Unwavering Faith In An Unfailing God

14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 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. 24 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.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:14-26 ESV

Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt after having buried their father Jacob in Canaan. It must have been difficult to leave behind the land of promise yet again. But for the time being, Egypt had become their home away from home. So, having interred their father’s body in the cave of the field at Machpelah, they made the long journey back to Egypt.

It appears that, along the way, Joseph’s brothers became apprehensive about what might happen upon their return. With their father and protector dead, perhaps Joseph would take advantage of the situation and enact his revenge for their former treatment of him. Their fear of Joseph had never really subsided, despite the many ways he had shown them love and honor. It had been Joseph who had personally subsidized their food allotment all throughout the years of the famine. He had helped arrange their resettlement in Goshen. And yet, deep down inside, his brothers still did not trust him.

Upon their return to Egypt, the brothers held a discussion on the matter and reached a consensus.

“Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said. – Genesis 50:15 NLT

So, they crafted a message and had it delivered to Joseph.

“Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” – Genesis 50:16-17 NLT

His brothers had never really believed that Joseph had forgiven them. And they had always feared that he would one day use his power to repay them for the crime they had committed against him. They wrongly assumed that their father’s death would provide the perfect opportunity for Joseph to seek vengeance.

At the heart of their distrust was disbelief. It wasn’t that they failed to trust Joseph, it was that they lacked trust in the promises and provision of God. Years earlier, when Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, he had clearly told them that their actions against him had been part of God’s sovereign plan to preserve their people.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. 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. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 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 45:4-8 NLT

And yet, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe that their God had been orchestrating every facet of their relationship with Joseph. By this time, they must have realized that Joseph’s dreams, which had infuriated them, had come true. They had lived to experience Joseph’s prediction that they would one day bow down to him. And despite all the ways in which God had miraculously preserved them, they couldn’t seem to believe that He would continue to do so. They saw Joseph’s power as a problem, not a God-ordained proof of divine protection.

Joseph was grieved by their message. What more could he do to prove his love for them? He longed to be restored to a right relationship with all of his brothers and he harbored no ill will toward any of them. So as he read their message, he wept bitterly. But, once again, Joseph took action, calling his brothers into his presence. He refused to allow this divisive wedge to remain between him and his brothers.

The brothers arrived at Joseph’s palace ready to throw themselves at his mercy. In fact, as soon as they entered they threw themselves at his feet, declaring, “Look, we are your slaves!” (Genesis 50:18 NLT). Preferring to face a lifetime of slavery rather than death, they begged Joseph for mercy. But what they got was another powerful reminder of the sovereignty of God.

“Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” – Genesis 50:19-21 NLT

Joseph knew what they had done. Not only that, he knew he would have been fully in his rights to seek revenge against them. He not only had the motive, but he had the power to pull it off. But that is not what Joseph wanted because it was not what God had intended. Their crime against him, while untenable and contemptible, had been part of God’s providential plan for protecting and preserving the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph fully believed in the sovereignty of God and he wanted his brothers to put aside their fears and replace them with faith in the God of their father.

For 25 chapters, Moses has chronicled the life of Jacob and his family. And now, as his history of Jacob’s lineage comes to a close, Moses reminds his readers that Yahweh can and should be trusted at all times – regardless of how dire and desperate the situation may appear. And this was a message they needed to hear. The original readers of Moses’ book had been the Israelites whom he had led out of Egypt to the edge of the promised land. Moses died before the people had ever entered the land, so this historical narrative would have been intended to provide them with impetus and encouragement as they prepared to enter the land without him. Even as Moses faced death and knew he would never enter the land of Canaan, he composed a song for his people to sing. And, in that song, he mentioned the days that Jacob had spent in Egypt.

 “For the people of Israel belong to the Lord;
    Jacob is his special possession.
He found them in a desert land,
    in an empty, howling wasteland.
He surrounded them and watched over them;
    he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes.
Like an eagle that rouses her chicks
    and hovers over her young,
so he spread his wings to take them up
    and carried them safely on his pinions.
The Lord alone guided them;
    they followed no foreign gods.
He let them ride over the highlands
    and feast on the crops of the fields.
He nourished them with honey from the rock
    and olive oil from the stony ground.
He fed them yogurt from the herd
    and milk from the flock,
    together with the fat of lambs.
He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats,
    together with the choicest wheat.
You drank the finest wine,
    made from the juice of grapes.” – Deuteronomy 32:9-14 NLT

God had cared for the descendants of Jacob for more than 400 years. He had protected them and provided for all their needs. He had multiplied them in number and miraculously transformed the 12 sons of Jacob into a vast army of more than 600,000 men by the time they left Egypt.

The story of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers is intended to be a reminder of the sovereign power of the Almighty God. His plan is never thwarted. His will is never overcome. What Joseph’s brothers had done to him had been meant for ill, but God had intended it for good.

Joseph assuaged the fears and guilt of his brothers, assuring them that he had no intentions of bringing them harm. And he lived alongside them in peace until he reached the age of 110. Joseph lived long enough to become a great-great-grandfather, witnessing three generations worth of descendants through his son, Ephraim. But with death closing in, Joseph took one last opportunity to encourage his brothers to maintain their faith in Yahweh.

“Soon I will die,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Genesis 50:24 NLT

Joseph never stopped believing in the promises of God. He had taken his father’s body back to Canaan because he knew that was their true home. Egypt had been nothing but a divinely ordained detour. The day would come when God would restore His people to the land He had promised to them. And Joseph believed his brothers or their descendants would live to see that day. His faith was so strong that he demanded his brothers swear an oath to take his mummified body with them when they returned to Canaan. He, like his father Jacob, had always harbored an intense desire to go home.

It’s interesting to note that the book of Genesis began with a couple who displayed their lack of faith in God by questioning His Word and disobeying His command. Rather than trusting God, they tried to become like him. But the book ends with a man of faith who never stopped believing in the promises of God. In fact, Joseph is mentioned in the great “Hall of Faith” found in the 11th chapter of Hebrews.

It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left. – Hebrews 11:22 NLT

Joseph died in Egypt, but his heart had always been in Canaan. And one day, his faith in God was proven worthy, because his body was returned to the land of promise, just as he had hoped.

Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.”

The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. – Exodus 13:18-21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” 

1 So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” – Genesis 46:28-47:6 ESV

As Jacob approached the land of Egypt, he pulled a page out of his long and storied playbook. Almost as if he was reliving his long-delayed reunion with his brother, Esau (Genesis 32:3), Jacob sent Judah ahead of the caravan, with instructions to find Joseph and request his assistance in finding the land granted to them by Pharaoh. Perhaps Jacob harbored suspicions and was attempting to ensure that the entire family was not walking into a trap set for them by the Egyptians. But Judah did as his father suggested and soon returned with Joseph, riding in his royal chariot. This scene must have the aged Jacob staggering from unbelief and overwhelmed by joy. There, standing right in front of him was the son that he had long thought to be dead. It was like witnessing a miracle, a veritable resurrection.

