So we come to the final chapter of Genesis. Jacob has died and is brought back to Canaan to be buried. When they are back in Egypt Joseph’s brothers fear that now that their father is dead Joseph will take revenge on them for the wrongs they committed against him. But Joseph is far too perspicacious for revenge:
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph was well taught in the covenant of God’s promise, as can be seen not only by God turning evil to good, but in the final verses of the chapter.
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
God’s covenant was well known to all Israel’s children and grandchildren and all his descendants. It is what defined them as a people, and the very promise of God is etched in the every male Israelite skin. It’s the reason Moses wrote Genesis and the Pentateuch. From the time God called Abram, his people knew that education about their history and special calling was job 1. It should be for Christians too, but most Christianity today is practiced in an historical vacuum. It’s all about The Covenant, and that cannot be known outside of a thorough knowledge of the history of God’s people and his interaction with his people.
Just before he dies, Jacob blesses his sons and tells of their future. Some are better than others, but one stands out and that is Judah. This is a prophecy that points directly to the Messiah, to Israel’s Redeemer; how could it not point directly to Jesus:
“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongsshall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
11 He will tether his donkey to a vine,
his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine,
his teeth whiter than milk.
Wow! Could this be any clearer? The obedience of the nations, King of Kings, Lord of Lords! I think the reference speaks to Palm Sunday, where Jesus comes into Jerusalem on a donkey, hailed as the King of the Jews. You know the religious leaders of Israel knew this reference and that Jesus was claiming the scepter, the ruler’s staff, and they thought it a complete fraud. The resurrection says it wasn’t.
The reference that his garments will be washed in “garments of wine” and his robes in the “blood of grapes” refer not only to the crucifixion, but also to the Lord’s Supper; Jesus could likely have been thinking about Jacob’s prophecy when he instituted the sacrament. Amazing. Israel’s ultimate King was going to have to suffer. No wonder on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, Jesus says in Luke 24:
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
It all points to him! And Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that one day Jacob’s prophecy will literally come true:
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jacob is getting to the end of his life, and Joseph brings his two young sons to see their grandfather. For some reason after he tells them that God blessed him in Canaan and confirmed the covenant with him, he tells Joseph that Manasseh and Ephraim will now be considered his children. So these two will be part of the 12 tribes of Israel. When Jacob blesses the children he blesses the younger, Ephraim, over the older, and Joseph is not happy, but in this case the younger will be greater. No idea why this happens, but it’s a continuation of the story of redemption.
Jacob and all his family and flocks head down to Egypt to escape the famine. He stops on the way down in Beersheba, the place Abraham made a treaty with Abimelech in chapter 21. There he offers sacrifices to God, as it says, “the God of his father Isaac.” Jacob is remaining faithful, and God reveals himself to him in a vision, the text using the name Israel. In the vision God says he will be safe in Egypt and wil become a great nation, and that he will bring him back. We see at the end of chapter 47 that Joseph promises to not leave his bones in Egypt but bring him back to the land where he wants to be buried with his fathers.
We get a breakdown of the family at this point, and are told that the number of Israelites going to Egypt, not including the wives, is 70. It’s interesting how these kinds of facts are important to the writer, and obviously his intended audience. When Jacob and Joseph finally meet again there is much weeping. Joseph is certainly a sensitive fellow because he’s cried many times since he saw his brothers. He was a man of great affection. The rest of chapter 47 tells of Jacob’s family settling and prospering in Egypt, Joseph adroitly managing the famine, and Jacob preparing to die.
The saga of Joseph and his brothers continues. Joseph again plays a little game and sends his brothers back home with their silver and a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag so he can accuse them of stealing. They’re brought back to him and he says the one who supposedly stole the cup must stay, but the rest may go. This won’t work at all because Jacob would die as he said he would if Benjamin did not return to him. Judah pleads with him to take Benjamin’s place and finally Joseph can’t stand it any longer and reveals himself to his brothers.
There is much weeping, and Joseph responds only as a man who knows and trusts God can:
And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Joseph I’m sure had been taught that they were God’s chosen people; how could he let them parish. This had to be God’s hand. When they go back and tell their father, he simply can’t believe it at first, but is eventually convinced. They shall be taking a trip to their new home in Egypt, and the next phase in redemptive history.
This is truly a great story. The way it’s told is done so artfully, as if it were great literature, and it is. You notice when reading the Old Testament that the language used is simplistic. In fact I heard in a lecture on Augustine yesterday that prior to becoming a Christian he thought the text of the Bible beneath him, the prose almost juvenile. In some ways it is, but the story it tells is and the stories are amazing because it is the story of the redemption of the human race, of God’s Kingdom breaking into a fallen world which will again eventually live in submission to his holy benevolent rule.
As the story picks up, the famine has gone throughout the land and Jacob has to send his sons to Egypt to buy food so their family doesn’t starve. Of course Joseph is the one who everyone needs to come to during the seven years of famine, and when he sees his brothers he recognized them but they don’t recognize him. He accuses them of being spies. I wonder if a plan hatched in his mind after he recovered from seeing the brothers who almost killed him and sold him into slavery to get his family to move to Egypt. God told Abram this would happen as part of his covenant promise, and maybe Jacob had shared these things with his family. Then again maybe not because Joseph likely wasn’t thinking I’m going to bring my family to Egypt so they can become slaves for four hundred years.
Joseph’s harsh treatment gets the brothers talking about these unfortunate events being punishment for what they did to Joseph, and as they were talking about it in Hebrew Joseph was listening and it brought him to tears. They didn’t know he could understand Hebrew, or whatever the language was called at the time. So Joseph insists that they bring back the younger brother to prove they are not spies, and he’ll just hold one of them prisoner until they come back. So they go back and tell Jacob the story and he is distraught. Now he’s lost another son! And what is worse, Joseph had the payment for the grain put in the sacks of grain; they probably thought they’d be accused of stealing it.
But Jacob refuses to let his youngest go because he thinks he’s now lost two sons and he refuses to lose another. Yet the famine continues and they are again in danger of starvation, so Judah convinces his father to let them go. Interestingly, this is the first time in the story that Jacob is called Israel, and as he’s telling them to go with gifts he refers to God as El-Shaddai, or God provides. So we have here a direct connection to Abraham and Isaac and God’s promise again.
Back in Egypt when Joseph sees the youngest brother he demanded they bring, Benjamin, his own mother’s son and so full brother, he breaks down. You would think Joseph would have some bitterness about how he was treated by his brothers, but if he does it never shows. In fact, his affection for his family seems undiminished. Instead of the harsh treatment the brothers are expecting, Joseph has a feast prepared for them and they ate and drank together.
Maybe because I’m so familiar with the story of how Joseph becomes the defacto leader of Egypt not much stands out to me. God’s plans are to keep the people of Israel safe through the coming famine so they can eventually become slaves so he can eventually free them and give them their own land and eventually a savior of the world.
Joseph trusted God and did what was honorable throughout his mistreatment by his brothers and his time being unjustly held in prison. In fact when he gets released here where he was staying was called a dungeon. And he had to be shaved and cleaned up to be able to go before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. He was 30 years old, and he was probably a teenager when he was sold into bondage, so it was well over a decade that he waited and trusted God. Something most of us would have a very difficult time doing.
Somehow knowing we are parts of God’s bigger plan, which I believe Joseph had to know, makes it a little easier. I am sure Jacob told stories of his great grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, and grandparents, Isaac and Rebekah, and his own many encounters with God. The promise of their offspring being like the sand of the sea shore or dust of the earth must have been known to Joseph. Maybe that’s why he remained faithful and trusted in God.