Gen 24); Jacob has Joseph make the same solemn promise that his body will be taken back home for burial.
  3. What’s the big deal? Because Jacob was looking forward to God’s promise. Remember that God told Jacob that God would always be with him, and would bring him up again out of Egypt back to the land. God never promised that Jacob would be alive when he was brought up – in fact, God specifically said that Joseph would put his hands on Jacob’s eyes (46:4), probably a reference to closing ones’ eyes at death. But God’s promise to Jacob was two-fold. Not only would Jacob’s body be brought back to the land, but so also the fruit of his body. The family of Israel would not forever remain in Egypt – they would all go back home to the Promised Land. And that’s the point here. Jacob had been in Egypt for 17 years, and Joseph for 39. Yet Egypt was not their home; Canaan was. By Jacob looking back to the Promised Land even in burial, he is trusting God’s Even in death, Israel was walking in faith.

Conclusion:

In a sense, Chapter 47 ends how Chapter 46 began: with Jacob looking to God in faith. He looked for God’s reassurances that going to Egypt was acceptable, and he received far more: assurances that this was actually God’s plan for him, and God promised to bring him out again. Israel would go into Egypt, but he wouldn’t remain there. Why? Because Israel had to become a nation if Israel was to ever have a king. And Israel would need a king if it was to ever have a Messiah. And a Messiah was needed not just for Israel, but for all of us! In the meantime, Israel needed to trust God, walk by faith, walk in wisdom, and trust the long-range plans of God.

Not much changes through the millennia, does it? We still need to walk by faith, walk in wisdom, and trust God. Faith was need for the family of Israel to go to Egypt – wisdom was needed for when they arrived – and all of it was grounded in trusting that God knew what was best. Likewise for us. There will be times that we don’t understand what it is God is doing. Why did the all-powerful sovereign God allow us to be betrayed by a friend – get sick in our body – or have our lives otherwise smacked against the wall? God has the power to prevent it, and He has the knowledge to warn us of it. Why did He let us endure it? Some of those questions don’t have easy answers, but they do have a clear response: trust. We’ve got to trust that God knows what He’s going, and as with Jacob, know that Jesus never leaves us or forsakes us and that He will always see us through to the end. It may feel like two steps forward & one step back, but it’s progress the way God wants us to make progress, and His end result is far more than what we can imagine. So we trust God, step out in faith, and ask for wisdom along the way.

The Big Reveal

Posted: August 16, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 44-45, “The Big Reveal”

“And now it’s time for the big reveal!” We’ve watched it so often on TV, it has almost become cliché. Be it Al Capone’s empty vault in the 80’s, or a home renovated by the “Fixer Upper” crew today, it’s common to watch a TV show all the way through to the end, tension building the whole time to the final moments when the curtains are pulled back, and the final product is revealed to everyone watching. [I had my experience with this a few years ago when I shaved my beard, which I had worn since 1996/1997. My wife and daughter waited patiently at the dining table while I was shaving in the bathroom, and came out to laughs, tears, and surprise. The big reveal!]

The Bible has its own moments of “big reveals,” (not the least, the moment the Lord Jesus was born of Mary in Bethlehem!), one of which is found in Joseph. Disguised to his brothers as he tested their potential change of character, finally Joseph allows the disguise to fall, and he reveals himself to his family for who he truly is – promising safety and deliverance to all. What’s more than that, is that the plan of God is finally revealed. Twenty long years of suffering and sorrow had passed for the sons of Israel, but in the end, Joseph could both see and proclaim what God had been doing all along: working out His glorious plan of salvation.

We need to remember that it had been a hard twenty years! Joseph was only 17 years old when he incurred the jealous wrath of his brothers. Joseph had been the favored son of Jacob, though he was the 2nd to youngest, having been born of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. The other 10 brothers resented him dearly, and betrayed him at their first opportunity. Originally 9 of the brothers sought his death, though Reuben convinced them to spare his life. Yet Joseph wasn’t freed – Judah quickly came up with an alternate plan: sell Joseph to some passing traders, and make a few coins off the life of their brother. The remaining 8 brothers agreed, and even Reuben ended up joining the lie to their father, allowing Jacob to believe that Joseph had been torn to pieces by a wild animal.

Of course Joseph lived, and by outward standards, it seemed that his life got far worse before it got better. He went from a household slave/steward, to being falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. He went from being the chief prison servant helping interpret dreams of Pharaoh’s household, to being forgotten in the dungeon for two years. Finally, Joseph had the opportunity to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh himself, and that led to his elevation from the prison to being prime minister (the grand vizier). Joseph guided the Egyptian nation through 7 years of tremendous agricultural abundance, all in preparation for 7 years of terrible famine. By this point, he had a wife, two sons, power, riches…basically anyone could ever ask for – with the exception of any reconciliation with his birth-family.

That’s when his brothers arrived. Two years into the famine, the sons of Israel were hungry in Canaan, and came to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognized them immediately, though they didn’t have a clue who he was. He maintained his disguise, speaking to them through an interpreter, and set about putting them to the test. Joseph got them to speak freely about their family, learning that his younger brother Benjamin was alive, and with his father in Canaan. Upon accusing the brothers of being spies, Joseph declared that the only way the brothers would be able to receive any future food was if they brought Benjamin to Egypt, for Joseph to see him with their own eyes.

Back in Canaan, Jacob was terribly upset to learn what had happened, and at first refused to allow Benjamin to go. Finally, the severity of the famine forced Jacob’s hand, and Benjamin travelled down to Egypt with his 10 older brothers. Once again they saw Joseph, and Joseph prepared a feast for them all, giving several hints that he knew the brothers better than they realized, and providing a 5-fold blessing for Benjamin.

So now what? Is it ‘happily ever after’? Not quite. By now, he knew that Benjamin was alive, and that his brothers had an outward appearance of being content with Benjamin’s blessing – but would it remain that way when Joseph wasn’t in the room? Was Benjamin really safe with these 10 men who had so badly betrayed Joseph two decades earlier? That’s when Joseph decides on one final test. When placed in an impossible situation, would the brothers freely abandon Benjamin, saying “good riddance” to the last son of Rachel? Would they make excuses, and go on their way? No doubt Joseph could provide for his brother in Egypt far better than anyone could in Canaan. If he wasn’t safe with his brothers, Joseph could ensure his forever safety. Moreover, how could he be reconciled with his brothers if they had never changed in their hearts? What if they were truly unrepentant? Joseph had the power to act either as a benevolent king, or an executioner. He needed to learn what was in their hearts, so he put them to one final test.

Once again, there is deception on the part of Joseph – something that never happens on the part of Jesus. But after the deception is done & Joseph is revealed, what happens next is something like Jesus: he showers his brothers with forgiveness and grace. In fact, Jesus’ acts are seen from more than one son of Jacob; two sons mirror Jesus in different ways. Both ways point us back to the marvelous plan of God, all of which begins to come to fruition. God was (and is) always working. We need to trust Him for what He does, and witness of Him wherever we go!

Genesis 44

  • The final test (44:1-17); Framing the brothers (1-5)

1 And he commanded the steward of his house, saying, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. 2 Also put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain money.” So he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken. 3 As soon as the morning dawned, the men were sent away, they and their donkeys. 4 When they had gone out of the city, and were not yet far off, Joseph said to his steward, “Get up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and with which he indeed practices divination? You have done evil in so doing.’ ”

  1. It was basically a sting operation. Joseph framed his brothers to make it look like they had committed a crime. A distinctive silver cup was placed in the sack of Benjamin, making it seem as if Benjamin had stolen it for himself. Ultimately, it was a test. Joseph wanted to see if they would abandon Benjamin. Would they believe Benjamin’s protests of innocence? Would they give the “little thief” over to the Egyptians? How far would they go to protect their brother, if at all? It would soon be revealed.
  2. Question: Did Joseph really practice “divination,” a form of witchcraft? It’s highly unlikely. This was another part of the deception and disguise towards his brothers. Joseph didn’t do divination, but his brothers didn’t know that. It was common enough among rulers of pagan nations, and the brothers would have easily have thought it true of this Egyptian Prime Minister. In the end, it was a bluff…and an effective one, at that.
  • Protest and discovery (6-13)

6 So he overtook them, and he spoke to them these same words. 7 And they said to him, “Why does my lord say these words? Far be it from us that your servants should do such a thing. 8 Look, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house?

  1. Understandably, when accused by Joseph’s servant of theft, the brothers claimed their innocence. They had just enjoyed the gracious hospitality of the Prime Minister, and it was unthinkable to them that anyone would abuse their host so much through theft. 
  2. Moreover, they pointed out that the accusation was illogical. On their first trip to & from Egypt, Joseph had their purchasing money placed back in their sacks without their knowledge. This frightened them to no end, and they brought back double the money upon their return to Egypt, just to prove the fact they hadn’t attempted to defraud the governor. Why then, would they feel the need to steal a single silver cup? Money was never an issue for the brothers – they needed food; not cash. The theft of this cup simply didn’t make any sense. Surely it couldn’t be them…

9 With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” 10 And he said, “Now also let it be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and you shall be blameless.”

  1. Rash vow! They promised death to the thief, and the enslavement of the rest. These would be words they would soon regret!
  2. Even so, the severity of their vow demonstrates their strong belief in their innocence. They had no idea that they had been framed. More than that, they had no question about each other’s character. Be it Reuben or Benjamin, none of the 11 brothers thought it possible that any one of the others would engage in such an act of evil. They believed the best of one another…a sign of true, godly love (1 Cor 13:7).
    1. Although the vow of the brothers is not to be emulated, this aspect of their love is. The brothers had not always believed the best of one another, particularly Joseph. When told of a dream that had them bowing to Joseph as a ruler, they immediately thought the worst & planned the worst. But over time, this changed and they now believed the best. When confronted with the accusation of one of them being a thief, the idea was so terrible that they couldn’t even conceive of it.
    2. This is how it ought to be within the body of Christ! As Paul ends his famous description of agape love to the Corinthians, he writes of love: [it] 1 Corinthians 13:7, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That’s not to say that it’s impossible for born-again Christians never do anything wrong – common experience (if not the last few hours/minutes) proves otherwise. But we ought to be very hesitant to jump to conclusions. Love believes the best of one another, and when faced with questions, love ought to be our first assumption. 

11 Then each man speedily let down his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. 12 So he searched. He began with the oldest and left off with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

  1. Imagine the tension! The servant purposefully left Benjamin for last, knowing all the while that the cup was in his sack.

13 Then they tore their clothes, and each man loaded his donkey and returned to the city.

  1. Grief! As if someone had died…which was very nearly the case. Remember their vow was that the thief would immediately die, while the rest of the 10 brothers would become slaves. Unknowingly, their rash vow was the potential death sentence for their youngest brother – the one whom they were sworn by their father to protect. They did the only thing they knew to do in their emotion & rend their outer garments in utter grief.
  2. The last time clothes were torn in Genesis? When Jacob believed Joseph was dead (Gen 37:34). In fact, the only other time this word was used in Genesis in the same context was when Reuben learned of Joseph’s sale into slavery (Gen 37:29). The grief that the brothers inflicted upon others due to their treatment of Joseph came back upon them. (We reap what we sow!)
  3. Can you imagine the trek back to the house of Joseph? Surely every step felt like their feet were weighted down…
  • Joseph and Judah (14-17)

14 So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there; and they fell before him on the ground. 15 And Joseph said to them, “What deed is this you have done? Did you not know that such a man as I can certainly practice divination?”

  1. 4th fulfillment of Joseph’s original dreams. The first time the brothers bowed was when they first arrived in Egypt (42:6), the second and third times were upon their return with Benjamin (43:26, 28). Now they do it again – this time, not in greeting, but in humility as they seek mercy in the face of judgment.
    1. Considering that Joseph waited 20 years for his dreams to be fulfilled, they were fulfilled abundantly! Wait upon the Lord…He is good to His promises!
  2. Joseph sees the despair of his brothers, yet keeps up the deceit. He knows they’re innocent of theft – after all, it was his command that planted the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. He has his brothers on the rope, and he knows it. That’s just where he wanted them to be: stressed to the max, to see how they would respond.
  3. Although it ought to go without saying, the Bible does not endorse deceit, although this was the plan of Joseph. God does not lie (Num 23:19), nor can God lie (Tts 1:2). Deceit is against the very character of God, for Jesus is the truth (Jn 14:6). Thus, although God used the plan of Joseph for His purposes, the plan of Joseph does not reflect the nature of God. God used the deceit of Joseph the same way God used the betrayal by Joseph’s brothers…all as a part of His sovereign plan to reveal His glory.
    1. The point? Joseph may be a hero in this story, but not everything he did was heroic. Joseph was a man, just like anyone today. Our true hero & example is the Lord Jesus. It is He we should follow, before anyone else!