Joseph had grown up and was not wearing the familiar multicolored robe that Jacob had given him, but even in his old age and with failing eyesight, Jacob had no problem recognizing his boy. And their reunion was an emotional affair. Both men wept as they clung to one another in joy and disbelief. Neither had ever expected to see the other again. But God had graciously made it happen.

Having been given the unexpected blessing of seeing his son again, Jacob expressed his gratitude to God by stating that his long and adventure-filled life was now complete. He had lived to witness the impossible and was now ready to be with God.

“Now I am ready to die, since I have seen your face again and know you are still alive.” – Genesis 46:30 NLT

He could now die in peace, knowing that Joseph was alive, but also that his family had been preserved from certain death had they stayed in Canaan. All of his sons were together again and his family was under the watchful eye of Joseph and the gracious protection of Pharaoh.

Jacob and his sons were primarily sheepherders. It had been while he was living in Haran with his inlaws, that Jacob had been blessed by God with great wealth in the form of herds and flocks.

Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:43 ESV

But eventually, Jacob made the fateful decision to return home to Canaan, the land that had been promised to his father and grandfather by God.

So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. – Genesis 31:17-18 ESV

And, once Jacob returned to Canaan, his assets had continued to increase. It had been while pasturing their father’s flocks in Dothan, that the brothers of Joseph had made the decision to turn against Joseph, eventually selling him into slavery. But now, years later, these very same shepherds and their vast flocks would find employment in the most unlikely of places. Joseph informed his father and brothers that he was going to request permission from Pharaoh that they be allowed to settle in the land of Goshen with their flocks. This was an ingenious plan on the part of Joseph because he knew that the  Egyptians held shepherds in great disdain. If he could convince Pharaoh to let his family settle in the fertile land of Goshen, he knew the Egyptians would give them wide berth, avoiding them at all costs “for everyone who takes care of sheep is disgusting to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:28 NET).

Unsurprisingly, Pharaoh agreed with Joseph’s plan, decreeing that Jacob and his sons should settle in the land of Goshen. And in addition, he hired Joseph’s brothers to tend his herds and flocks as well. In other words, he guaranteed the Israelites a steady income for as long as they lived in the land.

“Now that your father and brothers have joined you here, choose any place in the entire land of Egypt for them to live. Give them the best land of Egypt. Let them live in the region of Goshen. And if any of them have special skills, put them in charge of my livestock, too.” – Genesis 47:5-6 NLT

In a sense, Jacob’s family was set for life. They had gone from facing a famine in Canaan to a land of fruitfulness where their flocks could thrive and their clan could survive. It was all almost too good to be true. But it was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Abraham.

“I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you…” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And this was the very same promise that God had reiterated to Jacob when he had returned to Canaan from his time in Haran.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV

Little did Jacob know at the time that this promise would require a not-so-brief detour to the land of Egypt. But it would be in Egypt that God would greatly increase the number of Jacob’s descendants. As they made themselves at home in the land of Canaan, they found themselves unharassed by enemies and able to enjoy relative peace and prosperity in their new home.

In the book of Exodus, Moses reveals what transpired while the Israelites lived in the land of Egypt. They had entered Egypt, few in number, but they did not stay that way.

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

God was behind this entire transition from Canaan to Egypt. It had all been for a much greater purpose than anyone realized at the time. Pharaoh had been generous and Joseph showed his gratitude by conveying a blessing on him. In keeping with the promise of God, the descendants of Abraham were proving to be a blessing to the nations. Because of Joseph, Pharaoh and his countrymen had been spared the effects of a seven-year famine. He was now more rich and powerful than he had ever been, thanks to Joseph’s ingenuity and foresight.  And God would use the once-despised, falsely accused, and unjustly imprisoned Joseph to bless the family of Israel.

So Joseph assigned the best land of Egypt—the region of Rameses—to his father and his brothers, and he settled them there, just as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided food for his father and his brothers in amounts appropriate to the number of their dependents, including the smallest children. – Genesis 47:11-12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

All According to Plan

16 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. 17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18 and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ 19 And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”

21 The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22 To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. 23 To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” – Genesis 45:16-28 ESV

It didn’t take long before the news that Joseph had been reunited with his family began to spread like wildfire throughout the royal compound. Soon, even Pharaoh himself had been informed that Joseph had brothers from whom he had long been separated. This news pleased Pharaoh and he determined to show his love and respect for Joseph by making the generous offer of gifts and land to his family. Pharaoh suggested that Joseph’s brothers return home and bring back the rest of their clan, including their aged father, Jacob. He even underwrote the cost of their trip and equipped them with wagons, pack animals, and enough supplies to sustain them all the way to Canaan and back. And he promised that, upon their return, he would give them “the best of all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:20 ESV) in which to live.

Joseph, pleased with Pharaoh’s kind and gracious offer, convinced his brothers to return home and bring their families to Egypt. He knew that, according to Pharaoh’s dreams, there were at least five more years of famine remaining, and his clan’s only chance of survival lay in Egypt. So, Joseph ordered all the supplies Pharaoh had suggested and then he showered his brothers with additional gifts. He gave each of his brothers a set of new clothes, but to Benjamin “he gave five changes of clothes and 300 pieces of silver” (Genesis 45:22 NLT).

Benjamin and Joseph were both the sons of Rachel and, therefore, they shared a close bond. Joseph’s affection for his younger brother had been amplified by their long separation. And now that they had been reunited, he showed favoritism to Benjamin, much like his father had done to him. But because of his wealth, Joseph was able to bless his brother with far more than a single multicolored robe. He gave him a virtual wardrobe of expensive garments and rewarded him with 300 pieces of silver, a king’s ransom that would set Benjamin up for life.

And while Moses doesn’t reveal the reaction of Joseph’s brothers to this obvious act of favoritism, it is quite easy to speculate that it didn’t escape their notice. But it’s unlikely that it produced the same degree of jealousy that had driven them to sell Joseph into slavery. No, this time, they were grateful to be alive, reunited with their brother, and enjoying the favor of Pharaoh, one of the most powerful men in the world.

But Joseph seemed to know that his brothers had not completely changed. As he distributed his gifts among them, he warned them, “Don’t quarrel about all this along the way!” (Genesis 45:24 NLT). Over the course of the long journey back to Canaan, he knew that his brothers would have ample time to think about the inequity of the gifts they had received. Not only had Joseph given Benjamin more garments and a large sum of money, but he had also sent his father “ten male donkeys loaded with the finest products of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other supplies he would need on his journey” (Genesis 45:23 NLT).

