By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. – Hebrews 11:22 ESV
Ever since Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, he had spent the majority of his life living in the land of Egypt. He had spent the early portion of his time there going through periods of blessing followed by times of adversity. He would experience both feast and famine, success and failure, but God was always with him. Eventually he would become the second most powerful figure in Egypt, a remarkable turn of events that was not lost on Joseph. He told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). Joseph saw the sovereign hand of God directing his life and accomplishing a far greater and grander purpose than his brothers could have ever imagined when they sold him into slavery all those years ago. Joseph’s incredible and meteoric ascension to the upper echelons of Egyptian power was the work of God. It had all been part of God’s divine plan for fulfilling His promise to Abraham
You have to go all the way back to Genesis 15 to see how all of this fits into God’s grand scheme. Abraham had just finished explaining to God that His promise to make of Abraham a great nation had some serious flaws. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continuea childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (Genesis 15:2-3 ESV). But God attempted to calm Abraham’s fears by taking him outside and telling him, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). God reaffirmed His promise to give Abraham the land and He confirmed it by a covenant in blood. Then God told Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14 ESV).
Now fast-forward to a scene taking place in the land of Egypt. The descendants of Abraham, through his grandson, Jacob, are living in the land of Egypt. They had sought refuge there when a devastating famine had made the land of Canaan virtually uninhabitable. Because of Joseph’s influence with the Pharaoh, he was able to have land allocated to his brothers and their families and provide them with jobs caring for the herds that belonged to Pharaoh. But eventually, Joseph grew old and realized that he was going to die in the land of Egypt.
So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV
Notice what Joseph said. He told his brothers that they were going to return to the land. He was confident that God was going to accomplish exactly what He had promised to do. They would live in the land of Egypt for 400 years, but then God would redeem them from slavery and return them to their land, “with great possessions.” At this point in the story, the people of Israel are not enslaved. They are living in Egypt as the guests of Pharaoh. Their relative, Joseph, is the second-most powerful person in the land. They have land, jobs, house in which to live and no reason to complain about their circumstances. But Joseph knew that things would not always be that way. He knew that God had said they would be afflicted for 400 years. And He believed that they would one day return to the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was so confident that he made his brothers swear that they would dig up his bones and take them back to the land with them when they left.
The book of Exodus picks up the story from there. “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:5-7 ESV). Their number had increased from the original 70 to something that was probably in the millions. And their fruitfulness was going to expose a spirit of ruthlessness in the heart of the new Pharaoh.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 1Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. – Exodus 1:8-14 ESV
God was setting up the perfect scenario to fulfill His plan. He was going to return them to the land. He was going to accomplish His will for them. And Joseph had believed all along that this was going to happen just as God had predicted and promised it would. As the author of Hebrews said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Joseph had hoped for the day when his people would return to their land, and he was assured that it would happen. He had a strong conviction in the inevitability of it taking place. So much so that he gave instructions to have his bones returned to the land when it happened. And they were. After all the plagues and the killing of the first-borns, when the Egyptians finally released the Israelites, we are told, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here” (Exodus 13:19 ESV).
Joseph had placed his hope in God, and God had come through. Joseph had believed the promises of God, and God had not disappointed. Joseph had a future-focused faith that refused to give up on God just because his current circumstances seemed to contradict what God had promised. Faith is an assurance in things hoped for and a conviction regarding things yet unseen. God is not done yet. His plan is not yet complete. Give Him time. Give Him the trust he deserves. He has never failed to come through.