16 Then Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father.”

  1. Before we look at what was said, notice who spoke: Judah. It was not Reuben the firstborn who lost his birthright, nor Simeon the second-born who would have inherited the birthright – it was Judah who spoke on behalf of the rest of the brothers. In fact, this was set up two verses earlier in 44:14, “So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house.” How is it that Judah became the spokesman for the sons of Israel? Because Judah was the one entrusted by his father Israel with the mission (43:13). It wasn’t Reuben, who stupidly offered up two of his sons to die in Benjamin’s place; it was Judah who offered himself that gained the trust of his father. That act set Judah apart as the leader of the other brothers, perhaps foreshadowing how the tribe of Judah would lead the nation of Israel forever.
  2. As to what Judah said, although the brothers were innocent, they did not deny their “” They had guilt of their own – if not for the theft of the cup, then for sin of a greater kind. In the end, it was God who revealed the guilt of the brothers to Joseph. The governor and his servant may have accused the brothers of one crime, but God knew what had really happened, and God allowed the brothers to have their iniquity laid bare for judgment.
    1. Judah recognized something many people today forget: all sin will be judged by Almighty God. People today believe that as long as they aren’t convicted of a crime, then their own sins are minor & forgotten. Not so! God knows each and every one, and He will hold all people accountable for them. Our only hope is to be found in Jesus Christ, Who has already paid the price for those sins. Without His sacrifice, we have no hope!
  3. Judah offered all the brothers as slaves, for in his mind, all the brothers were guilty (and they were, regarding Joseph!) Joseph, on the other hand, claimed to be more righteous than to take all the brothers for the sin of one. He wanted only Benjamin as a slave, while the others were free to go (exactly as his servant had previously said to them). This put the brothers into an impossible situation: leave as free men with Benjamin enslaved? What choice did they have? That’s when Judah spoke up…
  • Judah’s intercession (44:18-34); Joseph’s command to see Benjamin (18-23)

18 Then Judah came near to him and said: “O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, who is young; his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’

  1. Judah begins to recount the entire story back to Joseph, humbly and respectfully walking the Egyptian Prime Minister through the events that brought Benjamin to Egypt in the first place.
  2. Emphasizes two things at first: (1) The only reason Benjamin had come was because of the command of the disguised-Joseph. (2) Benjamin was beloved of his father. Judah expands on both points as his speech continues…

21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 But you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’

  1. Again, this had been a direct order. The brothers had voiced their objections to bringing Benjamin, but Joseph had strongly commanded it.
  2. Keep in mind that Joseph knew all of this, and Judah knew that Joseph knew all of this. What Judah was doing was interceding, according to the custom of the day, which included reviewing all of the background as he carefully prepared the way for his request. They remembered what had been done in the past, as they looked to the need in the present.
    1. This isn’t unlike what we do in our own intercession and prayers before God. How often do we recount the events of our past before we make request for the present? Obviously God knows these things, so why speak them? It doesn’t help God (as if God needs to be reminded of anything!); it helps us. It helps us think through our issues, think through God’s character, think through His past answers, which all helps us trust Him for the present time. Remembering what God has done helps us trust Him for what He’s doing, and what He will do.
  • Jacob’s hesitance in sending Benjamin (24-29)

24 “So it was, when we went up to your servant my father, that we told him the words of my lord. 25 And our father said, ‘Go back and buy us a little food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down; if our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we may not see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since. 29 But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.’

  1. Benjamin had been brought only as a last resort. Jacob had strongly objected to the thought of losing Benjamin as he had lost Joseph. The last time a son of Rachel went with the brothers, he didn’t return. Jacob couldn’t bear the thought of the same thing happening, which is why he waited so long to send the boy.
  2. The way Judah refers to the death of Joseph is very close to a full-out confession. Obviously Judah did not feel as if he could confess to the crime of sibling betrayal to this foreign Prime Minister – that might bring other terrible consequences, leaving him in a position unable to help Benjamin. But neither does Judah state a lie; he states only what his father said of Joseph. After 20 years, all the brothers assumed that Joseph was dead (vs. 20), but nowhere did Judah state that Benjamin’s brother had died by animal attack; only that was what Jacob believed. Judah told the truth, at least selectively.
    1. The difference between our confession & Judah’s is that ours needs to be total. When we speak to God, we don’t “nuance” our sin to give us potential excuses for committing it; we just confess it. It is what it is, and we did what we did. No excuses, no holds barred. And what happens when we do this while we have faith in Christ Jesus? We experience cleansing & forgiveness! (1 Jn 1:9) For many people, confession is terrifying, but it need not be. When we have faith in Jesus as the crucified & resurrected Son of God, then we are made children of God. Thus we have a loving heavenly Father who wants to forgive & cleanse us, so that we might be free. Christian, enjoy your freedom! Confess your sin and be cleansed!
  • Jacob’s tie to Benjamin (30-31)

30 “Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, 31 it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave.

  1. Judah’s conclusion: without Benjamin, Jacob would die. If the Egyptian Prime Minister kept Benjamin as a slave, then he would be taking two lives; not one. He would deprive a family not only of a son, but of the head of their household.
  2. So what is to be done? How can justice be served, yet life still be saved? That’s when Judah finally makes his request…
  • Judah’s substitution for Benjamin (32-34)

32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?”

  1. The request: substitute Judah for Benjamin. One life for another, letting Judah serve out the sentence of his younger brother. The punishment is still meted out, only a volunteer stepped into the place of the one who was judged guilty. In Judah’s mind, this was his only hope for the life of his father. Save Benjamin, save Jacob. Judah had prepared himself for this already, even before leaving Canaan a second time for Egypt. Now the time had come to give his own life, and he was willing to do it.
  2. What a great picture of Jesus, and this time from Judah; not Joseph! This is what Christ did for us: He served as our substitute. This was the whole reason He took on the flesh of men, becoming a true man. He had to become a suitable, perfect substitute for human beings, and the only way He could do that was to become a human being Himself. So He did. This was His plan from before the foundation of the world, what He had always intended to do, so when the time came there was no hesitation. Jesus willingly laid down His life for us, doing what we could never do, in order that we could live. 
  3. And likewise, He is our only hope for life! Just like Judah’s sacrifice was the only way to save both Benjamin & Jacob, Jesus’ sacrifice is the only way to save you & me. Otherwise, we are in an impossible situation, with no way out. Otherwise, we must face justice, and in our case, we haven’t been framed with false charges. We’ve earned our sentence, being fully guilty of our sin & crimes. Yet Jesus still gave Himself for us – a glorious substitute the likes the world has never known!

Genesis 45 – Joseph revealed (45:1-28)

  • Joseph’s emotional unveiling (1-4)

1 Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Make everyone go out from me!” So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. 4 And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” So they came near. Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.

  1. We can easily imagine the emotion bubbling up at this point. It was all too much for Joseph, and he commanded privacy for he and his brothers so he could weep over them and reveal himself to them. It wasn’t secret; just private. The Egyptians knew what happened and soon rejoiced over it.
  2. When Joseph did reveal himself to his brothers, they were in quite a bit of disbelief – understandably so. Although they hadn’t killed Joseph, they undoubtedly though him to be dead. They certainly didn’t expect to see him again, much less in the royal courts of Egypt. By this point, Joseph dropped the need for an interpreter, and spoke to his brothers directly. He even invited them to come near to see his face, that they might recognize a hint of the 17 year old they once knew.
  3. Once they did know, it’s no wonder they were “dismayed!” The last they saw of Joseph, he had been screaming for their help, asking for mercy from the Midianite slavery. They had been callous to his cries while he was trapped in the cistern, and they were hard-hearted as they sold him as a slave. Was this the moment of retribution? Would they all be slain or enslaved? Something much bigger had been at work – as Joseph explained to them…
  • God’s purpose in Joseph’s life (5-8)

5 But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

  1. Notice that Joseph never denies their sin – he doesn’t pretend it never existed, nor explain it all away as if it doesn’t matter. They had “sold” Joseph to Egypt, without question. But in that was something bigger. Their sin was God’s providence. It was God who acted. Twice Joseph says “God sent me before you,” acknowledging the sovereign hand of God that had been at work the whole time. The brothers had intended evil against Joseph, but God’s plan was for good. God’s plan was for “a great deliverance.” The Hebrew word for “deliverance” could be translated “escape” – God had planned a great escape for the family of Israel from the famine. Joseph’s “death” would lead to life for them all. This had been God’s plan the entire time.
  2. How amazing it is that God can (and does) use even our sin to bring about His glory! That does not excuse our sin. We dare not sin, in order that grace may increase (Rom 6:1). But the magnitude of the sovereignty of God! It’s unfathomable! Think of it: God used sibling betrayal to bring about salvation of all the siblings and their family. And that’s only one example…God even has purposes for Satan in His overall plan, using the devil as a tool to bring judgment upon the earth during the Great Tribulation. The gods of false religions have to adapt to things that work against them; the true God of all Creation need not adapt at all – He uses it all.
    1. Christian, is your faith in that God? If we’re being honest, sometimes we think that God is just as lost as we are in reaction to the things of this world, as if God has to make things up on the fly. Not so…not by a long shot! Our God knows the end from the beginning, and He has it all planned out for His glory! Trust Him!

8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

  1. Affirms again God’s action – not only in sending Joseph to Egypt, but in making him its “” It serves as a not-so-subtle reminder to the brothers of Joseph’s earlier dream that they despised. (37:8) Yes, they did bow to Joseph, who did rule over them. But it wasn’t to their detriment; it was for their deliverance.
  2. Question: Since it was God who sent Joseph to Egypt, and not the brothers per se, did the brothers bear any responsibility? Yes! God’s sovereignty never excuses our sin. Again, God has purposes for Satan, but Satan will still be judged for his rebellion and cast into the lake of fire. Likewise, when people sin against God, it is truly sin. Yes, God knew it would happen, God planned for it to happen, and God has plans for it when it happens (i.e. Judas Iscariot) – but we still have freewill over what we decide to do. We were the ones who chose to do it, so we bear the blame. Jesus bears the punishment for our sin, but not the responsibility. That is ours, and ours alone. 
  • Joseph’s command to bring Jacob (9-15)

9 “Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph: “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you and your children, your children’s children, your flocks and your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty; for there are still five years of famine.” ’

  1. What a wonderful turnaround! The favored son was to provide for all the household of his beloved father. Jacob had suffered two years of famine, but he wouldn’t suffer through any more. Joseph would make sure of that!

12 “And behold, your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 So you shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen; and you shall hurry and bring my father down here.”

  1. The brothers’ job? They were to serve as eyewitnesses of Joseph’s glory. They were to tell their father of the things they had seen and experienced. Jacob would be just as slow to believe as were the brothers, so they needed to testify clearly and surely that they had seen Joseph.
  2. Sound familiar? This is the job of every born-again believer in Christ! Go, witness! Tell what you have seen & experienced. Tell others, who are slow to believe, of Jesus. Tell of how your life has been changed when you experienced His grace and glory, and then bring them, so they can experience the same thing too!

14 Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. 15 Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.

  1. There was more weeping, but these were good tears! Reconciliation and forgiveness extended to all. It wasn’t Benjamin alone that Joseph hugged; it was each of them.
  2. Can you imagine the joy of the moment? How wonderful! No grudges held – no hard feelings. Just freedom and forgiveness…that’s the love of Christ!
  • Pharaoh’s command to bring Jacob (16-20)

16 Now the report of it was heard in Pharaoh’s house, saying, “Joseph’s brothers have come.” So it pleased Pharaoh and his servants well.

  1. It may seem like a side-note, but it was important. Remember that the only person who outranked Joseph in Egypt was Pharaoh. Joseph could have promised his brothers the moon, but if Pharaoh disagreed, the brothers would receive nothing. Instead, the whole reconciliation “pleased Pharaoh,” and he affirmed everything Joseph already said to them…

17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and depart; go to the land of Canaan. 18 Bring your father and your households and come to me; I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat the fat of the land. 19 Now you are commanded—do this: Take carts out of the land of Egypt for your little ones and your wives; bring your father and come. 20 Also do not be concerned about your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’ ”

  1. Pharaoh promised the very best of the land to the family of Israel. At this point, he was a gracious host, extending a hand of friendship to the family of his most trusted advisor.
  2. It wouldn’t remain this way for long! Kings come & go with the generations, and the same thing happened with the line of Pharaoh. Joseph’s advisory position did not pass to his sons, and soon all the Hebrews became unwelcome guests, and eventual slaves. Yet God had a plan for that as well, all of which unfolds in the book of Exodus.
  • Joseph’s gifts to his brothers (21-24)

21 Then the sons of Israel did so; and Joseph gave them carts, according to the command of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. 22 He gave to all of them, to each man, changes of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of garments. 23 And he sent to his father these things: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and food for his father for the journey.

  1. To say that Joseph “gave them provisions for the journey” vastly understates things. He gave them a mere taste of the riches he possessed in Egypt. His brother and father received the full measure of his love, but all of the brothers received vastly more than what they needed. This is nothing less than grace. (Just like we’ve received from Jesus!)

24 So he sent his brothers away, and they departed; and he said to them, “See that you do not become troubled along the way.”

  1. Joseph gave gifts, but he also gave a warning. Now that the truth of Joseph was known, there was the potential danger among the brothers of things going back to what they were before. NKJV speaks of “trouble,” but NASB says “Do not quarrel on the journey.” Probably a better translation – the Hebrew word (רָגַז) is to “agitate, quiver, shake, excite,” (NIDOTT). Once the jealousy was gone, the brothers were warned not to let it return. Their relationship had become loving & peaceful, and needed to remain that way.
  2. There’s wisdom in this sort of warning. It’s easy to fall back into old habits, even after problems have been addressed and forgiveness extended. The last thing we want to do is to go back to the way we were before. Be vigilant! Keep on the watch for hazards that might trip you up into quarrels and troubles.
  • Jacob’s disbelief (25-28)

25 Then they went up out of Egypt, and came to the land of Canaan to Jacob their father. 26 And they told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.” And Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them.