Every day of the journey they would see those 20 donkeys bearing the gifts that Joseph had given to their father, and be reminded that all they had received was a single change of clothing. And to make matters worse, their younger brother could go five days in a row without wearing the same outfit, and he probably had several pack animals just to carry his hoard of cash.

So, Joseph reminded them not to fall back into their old habit of jealousy and bitter infighting. They had been blessed by God and enjoying the outpouring of His providential provision. They had much for which to be grateful and, upon their return, they would find themselves living in a rich and fertile land, free from the effects of the famine and under the protection of Pharaoh himself.

“The picture of Joseph is a picture of restoration—not just the restoration of the good fortune of Jacob, but, as a picture, the restoration of the blessing that was promised through the seed of Jacob. This picture is also a blueprint for the hope that lies for the people of Israel at the end of the Pentateuch. They are to go into the land and enjoy it as God’s good gift (Deuteronomy 30:5).” – John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary

Joseph was fully convinced that this was all part of God’s sovereign plan. He had already told his brothers, “It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Genesis 45:5 NLT). His destiny had been preordained by God and there had been a divine purpose behind every facet of his life, from his sale into slavery and his ultimate imprisonment to his rise to power in Pharaoh’s court. His entire life had been set apart by God for a specific purpose: To preserve and protect the seed of Jacob.

“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 45:7-8 NLT

So, his brothers made the long journey home and delivered the exciting news to their father: “Joseph is still alive!” (Genesis 45:26 NLT). And this unexpected announcement left Jacob in a state of shock. After all these years, the son whom he had long thought dead was alive and well and living in Egypt. Buoyed by the sight of the caravan loaded with gifts and grain, Jacob came to his senses and embraced the reality of the too-good-to-be-true news. His son Joseph really was alive and he was going to have the joy of seeing him again before he died.

But the real point of the story is not the coming reunion of Jacob with Joseph. No, Moses wanted his readers to understand the remarkable nature of God’s sovereign will and how the Almighty used the life of one man to prepare the way for an entire nation. As Israelites, they would have been familiar with the story of Joseph, but Moses wanted to remind them that their very existence as a people was the result of one man’s life. Long before any of them existed, Joseph had been born, favored, betrayed, sold, enslaved, accused, imprisoned, released, rewarded, and elevated to a place of power and prominence. And every peak and valley of his roller-coaster life had been the sovereign handiwork of Yahweh. The very fact that Jacob and his family ended up living in Egypt had been ordained by God and made possible by the life of Joseph. And Moses wanted his Israelite audience to know that Jacob’s journey to Egypt had been predicted and preordained by God.

Long before Jacob had been born, his grandfather, Abraham, had received a promise from God.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “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. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

The first phase of the promise was about to be fulfilled. As a result of Pharaoh’s generosity and Joseph’s ingenuity, Jacob and his family would find themselves living in “a land that is not theirs.” Their relocation was part of God’s plan. And it would be in this foreign that a relatively small family, just 70 in number, would grow to be a mighty nation, the chosen people of God. In His divine wisdom, the Almighty had chosen to fulfill His promise to Abraham by sending a small and insignificant clan to a foreign land where they would be able to grow in number until the time came for them to inherit the land God had given them for their inheritance.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

God-Sent

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. – Genesis 45:1-15 ESV

This chapter contains one of the most powerful illustrations of God’s sovereignty of God to be found in all the Scriptures. The story of Joseph’s life, when viewed from a human perspective, is one of tragedy and betrayal, coupled with moments of good fortune followed by bad luck. Joseph is portrayed as a young man who becomes the innocent victim of his brothers’ jealousy and hatred. The youngest of 12 sons, Joseph had been the apple of his father’s eye and was elevated to a position of honor among his brothers. But his favored status and penchant for sharing dreams that appeared to further enhance his superior status made him a social pariah among his older siblings. Their anger for him grew so intense, that they began to plot his death. But rather than simply snuffing Joseph out, they decided to cash in by selling him as a slave to Ishmaelite traders.

These callous and hate-filled men took their brother’s multicolored robe, ripped it in pieces, and then led their father to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They showed no remorse or regret for their actions. And, in time, they went on with their lives, erasing any memory of Joseph from their minds.

But while Joseph had been abandoned by his brothers, he was not forsaken by God. His entire life is an ongoing illustration of God’s sovereign and providential care. Though he ended up being sold as a slave to a wealthy and influential Egyptian, Joseph’s fate was God-ordained, a point Moses makes quite clear.

The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. – Genesis 39:2-3 NLT

Yet, it didn’t take long before Joseph’s good fortune took a dramatically dark turn. Having spurned the sexual advances of his master’s wife, Joseph was wrongly accused of rape and thrown into prison. But even in that grim and unexpected environment, God protected and prospered Joseph.

But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. 23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. – Genesis 39:21-23 NLT

From the pit to the palace to the prison, Joseph enjoyed the providential protection of God. And along the way, God revealed Himself to Joseph by giving him the ability to interpret dreams. This special skill proved quite useful, allowing Joseph to make connections with two fellow prisoners, one of whom would play an important role in Joseph’s release from prison.

But two years would pass before Joseph received an order to appear in Pharaoh’s court. He was ushered into the royal palace and into the throne room where he was asked to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. This was yet another divinely-ordained moment in which the sovereign will of God was clearly at play. Pharaoh’s dreams had not been arbitrary or coincidental. They had been a part of God’s carefully orchestrated plan.

Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do.” – Genesis 41:25 NLT

And Joseph had recognized that the dreams and their meanings had been the handiwork of God.

“As for having two similar dreams, it means that these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen. – Genesis 41:32 NLT

And they did happen. But not before Joseph was installed as the second-most-powerful man in all of Egypt. He was given authority to prepare the nation for the seven years of famine that God had ordained. And Joseph’s new position allowed him to implement a strategy to gather enough grain during the seven years of plenty so that the nation of Egypt could successfully survive the coming famine. And when the famine came, its impact was felt far beyond the borders of Egypt, all the way into Canaan, where Jacob and his sons still lived.

It had been the famine that forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt in search of food. And it was in Egypt that his sons encountered their long-lost but unrecognizable brother. And the last few chapters have revealed the story of their dramatic and often tension-filled reunion.

But as Joseph stood looking down on his brothers and heard Judah share his heartfelt desire to serve as Benjamin’s substitute, he couldn’t hold back his emotions any longer. He fled from the room and, having regained his composure, returned to reveal his true identity. But, more than that, Joseph was ready to let his brothers know the true nature of all the events surrounding his life. And what he had to share left them staring back in shock and awe. The Egyptian governor was actually their brother.

This news must have stunned the brothers and increased the level of their anxiety and fear. Now, not only were they accused of stealing the governor’s silver goblet, the governor was actually the boy they had sold into slavery. Things were going from bad to worse. Their minds were racing as they considered the full import of this shocking news. If the governor truly was their long-lost brother, he might use his royal power to pay his brothers back for their crime against him. But Joseph’s unexpected announcement left them staring back in silence.

