Joseph Who Saved His People
Genesis 45:4-13, "And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be ea ring nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharoah, and the lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not: and thou shalt dwe/1 in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: and there will nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and a/1 that thou hast, come to poverty. And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. And ye sha/1 te/1 my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither."
Beginning with chapter thirty-seven of Genesis, the story of Joseph and his brethren is told. At the time of our text Joseph is ruler in Egypt, second in power only to Pharoah. To learn the lessons of these events we need to consider three questions to set the stage: (1) Why was Joseph, a Hebrew, in Egypt? (2) How did this Hebrew rise to such great power in Egypt? (3) What is the explanation for the way Joseph acted toward his brothers when they first came to Egypt, and the way he later treated them?
Why In Egypt?
The reason Joseph was in Egypt is because his brothers had sold him as a slave to Midianite merchants going to Egypt. Jacob had sent Joseph into the fields to Inquire of the welfare of the older brothers. When they saw him they were provoked to slay him, but later decided upon this lesser plan of selling him.
The entire fault for the enmity between Joseph and his brothers did not rest with the brothers, though they were also responsible. Jacob, the father, contributed to It by showing partiality toward Joseph as his favorite son, being born of Rachel whom he loved more than others. He provided Joseph a coat of many colors and did not demand of him the labor he expected from Joseph's brothers. All of this provoked jealousy and envy against Joseph.
Joseph had also provoked his brothers by bragging, boastfully, of his superiority over them which he determined through dreams he had showing them and even their father bowing before him. As is often the case in many disputes, fault was found in more than one place.
From Place To Place
Once in Egypt, Joseph was sold to an officer of Pharoah named Potiphar, where Joseph rose to be a most trusted servant and head over his house. But due to false accusations against him by Potiphar's wife, Joseph was later cast into prison.
But, as the saying goes, "You can't keep a good man down." Joseph soon rose to be head over all the prisoners. It was while in prison that he interpreted dreams for Pharoah's butler and baker who had been cast there. His Interpretations came true, the baker being hanged and the butler restored to service before Pharoah. Later, when Pharoah had dreams and none could discern them, Joseph was called, gave their meaning which foretold seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph was placed head over all Egypt to preserve the crops of the good years to provide for the lean years. He was a wise counselor and confidential friend of the Pharoah. This explains his presence and position in Egypt.
The predicted famine spread unto Canaan where Jacob and his other sons lived. These sons were sent Into Egypt to buy grain and were brought before Joseph. Not recognizing him, nonetheless Joseph readily knew them. Joseph had been sold as a slave when only seventeen. He was about thirty when brought before Pharoah, the seven years of plenty had passed and two of the famine years had gone by, so Joseph was now about thirty-nine years old. It is easy to understand why his brothers did not recognize him. Furthermore, they would never have expected to see their brother in such a prominent position in Egypt.
With His Brother
Joseph did not reveal himself to his brothers right away. He may have wondered why Jacob never came looking for him. He later learned that Jacob had been led to believe a beast had killed him. The last time he saw his brothers they hated him, were cruel, harsh, and mercenary. Joseph put them through several tests to see if there had been any change in their character during the past twenty-two years. What he learned pleased him because once they were willing to sell their brother, but now they were willing to give their lives for another brother, Benjamin. There had been an enormous change for the better among them all. This being true, then Joseph revealed himself to them as the brother they had sold years ago.
The brothers were fearful that Joseph might take revenge. They wondered what Joseph would do with them. He certainly had the power to do whatever he chose. But Joseph called them near, as our text tells us, and explained all the things that had happened in a very different light than what the brothers might have expected. In his explanation we learn at least three very important spiritual truths.
First, we see the providence of God at work (verses 7,8). Joseph could see God's hand in al1 that had occurred. God had been with him in Potiphar's house, in prison, before Pharoah, al1 for the purpose of making provision for the family of Jacob, the descendant of Abraham and Isaac through whom God's great promises would be fulfilled as the father of the nation of Israel.
Joseph had undergone quite a change himself from the boastful boy of seventeen. He could have bragged before them how “I told you so” and that he had pul1ed himself up even from adversity. But he did not do this. He gave ful1 credit to God and God's care. We learn that God could and did use this holy man.
In the providence of God we also see how God could and did use evil men and their wicked ways to accomplish His purposes. This does not mean that the end justifies the means, that the wicked are not guilty of their sins, but God can use what men decide to do to bring about His will. How many times did God use wicked nations to bring His people, Israel, into hardship, to humble them, and cause them to repent and return to God! God used those Jews and Gentiles of the first century to bring the death of Christ to reality, and by that death salvation can be offered for all mankind.
In God's providence we see how the “natural affairs” of life can be overruled by the Lord. There was nothing miraculous in this, except the ability of Joseph to interpret dreams. Nothing miraculous took place when Esther was used by the Lord to preserve Israel from extermination at the designs of Haman and the Persians. But as Mordecai told Esther. “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”(Esther 4: 14) We do not and cannot always know how God may be overruling in the affairs of men and nations. Our prime concern should be that we would allow God to use us by our choice to follow His Word faithfully and thereby be ready for service to Him whatever and whenever opportunity affords.
Second, we must admire the forgiving spirit of Joseph. He had been subjected to violence, injustice, ingratitude, and disadvantage over and over again. He had opportunity for some revenge. All he had to do was to give the order. But he was merciful and kind. Having given his brothers opportunity to show their penitence, he favored them in every way, not holding them accountable for all that had happened, but forgave them of their evil against him and offered a genuine benevolent attitude and action toward all.
Someone has suggested that in all this Joseph is one of the most Christ-like characters of the Old Testament. He did as God has done toward us and as He would have us do toward those that sin against us. God seeks not revenge against the sinner, but that the sinner comes the way of forgiveness and be blessed. Jesus was willing to forgive those who sinned against Him (Luke 23:34). This is what we are taught to do. Ephesians 4:32; “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”
Third, we must note the value of maintaining a righteous character, even in times of adversity, or possibly we should say, especially in times of adversity. Joseph lived under severe condition, temptations to sin, trying circumstances that would test his faith and loyalty to God. But he had a determination to do right. He, like Daniel, purposed in his heart not to defile himself. Regardless of what came his way or his lot in life, he was committed to remain faithful to the God of heaven and earth.
We learn that we ought never sacrifice a Christian and godly character to succeed, or be popular, or even to be relieved of suffering. If we feel we must sacrifice the righteous character to succeed, then we may be trying to succeed in the wrong things. If we think we must compromise truth and virtue to be accepted by others, then we are trying to be accepted by the wrong people. It was Joseph's resolve to live properly before God, in purity of life and strength of character, come what may! We learn that nothing in this life is of sufficient value to alienate ourselves from God or to stoop beneath the Christ like level.
Paul teaches that such accounts are written for our learning (Romans 15:4; First Corinthians 10: 11). May we be so wise and submissive as to learn and apply these spiritual truths into our own lives.