  1. The brothers returned home, and related the story – all to Jacob’s understandable disbelief. He was in shock at the news, and wasn’t sure how to respond.
  2. We have to wonder: How much did the brothers tell Jacob? How much did they confess? All Genesis states is that they told of Joseph’s life and Egyptian position; there’s nothing said of how Joseph got there. Even so, this wasn’t the time for blame-casting; it was a day for joy. Only, the joy would never be experienced if Jacob didn’t believe. His son was alive, whether Jacob believed it or not. The only way he’d have the joy of the moment is if he believed the testimony that was told to him.
    1. It’s no different with the gospel. Jesus is alive, and His forgiveness & grace is available. All people need to do is believe. They’ll never experience the joy of Jesus if they never believe the news of Jesus…but it doesn’t change the fact that the news is true. 

27 But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived. 28 Then Israel said, “It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

  1. Did you notice the name change? Jacob doubted; Israel believed. Same man; different person – all depending on whether he walked in faith. 

Conclusion:

How glorious a revelation! One moment, the 11 brothers are trembling before an Egyptian governor, begging for mercy; the next moment, they’re hugging their brother’s neck. Hearts had changed, humility had come, and relationships were reconciled. Joseph saw not only the work of God in bringing him to Egypt, but the work of God in the lives of his brothers. When even Judah (the one who sold Joseph into slavery) was willing to become a slave in order to save Benjamin, Joseph could not contain his emotion at the grace of God.

How awesome our God is! How amazing is His grace! He can change anyone. There is no one beyond His reach, no problem too hard for Him to solve. If God can bring glory out of slavery, and reconcile the family of Jacob, imagine what God can do for you! In fact, think upon what God has already done for you. As a born-again Christian, God has forgiven you of every single sin, has cleansed you from all guilt, has given you new life, filled you with His Spirit, made you His child, and promised you an eternal inheritance. And that’s even with God knowing every single thing you’ve done in the past, as well as everything you’ll do in the future. He still does that. That’s grace!

If God can do it with you, God can do it with anyone. Don’t stop praying for them – don’t stop telling them of Jesus. They may be slow to believe, but we are consistent in our witness. We continually tell of His glory and His grace, so they can experience the same.

As we do, we trust God’s plan. God has all things under His control, using them for His glory – even the things that seem most sinful and evil in this world. Nothing is beyond God’s sovereign power, and praise God that it is not! This universe is not reeling out of control; it is safely in the hands of God. Trust Him.

Joseph Undercover

Posted: August 9, 2018 in Genesis, Uncategorized

Genesis 42-43, “Joseph Undercover”

“Reality TV” is usually anything but reality. People, cast according to personality, are often put into stressful situations, just to see how they are going to react. Sometimes it works well; other times, not so much. One formula that seems to work is found on a program called “Undercover Boss,” where the owner or CEO of a large company puts on a disguise, and works entry-level jobs alongside his/her own employees. Sometimes, the boss learns some good lessons along the way – other times, he/she discovers some bad practices (and people) that need quite a bit of correction.

Scripture has its own “undercover boss” in the person of Joseph. In this case, it wasn’t the boss who disguised himself to go among others – Joseph had assumed a new life, and the “others” came to him. Joseph immediately recognized the opportunity, and didn’t let it go to waste. He needed to learn if things had changed back home, and that would let him know how to proceed.

Back up a bit: remember that Joseph was where he was by the grace of God. Although he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, which led to later imprisonment, things drastically changed for Joseph when he had the opportunity to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. In an instant, Joseph went from being a prisoner to the prime minister, empowered by Pharaoh as 2nd in command of all Egypt, wisely guiding the nation through seven years of abundant agricultural blessing and seven years of terrible famine.

As we’ll see, it was while Joseph governed Egypt during the famine that he suddenly came face to face with his brothers. It was not yet a happy reunion, for Joseph did not yet know their hearts. The last time he saw them, they had just barely steered away from murdering him, instead choosing to sell Joseph into slavery. Why? All because he was the favorite son of his father, and because God gave him dreams of his eventual superiority (something not even his father appreciated!). As bad as it had been for Joseph, he still had a baby brother to think about. What had happened to Benjamin? What if Benjamin had received not only the favor of their father, but also the jealousy of their brothers? Had the 10 brothers treated Benjamin like they treated Joseph? Joseph had to find out, so he decided to put his brothers to the test.

What follows is a bit of deception, manipulation, disguise, and intrigue. (IOW, Jacob hatches a plot worthy of his father Jacob!) Yet it wasn’t for Joseph to gain the upper hand…after all, he already had all the power he needed; it was to gain an understanding of his brothers’ hearts and minds. Joseph had changed in the past 20 years – had they? Had they ever come to a point of repentance, or were they just as nasty as ever? Joseph needed to find out, so he could know how to go forward.

In these chapters, we don’t necessarily see Joseph at his best (though we do see him at the height of his power) – but we do still see the sovereignty of God in action. Old promises are kept as dreams are fulfilled, and the transformation that God makes in the lives of His people is evident. God’s promises are always true. Go to Him for provision and grace, and while you do, be sure to believe Him at His word!

Genesis 42

  • Jacob sends his sons (42:1-5)

1 When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.”

  1. Remember that the dreams of Pharaoh illustrated the years of the famine being so severe, that it was as if the initial seven years of abundance were swallowed up, never having existed. A famine like that would not be limited to one geographical/political nation…it covered the whole of the ancient near east. Canaan, being barely 300 miles away, was easily included in the scope of the disaster.
  2. Of course, that included the family of Jacob. Although the majority of his sons were grown with families of their own, the clan all resided together, conserving their resources. As the patriarch, Jacob noticed his sons and their families going hungry, yet no one was lifting a finger to address the problem. He basically tells them, “Why are you looking around, doing nothing? If you’re hungry, do something about it!” Word had spread that Egypt had food, so they might as well go there to acquire basic supplies.
  3. Keep in mind that there was no other reason to go to Egypt except the famine. In the past, Abraham got himself into trouble when he went down to Egypt, and although Isaac went among the Philistines, he refused to go too far from the borders of the Promised Land. In his younger days, Jacob had travelled north (where he acquired his wives), but never south to Egypt. Yet at this point, they had little choice. If food was in Egypt, to Egypt they would go…and this was the hand of God. God compelled them to go to a place they would never normally considered, because that would be the place of their salvation (and yes, eventual slavery). God had a plan at work, and He made things happen in such a way as people had little option except to follow through.
    1. God does the same thing with us, too. It was like we saw with Joseph: God uses even the tragic things in our lives to bring about His plan and His glory. If Joseph hadn’t been a slave, he would never have gone to prison. If Joseph hadn’t been in prison, he never would have been brought to Pharaoh and later exalted as governor. Likewise with Jacob & his sons. If they hadn’t been starving, they would never have gone to Egypt, never been reunited with Joseph, never been saved as a nation until the point that Moses would bring them out, etc. Even this terrible famine was part of the perfect plan of God.
    2. What terrible things has God allowed in your life right now? Even those things will be used for His glory! Of that, we have His guarantee: Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” This is the perfect companion verse for the story of Joseph, because we see it so clearly in action. Joseph knew & loved his God, and God caused even the worst things of Joseph’s experience to be used for good. Beloved, we are no less God’s children than Jacob or Joseph – in Christ, we belong to Him, we love Him & are loved by Him. Look to Jesus to bring good out of your personal tragedies…He will do it!

3 So Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “Lest some calamity befall him.”

  1. There seems to have been some trust issues between Jacob and the 10 elder brothers. Although he believed their cock-and-bull story about Joseph being dead, it seems that he reserved the possibility in his mind that the brothers were somehow at fault for what happened to his favorite son. In all likelihood, by this point, Benjamin had become the new golden-child, also being a son of Rachel, and Jacob feared the brothers doing something similar to this boy as well.
  2. Underscores the lack of fatherly leadership Jacob gave to his family. He had a tendency to sweep things under the rug, refusing to deal with issues directly. If he had, he could have saved himself (and his family) a lot of heartache!

5 And the sons of Israel went to buy grain among those who journeyed, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

  1. The sons of Israel weren’t the only foreigners seeking to buy Egyptian grain. The famine was something that affected a large swath of land, and many nations were drawn to Egypt.
  • Joseph meets his brothers (42:6-24)

6 Now Joseph was governor over the land; and it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth. 7 Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. Then he said to them, “Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.” 8 So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. 9 Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, …

  1. The 10 eldest sons of Jacob make the 300+ mile trek to Egypt, go to the palace (along with everyone else) to buy food, and follow the typical ancient protocol when meeting a foreign leader or head-of-state: bow. What happened in that moment? A twenty year old dream was fulfilled! God had been 100% true to his word. For every dream that Joseph interpreted for others that came true, the two dreams of his own had not. Year-in and year-out Joseph waited, but there seemed to be nothing. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, in walk his brothers and they don’t even think twice about bowing. They do it because it was proper, it was right…and because it was the promise of God!
    1. Do you sometimes doubt the word of God? Do you waver regarding His promises? He never fails! Joseph wanted 20 years before this word was kept, and it surely knocked him back on his heels as he witnessed it. Noah waited for decades and decades while he built the ark, always preaching the flood was coming, but never seeing it…until it happened. Even the promise of Jesus took time! When did God first promise Jesus? In the Garden of Eden. When did Jesus come? Not until 3BC, thousands of years later. But God did it. God kept His promise. He always does, and He always will. Trust Him!
  2. Apparently, Joseph instantly recognized brothers, and he tested them to see if they would recognize him. They didn’t. Too much had changed over the past 20 years. Faces were wizened and wrinkled, beards were thick upon his brothers though not upon Joseph, Joseph’s wardrobe was that of the Egyptians, and so was his speech. Although he understood Hebrew fluently, he had adapted to the land of Egypt and spoke to the others as and Egyptian. The “undercover” disguise was too thorough, and his brothers apparently didn’t even see a passing resemblance to the 17-year old that they had betrayed so long ago.
  3. Not only did he recognize his brothers, but Joseph recognized that God had finally fulfilled the dream. Don’t miss this part. Yes, God keeps His promises – that much as already been affirmed, and God’s promise would have been kept whether Joseph recognized it or not. But the only way Joseph would glorify God for His promises was if Joseph recognized God’s handiwork…and he did.
    1. Too often we’ll pray asking God to move, but then forget to thank Him when He does. Granted, we don’t read of Joseph’s personal worship time in the passage, but at least he recognized the fulfillment of the dream. How often do we recognize God’s hand within our own lives? We’ll pass it off to skill, luck, or other things; we need to give glory to God! Every good gift comes from God (Jas 1:17) – we need to give Him glory for these things!
  4. Joseph remembered the dreams he had years earlier, which caused him to remember a missing detail: only ten brothers were present. Where was Benjamin? That was cause for concern…

…and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!” 10 And they said to him, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men; your servants are not spies.” 12 But he said to them, “No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” 13 And they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more.” 14 But Joseph said to them, “It is as I spoke to you, saying, ‘You are spies!’

  1. Why the accusation? To see how they responded. Would they make excuses? Would it shake them up? The brothers answered truthfully, as far as they knew. But Joseph’s accusation would have caught them so much off-guard that they wouldn’t have had time to come up with a credible story. So they just told him about themselves and their family background: they were 12 brothers, with one back home, and one dead.
  2. Even so, that wasn’t enough. They claimed Benjamin was alive, but Joseph needed to test them to see if they had harmed Benjamin. Keep in mind that Joseph had little reason to trust his brothers at their word. He needed to have some way to verify what it was they claimed…

15 In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!” 17 So he put them all together in prison three days.

  1. All the brothers were imprisoned at first. The original idea was to jail all ten, then send one home to collect Benjamin while the nine remained. Would it have worked? Almost certainly. Was it necessary? Even so, it was a bit of retribution from Joseph. He gave his brothers a taste of what he had to endure. Joseph had been in the prison for a minimum of two years; they were there only three days.
  2. While there, the brothers feared what was to happen, but Joseph had a bit of opportunity to cool off. He soon came up with an alternate plan…

18 Then Joseph said to them the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined to your prison house; but you, go and carry grain for the famine of your houses. 20 And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so.

  1. One brother would be imprisoned on behalf of all. It was as if one life would serve as a deposit for the rest. This would have been seen to be an act of mercy on Joseph’s part, as this powerful leader let the rest of the brothers go. Even so, it demonstrated that Joseph still held all the cards, and if they wanted to see the 10th brother again, they would have to present Benjamin to him. Benjamin’s life was to be proof of their honesty, if they had any honesty at all. At this point, the brothers have no choice. Joseph had them over a barrel.
  2. Question: We can understand why Joseph did all of this, but was it right? After all, it seems pretty obvious from the text that Joseph is in many ways a type (pre-cursor) of Jesus Christ, but this isn’t something Jesus would do. Jesus does not deceive us, nor does He coerce us. He presents Himself to us openly and honestly, and invites us to follow Him in faith, freely offering us grace and forgiveness. Even with the unrepentant, Jesus is honest in His justice and wrath. At the Great White Throne, unbelievers will know exactly why they are punished. So what’s going on with Joseph? We need to remember that even though Joseph might be a type of Christ, he isn’t Types do not have to be 100% for them to be true. There are several times in the lives of Moses and David and Solomon that they prefigure Christ, but they do not mirror Him 100%. (If they did, they would be perfect & sinless, and they definitely were not!) So no – it seems here that Joseph did not mirror the Lord Jesus at this point. It’s not that he acted with wicked intent, but he might have gone about seeking the right thing in the wrong way.
    1. We can easily find ourselves doing the same thing. Not that we intend evil, or want to act contrary to the honest, holy, and merciful character of God – but we slip into trying to accomplish things through our own will and plans, rather than falling back on what the Lord is doing. It’s possible to be both right and wrong at the same time – and there is forgiveness when we find ourselves in that position. As we deal with the sins of others, we need to be mindful of our own sinful tendencies, knowing that we can easily fall.
  3. In any case, God used even Joseph’s test (whether it was right or wrong) to work His purposes…

21 Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.”