…his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. – Genesis 45:3 NLT

But sensing their fear and trepidation, Joseph invited them to draw closer, then attempted to assuage their growing anxiety.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. 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.” – Genesis 45:4-5 NLT

Joseph reveals a strong understanding of the concept of divine sovereignty. He had fully grasped the significance of all the events surrounding his life and determined them to be the work of God. Yes, they had made the decision to sell him as a slave, but it had been preordained by God. Joseph was fully convinced that it had been God who sent him to Egypt, not his brothers. They had simply been tools in the sovereign hands of God. This does not dissolve them of guilt or responsibility. Each of them had participated in the crime against their brother willfully and deliberately. God had not forced them to do so. But He had used their envy-fueled actions to accomplish His divine will. And the most ironic part of it all is that God would use their act of selfishness to bring about their ultimate preservation. Joseph repeatedly stressed this point.

“It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” – Genesis 45:5 NLT

“God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. – Genesis 45: NLT

The famine was only into its second year and Joseph knew that things were going to get far worse. So, he begged his brothers to return to Canaan with an invitation for Jacob to join him in the land of Egypt. They were to tell their father all that had happened and deliver the good news that his favorite son was alive and well. The son whom Jacob had given up as dead, God had elevated to a place of power and prominence.

“God has made me master over all the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 45:9 NLT

Joseph had gone from wearing a multicolored robe to the garments of a king. He had been elevated from the status of the favorite son of Jacob to the favored officer in Pharaoh’s court. All according to the sovereign will of God. And Joseph was convinced that he was the key to the survival of the house of Jacob, which is why he ordered his brothers to return home and bring the entire clan of Jacob back to Egypt.

“Go tell my father of my honored position here in Egypt. Describe for him everything you have seen, and then bring my father here quickly.” – Genesis 45:13 NLT

God had sent Joseph ahead to prepare the way. Now, Joseph sent for Jacob in order to preserve a nation – all according to God’s plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

I Fear God

18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. 21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.

26 Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. 27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”

29 When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. 34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’”

35 As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid. 36 And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” 37 Then Reuben said to his father, “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.” 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.” – Genesis 42:18-38 ESV

Zaphenath-paneah (Joseph), the governor of Egypt, ordered the sons of Jacob to return to the land of Canaan, with instructions to bring back their younger brother, Benjamin.  This would provide proof that they truly were innocent foreigners is search of food to survive the famine. But Joseph was seeking to ensure that they had not treated his younger brother with the same hatred and disdain as they had shown to him. He wanted to Benjamin with his own eyes. And to ensure that the men returned, Joseph help Simeon as collateral. This was likely a test of his brothers’ character as well. Would they return as ordered and spare their brother’s life or would they abandon him to his fate in Egypt?

When Reuben and his brothers heard the governor’s instructions, they were filled with guilt and regret. They couldn’t help but conclude that this was all God’s divine judgment for what they had done to their brother years earlier.

“Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.” – Genesis 42:21 NLT

And Reuben made matters worse by reminding them that he had been the one who had tried to talk them out of their ill-fated plan to get rid of Joseph.

“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?…But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!” – Genesis 42:22 NLT

This only added to their sense of guilt and shame. They freely aired their dirty laundry right in front of the royal governor, thinking him incapable of understanding their language. But as they bickered among themselves, Joseph listened in, taking note of every word they spoke. And upon witnessing the bitter acrimony among his siblings, Joseph was moved to tears. All the memories of his past came rushing in and overwhelmed his emotions. When he regained his composure, Joseph took Simeon as a hostage and ordered the nine other brothers to take their allotment of grain and return home. Their brother would be released as soon as they returned with Benjamin.

Joseph ordered Simeon be bound with ropes as his brothers looked on helplessly. This was meant to be a vivid and painful reminder of their callous treatment of Joseph so many years before. Simeon’s fate was in their hands. And, for the second time, the brothers found themselves returning home with devastating news for their father. But this time, rather than fabricating a lie, they would be telling the truth.

Before they left for Canaan, Joseph had the grain they had purchased loaded onto their pack animals, and then provided them with provisions for their journey. He also played a rather cruel trick on them, ordering that the money they had paid for the grain be returned in full, and secretly dispersed among the bags of grain. When the brothers stopped for the night, they each discovered the money had been returned to the sacks in which the grain was contained. This made them look like thieves. And they immediately concluded that this was a punishment from the hand of God.

“What is this that God has done to us?” – Genesis 42:28 ESV

Could things get any worse? Their brother was a prisoner in Egypt. They were returning to Canaan with grain they had not paid for, making them guilty of theft. And, on top of that, they were going to have to somehow convince their father to send his youngest son back with them to Egypt. It was all a never-ending nightmare.

When they finally returned home and told their father all that had happened, Jacob was beside himself with grief and fear.

“You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” – Genesis 42:36 ESV

It was more than he could bear. His sons had returned with much-needed food, but they had left their brother behind. To make matters worse, the Egyptian governor was demanding that Jacob send his youngest son back to Egypt if he ever wanted to see Simeon again. This put Jacob in the unenviable position of risking the life of one son or possibly both. If he refused to send Benjamin, he would never see Simeon again. If he agreed to the governor’s demands and sent Benjamin, he had no guarantee that either would ever return. In fact, he had to face the very real possibility that none of his sons would return if the governor accused them of stealing the grain they brought back from Egypt.

Sensing his father’s dilemma, Reuben promised to bring back Simeon and Benjamin, offering his own two sons as sacrificial substitutes should he fail to do so. He was putting his own family line in jeopardy by doing so, but he was willing to take that risk to guarantee Simeon’s release. Jacob reluctantly agreed to send Benjamin back to Egypt, along with his 10 older brothers. This decision must have been gut-wrenching as he considered the very real possibility that he might never see any of them again.

In reading this emotionally charged story, it’s easy to overlook a statement made by Joseph that establishes the tone for all the takes place. After placing his brothers in confinement for three days, Joseph had them brought before him. Then he said something that must have caught them by surprise. After all, they believed they were standing before a powerful Egyptian dignitary who was speaking to them through an interpreter. But as the translator relayed Joseph’s message, they must have been surprised and encouraged.

Do this and you will live, for I fear God.” – Genesis 42:18 ESV

They must have looked at one another in astonishment as, out of the mouth of this Egyptian lord, came the name of ‘ĕlōhîm, the God of Israel. While hiding his true identity from his brothers, Joseph was not disguising his faith in God. He wanted his brothers to know that their fate was in God’s hands, not his own. If they would only obey his orders and return with their younger brother, all would go well. Their brother Simeon would be cared for while they were gone and be released upon their return. And it must have surprised these men to have someone whom they thought to be a pagan to encourage them to trust their own God. This Egyptian was showing more faith than they were. It seems apparent that Joseph could see God’s sovereign handiwork behind all of the events of the last three days. And, somehow, he knew that good was going to come from it all.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

God’s Man With the Plan

37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.

