In our last study we witnessed an epic rags to riches story. While Joseph remained in the bowels of the King’s Prison, one night Pharaoh had a dream none of his magicians or the wisest men of Egypt were able to interpret. Then, remembering his interactions with Joseph, Pharaoh’s Butler suggests giving this Hebrew slave a chance to provide the interpretation.
Desperate to understand the meaning of the dream, Pharaoh sends for Joseph to be brought before him. In the end not only does Joseph tell Pharaoh that God was revealing to him that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of severe famine, but Joseph continues by advising Pharaoh to set into motion a set of preparatory measures.
Joseph suggests that during the seven years of plenty a 20% tax on all the grain production be enacted and that Pharaoh place a trusted and wise man to oversee the project. Incredibly, Pharaoh not only agrees with this assessment, but appoints Joseph to the position!
In one single day Joseph goes from a man forgotten to the second most powerful man in the world! Because Pharaoh believes Joseph to be a Savior, he entrusts all of Egypt to his care. Additionally, Joseph is provided a wife affording him instant status and power.
Genesis 41:45-49, “So Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt. 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.
Now in the seven plentiful years the ground brought forth abundantly. So Joseph 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. Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable.”
According to Moses’ account during these seven years of plenty this 20% tax yielded so much grain that Joseph simply stopped recording the bounty. Not only was Egypt prepared for this coming famine, but the amount of grain they were able to accumulate placed the Egyptians into a situation where they could financially capitalize. These provisions would not only save Egypt from the famine, but would enrich her in the process.
Genesis 41:50-52, “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. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: ‘For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.’ And the name of the second he called Ephraim: ‘For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.’”
It would appear not only was Joseph’s professional life profitable, but his personal life also proved fruitful. During the next seven years “before the years of the famine came” Joseph and his wife Asenath had two sons. The first born Joseph names “Manasseh” which is literally translated as “forgetting” and the second he names “Ephraim” meaning “fruitful.”
From the time Joseph had been sold into slavery until his ultimate ascent there is no doubt he struggled seeing God’s providential hand behind his trying circumstances. As with anyone, Joseph wrestles with the “why” and the “how” of God’s plan and his plight.
I’m sure for years Joseph had been continually nagged with questions for which he had no answers… Why had a loving God allowed his brothers to sell him into slavery? Why had God allowed Potiphar to send him to prison knowing his innocence? Why had God not caused the Butler to remember him when he’d demonstrated nothing but kindness?
It seems, all things considered, hindsight provided him clarity. Now that he’d ascended to this position of power and was being used by God as an instrument of salvation, Joseph finally understood why God had sent him to Egypt, why He allowed him to be falsely accused and thrown into prison, why it was necessary to God’s plan that the Butler forget!
The naming of these two sons provides us a glimpse into Joseph’s heart. First, seeing God’s plan manifesting before his eyes, Joseph was finally able to let go of any bitterness he’d felt towards those who’d done him wrong. Sure, the actions of his brothers, Potiphar and his wife, and what the Butler had done still stung, but the knowledge that God had used these things to accomplish His will enabled Joseph to let go and ultimately move forward.
And it was as a result of Joseph finally letting go of his bitterness and laying aside his hurt feelings that his life began to bear fruit. By the time his second son Ephraim was born God’s blessings were unmistakeable. The season of incredible suffering had been necessary to prepared him to be the man God had called him to be - a savior for the world!
Genesis 41:53-57, “Then the seven years of plenty which were in the land of Egypt ended, 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. 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.’ The famine was over all the face of the earth, and he opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians. And the famine became severe in the land of Egypt. So all countries came to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands.”
Following these seven years of plenty, just as God had revealed to Pharaoh through his dream, this famine hit with vengeance. In addition to the effects on the food production in Egypt being severe, we’re also told “the famine was over all the face of the earth.”
Because of Pharaoh’s faith in Joseph and his willingness to place his trust in Joseph’s plan, not only were the Egyptians preserved, but “all the countries came to Joseph to buy grain.” I imagine, knowing how such a famine would effect his family back in Canaan, for Joseph, the full picture of God’s plan was coming into view. Fast-forward two years into the famine.
Genesis 42:1-2, “When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you look at one another?’ 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.’”
Recognizing their resources were reaching a critical level - placing their survival in parol, Jacob pragmatically decides it would be wise to send his sons to Egypt to purchase grain.