  1. The brothers recognize this as their deserved punishment. 20 years earlier they had abandoned/sold one of their brothers to strangers; now they were forced by a stranger to leave one of their brothers behind. Not to mention there was the connection between the brother they wronged & the brother they were commanded to bring to Egypt. It was too much of a coincidence for Joseph’s younger brother to be specifically commanded by the Egyptian governor for the brothers to know this wasn’t a “coincidence” at all. They were guilty concerning Joseph, and the time had come to pay the price. (We reap what we sow!)
  2. In the midst of all of this, Reuben’s “I told you so” rings a bit hollow. Yes, Reuben tried to save Joseph’s life, but he also maintained the deception of Joseph’s death in front of his father. Reuben had not pursued the Midianite traders, nor had he taken earlier responsibility. Although Reuben did have a bit of a plan to save Joseph, he was mainly interested in saving his own skin – something which was surely obvious to the rest.

23 But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. 24 And he turned himself away from them and wept. Then he returned to them again, and talked with them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.

  1. Unbeknownst to the brothers, Joseph was listening to everything. Perhaps he learned of Reuben’s act for the first time, and that overwhelmed his emotions.
  2. Why did he choose to keep Simeon? Because after Reuben, Simeon was the next-eldest son, thus bore the weight of responsibility for what the other brothers did to Joseph. Thus Simeon would wait in Egyptian prison for as long as it took for the brothers to return with Benjamin. (Which would take some time!)
  • Brothers return to Jacob (42:25-38)

25 Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. Thus he did for them.

  1. Was this grace? Was it part of Joseph’s test? Scripture never explains this, and the money is only briefly addressed in Chapter 43. Perhaps Joseph wanted the brothers to be set on edge, afraid to return – or perhaps he truly wanted to ensure that his family clan had enough to eat. It’s impossible to know his motives; we know only the facts of what happened. And part of that was that it caused them to be quite afraid…

26 So they loaded their donkeys with the grain and departed from there. 27 But as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey feed at the encampment, he saw his money; and there it was, in the mouth of his sack. 28 So he said to his brothers, “My money has been restored, and there it is, in my sack!” Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, “What is this that God has done to us?”

  1. No doubt the money was meant to be found much later on, but it was discovered by one brother early. It sent the group into a panic, but they were too afraid to go back and confess the issue then & there. Who knows what would have been the result?

29 Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying: 30 “The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father this day in the land of Canaan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the country, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. 34 And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’ ”

  1. They reported back to their father, and gave a summary of what happened. Only a few details are different, such as mentioning the brother “no more” before Benjamin (rather than the reverse). They left out some important details, as well: such as the group jailing, and the subsequent jailing of Simeon (though his absence was surely obvious and later explained).
  2. Keep in mind that Scripture isn’t always a transcript of everything that was said; it’s often a summary. The bottom line is simple: the brothers went home and told their father of their predicament. Yes, they had food, but their troubles weren’t over. In fact, they were only about to discover how much trouble they actually had…

35 Then it happened as they emptied their sacks, that surprisingly each man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid. 36 And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me.”

  1. Early on, they knew one brother had his money returned to him. Now they discovered that the same thing had happened to all 10 sons. Panic! The brothers feared, and Jacob assumed the worst, thinking that three of his twelve sons would soon be dead.
  2. Question: Where is anyone’s faith? Granted, the fear was understandable in the moment, considering that they had to go back and face this Egyptian governor looking like thieves on top of spies. Even so, there’s no mention of God in any of this – no recollection of His covenant. Jacob had received personal visions of the Lord, and had been promised blessing by YHWH Himself. Where was Israel’s faith in God? At this point (as it happens with so many of us), Jacob/Israel was operating in his flesh, thinking only of his circumstances rather than the God of his circumstances. And when Jacob’s eyes were everywhere except upon God, he despaired.
    1. It’s no different with us. When Peter had his eyes on Jesus, he could walk on water; it was when he looked at the waves that he sank. When our eyes are on Jesus, we receive the peace that passes understanding; when our eyes are everywhere else, we despair. What does that tell us? Simply this: despair is a choice. No Christian has to fear to the point of panic. Sure, we’ll get caught off-guard every now & again, but no Christian ever has to live in fear. We are never guaranteed an automatic escape from our troubles, but we are guaranteed that Jesus will be with us during them. Look to Jesus, and keep looking! When you do, you will know His peace.

37 Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.”

  1. Stupid, rash offer from Reuben. This was born of flesh; not the Spirit! As if the execution of Jacob’s grandsons by his own hand would ease the pain of losing the life of one of sons…it was ridiculous on its face. And it was flatly rejected by Jacob. He neither trusted Benjamin with the group of brothers, nor with his eldest son. (1) Reuben had already broken his father’s trust when he slept with his father’s concubine. (2) Why believe Reuben would protect Jacob’s son, when Reuben was so willing to sacrifice his own two sons? As bad ideas come, Reuben’s ranked up with the worst of them.
  2. Question: What’s the difference between Reuben offering up his sons for Benjamin, and God offering up His Son for us? Much! (1) Christ was not executed in revenge for our sin; He was the perfect substitute for us. (2) Benjamin hadn’t done anything within the family worthy of death, requiring retribution; we have. We’re truly guilty of heinous sin against God, and without a substitute sacrifice for us, we’re lost. (3) Reuben’s character is not that of God, nor were his sons that of Christ. There is a holy perfection in the work of God that cannot be duplicated by sinful men. Again, Reuben acted in corrupt flesh; God planned out in holy justice and mercy. (4) Even in terms of sacrifice, sinful man cannot die for sinful man. What sinful man needs is sinless Man, and that can only be provided in Christ. Bottom line: Reuben’s offer was nothing like that of the Lord’s; any similarities are superficial at best. (There is no replacement for the gospel! There is only one perfect sacrifice!)

Genesis 43

  • Jacob sends his sons, again (43:1-14)

1 Now the famine was severe in the land. 2 And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, “Go back, buy us a little food.” 3 But Judah spoke to him, saying, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ ”

  1. Time had passed (though we don’t know how much), and things were getting desperate. The supplies Joseph had originally sent were gone, and the clan was getting hungry once again. Jacob couldn’t be as forceful with his command to buy food as he had been the first time, but he still knew Egypt was their only hope for survival. Even so, without sending Benjamin, Egypt wasn’t an option. Judah tried to speak logically to his father, but Jacob wasn’t willing to hear it…

6 And Israel said, “Why did you deal so wrongfully with me as to tell the man whether you had still another brother?” 7 But they said, “The man asked us pointedly about ourselves and our family, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ And we told him according to these words. Could we possibly have known that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”

  1. Jacob was still blaming the brothers for telling the Egyptian governor about Benjamin. His trust in his older sons had not yet been restored, and this was the worst-case scenario in his mind. Of course, the brothers weren’t to be blamed – the question posed to them was totally unexpected. What else could they have said, other than the truth?
  2. That’s when Judah proposed a far better plan than Reuben…

8 Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 For if we had not lingered, surely by now we would have returned this second time.”

  1. Judah offered himself as a substitution. He basically vowed on his life, that he would give his own life for that of Benjamin, not allowing anything to happen to his younger brother. What was the difference between Reuben’s offer & Judah’s? One was thoughtless, ill-planned, and shifted responsibility; the other was selfless and personal. Reuben was willing to let his sons die; Judah offered to personally die.
  2. In this moment, there is another type of Christ seen among the family of Israel: Judah. This is what Jesus did for us: He personally laid His own life down so that we could live. He gave Himself as a ransom for our sin, so that we could be free. He tasted death so that we could receive life. This is the gospel!
  3. BTW – Don’t miss the character change in Judah. The last time Genesis told the reader of Judah, it was in Chapter 38 when he treated his daughter-in-law Tamar so shamefully, only finally taking responsibility when publicly confronted with his own sin. That event seems to have been the starting point of a road of humility for Judah, to the point that he now acts selflessly, seeking the welfare of others before his own. It goes to show the type of transformation that can come in a person humbly submitted to the Lord God!
  4. This time, Jacob/Israel agreed…

11 And their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: Take some of the best fruits of the land in your vessels and carry down a present for the man—a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight.

13 Take your brother also, and arise, go back to the man. 14 And may God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!”

  1. They decided to send some food to the Egyptian governor. Although it might seem strange to send food to someone, when you are so desperately hungry that you need to buy food, it makes sense. Apparently there were enough nuts to serve as a present; but not enough for an entire clan to survive. Better to give up a little now, in order to receive more later. In some ways, this was similar to the bribe Jacob sent to Esau (Gen 32). The whole idea was to put the best foot forward in a bad situation, and demonstrate humility to the opposing party.
  2. Ultimately, Jacob submits himself to whatever was to come: “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” If Benjamin is lost, then so be it. Question: is this fatalism, or faith? Different scholars come to different conclusions, but Jacob/Israel’s statement at the end of verse 14 cannot be separated from what he says at the beginning of verse 14: “May God Almighty give you mercy.” God Almighty = El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), the self-sufficient, omnipotent God. The last time this title was used for God was when God appeared to Jacob in Bethel, reaffirming his name change to Israel (Gen 25:11). Thus, this was not fatalism; it was faith. Even in Jacob’s pessimism, he understood God was in control, and he entrusted himself into the hands of his Lord. There was nothing God Almighty would allow him to face that God Almighty could not handle. (And there’s not! He can do it all!)
  • Joseph sees his brothers, again (43:15-25)

15 So the men took that present and Benjamin, and they took double money in their hand, and arose and went down to Egypt; and they stood before Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my home, and slaughter an animal and make ready; for these men will dine with me at noon.” 17 Then the man did as Joseph ordered, and the man brought the men into Joseph’s house.

  1. How much time had elapsed, we don’t know. It was likely a journey of 2-3 weeks between Shechem and Egypt. Eventually they arrived, and prepared themselves to meet with this mysterious governor once again.
  2. Joseph initially saw his brothers, but he didn’t yet engage with the personally. Instead, it seems that he already had a plan, and he set things into motion.

18 Now the men were afraid because they were brought into Joseph’s house; and they said, “It is because of the money, which was returned in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may make a case against us and seize us, to take us as slaves with our donkeys.”

  1. They feared the worst (like their father). Of course, in their defense, they had reason to fear. Being brought to the home of the Grand Vizier of Egypt (governor / Prime Minister) might indicate that he was going to enslave them to be servants of his house. (Not unlike what happened to Joseph with Potiphar!)

19 When they drew near to the steward of Joseph’s house, they talked with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “O sir, we indeed came down the first time to buy food; 21 but it happened, when we came to the encampment, that we opened our sacks, and there, each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight; so we have brought it back in our hand. 22 And we have brought down other money in our hands to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 But he said, “Peace be with you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

  1. In their panic, the brothers explain their situation to the first servant they can find, hoping to gain an ally who can speak on their behalf to his master. Told the servant what had happened, and what was their current intent.
  2. The servant had no words of condemnation; only peace (shalom). The brothers could calm down, for nothing evil was going to happen. The servant claimed to have had their money all along. Question: Did the servant lie? We don’t know which servant Joseph used to replace the money in the brothers’ sacks, but it is highly unlikely that the rest of the household servants were ignorant to what had happened. In this case, the servant is keeping up with the deception of Joseph. For good or ill, that’s what happened.

24 So the man brought the men into Joseph’s house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys feed. 25 Then they made the present ready for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they would eat bread there.

  1. Cleaned up, got ready to see the governor, and meet their fate. Can you imagine the butterflies in their stomachs?
  • Dining with Joseph (43:26-34)

26 And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed down before him to the earth.

  1. Joseph’s dream was fulfilled a second time…this time with all 11 brothers, more along the lines of his second dream (though without his parents).

27 Then he asked them about their well-being, and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 And they answered, “Your servant our father is in good health; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads down and prostrated themselves.

  1. Joseph obviously longed for news of home, asking as much as he dared without giving away his identity. He could see Benjamin, but he knew his father remained in Canaan. All he desired was to be reunited as a family again.
  2. Dream fulfilled a 3rd time! Never doubt the promises of God!

29 Then he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your younger brother of whom you spoke to me?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Now his heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself, and said, “Serve the bread.”

  1. Understandably, Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion. Surely, this would have seemed strange to the 11 brothers, but they didn’t yet know the truth.

32 So they set him a place by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

  1. It’s well-documented that Egyptians rarely ate with foreigners. It makes one wonder if Joseph ate by himself due to his exalted position, or due to the continued bias of the Egyptians. Even as he ruled over them, they still considered him an outsider.

33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth; and the men looked in astonishment at one another. 34 Then he took servings to them from before him, but Benjamin’s serving was five times as much as any of theirs. So they drank and were merry with him.

  1. Joseph assigned seats for the rest, all based upon birth order. This should have provided a massive hint! And if the seating arrangements weren’t enough, there was the extra blessing for Benjamin, being Joseph’s full brother. Certainly they noticed the extra plates and food in front of the youngest brother, but for some reason they didn’t connect the dots back to Joseph. They probably just thought the governor played favorites with the younger, for his own reasons.
  2. Even with the obvious favoritism, notice the reaction from the other brothers: there was none! Instead, they rejoiced with him, and “were merry.” How different this was from their response to the favoritism shown Joseph! It wasn’t only Judah, but all the brothers had changed. That’s not to say they were all perfect, but they certainly weren’t what they were before…and that was to Joseph, a wonderful sight to behold!