50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”

56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. – Genesis 41:37-57 ESV

With his successful interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph’s fortunes were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. There would be no return to the prison or his former life of slavery. Instead, he would find himself appointed to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh had been greatly impressed by Joseph’s wisdom and insight and seemed to believe that this young man had a divine anointing.

“Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” – Genesis 41:38 NLT

This statement was not a confession of belief in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is unlikely that Pharaoh knew anything about the God of the Israelites. He simply believed that Joseph had supernatural powers that were attributable to some divine source. It appears that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be possessed by and under the influence of some unknown deity. He acknowledged that Joseph’s superior intellect and wisdom had to be divinely inspired. There have been some scholars who suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph was actually a diety in human form. They use the name given to Joseph by Pharaoh as possible evidence.

Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. – Genesis 41:45 ESVR

The exact meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name has been hotly debated and remains unconfirmed. But one intriguing suggestion has been “the god speaks and lives.” The very fact that Pharaoh elevated Joseph so quickly and bestowed on him such high honors would seem to indicate that he viewed this young Hebrew as much more than just another wise man. He had plenty of those in his royal court and they had proved to be useless in solving the riddle of his dreams.

Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and prominence must have shocked Joseph. In a matter of minutes, his entire life had been turned upside down. This former household slave and prisoner now had power and possessions beyond belief. Pharaoh rewarded him with expensive gifts and arranged a marriage between Joseph and the daughter of a high-ranking priest.  This “religious” marriage seems to further suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be some kind of deity. His Egyptian wife’s name lends further evidence to this idea. One interpretation for its meaning is “she belongs to the goddess Neit.” It may be that Asenath was also viewed as a child of the gods and that Pharaoh was arranging a special marriage between what he believed to be two deified human beings.

But regardless of what Pharaoh’s beliefs and motives might have been, his intentions are perfectly clear. He was placing this young foreigner in a position of great power and influence. In a sense, Joseph was one step away from the throne of Egypt. And as a symbol of his limitless authority, Joseph was given a signet ring that bore the royal seal and carried with it the full backing of Pharoah.

“You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” – Genesis 41:40 NLT

Joseph was placed in a royal chariot and paraded around the streets of the royal capital, with Egyptian soldiers commanding all the onlookers to kneel down before him. This forced display of honor and obeisance was meant to let the people know that Joseph was due all the respect of Pharaoh, whom they believed to be a god. Joseph was to be treated with the same level of reverence and awe, and anything he said was to be taken as divinely inspired and worthy of obedience. And Pharaoh clearly articulated the unparalleled nature of Joseph’s authority when he said, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval” (Genesis 41:44 NLT).

Joseph was 30-years old when he assumed this new position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and he wasted no time in implementing the advice he had given when he had interpreted the dreams. Joseph began a tour of the land of Egypt, assessing the status of the royal agricultural and livestock capacities. Based on the divinely inspired meaning of the dreams, Joseph knew he had seven years to increase production in order to prepare for the seven years of famine that were to come. And, just as God has said would happen, the first seven years were marked by remarkable bounty and blessing.

As predicted, for seven years the land produced bumper crops. During those years, Joseph gathered all the crops grown in Egypt and stored the grain from the surrounding fields in the cities. He piled up huge amounts of grain like sand on the seashore. Finally, he stopped keeping records because there was too much to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT

God was faithfully fulfilling the words He had spoken through Joseph. And, not only that, God was blessing Jacob, rewarding him with two sons. In naming his boys, Joseph attempted to convey his gratitude to God for all that He had done. The name Manasseh means “he who brings about forgetfulness.” This young child was a loving reminder from God that Joseph’s difficult past was to be forgotten. There was a much brighter and far more important future out ahead. The name Ephraim means “to bear fruit,” and reflects Joseph’s belief that God had not only bestowed fruitfulness to the land but on his life as well. Despite his immense wealth and potentially pride-producing power, Joseph never lost sight of God’s authority over his life. He was fully aware that his promotion had been God’s doing and that he was enjoying the undeserved blessings of God’s divine favor.

But just as God had warned, the seven years of plenty were quickly followed by seven years of intense and widely dispersed famine. This divinely ordained disaster spread throughout the land of Egypt and beyond, and its impact was devastating. Without grain, the people were unable to eat or feed their livestock, and soon, they were forced to turn to the government for assistance. But because Joseph had done his work, the royal warehouses were filled and he had more than enough supply to meet the growing demand.

And, as has been so readily apparent throughout the story of Joseph’s life, the sovereign hand of God was at work behind the scenes, preparing for the next phase of His divine plan. This famine was not localized, but “was severe over all the earth” (Genesis 41:57 ESV). People all throughout the surrounding regions were suffering the same fate as the Egyptians, but they had not been warned or been able to prepare for this unforeseen disaster. They didn’t have the luxury of a godly leader like Joseph who could have helped them take advantage of the seven years of bounty. So, when the famine hit, they were left with empty grains bins and nothing to feed their starving herds and flocks. And, before long, they heard the rumors about food in Egypt and made the long and arduous journey to find help in their time of need. And there in the land of the Pharaohs, they discovered Joseph, who “opened up the storehouses and distributed grain” (Genesis 41:57 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

What God Is About to Do

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. 10 When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, 11 we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. 12 A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. 13 And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.”

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. 18 Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19 Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. 20 And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, 21 but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. 22 I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. 23 Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 24 and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” – Genesis 41:9-36 ESV

For two years, the cupbearer to Pharaoh had managed to enjoy his plush life as an official in the royal court. His brief stint in the royal prison was a long-forgotten memory. But as he enjoyed the comforts that came with his restored position as a personal advisor to Pharaoh, his former cellmate, Joseph, remained in prison, serving time for a crime he had not committed. But while Joseph was innocent, the cupbearer was guilty of having reneged on his promise to bring Joseph’s predicament to Pharaoh’s attention. It simply slipped his mind – for two long years.

But then God intervened, yet again. But this time, rather than focusing His attention on the prison where Joseph languished in relative anonymity, God invaded the royal sanctity of the royal palace and the mind of Pharaoh himself. Yahweh went straight to the top of the Egyptian corporate ladder, using the most powerful man in the land to accomplish His divine will. Pharaoh experienced a pair of dreams that seemed to contain ominous portents of future destruction, but he could find no one in his royal court to explain their meaning. This self-proclaimed deity was powerless to solve the riddle of his perplexing visions.

