When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. – Genesis 42:1-5 ESV
Ever since Joseph was betrayal by his brothers and sold into slavery, the story has focused its attention on the land of Egypt and Joseph’s experiences there. Now that he is the second highest ranking ruler in Egypt and the God-ordained famine has arrived, Moses shifts our attention back to Canaan and Joseph’s estranged family. By now, they have long forgotten Joseph. They have moved on with their lives. His father assumed he was dead because that was the story his remaining sons told him. The brothers had probably gone out of their ways to eliminate all memories of Joseph, in an effort to assuage their guilty consciences. For all intents and purposes, he was dead to them.
But now Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, begins to tell the story of how Joseph and his family became reunited. This is where divine intent comes face to face with human will. It is also where the sovereign plan of God reveals its power over anything and everything, including the decisions of men and the realm of nature. The widespread famine for which Joseph has been preparing for seven years has extended its reach all the way into the land of Canaan, where Joseph’s father and brothers reside. They find themselves without food for the families or flocks. When news of Egypt’s surplus reaches Canaan, Jacob sends his sons on a mission to purchase much-needed grain. Their hopes for salvation lie in the land of Pharaoh. But little did Jacob know that their salvation was going to be provided by his very own, long-dead son, Joseph. While Jacob had been busy raising his remaining sons and watching his family grow, God had been busy preparing Joseph for his role as the savior of the chosen people of Israel (Jacob).
There is much about the story of Joseph that should remind us of the life of Jesus. Joseph was the favored son of his father. Jesus was described by God as “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). Joseph was hated and rejected by his own brothers. Jesus “came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT). Joseph was sold by his brothers for 20 shekels of silver. Jesus was betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15). The hatred of Joseph’s brothers was motivated by jealousy. Mark records that that Pilate, the Roman governor, “realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy” (Mark 16:1 NLT). Joseph’s brothers intended to rid themselves of their brother by selling him into slavery. The Jewish religious leaders intended to rid themselves of Jesus by demanding His crucifixion. Joseph was handed over to Midianites. Jesus was handed over to Romans.
Later on in this story, Joseph will reveal to his brothers:
But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. … God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt. – Genesis 45:5, 7-8 NLT
In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter declared to the Jews in his audience:
But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. – Acts 2:23-24 NLT
Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers was God-ordained. The seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine were the prearranged work of God. Joseph’s rise to power was part of the plan of God. His strategy for creating a surplus of grain was given to him by God. While Jacob and his sons were busy moving on with their lives, God was busy moving Joseph into a position of power and prominence so that he could provide salvation for the children of Israel. The life of Joseph, like that of Jesus, is an example of God’s sovereign, providential care for His own. Joseph was sent to Egypt by God in order to save the people of Israel from death by starvation. Jesus was sent into the world in order to save the people of Israel from death by spiritual hunger and starvation. And it will be interesting to note that when Joseph’s brother attempt to pay for the grain Joseph provides, he returns their money to them. They will attempt to pay for their salvation. And the Israelites to whom Jesus came to provide salvation for free, will reject His offer of justification by faith, instead demanding that salvation must be paid for through human effort and religious rule-keeping.
Joseph’s brothers would come to Egypt driven by hunger and the desire for food. Jesus said in His sermon on the mount, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). Later on, Jesus would make the audacious claims:
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. – John 6:35 NLT
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh. – John 6:51 NLT
The sons of Jacob (Israel) were driven by hunger. They were forced to humble themselves and seek help in an unlikely and undesirable place, the land of Egypt. Those who would find salvation in Christ must also be driven by hunger – spiritual hunger. They must admit their need, humble themselves and come to the only source where true salvation can be found: In Christ alone through faith alone. Just as in the story of Joseph, the spiritually hungry must come with their need, confront and confess their sins, and submit themselves to the Savior whom God has provided. Joseph’s “death” actually resulted in his brothers’ salvation. And Jesus’ death is what makes it possible for sinners to receive salvation today.