Conclusion:

Chapter 43 concludes in the middle of dinner, with everyone joyful around the table…but it’s not over yet. Joseph has one more test for his brothers, and then finally would come the big reveal. But already, Joseph (and the reader) has seen a change. Judah has been humbled, and acts in selfless love. The other brothers show remorse over the past, and can rejoice in blessings given to someone else. They still have problems (like anyone else), but God’s work upon them is clear.

As for Joseph, he experienced some change of his own. Joseph never seemed to lose faith in God, but he still had to be content with waiting year after year for God’s promise to show itself true. Now it had! What Joseph had long shown to others was now shown to himself. God was (and is) faithful!

God is faithful. He is sovereign, all-powerful, and truly good. He works in ways we can see (such as in the humility of the brothers), and in ways we cannot (such as the famine as a tool to bring the brothers to Egypt). We need to trust Him in all those times, and simply take Him at His word!

Genesis 41, “Joseph: A Cinderella Story”

We call something a “Cinderella story” when a person goes from rags to riches, from shame to fame. It’s when a person who was once lost in obscurity seems to suddenly shoot into the spotlight, and receive all kinds of honor that was previously denied. Sometimes it’s used of underdog sports teams that end up winning the championship – or movie stars that went from being unknown to an overnight sensation.

To some, the story of Joseph would fit the description well. One day, he’s a prisoner in the Egyptian dungeon, and the next day (literally) he’s the Prime Minister of Egypt. Talk about rags to riches! One could hardly rise faster and further within a nation if he/she tried! That said, Joseph didn’t do it alone, nor did it happen by chance. The fictional Cinderella had her fairy godmother, but Joseph had Someone far better: the very real Almighty God! God had previously led Joseph to where he was in the prison, but God had plans for Joseph far beyond the prison walls. In fact, God had a plan for Joseph beyond even the glories of the highest level of government. Even Joseph’s Cinderella rise from the ashes was meant for something greater: the preservation of the Hebrew people, and ultimately, the preservation of the Messianic line.

What we read in Genesis 41 is glorious, but we need to keep in mind that it is not the completion of the work of God in Joseph’s life; it was simply one more step Joseph needed to take in order for the covenant promises of God to remain alive. God had ordered things perfectly; Joseph simply needed to be faithful in the moment and watch God work things out in real-time.

Remember how he got to where he was. As a 17 year old lad, Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob (Israel), and he had received two dreams from God clearly showing him (and everyone else) that Joseph would be seen as superior to the rest of his family, as they would eventually bow to him. This angered his brothers, arousing their jealousy, and they took it out on Joseph at their first opportunity. They wanted to kill him, but settled for selling him into slavery and letting their father believe that Joseph was dead. In their minds, the issue was over, even though Jacob swore to go to his grave in grief.

Joseph’s slavery eventually took him to Egypt, where he was sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard. Joseph was faithful in his duties, and rose to the highest position of the household servants when Potiphar’s wife took an interest in Joseph and tried to seduce him. Maintaining his purity unto the Lord, Joseph refused her, and she took out her vengeance on him through false accusations of attempted rape. Potiphar threw Joseph into prison, and he had to start all over again…this time, from a far lower position than where he had been in the past.

Even so, Joseph was faithful, and rose in the ranks among the inmates until he was the most trusted person serving the prison-keeper (warden). The warden soon entrusted Joseph with serving a couple of Pharaoh’s personal staff who had displeased their king: a butler and a baker, each of which who had a troubling dream. Joseph interpreted each dream accurately, predicting that the butler would be restored to service, whereas the baker would be hanged…and it all came true.

At this point, one would think Joseph had an inside-track, which he tried to use to his advantage, asking the butler to remember him before Pharaoh, and put in a good word for him to the king. Although Joseph was faithful in every circumstance, he knew he didn’t belong in prison or in slavery, and he just wanted to go home. Hopefully the butler could help him.

As it turns out, the butler forgot all about Joseph, and two more years pass. Two years of waiting, of remaining in the dungeons, of praying to God asking when all of God’s promises to Joseph would come true. God had been faithful on every other count – why hadn’t He been faithful to Joseph? Of course, He had…even in those days in prison. God was working out His plan exactly according to His perfect timing, which was soon about to come to a head. God was in control of every one of Joseph’s circumstances at all times – Joseph simply needed to wait upon God and trust Him. So do we.

Genesis 41

  • Pharaoh’s need of an interpreter (41:1-13)
  • The dreams (1-8)

1 Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river. 2 Suddenly there came up out of the river seven cows, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. 3 Then behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the river, ugly and gaunt, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the river. 4 And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven fine looking and fat cows. So Pharaoh awoke.

  1. While Joseph sat in prison, the narrative changes to Pharaoh and his dreams. Why this account of the dreams is included, when Pharaoh is going to describe them again to Joseph is somewhat uncertain. Some have noted that it goes along with a general theme of “two’s,” but that seems rather contrived. After all, the other pairs of dreams were only described once, so there’s no reason why Pharaoh’s wouldn’t be as well. It could simply set up the idea that although Pharaoh had clear dreams, he did not have a clear understanding – neither he, nor his magicians and counselors.
  2. Dream #1: Cows. Although it might seem strange to dream about livestock, it makes a bit more sense for a king of an agricultural-based economic nation to dream of cattle. Rather like us having dreams about our workplaces. In this case, the cows were extreme versions of one another. On one hand, there were seven really good-looking cows, fattened and ready for slaughter; on the other hand, there were seven terrible-looking skin-and-bone cows, with their hides basically falling off of them. What really made it bizarre was that the skinny cows ate the fat cows (the opposite of what one might expect if the cows were to be cannibalistic), and that’s when Pharaoh woke up, no doubt totally confused.
  3. The description of the cattle is interesting. “Fat” = healthy, fat-fleshed. “Ugly” = evil, bad. (רַע) IOW, there’s more to this than how the cows look; what they are is what is represented. There was a moral quality to these cows, certainly adding to the confusion of Pharaoh.
  4. His confusion wasn’t enough to give him insomnia, because apparently he went right back to sleep and dreamed another dream…

5 He slept and dreamed a second time; and suddenly seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. 6 Then behold, seven thin heads, blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. 7 And the seven thin heads devoured the seven plump and full heads. So Pharaoh awoke, and indeed, it was a dream.

  1. Dream #2: Grain, or “heads of grain”…think ears of corn, or whole heads of wheat; not individual kernels. Again, the symbols reflected the agricultural economy, and again there was seven good and seven bad. And although grain doesn’t “eat,” the blighted (dried out, thin, scrawny) grain ate up the healthy grain.
  2. There’s a parallel description to 1stPlump” = same word as “fat” in 41:2. Also, the plump grain is described as “good.” (טוֹב) Put it together with the first dream, and there’s a distinction between good and evil. Again, there’s a moral aspect being represented that Pharaoh just couldn’t figure out.

8 Now it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.

  1. Pharaoh had these confusing dreams, but he also had a large staff of counselors. Surely he could appeal to these men, right? There was no help from his numerous magicians and wise men. The best that Egypt had to offer were of no use.
  2. Surely by this point, Pharaoh was getting pretty frustrated. Here he was, the most powerful man in the world (at the time), and he had two dreams that left him totally confused, with no interpretation in sight. There had to be someone in his kingdom who could help him, but who? That’s when the light turned on for his butler…
  • The butler remembers (9-13)

9 Then the chief butler spoke to Pharaoh, saying: “I remember my faults this day. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, both me and the chief baker, 11 we each had a dream in one night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. 12 Now there was a young Hebrew man with us there, a servant of the captain of the guard. And we told him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; to each man he interpreted according to his own dream. 13 And it came to pass, just as he interpreted for us, so it happened. He restored me to my office, and he hanged him.”

  1. Did the butler have “faults” (sin, חֵטְא)? You bet: Two years’ worth! Joseph had been totally accurate in interpreting the dreams of the butler, and the only thing he asked was that the butler make mention of him to Pharaoh. Such a small request from a fellow prisoner, and one would think it would have been the very first thing the butler said to Pharaoh upon his restoration. It wasn’t to be the case. Joseph immediately fell victim to out-of-sight, out-of-mind, as the butler completely forgot about him for two full years. Truly, he had sinned against his friend!
    1. Even so, in this is the sovereignty of God. The butler may have sinned against Joseph for two years, but for God, the two-year timing was absolutely perfect. Think about it: if the butler had mentioned Joseph earlier, Pharaoh may have thought it interesting, but done nothing about it. Or maybe, Pharaoh would have even pardoned Joseph, and Joseph would have left Egypt entirely. Either way, Joseph would not have come up in this future conversation & Pharaoh would have been left without his help. Thus, Joseph would never have won Pharaoh’s favor, would never have become the Prime Minister, would never have saved Egypt, been restored to his family, or kept his family alive during the famine. Those two additional years that Joseph spent in prison were necessary It was all part of the perfect plan of God.
    2. Have you ever considered what hardships and trials you suffer through today that might actually be necessary for something greater down the road? Perhaps the things you endure today are not merely used & turned by God for His glory, but are specifically intended by God for His greater plan. Some of these things are impossible to know from our current perspective, but once we get to heaven and look back on our lives, we might be surprised to discover just how many of our worst days were crucially necessary in order for us to experience some of the best days that followed.
    3. Bottom line: Trust the sovereignty of God! Our Heavenly Father truly knows what is best. The things He allows for us are things of which He is fully aware. He will not let His children go, nor will He allow our circumstances to lead anywhere else except His glory.
  2. As for the butler, he recounted the events of Chapter 40, reminding Pharaoh of how Pharaoh had his butler and baker jailed at the same time (perhaps an event that the butler did not want Pharaoh reminded of!), how each man dreamed while in prison, and how the individual dreams were interpreted by a Hebrew slave (unnamed by the butler at this time). Not only were the dreams interpreted, but more importantly, the interpretations were true. Although no specific request was made by the butler to have Joseph released, his implication was obvious: if Joseph could do this for Pharaoh’s servants, then Joseph could do the same thing for Pharaoh himself.
  3. Pharaoh took the not-so-subtle hint, and acted immediately…
  • Joseph’s interpretation and application (41:14-36)
  • Dreams recounted for Joseph (14-24)

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.” 16 So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”

  1. Joseph summoned and made presentable. There’s a bit of an interesting cultural difference highlighted between the Hebrews and Egyptians. Although Joseph would have grown a beard in the prison, beards were normal among Hebrews & culturally expected. Egyptians, on the other hand, were clean-shaven. If Joseph was to appear before Pharaoh, then he had to look his best according to Egyptian guidelines. Although a Hebrew being shaved might elsewhere be a sign of disgrace, here it was a sign of honor.
  2. Once Joseph was brought to the royal court, Pharaoh made his request. Pharaoh had a dream, and Joseph had a reputation. The king basically says, “Let’s see if you’re as good as what my butler says you are. Give it your best shot.” Surely to Pharaoh’s surprise, Joseph said the rumors were wrong! Joseph didn’t have the capability of doing this; it was all God. What an excellent answer! Joseph maintained his own personal humility, giving glory to the Lord. Every dream and interpretation he ever had was given him by God, and Joseph wasn’t about to take credit for the things God did. God deserved all the glory. (One wonders if Daniel didn’t remember this event, when he spoke to Nebuchadnezzar about his own dream; Daniel 2:22-28.)
    1. The same principle is important with all spiritual gifts. If God gives it, God should receive the glory for it. Spiritual gifts are never about us; they’re about Him. That’s just as true regarding the gifts of service, hospitality, and giving, as it is regarding the word of knowledge, faith, and healing.
  3. Interestingly, Joseph promised that God would give Pharaoh “an answer of peace,” (שָׁלוֹם). How did Joseph know? This was faith! God had always given a word when a word was required, and Joseph had no reason to question it now. He relied on God’s past experiences for the present times. Joseph had no doubt at all (1) that God would give an answer, and (2) that God’s answer would bring peace to Pharaoh. How could this be guaranteed? Because if the answer is of God, then it will be right. Peace is the natural result from being reconciled to the will of God. Even if there were hard truths to face (such as seven years of famine), facing those things while being in the will of God is far better than facing them without Him. God would give the peace and strength required for anything yet to come.
    1. The key here is simple: when we face it with God, we experience God’s peace. Too often in our prayers, we’re asking for solutions for our problems, most often some form of supernatural escape. Yet that’s not always God’s will for us. For Joseph, God wanted him to remain in prison for two extra years – for Pharaoh, God guaranteed that seven years of famine were on the way. God had zero plans for Joseph or Pharaoh to escape those trials. What God wanted was for them to rely upon Him and His provision during those trials. That’s where the peace came from. Think of Paul, and his thorn in the flesh. God had no intention of removing that thorn, no matter how many times Paul prayed. What God desired was that Paul rely upon God Himself: 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” What we most need in the midst of our trials is not escape; it’s Jesus. Like the old bumper sticker says: “Know Jesus, know peace; No Jesus, no peace.”

17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph: “Behold, in my dream I stood on the bank of the river. 18 Suddenly seven cows came up out of the river, fine looking and fat; and they fed in the meadow. 19 Then behold, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such ugliness as I have never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the gaunt and ugly cows ate up the first seven, the fat cows. 21 When they had eaten them up, no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were just as ugly as at the beginning. So I awoke.