The failure of Pharaoh’s wise men and magicians to provide him with a meaning to the dreams must have left the entire royal court in a state of panic. After all, Pharaoh was not averse to imprisoning those who displeased him, a fact the cupbearer knew all too well. Pharaoh’s dreams had turned life in the royal court into a virtual nightmare, as everyone anxiously waited to see if his anger would cause heads would roll and the prison population to swell. And the thought of returning to prison must have jogged the cupbearer’s memory because he suddenly recalled the commitment he had made to Joseph.

Suddenly recalling Joseph’s successful interpretation of his own dream, the cupbearer realized the solution to Pharaoh’s problem might be right under his nose – in his royal prison. So, utilizing his intimate access to Pharaoh as the royal cupbearer, he decided to risk his master’s wrath and share the story of his encounter with the young Hebrew prisoner.

We told him our dreams, and he told us what each of our dreams meant. And everything happened just as he had predicted. I was restored to my position as cup-bearer, and the chief baker was executed and impaled on a pole.” – Genesis 41:12-13 NLT

This news must have thrilled Pharaoh because he immediately ordered that Joseph be released from prison and brought to the royal palace. One can only imagine what Joseph must have thought when the royal guards showed up and led him away to the palace. His mind must have reeled as he considered the meaning behind this sudden change in his circumstances. He had no way of knowing what awaited him, but perhaps he wondered whether the cupbearer had finally decided to honor his commitment. But as Joseph bathed, shaved, and put on the clean robes he had been provided, his heart must have raced as he considered what was about to happen.

Eventually, Joseph found himself standing before the most powerful man in all of Egypt. Just moments earlier, this young Hebrew boy had been a common criminal serving out his sentence in a dank prison, but now he found himself in the royal palace staring into the face of Pharaoh. All of this must have been a shock to his senses and left him wondering what God might be doing. But he soon had his answer.

Pharaoh wasted no time in revealing the reason for Joseph’s appearance in the royal court. He was there to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams. But Joseph appears to have been unphased by the seriousness of the moment or the celebrity status of his royal host. Upon discovering the nature of Pharaoh’s request, Joseph confidently replied, “It is beyond my power to do this,…But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease” (Genesis 41:16 NLT).

Joseph wasn’t star-struck and showed no signs of fear or intimidation. He comes across as someone who felt comfortable in his own skin and confident in the sovereignty of his God. A smile must have come across his face as he heard Pharaoh say, “I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means” (Genesis 41:15 NLT). He knew from personal experience that this statement was not true. Interpreting dreams was his specialty – with God’s help. So, Joseph listened intently as Pharaoh shared the content of his dreams. Then, as he had done before, Joseph responded without a moment’s hesitation or deliberation.

“Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. – Genesis 41:25 NLT

Joseph didn’t stop to consider the content of his message or the status of his audience. He simply shared the meaning that God had given him. Pharaoh’s two dreams had one interpretation that led to a single conclusion: Things were about to get difficult in the land of Egypt. Joseph informed Pharaoh and his court that God had decreed a seven-year period of plenty to be followed by a second seven years of devastating drought. There was going to be a catastrophic loss of livestock and grain in the land of Egypt that would lead to starvation and loss of life.

You can almost hear the gasps from the dignitaries in the room as Joseph shares this less-than-encouraging news. While Pharaoh had probably assumed that the negative nature of his dreams was not a harbinger of good things to come, it’s likely that this interpretation was not what he had been expecting. And, to make matters worse, Joseph explained that the two dreams with one interpretation were a sign that “these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen” (Genesis 41:32 NLT).

It’s important to remember that the Egyptians had a pantheon of gods they worshiped and Yahweh was not among them. So, when Joseph referred to אֱלֹהִים (‘ĕlōhîm), this was not a deity with whom they were particularly familiar. This Hebrew term for God was a somewhat generic word that could be used to refer to judges, rulers, or gods in general. But, for Joseph, it was a reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was informing Pharaoh that the one true God was about to bring enact His sovereign will over the nation of Egypt, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop Him. 

But Joseph inform Pharaoh that there was a way to prepare for the inevitable. While there was nothing he could do to thwart God’s will, he could take steps to prevent the complete annihilation of his people. It seems obvious that, along with the interpretation, God had given Joseph the step-by-step plans he shared with Pharaoh. And Joseph faithfully conveyed the details of God’s sovereign strategy for Egypt’s survival, warning Pharaoh to follow them to the letter, “Otherwise this famine will destroy the land” (Genesis 41:36 NLT).

But what Joseph didn’t know was that he would be the one to make it all happen. God had chosen him to be the “intelligent and wise man” (Genesis 41:33 NLT), whom Pharaoh would place in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Joseph was not just the messenger, but he was also to be the deliverer. Little did he know that he was about to move from the prison to the palace, from the role of a lowly servant to the position of a sovereign ruler over all the land of Egypt. And it was all part of God’s preordained plan. The sovereign God of the universe was about to do something that neither Pharaoh nor Joseph could have ever imagined.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

From Sonship to Slavery

12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.  Genesis 37:12-36 ESV

Joseph and his father had a unique relationship. While Joseph enjoyed the privileged status of being his father’s favorite son, he also appears to have served as Jacob’s personal spy, keeping tabs on the activities of his older brothers. Verse 2 reveals that “Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.” (Genesis 37:2 NLT). This doesn’t necessarily prove that Joseph was a snitch, but it does help to explain why his brothers hated him so much. They probably believed that Joseph’s royal treatment by their father was a form of compensation for his role as an informant. Joseph’s older brothers viewed him as spoiled, arrogant, and untrustworthy. He seemed to delight in telling them about his dreams, in which they were always cast as his groveling subjects. When he paraded around in the robe of many colors his father had given him, it only served to aggravate the seething envy of his brothers.

Sadly, Jacob appears to have been oblivious to the animosity he was stirring up in his own home. He doesn’t appear to recognize that his favored treatment of Joseph was driving a wedge between his 17-year-old son and his brothers that would soon reach a dangerous tipping point. Without realizing it, Jacob was fostering an atmosphere of distrust and dissension within his own home, and it was about to come back to haunt him.

Unwittingly, Jacob gave Joseph an assignment that would result in his disappearance and apparent death. He sent his young son to check up on his older brothers who were shepherding their flocks near Shechem, some 60 miles north of Hebron. Jacob owned land there, that he had bought from Hamor, the king of Shechem (Genesis 33:19). It was there that the son of Hamor had raped Jacob’s daughter Dinah and that her brothers, Simeon and Levi, had taken revenge by slaughtering all the males in Shechem. Now, years later, the sons of Jacob had returned to the scene of the crime, but rather than slaughtering and plundering, they were shepherding.