Note: This decision sets into motion a chain of events recorded over the next three chapters that will ultimately lead to a grand reveal no one in this family could have ever imagined.
It’s a difficult idea to consider, but even dwelling in the Promised Land God’s people were not immune to this famine. For so many years Jacob had lived outside of the place God had called him to be and had even prospered; and yet, now that he’s right where God wanted him, Jacob and his family are facing a trial of incredible proportions.
Please understand, obeying God does not pardon you from the natural struggles of life in a fallen world. Jacob was being obedient by dwelling in the land God had promised him, but he was still facing the same famine the rest of the world was also trying to endure! And yet, as we’re going to see over the coming weeks, God had a huge plan for it all!
In a book we’ve dubbed the “Genesis of Grace” you should note this particular famine played a significant role in God revealing to His people a much larger reality… The fact is every story of God’s amazing grace always leads to a Savior! There is no greater manifestation of God’s unmerited favor than His offer of salvation to people who cannot save themselves!
I know I’ve mentioned this in subsequent studies, but this is as good a time as any to develop this idea of Joseph being a picture of Jesus. It really is amazing that within his story we not only see Christ, but we’re provided the overarching narrative of the entire Bible!
First, like Joseph and his dreams, Jesus came to His brethren with a revelation from God. Sadly, the children of Israel (like Joseph’s brothers) not only rejected His message, but, on account of their envy, they eventually rejected this Brother (who by the way was also the favorite Son of His Father as well) by selling Him to the Gentiles for thirty pieces of silver.
And yet, while these sons of Jacob were convinced Jesus was also dead, like Joseph, from His place of suffering He was ultimately exalted to be the Savior of the world… As Joseph rose to be second in command of Pharaoh, Jesus ascended to the right hand of His Father.
And it was during this time when the children of Israel still rejected Jesus believing Him, like Joseph, to be dead, an incredible harvest ensued - a season of plenty.
And note, it was during this season (before the arrival of a 7 year tribulation) that Jesus, once again like Joseph, was given a Gentile bride who’s offspring would be “grafted in” or “adopted” into the family of Abraham. During this season Jesus forgot the pain that had been inflicted by His brothers (Manasseh) experiencing instead great fruitfulness (Ephraim).
However, in much the same way as we’ll see with Joseph, Jesus was not through with His brethren. You see God will specifically use a famine (a 7 year period of global tribulation) to bring the children of Israel to the place where they’d see the very Brother they had rejected and believed to be dead (Jesus) had indeed been exalted to be their Savior as well!
What makes all of this so incredible is that within the story of Joseph, recorded at the end of Genesis, we not only see a picture of Jesus, His rejection by the children of Israel, ultimate suffering and exaltation as the Savior of the world, but we see a picture of the Church, this season of harvest, and the final unveiling of Jesus to Israel during the Great Tribulation!
Genesis 42:3-5, “So Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, ‘Lest some calamity befall him.’ And the sons of Israel went to buy grain among those who journeyed, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.”
For context, by this point in the narrative, Joseph is approximately 39 years old, Benjamin is in his late 20’s, with the rest of his brothers ranging between 40 and 60 years in age. Since Benjamin is his only remaining son of Rachel, Jacob forbids his involvement sending instead the other ten on the 250 mile journey from Hebron to Egypt to purchase grain.
Genesis 42:6-7, “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. 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.’”
Certain that his family would be coming to Egypt to purchase grain at some point in time, I’m confident Joseph had been on the lookout. We’re told when his brothers finally do arrive Joseph immediately “recognizes them,” but they do not recognize him as their brother.
Truth be told this should not be all that surprising. Physically speaking there is no doubt Joseph has naturally changed a lot over the last 20 years. He’s gone from being a scrappy, pimpled-faced teenager to a hardened man of Egypt. Not only does Joseph’s face show the difficult life of slavery and imprisonment, but he’s presently dawning the attire of an Egyptian.
Aside from all this, as we’ll soon see, these brothers are fairly confident Joseph had passed away. It’d been 20 years and the life-expectancy of a slave in ancient Egypt wasn’t very long. In no way do any of them believe they’re going to cross paths with their brother.
Imagine what this specific moment must have been like for Joseph when his ten brothers unknowingly come before him and “bowed down with their faces to the earth?” The language used here is identical to that which Joseph had seen in his two dreams. Note: For the majority of the dialogue with his brothers Joseph will speak to them through a translator.