  1. Pharaoh recited his dreams for Joseph, adding a few details along the way. For instance, the ugly cows were so ugly, that Pharaoh had never seen anything of the sort. These were hideous cattle that stood out in all of their “evil/bad” quality. And this evil totally did away with the good. When the ugly cows ate the fat cows, all the evidence of what was good was gone, and the ugly remained unchanged. It was as if the seven ugly cows hadn’t eaten a single bite – no nourishment was gained.

22 Also I saw in my dream, and suddenly seven heads came up on one stalk, full and good. 23 Then behold, seven heads, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprang up after them. 24 And the thin heads devoured the seven good heads. So I told this to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”

  1. Same thing with the heads of grain – this time, there was no major difference from the earlier description.
  2. One of Pharaoh’s frustrations lay in the fact that his magicians and wise men were no help. How could they be? Only God knows what is in our hearts and minds – only God knows the truth behind the dreams He gives, and even the random thoughts of our subconscious. When we need to know truth, we have to go to God. Humans (no matter how “wise” they believe themselves to be) are no substitute for the Lord!
  • Joseph’s interpretation (25-32)

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 And the seven thin and ugly cows which came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty heads blighted by the east wind are seven years of famine. 28 This is the thing which I have spoken to Pharaoh. God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do.

  1. One wonders if there is any time gap between verse 24-25. Did Joseph need any time for himself to go pray and wait for God to give him an interpretation? Or was it immediate? The text doesn’t tell us, though there seems to be an implication that Joseph did not hesitate in giving an answer. What confused Pharaoh was obvious to Joseph – only by the grace of God.
  2. One thing that was crystal clear was the idea that although there were two sets of symbols, it was only one dream. Both individual visions was one set of dreams, teaching the same lesson through different imagery. Two sets of seven years were at stake, which Joseph explained (and would explain more later on) as years of plenty and years of famine.
  3. Another thing that was crystal clear was that this dream was certain of the future. God had made His plans, and He revealed them to Pharaoh. There’s an emphasis not only on the certainty of these future plans, but also on God’s grace in revealing these things to Pharaoh. Pharaoh may have been king of the most powerful nation at the time, but he didn’t have all power and all Those things belong to the Lord God, and God is not obliged to share His knowledge with anyone. The fact that He did (and still does!) is an act of grace. God had reached out to Pharaoh with information impossible for Pharaoh to otherwise know, all of which underscored its importance. This wasn’t a message to ignore!
    1. Any message from God is a message that demands our attention. Such is the case with the gospel! We don’t deserve the grace offered us by Jesus through His cross and resurrection, nor do we deserve to be told of the grace offered us by Jesus. There is grace in merely hearing the good news of Jesus. That’s something we dare not ignore! God has told us of His love and His salvation…pay attention, and respond!
  4. Joseph continued his explanation of the dream…

29 Indeed seven years of great plenty will come throughout all the land of Egypt; 30 but after them seven years of famine will arise, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will deplete the land. 31 So the plenty will not be known in the land because of the famine following, for it will be very severe. 32 And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

  1. Seven cows/grain = seven years. There would be 7 good years filled with abundance, and 7 bad years filled with famine. It would be extremely severe, with the famine being so bad that the abundance of the previous seven years would be forgotten. Thus, it would be like the skinny cows eating the fat cows, with the skinny cows remaining skinny. No matter how good the 1st seven years would be, the evil of the 2nd seven years would be overwhelming.
  2. And this would not change – there was no escape from this future. This thing was established by God, and the time was at hand. IOW, there was no time to wait. Preparations had to made now, if they were to be made at all. God had been gracious in revealing this future to Pharaoh, but now it was up to Pharaoh to do something about it. Pharaoh wouldn’t be able to change the future, but he could sure do something to ensure he & his people were ready for it.
  3. But what should he do? That’s when Joseph made the transition from royal interpreter to royal adviser…
  • Joseph’s application/counsel (33-36)

33 “Now therefore, let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. 36 Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.”

  1. When Joseph said a “discerning & wise man” was needed, just who did he have in mind? Himself, of course! One could hardly blame Joseph from providing a bit of a subtle hint to Pharaoh of how he would make a perfect administrator in the royal court. After all, wisdom was needed, and Pharaoh’s other “wise men” hadn’t been any help in the present situation. How could pagans be expected to rightly respond to the plans of God? Far better to use the man to whom God revealed His plans.
  2. And Joseph already had an idea ready to go. The basic plan was for a 1/5 tax over the 7 years of plenty, all of which would go into storage. One-fifth (20%) sounds like a lot, until we remember our own current tax brackets. Depending on one’s full-time income, a person might pay anywhere from 15% to 39.6%. Comparatively, Joseph’s 20% was pretty reasonable! So the farmers would grow their crops as usual, harvesting massively more than usual during those first seven years, all of which fell into this 1/5 (20%) tax. That taxed grain would be the foundation for how the nation would be fed throughout the famine.
  3. BTW: Note that Joseph told this plan to Pharaoh before he was offered a promotion. He didn’t hold back to use as a negotiating strategy or teaser for what Joseph might be able to do, if he were placed in the right position. Joseph simply gave a plan that could be implemented by anyone on Pharaoh’s existing staff. Why? This was part of God’s word for Pharaoh, and Joseph did not have the right to withhold it from him.
    1. What God says, we are to deliver, despite how we think we may or may not benefit from it. It’s His word; not ours. We are merely messengers. It’s not up to us to determine whether or not someone is “worthy” to receive the news (like Jonah did with the Ninevites), nor is it up to us to decide if we want to edit the news in certain ways to certain people. It’s God’s word, and God’s Share it, share it fully, share it freely! As Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give,” (Mt 10:8).
  • Joseph’s exaltation and administration (41:37-57)
  • Joseph made Prime Minister/Grand Vizier (37-46)

37 So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?”

  1. Don’t miss this: Pharaoh saw the spirit of God in Joseph. He recognized what God had done within Joseph, and the wisdom of God evident in the words of Joseph. Joseph had credited God at the beginning, spoke the words given him by God, and simply got out of the way…and it was effective. That was exactly what Pharaoh needed to see the evidence of the spirit of God for himself.
  2. This is what we desire from our witness & testimony! Just as Joseph’s relationship with God was evident to Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian court, we want our relationship with Jesus to be evident to those around us. That’s something that can (and should!) be said to others, but’s also something that ought to be able to be seen. The more vibrant a relationship we have with Jesus in our own prayer, personal worship, and Bible study, the more evident it will be to those around us. People will look at us, and know that “This is a person in whom is the Spirit of God!”

39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”

  1. Finally, after all of his time of suffering as a slave and a prisoner, Joseph was vindicated. More than that, Joseph was promoted by Pharaoh to being his own Prime Minister (Grand Vizier), the Second in Command of the Egyptian kingdom. This was Pharaoh’s domain, and he said to Joseph, “You shall be over my house.” Sound familiar? It should! Joseph had been promoted to being the head of the house of Potiphar, and then he was promoted to be the head of the house of the prison. Now he was promoted to the head of the house of Egypt. Joseph had been faithful in the other areas of his life, and now he was given the opportunity to be faithful in this new position.
  2. Why did Pharaoh promote him? Because ultimately he saw that God gave Joseph wisdom, and Pharaoh wanted the wisdom of God. Wisdom belongs to God, as God is the author of wisdom. This was the praise of Daniel when he sought God on the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: Daniel 2:20–21, “(20) Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. (21) And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.” Wisdom is God’s, for He not only knows all, but He knows what to do with all. It’s one thing to know the facts; it’s another to know how they fit together and how to apply them. That’s wisdom, and God has it all. (Which is why, if we need wisdom, we are to ask God; Jas 1:5).
    1. Where did Pharaoh see Joseph’s God-given wisdom? In his ability to distinguish good from evil, and knowing what to do with them. (I.e. the fat cows/heads of grain vs. the skinny cows/grain). Hearkening back to an earlier history in Genesis, neither Adam nor Eve properly distinguished between good & evil, but Joseph did…but only by the grace of God.
  3. Pharaoh went on to give Joseph the benefits & symbols of his new exalted position…

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, “Bow the knee!” So he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-Paaneah. And he gave him as a wife Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On. So Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.

  1. Pharaoh exalted Joseph in a list of ways:
    1. Ring of authority, via the signet ring.
    2. Clothed in glory – all the rags of slavery were gone.
    3. Commanded to be shown respect, as people bow their knees.
    4. Empowered by Pharaoh’s word with total authority. Even Joseph’s former master Potiphar would need his permission to act.
    5. Given a new name. It is Egyptian, which scholars translate “The God speaks and he lives.” Appropriate, given how Pharaoh recognized God’s message through Joseph.
    6. Married into nobility, as Pharaoh gives him a bride from the priestly class. Again, culturally fitting considering that Pharaoh saw God’s hand on Joseph.
  2. In some ways, much of this prefigures what God would later do with Jesus. Just as Joseph went from the lowest position of being a prisoner-slave to being Prime Minister of Egypt, Jesus went from the lowest humility (a bondservant slave crucified as a sin sacrifice for men) to being given the name which is above every name, seated at the right hand of God.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.

  1. Notice the age of Joseph: “thirty years old.” He was 17 when his brothers sold him into slavery (37:2). He had spent 13 years as a slave and in prison. Were these wasted years? Not when seen through the lens of God’s sovereignty! It led to Joseph being in just the right place at just the right time with just the right word for just the right person…which in turn led to God being known even among the pagans.
  2. Keep in mind that even in all of Joseph’s exaltation, he still hasn’t personally seen the fulfillment of his own God-given dreams. 13 years have elapsed, and Joseph is still waiting on the Lord. Would God do it? Absolutely! It would just take a little more time.
    1. God cannot be rushed, but that doesn’t mean He procrastinates. God does not waste time.
  • Years of plenty (47-52)

47 Now in the seven plentiful years the ground brought forth abundantly. 48 So he gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities; he laid up in every city the food of the fields which surrounded them. 49 Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable.

  1. Seven years of abundance, exactly as Joseph had foretold.
  2. There was massive economic/agricultural growth. So much came in, that they “stopped counting.” Surely, the 15% tax was nothing in comparison. The farmers were still reaping profits hand over fist.

50 And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” 52 And the name of the second he called Ephraim: “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

  1. Joseph’s sons. Named them after God’s work in his own life. “Manasseh” = “Making Forgetful.” “Ephraim” = “Fruitfulness.” Joseph surely trusted God had been working during the past 18 years (13 + 7 – 2), but that didn’t mean that he didn’t experience personal hurt. After all, he was still betrayed by his brothers, and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife. Joseph had a great deal of pain, but God had been faithful to strengthen him and help him heal. Finally, Joseph could start to put the past behind him and enjoy the current blessings of God.
  2. How do we know this was based in faith? The names of the boys. Notice that although Pharaoh had given Joseph an Egyptian name, Joseph gave his sons Hebrew In all his success and power within Egypt, Joseph never forgot who he was. He never gave up his Hebrew faith.
  • Years of famine (53-57)

53 Then the seven years of plenty which were in the land of Egypt ended, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. The famine was in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Then Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do.” 56 The famine was over all the face of the earth, and Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians. And the famine became severe in the land of Egypt.

  1. Seven years of famine, also as foretold.
  2. Joseph’s plan was successful, and he was able to sell back the grain that had been previously taxed. (Some of this will be detailed later in Chapter 47.)

57 So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands.

  1. So much grain was in Egypt that they were even able to sell to foreigners. This set the stage for the future encounter with his brothers. The only reason they left their father in Canaan was because Egypt had grain, and they did not.
  2. Consider for a moment the importance of this fact: Egypt was the only place in the ancient world at the time where other nations could find food during this severe seven-year long famine. The sons of Jacob had no choice except to go to Egypt, or they would die. This very prospect was perhaps the reason that God allowed Joseph to be sold as a slave in the first place. This is the thing that would preserve the Messianic promise. If Jacob’s family perished in the famine, the Abrahamic covenant would be void – the line of Judah would be destroyed – even the promises to Noah and to Adam would be in vain. There had to be a line stretching from Adam to the Messiah (the seed of the woman), and it ran through the tribe of Judah in the family of Israel. Without Joseph being exactly where he was when he was, his family would have perished, along with the ancestry of David & Jesus…and we would have no gospel. Without Joseph as a slave, we have no Jesus as a sacrifice. Without Joseph as a prince, we have no Jesus as a King.
    1. This is why we trust the sovereignty, knowledge, and wisdom of God! He alone sees the end from the beginning, and He alone has the power to make His plans come to pass.

Conclusion:

How awesome was the work of God in the life of Joseph! How amazing was God’s blessing upon his life! Just remember: God’s blessing did not start with Joseph’s exaltation by Pharaoh…that’s simply where it found its culmination. God’s hand of blessing had been on Joseph his entire life – even during the times Joseph experienced his worst betrayals. It was those trials that God used to make the future victories possible. God was in full control of all of Joseph’s circumstances at all times. God had a plan in mind for Joseph – Joseph simply needed to wait on God’s timing and be faithful with the opportunities God gave him.

God’s timing is always perfect! God’s hand is always in control! No doubt there are times it doesn’t seem like it. There are times it seems like everything is spiraling out of control. They aren’t. God can, and does, use all things for His glory. Trust Him do to so! Never forget how much Jesus loves you, and to what extent He sacrificed Himself for you. Do we honestly think Jesus would do that in vain, simply to let us fly into chaos? Heaven forbid! He has us right where He has always had us: in the palm of His hand.