Eager to please his father, Joseph donned his multicolored robe and set off with the intention of returning with a full report of his brothers’ activities. But, unable to locate his brothers, Joseph sought the aid of a local resident and discovered his brothers had headed north to Dothan. Moses doesn’t reveal why the brothers left Shechem for Dothan, but the name “Dothan” means “two wells,” so it could be that they went there in search of water for their flocks. It just so happens that Dothan was located on a major trading route between Syria and Egypt. Perhaps the brothers intended to sell or trade some of their sheep or wool.

Moses indicates that the brothers saw Joseph coming from a distance. Most likely, due to his colorful coat. And, as soon as they saw him, their anger reached a fever pitch. No longer content to simply despise Jacob, they began to plot his death.

“Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” – Genesis 37:19-20 ESV

They may not have understood the meaning behind the dreams or known the source of their content, but they recognized an arrogant spoiled brat when they saw one. And they had had enough of Joseph. But Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, intervened and pleaded with his brothers to spare Joseph’s life. He offered an alternative solution, suggesting that they throw Joseph in a nearby pit or cistern. Since the pit was located in the wilderness, far from prying eyes, the brothers assumed that Reuben was suggesting that they leave Joseph to die by natural causes. But his real intention was to come back later and rescue him. As the firstborn son, Reuben felt an obligation to protect his younger brother.

Having stripped Joseph of his colorful robe, they threw him into the empty cistern and sat down to enjoy a meal together. But their reverie was soon interrupted by a caravan of Ishmaelite traders. These men would have been close relatives of Reuben and his brothers because Ishmael had been the brother of their grandfather, Isaac. And, in verse 28, Moses indicates that there were also Midianites in the caravan. They were also close relatives of Jacob’s sons because Midian had been a brother to Ishmael and Isaac, having been born to Abraham through his second wife, Keturah.

So, this entire transaction was a family affair. The brothers of Joseph sold him to the brothers of Isaac, their grandfather. And it was Judah, a younger brother of Reuben, who came up with the idea of profiting off their brother rather than simply letting him die.

“What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” – Genesis 37:27 ESV

Their dislike for Joseph was so great that they all agreed to sell him as a slave in exchange for twenty shekels of silver. They literally sold out their younger brother. Unaware that this transaction had taken place, Reuben returned to find Joseph gone and he immediately felt the weight of his responsibility as the eldest son. What was he going to tell his father? How would Jacob ever get over the loss of his favorite son?

But his brothers had already come up with a plan. They took Joseph’s infamous robe and covered it with animal blood, then they concocted a story that had Joseph being killed and consumed by a wild animal. These men made a mutual pact to hide their actions from their father and deceive him into believing that his favorite son was dead. And their plan worked. When they returned to Hebron and informed their father, he was deeply distraught.

Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. – Genesis 37:34-35 NLT

But while Jacob mourned Joseph’s death, his missing son was actually on his way to Egypt (Genesis 37:28). No longer wearing his signature robe or enjoying his father’s favor, Joseph was transported to Egypt, where he was sold “to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard” (Genesis 37:36 NLT).

Hundreds of miles from where Jacob was living a nightmare, mourning the loss of his favorite son, God was actually paving the way for the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams. This entire scenario was part of God’s sovereign plan for the people of Israel, and He had foreshadowed it in a message He had given Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

God had a plan and He was bringing it about through the actions of Jacob and his sons. These men were completely unaware that their decisions were being sovereignly orchestrated by God Almighty in order to bring about His divine will. Jacob’s unwise favoring of his son had caused strife within his home, but God would use that animosity for good. Joseph would pridefully flaunt his status as the favored son and inflame the anger of his brothers. And those men would allow their jealousy and rage to treat their brother with contempt and disdain, selling him out for a few pieces of silver. But as bad as it all seemed, it was all the work of a loving, gracious, and all-knowing God, who was preparing to do something far greater than they could have ever imagined.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Smooth Operator

29 Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. 30 As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. 31 He said, “Come in, O blessed of the Lord. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” 32 So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. 33 Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” He said, “Speak on.”

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, 38 but you shall go to my father’s house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40 But he said to me, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way. You shall take a wife for my son from my clan and from my father’s house. 41 Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my clan. And if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’

42 “I came today to the spring and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, 43 behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son.’ 49 Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. 51 Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” Genesis 24:29-51 ESV

In this section of chapter 24, Moses introduces yet another character who will play a major role in the unfolding plot surrounding Abraham and his descendants. After his “chance” encounter with the young woman at the well, Abraham’s servant accepted her gracious offer of food and lodging. It seems that Rebekah had hurried home to tell her family about what had happened and to help them to prepare for their unexpected guest. But the servant remained at the well with his retinue of ten camels.

Out of breath and filled with excitement, Rebekah shared the details of her conversation with the stranger and showed off her new jewelry.  When her brother Laban saw the expensive gifts his sister had received from this stranger, he decided to roll out the red carpet.

…he rushed out to the spring, where the man was still standing beside his camels. Laban said to him, “Come and stay with us, you who are blessed by the Lord! Why are you standing here outside the town when I have a room all ready for you and a place prepared for the camels?” – Genesis 24:30-31 NLT

Laban went out of his way to extend hospitality to their guest, unloading the man’s camels and providing them with food and water. He even supplied the camel drivers with clean water to wash their feet. He was the consummate host, even ordering a meal to be served for his famished guests. But the servant refused to eat until he had declared the purpose for his visit.

At this point, Moses provides a retelling of the events that took place at the well, but through the eyes of Abraham’s servant. First, he disclosed his relationship with Abraham, their long-departed relative. And then he gave them a Cliff Notes recap of Abraham’s life since leaving Haran. But he prefaces the whole historical narrative surrounding Abraham’s life by accentuating his tremendous wealth. He wanted his hosts to know that Abraham had become a very wealthy man. This information was intended to soften up Rebekah’s father and brothers and make them more amenable to the proposal he was about to make.

He revealed some of the details surrounding Isaac’s birth and then emphasized how Abraham had made Isaac the sole heir of all his possessions. In other words, Isaac was also a wealthy man. But this wealthy, unmarried son of Abraham was in need of a wife. And the servant revealed that his presence in Haran was due to an oath he had sworn to his master. He had vowed not to return home until he had found a suitable wife for Isaac. And then the servant disclosed Abraham’s addendum to the oath.

“…you must find a wife for my son from among my relatives, from my father’s family. Then you will have fulfilled your obligation. But if you go to my relatives and they refuse to let her go with you, you will be free from my oath.” – Genesis 24:40-41 NLT

By this time, Rebekah’s father and brothers had put two and two together. They understood the purpose behind this man’s mission and knew exactly what he was about to ask them. But the servant was far from done. He continued to describe the divine nature of his meeting with Rebekah. He wanted his audience to know that this entire sequence of events had been ordained by Yahweh, the God of Abraham. He even revealed his own shock at discovering Rebekah’s identity. She wasn’t some random stranger fetching water from the well. No, she was the daughter of Abraham’s nephew and the granddaughter of his brother, Nahor.