Now before we get into the specifics of Joseph’s interactions with his brothers you need to know the reasoning behind his approach. As we’re told Joseph’s is indeed “rough” and the way he handles them leading up to his ultimate reveal is complicated to say the least.
Always keep in mind that Joseph handles his brothers the way he does because he’s trying to ascertain whether or not they’re genuinely repentant for what they’d done to him. To do this Joseph wants to see how these men are treating his youngest brother Benjamin - who he rightly believed had taken his place in the home as his father’s favorite.
Genesis 42:8-13, “So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and said to them, ‘You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!’ And they said to him, ‘No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men; your servants are not spies.’
But Joseph said to them, ‘No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land.’ 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.’”
In order to get these men talking so that he could gain a more complete picture of what was going on, through his interpreter, Joseph accuses them of being “spies” who’d come to Egypt looking for vulnerabilities in the system. Logically, since Egypt had the only grain supply in a world being ravaged by a famine, there was prudency in vetting any and all foreigners.
Not only do they quickly deny any ill-intent, but they explain to Joseph that they’re nothing more than “one man’s sons” living “in the land of Canaan.” In a manner of full disclosure they continue by saying there’s actually twelve sons in totality - “the youngest” who’d remained with their father and another that had passed away (“one is no more”). Imagine Joseph’s reaction when these brothers claim to be “honest men!” Not the brothers he remembered!
Genesis 42:14-16, “But Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I spoke to you, saying, ‘You are spies!’ In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 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!’”
Once again it’s important to remember two key realities: (1) Admittedly, Joseph has zero reason to trust his brothers, and (2) he has no idea what’s actually transpired over the last 20 years back at home. He doesn’t know how his brothers eventually spun to his father what they had done to him, and he doesn’t know how they’ve treated his brother Benjamin.
With this in mind, Joseph presents a “test” by which he’ll get his answers. Nine of the ten will remain “in prison” while they send one brother back to Canaan to retrieve Benjamin. If the one returns with the youngest Joseph will know their story is true and that they aren’t spies. Truth be told Joseph’s intention is to get Benjamin brought down to Egypt.
Genesis 42:17-20, “So he put them all together in prison three days. Then Joseph said to them the third day, ‘Do this and live, for I fear God: 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. And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die.’ And they did so.”
After allowing them to “sit in prison for three days” Joseph returns with a new proposal: Instead of nine remaining in prison and only one brother going home to retrieve Benjamin, one brother will stay while the other nine make the journey home. Also, in an act of good-will, Joseph will even allow them to return with grain for their households.
Interestingly enough, Joseph is creating a dynamic that will test how far these brothers will go to save the one left behind. Will they take the easy route and ultimately leave him?
Genesis 42:21-24, “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.’ 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.’ But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. And he turned himself away from them and wept.”
It’s amazing how these ten men process this dicy situation they’re now facing in Egypt. Their conclusion as to the origin of their present “distress” was that they were “truly guilty” for not “hearing” or acting with compassion when they “saw the anguish of Joseph when he pleaded” with them not to sell him into slavery. Reuben even goes so far as to conclude God was now judging them for their actions… “Behold, his blood is now required of us.”
It’s clear their conscience is still eating at them for what they had done to Joseph some 20 years before. Their secret sin stirred a guilt they’ve never been able to escape. What they had done to Joseph and eaten at these men for years. They knew it had been wrong. They knew their actions that day had been terrible, and they’d been miserable since.
The way the scene sets itself up is that these ten brothers have this very raw conversation in Hebrew directly in front of Joseph - who they believe only speaks Egyptian. Ironically, Joseph understands every word which is why “he turned himself away from them and wept!”
What a heavy moment it must have been as Joseph hears the very men who’d so wronged him deeply acknowledge their sin. I’m sure, as they’re talking, moments and memories - hurts and terrors flood back into his soul. That day when he was attacked and thrown into the pit had been so long ago and yet now he’s reliving it as if it had just happened yesterday.
Genesis 42:24-36, “Then Joseph returned to them again, and talked with them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 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.
So they loaded their donkeys with the grain and departed from there. 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. 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?’
Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying: ‘The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 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.’
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. 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.’
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. 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.’”
After returning to Jacob, describing why their brother Simeon hadn’t returned with them, and explaining why they needed permission to take Benjamin to Egypt, we’re told “as they’re all emptying their sacks” to their great surprise “each man’s bundle of money was in his sack.”