So what do we do in the meantime? We wait upon God – we trust Him. His timing is perfect, and we need to believe it. That doesn’t mean that we will experience an exaltation along the lines of Joseph (at least, not in this life) – we may never experience power, wealth, fame, etc. What we will experience is the peace of Jesus. We will know our Savior in ways never before possible, and we will learn the sweet sufficiency of His grace.

Genesis 39-40, “The Slave Who Was Blessed”

“It was a blessing in disguise…” “When God closes a door, He opens a window…” “Things are always darkest just before dawn…” Well-meaning clichés like this are sometimes empty platitudes, said by folks who don’t know what else to say – but other time, they are entirely accurate. When we’re stuck in the middle of a trial, it very often seems that things get worse before they get better. And it makes sense…we’ve got to bottom out somewhere before we start heading up. What we don’t often realize is that even those worse things are used by God to prepare us for the better. At the time, it may be difficult (if not impossible) to see, but when we look back over our lives it becomes clear what God was doing. If it had not been for the darkest days, we would never have been prepared for the glory that was to follow.

Such was the case with Joseph. This was a guy who had it bad. For a long period of his life, it would be difficult to think of too many people who had been dealt as tough of a hand as had Joseph. And just when things started to look up, Joseph would get hit again, and seemingly start from a lower position than before. It was “one step forward; two steps back” for Joseph, never fully able to get ahead…or so it seemed. God never once left Joseph, and He continually blessed Joseph; God was patiently arranging everything the way it needed to be in order for Joseph to be exalted beyond his wildest imagination.

The last time Genesis showed Joseph, he had been betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. It was the result of a long war against jealousy and resentment, with the brothers giving into their worst evils. Joseph had been the favorite of their father Jacob/Israel, with Jacob setting the younger Joseph apart from the rest of his brothers by treating him as the supervisor, rather than the laboring shepherds. They resented their brother for his reports back to Jacob regarding their work, and resented him in general simply for being the golden child.

It didn’t help matters when God granted Joseph two dreams showing his divinely-given superiority over the rest of his family. One day his brothers would bow to him – in fact, one day, his whole family (including his parents) would bow. This had been determined by God, and was unavoidable. Yet that was exactly what the brothers attempted to do. Fueled by their resentful rage, upon seeing their younger brother miles away from home, they initially desired to murder him – only to be stopped by their eldest brother Reuben. Instead, Joseph was thrown into a pit to suffer while his brothers stopped to have some lunch. Reuben wasn’t entirely successful, however, because as soon as he left, Judah suggested selling Joseph as a slave to some passing Midianites/Ishmaelites, and that was exactly what they did.

Though Joseph was alive, they treated him as dead, deceiving their father with Joseph’s special tunic dipped in goat’s blood, and Jacob grieved the loss of his favorite son. To him, it was the end, and he vowed to grieve forever.

Yet it wasn’t the end…not by a long shot! At this point in his life, Joseph had suffered in tremendous ways, and things would only get worse. But God was with Joseph, and He blessed Joseph. God’s blessing was not dependent on the circumstances that surrounded Joseph – in fact, God blessed Joseph even while using those circumstances of suffering.

We need to trust God in every circumstance, for He is sovereign over all of them. He is always working things out for His glory…of that, we can be sure!

Genesis 39 – Joseph and Potiphar

  • Favor in Potiphar’s house (1-6)

1 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there.

  1. This repeats the information given at the very end of Chapter 37. Moses (as the chief editor/author of the book) took a tiny break to record some of the events of the life of Judah – important not only from the aspect of showing what led to Judah’s change of heart, but ultimately following the lineage of the future Messiah. But with that parenthetical section complete, the narrative returns to Joseph, and just a brief recap is given.
  2. Joseph had been sold to an Egyptian officer: “Potiphar, captain of the guard.” Though this is still the evil of slavery, in this we still see God’s sovereignty at work. After all, this was not just any Egyptian, or even any Egyptian official; it was the right Of all of the Egyptians to whom Joseph could have been sold (if any at all), it was the one Egyptian official who could put him into a position of contact with Pharaoh (if only indirectly). God was at work, even in the horrendous human sale of Joseph.
    1. Can God turn our tragedies to His glory? Yes! That’s exactly the case with Jesus, and therein is the gospel! The hope of our salvation lies in an instrument of execution (the cross) and its empty burial plot. By themselves, those things would be tragic – but in the hands of Jesus, they are glorious!

2 The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. 3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand.

  1. If there is one thing the writer of Genesis makes clear in this passage, it is that the covenant God of Israel (YHWH) was always with Joseph, helping him. Though Joseph was a slave, he was by no means forsaken by the Lord, nor was he being punished by the Lord. On the contrary, YHWH God blessed Joseph immensely, always watching him – always being present with him – even granting him as much prosperity as Joseph’s position would allow.
  2. This goes against the grain of our worldly thought. Typically, we equate suffering with punishment, and comfort with blessing. God clearly demonstrates the opposite with Joseph. Joseph was anything but comfortable as a slave, yet there can be no doubt of God’s hand of blessing upon him.
    1. Blessing is found in God; not our circumstances.

4 So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. 5 So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. 6 Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. …

  1. The word used for “favor” in verse 4 is interesting, in that it could also be translated as “grace,” depending on the context. In the midst of Joseph’s suffering, he found grace. And this grace came from the most unlikely of sources: his earthly Egyptian master! Potiphar showed favor to Joseph, granting him more kindness than Joseph ever deserved, at least from an earthly point of view. Think about it: to Potiphar, Joseph was less than an employee; he was property. Potiphar didn’t have to be kind to Joseph at all. He didn’t have to treat Joseph as a human being, or give him anything beyond basic food and water to keep him alive & in his service. But he did. Why? The Lord God. Potiphar saw the hand of God upon Joseph, which in turn blessed him, so he was gracious beyond measure to his slave.
    1. What Potiphar did to Joseph out of selfishness, God does for us out of purity. He shows us grace. God does not have to give us anything – He doesn’t even have to give us life! But He does, and then He gives us so much more!
  2. From a human perspective, Potiphar chose Joseph for this position of “overseer,” (literally “chosen/appointed”) because Joseph showed himself capable of responsibility. No matter what task was assigned to Joseph, he did it with skill and efficiency. He demonstrated himself capable in the little things, and that led to bigger things.
    1. There is a balance here of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Did God have all things under His control? Absolutely – it’s impossible read verses 3-5 any other way. But Joseph was still active. He still “served” Potiphar – he still worked with diligence for his earthly master, even though he didn’t want to have an earthly master in the first place. Joseph trusted God, even while he did everything he could with the utmost he had for the glory of God.
    2. From a practical perspective, we want to do the same. We want to do the most we can with whatever we have. Colossians 3:22–24, “(22) Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. (23) And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, (24) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” It comes down to this: who do we serve? Jesus! We all have employers, or other people to whom we’re responsible to one extent or the other. But as Christians, we work for the glory of Christ – He is our driving factor behind everything we do. So we ought to do it with our very best!
  3. So we know Potiphar was selfish in his motives of grace. He was blessed because Joseph was blessed. Don’t miss this: YHWH blessed Potiphar because of Joseph. Much of this was due to the covenant God made to Abraham. He would bless those who blessed him (Gen 12:3), and thus when Potiphar showed grace to Joseph, God showed grace to Potiphar. God gave Potiphar success he didn’t deserve simply because of his relationship with Joseph. (Not unlike the grace we receive from God because of our relationship with Jesus!)
  4. In the end, Potiphar knew he had a good thing going. He trusted Joseph completely, not even knowing what it was he possessed. Joseph was more than a slave; he was the CEO of Potiphar’s household. That’s the result of good, hard work! That’s the result of the grace of God!
  • Furor with Potiphar’s wife (6c-18)

… Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”

  1. Apparently, Joseph was blessed with more than a good work ethic; he had good looks as well. Interestingly, the previous time this description was used, it was about Joseph’s mother Rachel (Gen 29:17). Whatever the cultural standard for beauty was at the time, it seemed to run through the family of Abraham & Nahor: Sarah and Rebekah were both beautiful enough even in their senior years to be desired by foreign kings, and Rachel’s beauty basically caused Jacob to experience love at first sight.
    1. It should be noted that not all those who are blessed by God experience good looks. People complained about Paul, that he seemed weak in person when he was bold in his letters (2 Cor 10:10), and Isaiah prophesied about Jesus that there was nothing about His appearance that anyone would desire Him (Isa 53:2). Beauty on the inside is far more valuable than beauty on the outside. What is considered “handsome” or “pretty” changes from culture to culture and from time to time, but godly character transcends all.
  2. That said, Joseph was handsome, and Potiphar’s wife wanted this handsome slave. Like the foreign kings who desired the women of Abraham’s house, so did this wife of a foreign ruler desire this particular son of Abraham. The major difference being that as a wife, she had no legal/cultural right to take on a lover. (The other husbands shouldn’t have done it, but it was culturally acceptable for them to do so.) When she asked Joseph to bed her, she made a blatant offer of adultery, and Joseph knew it immediately.

8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”

  1. Joseph both understood his blessing and the full wickedness of sin. He didn’t want to be a slave, but even in his position, he had a good thing going. He was basically the head of Potiphar’s house, having access to anything he desired – all except personal freedom, and the wife of his master. Why would he risk it all? Besides, it was “great wickedness.” To throw away his privileges was one thing, but to do so in order to commit willful sin was something else. Joseph understood this wasn’t a “one night stand,” or a casual “hookup,” or anything of the like. He wasn’t about to sanitize the act for anything less than what it was: sin.
    1. We have the tendency to whitewash our actions in order to justify our sin. It’s just a “little white lie,” or it’s only a “minor thing.” Boys will be boys, after all, and everyone does it anyway. – No! It’s sin. It is great wickedness, and it ought not to be done. The moment we change the label is the moment we’ve left the heart of God. We’ve departed His holiness, and started rewriting the rules of morality in our own image. There is great danger in this, for it just leads to more & more sin to come.
    2. This is why confession is so important when it comes to repentance. If we’re going to repent from sin, we need to be able to call it what it is. It’s not just a look of lust; it’s adultery of the heart. It’s not just hatred; it’s murder of the heart. It’s sin – it’s rebellion – it is contrary to the heart and character of our Holy Creator, and until we recognize that we will never truly kill off the desire to engage in such wickedness.
  2. Joseph recognized something else: ultimately, the sin was not against Potiphar, but against God. Yes, to sleep with his master’s wife was to sin against his master – but that wasn’t the one to whom Joseph was ultimately responsible. Eventually, Joseph would give account to the Lord God. The same YHWH who had been with Joseph and protected Joseph would also judge Joseph…and this sort of adulterous sin would be exposed for what it was. To engage in this sin was to transgress against God, and Joseph could not bear the thought of that.
    1. When it comes to sin and temptation, we often try to fight it through legalism. If we just set up more rules and more boundaries for ourselves, then we’ll stay far from sin (or so we think). A far better deterrent than legalism, is love. It’s one thing to set up a boundary as we look at sin in the distance; it’s another thing to have our sight focused somewhere else entirely. The more we look to the Lord Jesus in love and worship, the less we’ll desire sin in the first place. Why desire something that takes us away from Jesus, rather than to Him? Boundaries aren’t bad (and can be helpful!), but love is always more effective than legalism.
  3. So Joseph responded well, and said “no.” But it didn’t end that easily…

10 So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. 11 But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, 12 that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.

  1. Joseph faced this temptation on a daily basis, and day-by-day he was successful in resisting her. His mind was determined not to sin against God, and he simply wasn’t going to allow himself to do it. Potiphar’s wife, on the other hand, was just as determined. Desiring Joseph all the more because he was someone she couldn’t have, she plotted some form of catching him off-guard, and eventually succeeded with an ambush. All of a sudden, Joseph and the wife were alone without witnesses, and she grabbed him “by his garment.” What exactly this piece of clothing was, we do not know. The word could be used for anything ranging from an outer coat, to a tunic, to a loincloth. It all depends how the servants of Potiphar dressed in his house. Whatever the piece of clothing was, the wife took hold, and she thought she had Joseph cornered. Any act of force on his part would leave physical evidence of potential “manhandling,” and she could continue to wear him down and try to seduce him as long as she held on.
  2. Joseph’s solution? Run away! He wriggled his way out of his clothing, and fled. Although to some, this doesn’t exactly scream out “bravery,” it’s been often said that “Discretion is the better part of valor,” and that was the case here. The easy thing for Joseph to do would have been to give into temptation. He could have explained it away as not having a choice, as following the commands of the woman of the house, etc. Instead, he bravely stuck to his devotion to God, and did the only thing he could do: run. Joseph did literally what Paul instructed figuratively: 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” Sexual temptation is so vicious, that sometimes the very best thing to do is literally get up & go. Leave, get out of the room, run away from the computer, hang up the phone, etc., …do whatever it takes to get out of the current situation. In writing of how to fight temptation, Paul tells the Corinthians that God always provides a “way of escape,” (1 Cor 1:13), and sometimes that way is literal. Instead of looking for inner moral strength, perhaps we ought to be looking for a door!
    1. One of the most effective strategies Satan employs against Christians is to isolate us, and make us believe we need to face our temptations alone. That’s a recipe for disaster. When you’re alone and tempted, one of the very best things you can do is to get up, get out, and get around other brothers or sisters in Christ.
  3. Joseph succeeded in resisting temptation, having fled, but he still had a problem. No doubt knew he had his garment torn off, and that would leave some incriminating evidence behind. Surely she would twist this to her advantage (which she did). Even so, Joseph knew better than to go back. He had done the right thing, and now he needed to trust the Lord. He risked his own reputation for the sake of righteousness.