This faithful servant of Abraham proved to be a deft negotiator. He did a masterful job preparing Rebekah’s family for the ask. By the time he finished describing this divinely orchestrated encounter at the well, it would be virtually impossible for Rebekah’s father to say no to the request he was about to make. He flatly declared, “the Lord, the God of my master, Abraham…led me straight to my master’s niece to be his son’s wife” (Genesis 24:48 NLT). But to further enhance his prospects of success, the servant placed all the pressure on Bethuel and Laban by insisting that they make the final call.

“So tell me—will you or won’t you show unfailing love and faithfulness to my master? Please tell me yes or no, and then I’ll know what to do next.” – Genesis 24:49 NLT

What was Bethuel supposed to do? If he said no, it would appear as if he was opposing the will of God. So, having heard the details of the servant’s story, Bethuel and Laban gave their wholehearted consent.

“The Lord has obviously brought you here, so there is nothing we can say. Here is Rebekah; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.” – Genesis 24:50-51 NLT

And just like that, the oath was fulfilled, and the son of Abraham had a wife. God had miraculously intervened yet again, paving the way for His promise to make of Abraham a great nation to become a reality.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Blessings and Obedience

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.

20 Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” 23 (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah. Genesis 22:15-24 ESV

Abraham had fully intended to follow through with God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac. But God had graciously intervened and provided a ram to replace Isaac as the sacrifice. This imagery of a substitute is found throughout the Scriptures and foreshadows the coming of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In the book of Exodus, the Israelites were spared the devastating consequences of the final plague if they followed Yahweh’s command to sacrifice a lamb and place its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes (Exodus 12:7). He gave them detailed instructions for preparing and consuming the lamb and promised to spare their firstborn sons if they did as He commanded them.

“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:12-13 ESV

These Passover lambs served as substitutes for the people of Israel, providing a gracious and undeserved means of escaping the wrath of God. The Israelites had not earned God’s deliverance from judgment. While their suffering at the hands of the Egyptians was unwarranted, so was their salvation. God’s offer to spare them was in spite of them, not because of them. And God’s provision of a substitute for Isaac was not based on Abraham’s obedience or Isaac’s innocence. According to God’s Word, there is no one who stands before God as righteousness and deserving of His grace and mercy.

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

God looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 53:1-3 NLT

Don’t overlook the fact that God still required a sacrifice. He had demanded the death of Isaac but had willingly provided a ram to serve as the boy’s proxy. This ram, which appeared at just the right moment and had somehow been ensnared in a thicket, had been preapproved and preordained by God. Its sacrificial, substitutionary death provided Isaac with life. Once again, this scene foreshadows another Lamb whose life would provide victory over death and the grave.

“Worthy the Lamb for sinners slain,”
Cry the redeemed above,
“Blessing and honor to obtain,
And everlasting love.”

“Worthy the Lamb,” on earth we sing,
“Who died our souls to save;
Henceforth, O Death, where is thy sting?
Thy victory, O Grave?”

– James Montgomery, “Worthy the Lamb for Sinner’s Slain,” 1825, 1853

One can only imagine the extreme joy that Abraham experienced as he untied the ropes that held his son and embraced him in his arms. And on the altar he had constructed, Abraham and Isaac placed the body of the ram God had provided. This lifeless animal became a token of Abraham’s gratitude and an expression of his reverence for his gracious and merciful God.

And having completed the sacrifice, Abraham received a second message from the Lord.

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” – Genesis 22:16-18 ESV

God reiterated the promise He had made when He called Abraham out of Haran.

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

But this time, God seems to indicate that the blessings are conditional.

“Here again God promised Abraham that he would become the recipient of the covenant blessings. The covenant was not based on obedience, nor was the perpetuity of the covenant based on obedience—but rather the reception of covenant blessings was conditioned on obedience. Remember, an unconditional covenant may have conditional blessings.” – J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come

God was recommitting Himself to His covenant obligations. He assured Abraham that He would do what He said He would do. He would make of Abraham a great nation, and Isaac would be the means through which that promise was fulfilled. But He was also reminding Abraham that the blessings associated with the covenant would be conditional. They would require obedience. In order for Abraham to experience the blessings of Canaan, he had been required to leave Haran and his kinsmen behind. God had forbidden Abraham from declaring Eliezer, his servant, to be his heir. And Abraham had been required to obey God’s command and disinherit Ishmael. The result of all of this was God’s commitment to bless Abraham through Isaac. Obedience always precedes blessing.

Centuries later, when the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were preparing to enter the land of Canaan after their 400-years of captivity in Egypt, Moses had delivered God’s clear call to obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

God had kept the promise He had made to Abraham nearly half a century earlier.

“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. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation…” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

And God would ensure that Abraham’s offspring received the inheritance He had promised them. But to fully enjoy all the blessings the land had to offer, they would have to live in obedience to His commands. And Moses had been very specific.

“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.” – Deuteronomy 28:3-6 ESV

The blessings were contingent upon obedience. And Moses made it painfully clear that disobedience would result in severe and costly consequences.

“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-19 ESV

They would find themselves living in the land of promise, but unable to enjoy all the blessings the land afforded. And Moses warned them that their continued failure to live in obedience would result in their eventual removal from the land.

“Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” – Deuteronomy 28:62-63 ESV

Abraham had been willing to obey the command of God and offer up his son as a sacrifice. And, according to God, Abraham’s obedience was the reason the blessings associated with the covenant would be fulfilled

“…because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” – Genesis 22:16-17 ESV

Abraham had not earned God’s blessings. God is simply stating that His blessings are always contingent upon obedience. Adam and Eve enjoyed the blessings of Eden as long as they obeyed God’s command to abstain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But as soon as they disobeyed God’s command and ate of the tree, they were cursed and eventually cast out of the garden. But their disobedience did not keep God from fulfilling His preordained plan to redeem the world through the seed of Adam and Eve. In fact, their disobedience set in motion the grand redemptive plan that God had put in place before the foundation of the world.

In choosing to obey God, Abraham received his son back. But even more importantly, Abraham secured the arrival of another “offspring” who would become a blessing to the nations. Abraham had no way of knowing what God had in store for him and his descendants. He could only take his son and return to his recently purchased property in Beersheba.

Moses closes out this chapter with a short genealogy of Abraham’s brother, Nahor. And his intent for including this list of obscure and difficult-to-pronounce names is simple. He is beginning to shift the focus from Abraham to Isaac. From this point forward, Moses will begin to chronicle the lives of Abraham’s descendants. And one name should stand out in the family tree of Nahor: Rebekah. Through a series of God-ordained events, she will become the wife of Isaac. And with their marriage, the stage will be set for Abraham to pass on his inheritance to his son, whose very life he owed to God.

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