While we know it has been Joseph who’d given back the money, the optics didn’t look good… Aside from the accusation of being spies, it now appeared they had stollen the grain.
Not only would they have to return with Benjamin in order to convince Joseph they weren’t spies, but they’d also have to explain why they’d taken the grain without paying for it. Sad to say, Jacob doesn’t handle any of these developments very well.
Genesis 42:37-38, “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.’ But Jacob 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.’”
These brothers are in a pickle. They are fully aware they don’t have enough grain to survive the famine meaning they’ll have to return to Egypt at some point or another. And yet, without Benjamin they knew they had zero chance of proving to the Egyptian they weren’t spies. Beyond that, their brother Simeon is presently sitting in an Egyptian prison waiting for them.
The longer they tarried the guiltier they looked. Sadly, for all parties involved, even with Reuben’s assurances to protect Benjamin at all costs, Jacob refused to relent. Under no circumstances will he allow Benjamin to be taken by these men down to Egypt.
Genesis 43:1-5, “Now the famine was severe in the land. 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.’ But Judah spoke to him, saying, ‘The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 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.’”
Desperate times can change even the most stubborn of men! Because the famine continued and grew in severity, this family once again finds themselves out of grain. As such Jacob suggests the boys “go back” to Egypt to “buy us a little food.” I can see these men looking at one another in total disbelief.
Enter Judah who reminds his father that there was no way they could return to Egypt unless he was willing to send Benjamin with them. “Dad, haven’t you been listening!?” Without Benjamin they knew they’d be found guilty of being spies and ultimately imprisoned.
Genesis 43:6-7, “And Israel said, ‘Why did you deal so wrongfully with me as to tell the man whether you had still another brother?’ 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’?”
Knowing this situation was putting him into an impossible position, Jacob’s response to Judah is amazing. He basically asks them, “When he asked about your family why didn’t you lie? Why did you tell the man you had another brother? What were you thinking?”
Genesis 43:8-10, “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. 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. For if we had not lingered, surely by now we would have returned this second time.’”
Acting as the spokesman for the rest of his brothers, Judah once again takes the lead. Though Jacob was concerned for the life of his youngest son Benjamin, in the end it really didn’t matter… If he refused to allow him to go with his brothers to Egypt they were all going to die of starvation in Canaan anyway. At this point Jacob really didn’t have a choice.
Unlike the first attempt by Reuben to provide Jacob’s some assurances, look at Judah’s approach for being entrusted the caretaker of Benjamin. He tells his father that if anything were to happen to him “let me bear the blame forever.” Not only do we find Judah taking a leadership role within the family, but it’s clear something has changed in him. Don’t forget, by this point Judah is coming off his interactions with Tamar (Genesis 38)!
Genesis 43:11-14, “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. 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. Take your brother also, and arise, go back to the man. 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!’”
Recognizing the sound logic in Judah’s argument and that he really wasn’t left with a choice, Jacob suggests they also take with them “a present for the man” hoping “God Almighty” would grant “mercy” in his sight. This concluding statement by Jacob, “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved” is not one of faith and trust in God. Instead, it’s rather fatalistic.
As we close please look back at the initial reaction of Jacob… In Genesis 42:36 he says, “All these things are against me.” Consider the irony of this statement. Yes, the famine was difficult and this Egyptian master seemed to be unfairly picking on his sons, but were these things working “against Jacob” or were they actually working for Jacob?
The truth is Jacob’s assessment of his trial was patently false. These things were not against him, but were in actuality working together for his good. The truth is that all of these things were being specifically used by God to ultimately yield a blessing Jacob couldn’t even imagine… Joseph was alive and well! Sadly, this great man of faith allows his heart to be filled with unbelief. He doesn’t pray. His eyes are not on heaven. His perspective stinks.
To this point the Reverend William M. Taylor writing in the late 1800’s observes, “In and over all human actions and all material operations there is God. His providence is universal and supreme, and the first thought of our spirits would be, “It is the Lord.” Thus so soon as we trace a trial up to God, we are on the way to comfort and support under it…
If God had wished our destruction, or any absolute evil to befall us, He needed not have sent His Son to make atonement for our sins. But the very fact that He had done that proves that He desires our highest welfare, and will make all things subservient to our everlasting good. Therefore, if we would not fall into despair under our trials, let us recognize God’s hand in them… We may be sure of this, that trouble never yet overwhelmed a man so long as he could see God in it.”
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