13 And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, 14 that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.”

  1. Humiliated, the wife came up with a plan B. If she couldn’t have Joseph, then she would punish him. She tested a lie on the other household servants, establishing the fake back-story with them, so that they would be corroborating “witnesses,” even though they never saw anything. In her version, Joseph approached her & attempted to seduce her, only to be stopped when she “cried out with a loud voice.” That’s when Joseph ran from the room, leaving his clothing behind. 
  2. The problems: (1) There’s no indication she cried out, although she could have shouted after Joseph fled. (2) Surely the servants knew of her desire for Joseph. If she waited for her ambush until all the other servants were outside, then it probably meant that some of her previous advances had been while the servants were inside. In any case, it seems that the other servants remained silent. The wife had basically given her orders as to what they were to say, if asked, and they were obedient (much to Joseph’s chagrin).

16 So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. 17 Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; 18 so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”

  1. What she told the servants, she told her husband. Few details (if any) changed, and she stuck to her lie.
  2. Notice that she blamed Potiphar for what had happened. As she had said with the servants, it was this Hebrew slave that Potiphar “brought to us.” Potiphar was the one who introduced this foreigner into their household – he was the one who trusted the Hebrew with his finances and house economy. If Potiphar had been more wary of the Hebrew, than none of this would have happened. Of course, it was all her way of shifting the blame. She had been humiliated, so she blamed Joseph (who denied her) – she blamed the other servants (who weren’t around, and had to be called inside) – and she blamed her husband (who trusted Joseph). She blamed everyone except herself, yet she was the only one who had sinned.
    1. Isn’t that what we so often do? We sin & experience the natural guilt, so instead of dealing with it directly, we find other people to blame for our problems. “It’s my parents’ fault I am the way I am…” “It’s my boss’ fault for forcing me to do this…” “It’s my husband/wife/ex’s fault for pushing my buttons…” Stop blaming others, and simply confess. You can deny your sin all day long in your mind, but it doesn’t change the truth – and it sure doesn’t cleanse you from the guilt. What you need is the forgiveness of Jesus, and it only comes through confession and faith. (1 Jn 1:9)
  • Favor in Potiphar’s prison (19-23)

19 So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. 20 Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison.

  1. Potiphar was angry, but cautious. He had the right to kill Joseph right then & there without a trial, but didn’t. Instead, he put Joseph in a controlled environment – even a (relatively) comfortable prison, “where the king’s prisoners were confined,” i.e., minimum security. It indicates that Potiphar knew there was more to the story than what he heard from his wife. He knew something had happened, but he didn’t know exactly what.
  2. It was good that Potiphar didn’t kill Joseph; it would have been better if he interviewed him and learned the truth! Even so, this was part of God’s ultimate plan. Remember, things had to get worse for Joseph before they got better. But this doesn’t mean that God was punishing Joseph. The Bible specifically tells us otherwise!

21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

  1. YHWH was still with Joseph! In fact, He showed him “” This is the word hesed (חֶסֶד), which often refers to the covenantal-keeping lovingkindness of God. Far from abandoning or punishing Joseph – far from forgetting about His promises to Joseph; God was keeping them. All of this was the process for God’s promises to Joseph to be fulfilled.
  2. How often do we miss this? There we are, enduring suffering or some other trial, believing that God has somehow forgotten us or that He’s disciplining us for some unknown reason. Yet perhaps it isn’t a punishment at all; it could simply be part of the process. Like heavy cream that needs to be shaken for butter to be the result, perhaps God wants us to be transformed, and it requires a bit of shaking. God sees infinitely more than we do – He knows infinitely more than we do. He knows exactly what it will take to get the result that He wants. In Joseph’s case, it required that he be sent to Egyptian prison; only afterwards could he be made the Egyptian prime minister. In our case, it may be something different – but God knows exactly what it is, and He will do exactly what it takes for us to get there. That isn’t Him forgetting His promises; it’s Him keeping
  3. With Joseph, God did in the prison exactly what He did in Potiphar’s house. He caused the prison-keeper to extend grace. The warden gave to Joseph privileges he did not deserve, ultimately because God moved upon his heart to do so. From the warden’s perspective, it was self-serving, just as it had been with Potiphar, because Joseph was so good at what he did…

22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. 23 The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.

  1. Joseph was still chosen to receive responsibility, and still trusted by the Egyptian leadership with all kinds of tasks. Think about that for a moment. Joseph was trusted by someone who directly reported to the same captain of the guard who had thrown Joseph into prison on the charge of adultery. The things Joseph did spoke volumes about his character, far more than the rumors swirling about him. In fact, Joseph even received more responsibility than he had in Potiphar’s house. Instead of being responsible for a large household, Joseph was now responsible for all of the inmates of the prison. He was so good at what he did, the warden never even had to double-check Joseph’s work. That’s a good worker!
  2. Question: Was all of this success due to Joseph? Not at all! Joseph was a good worker, being faithful in his duties, but it was God who “made it prosper!” Again, there is a balance between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Joseph could not have sat on his hands and done nothing, but it wouldn’t have mattered what he did if the Lord had not been his help. If God hadn’t moved on his behalf, nothing would have happened. All of Joseph’s success (even in the prison!) belonged to the Lord God. 

Genesis 40 – Joseph and Pharaoh’s Servants

  • Servants troubled with dreams (1-8)

1 It came to pass after these things that the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. 2 And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief butler and the chief baker. 3 So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined. 4 And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them; so they were in custody for a while.

  1. Time passes, more prisoners arrive, and Joseph is given even more responsibility. More work to do?! Yes, but more blessing. Remember that the Lord was with Joseph. Everything that was given to Joseph came through the hands of God. God was not overworking Joseph; He was putting Joseph in contact with all the right people leading up to the right time.
  2. In this case, the two prisoners were closely connected to Pharaoh, personally serving him. The butler served as Pharaoh’s personal attendant & food taster, whereas the baker was the man who cooked his food and prepared his (literal) daily bread. Both of these men had the potential of bringing physical harm to their king, so they needed his utmost trust and confidence. For some reason, they had offended Pharaoh, lost his trust, and ended up in jail. It was there that they came under the care of Joseph, who was specifically charged by “the captain of the guard” (Potiphar?!) to attend to them. This was a high-profile case, something that wouldn’t be given to just “any” prison worker. It was given to the very best: to Joseph.

5 Then the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream, both of them, each man’s dream in one night and each man’s dream with its own interpretation. 6 And Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that they were sad. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, saying, “Why do you look so sad today?” 8 And they said to him, “We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.” So Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.”

  1. Each prisoner had an unusual dream. It bothered them so much that they were both visibly affected by it the following day. What to do? Normally, they would have had access to the court pagan-magicians and counselors, but not while they were in jail. A need had arisen, and a man was available to meet it: Joseph. It was as if God arranged the entire thing. (He did!) Joseph was right there to encourage the two men and offer them his services as an interpreter. He had his own experiences in the past with dreams, and he thought he could be of some help to them.
  2. Note: Joseph doesn’t promote himself as the all-wise Hebrew prisoner; he promotes the Lord God. “Do not interpretations belong to God?” It’s reminiscent of Daniel, who later did the same thing with Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Dan 2:28). It isn’t in Joseph, Daniel, or any man to interpret the things which are secret and mysterious. Any one of us might have our own opinions, but opinions aren’t what are needed in interpretations; truth is. Where can we find the truth? In God alone.
    1. That’s just as true of theology, as it is of dreams. When we want to learn about God, we don’t need another one of the opinions of men. We don’t need stories & anecdotes; we need truth. Where can we find truth? The word of God! We look to what God has to say about Himself, and that is where we find the interpretation.
  • Butler’s dream and interpretation (9-15)

9 Then the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “Behold, in my dream a vine was before me, 10 and in the vine were three branches; it was as though it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes. 11 Then Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

  1. Butler’s dream: pressing new wine/grape juice into Pharaoh’s cup. He was doing what he had always done before. He was simply serving his king, and his king received the service.
  2. Is this good or bad? Wine is often symbolic of blessing, but it can sometimes be a picture of blood/judgment. The butler didn’t know, and this was what troubled him.

12 And Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days. 13 Now within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your place, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand according to the former manner, when you were his butler.

  1. The interpretation: restoration. This was good news! Three days, and he would be free & back to normal. Pharaoh would “lift up” his head, symbolically exalting him, restoring him to his former position.
  2. In light of the good news, Joseph asks for a favor…

14 But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. 15 For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon.”

  1. Joseph appealed to the butler to intercede to Pharaoh on his behalf. Remember that although Joseph was in slavery and prison by the sovereign hand of God, he was innocent! He had not betrayed his brothers; he had been betrayed by them. He had not mistreated his master’s wife; she had mistreated him. Joseph surely had seen God’s favor upon him where he was, but that didn’t mean he wanted to stay where he was! Like any normal person, he wanted to get out, so he asked for a bit of help.
  2. Even this was part of God’s plan. Although it would take longer than Joseph expected or desired, it was the intercession of the butler that would eventually cause Joseph to stand before Pharaoh. Every bit of this is marked with the sovereignty of God!
  • Baker’s dream and interpretation (16-19)

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, “I also was in my dream, and there were three white baskets on my head. 17 In the uppermost basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, and the birds ate them out of the basket on my head.”

  1. Baker’s dream: he was also doing what he had done before, but instead of Pharaoh receiving the baked goods, the birds were eating it.
  2. Is this good or bad? This one was a little less ambiguous. Birds were often symbolic of judgment, as in the carrion birds that feasted on a battlefield. Even so, because the butler received a “good” interpretation, the baker was hoping for something similar.

18 So Joseph answered and said, “This is the interpretation of it: The three baskets are three days. 19 Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head from you and hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh from you.”

  1. The interpretation: death. He would also be given three days, but instead of three days until exaltation, it would be three days until execution.
  2. NKJV takes a bit of liberty with the translation. Literally, the text reads: “He will, Pharaoh, lift up your head,” mirroring exactly what Joseph said earlier to the butler, but then Joseph goes on to add, “from upon you.” To the butler, Joseph said, “Pharaoh will lift up your head,” using the phrase figuratively as an expression of exaltation. To the baker, Joseph made it literal: “Pharaoh will lift up your head from upon you,” referring to the method of execution. The baker would be hanged (impaled), and likely beheaded at the same time, left for the carrion birds to come and devour.
  3. The other difference between the butler and the baker is what Joseph went on to say: nothing. To the butler, Joseph asked for future intercession; to the baker, Joseph didn’t bother. Why ask for a favor, if the baker wasn’t going to live to grant it? If the baker got the opportunity to ask about Joseph, then Joseph’s interpretation would have been false & the baker wouldn’t have wanted to mention Joseph anyway. Joseph was so certain of the baker’s demise that he knew it didn’t matter what he said after this point. God had revealed the man’s death, and God’s word would prove true.
    1. Demonstrates something important: Joseph still believed God’s dreams/interpretations to be valid. Even after all his years of suffering and waiting, not seeing his own dreams fulfilled, Joseph held out hope that eventually they would be. Why? Because God had granted them, and God does not lie. In all of his trials, Joseph still had faith.
    2. We give up on faith too soon – we give up on God too soon! We pray & pray, even pleading God’s promises from His word…but when we don’t see them fulfilled in our expected timeframe, we give up. We stop praying – we stop believing – we stop trusting God. Don’t stop! Don’t quit! God is good to His promises, every time! What He has written, He fulfills. But He does it in His way; not ours. Trust Him!
  • Dreams fulfilled (20-22)

20 Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. 21 Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.

  1. Both dreams were accurate to the tiniest of details. Three days passed, and the butler was restored while the baker was killed. Exactly what Joseph said came to pass. God’s word proved true…as it always does.
  • Joseph forgotten (23)

23 Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

  1. We don’t read of the butler’s response to Joseph when Joseph made his request for intercession, but apparently the man agreed to do it. But when he had the opportunity, he didn’t. The butler forgot Joseph.
  2. Thankfully, God did not. The overriding refrain through the last two chapters was that God was with Joseph, so even in the butler’s forgetting, God was working. He was waiting on the right time, which would come an excruciating long two years later. (Gen 41:1) But it did God never forgot Joseph – the thoughts He had towards him were innumerable! (Just like His thoughts towards us!)

Conclusion:

Things had been bad for Joseph, and they seemed to get a lot worse before they got better. He went from sibling betrayal to slavery, from slavery to sexual temptation, from seduction to slander, and from slander to prison. Even at the moment in prison when it seemed as if Joseph might have a way out, that seemed to flounder as he languished day after day for years on end.

But that’s not really the story of Chapters 39-40 of Genesis. The real story is this: “The Lord was with Joseph.” YHWH God was always with Joseph, superintending his circumstances, blessing his efforts, giving him favor with his masters, and guiding Joseph to exactly where he needed to be at exactly the right time he needed to be there. God was fulfilling His promises to Joseph, showering him with lovingkindness and mercies, even if it seemed that God was silent the entire time.

In what circumstances in your life does it seem that God is silent? Where does it seem that God has forgotten you? He hasn’t! God knows you just as well as He knows Joseph, and His sovereignty over your circumstances is just as total. There isn’t a single trial you (as a born-again Christian) endure that God cannot and will not turn to His glory. God does not waste the tears of His children! He will use them for the glory of Jesus.