The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is long. It begins in Chapter 37 of the Book of Genesis, and goes through Chapter 45. The Bible gives it so much attention because it so beautifully shows a very important feature of the Jesus who we’ll come to know more fully in the New Testament. There are many such stories in the Old Testament like that, that point directly to Jesus. These tales actually define the Jesus who will later come in the flesh. God’s like that. He didn’t need to do it that way, but he involved mankind in showing itself just how Jesus would appear when He came down to earth to live among us.

Of the twelve sons of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, Joseph was the most loved by him. That status of his didn’t particularly sit well with the others, and his own actions only made things worse. He was given to telling his father of his brothers’ evil deeds, and then when he told them of his dreams in which he was their leader, even over his own father and mother, they’d had it up to their eyeballs with him. They were in a remote field when he came upon them again to check up on them, and, unable to take his attitude any more, they rid themselves of him by selling him to a band of Ishmailites who were traveling with goods into Egypt. By doing so, they handed him a sentence of lifelong slavery. They covered his coat with the blood of a goat and told their father Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a beast.

This was the beginning of a remarkable adventure of Joseph, one that spanned years of slavery and jail, times of distress in which there was no possibility of freedom except for a miracle from God. But that is just what happened. As God raised up the prophet Daniel many centuries later through the circumstance of dreams, He did the same with Joseph by giving the king of Egypt, who is called Pharaoh, a dream of seven fat and seven skinny animals. The dream troubled this king greatly, but when he commanded his advisors to explain what it meant, they were unable to do so. But Joseph, still in jail, had already interpreted the dream of a fellow prisoner, Pharaoh’s butler, who had been released and restored to his former position as Joseph had predicted would happen. When Pharaoh had heard of this ability of Joseph, he was released from jail to appear before the lord of Egypt and interpret the ruler’s own dream. Joseph responded by explaining that the dream foretold of seven future years of plentiful harvest, to be followed by another seven years of drought and famine. He went on to recommend to Pharaoh that he appoint an overseer to supervise the storage of surplus food during the good years to offset starvation during the lean years to follow. Pharaoh, recognizing the hand of God in Joseph’s talent, not only released him from jail, but appointed him to be that very supervisor. This commission came in Joseph’s thirtieth year, as it was for Jesus when He was baptized for His mission. In a grand demonstration of God’s power to raise up the humble, Joseph carried out his assigned duty, in the process becoming a mighty ruler, second in command to Pharaoh over all of Egypt.

As years of plenty passed and were replaced by years of drought, the stores of grain laid up by Joseph began to be used. Now the supervision of Joseph turned to the distribution of food to the needy. Meanwhile, the widespread famine extended outside the borders of Egypt. Other people were beginning to starve, and among these were Joseph’s Israelite brothers. Their father Jacob, seeing the plight of his people and the relative ease with which the Egyptians were weathering the drought, sent ten of his sons to Pharaoh to plead for food. Of all his sons, only the youngest, Benjamin, remained behind.

In one of life’s great ironies, they were granted an audience with the Egyptian potentate in charge of distribution, who, of course, was their brother whom they had abused so many long, eventful years ago. As so much time had passed during which they thought he was dead they failed to recognize him. As for Joseph, he knew immediately, but declined at that time to make the connection known.

At this point Joseph must have struggled pretty hard with feelings of hurt and anger. He was obviously in control over their very lives. Now Joseph was in the perfect payback position and he knew it. He had the ideal chance to even the score and he began to cash in on the opportunity with harsh words and harsher terms. He did give them some food, but kept Simeon behind as a hostage, refusing to release him unless they brought Benjamin to him as surety that they were not spies. Eventually they were forced by the continuing famine to return for more food, bringing Benjamin with them to the terrible distress of their father Jacob. Joseph played a bit with their fear, framing Benjamin for theft and insisting that he stay behind as his slave. Faced with calamity, they spoke among themselves with shame and guilt of God’s retribution for the evil manner in they had treated their brother so long ago. Finally, still not recognizing that it was his brother he was standing before, Judah repented of his evil deeds before Joseph, offering his substitutionary enslavement for the freedom of Benjamin.

Throughout this drama Joseph was beset with mixed feelings of hatred and love. Now, in the wake of Judah’s repentance the situation changed dramatically. In one of history’s great defining moments, Wisdom was imparted to Joseph such that he understood the events shaping his life in the context of the magnificent loving hand of God. Casting away the temptation to indulge in his petty retribution, he decided to obey his God. I particularly like what Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis Chapter 45:

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.

And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said unto his brothers, I am Joseph; does my father yet live? And his brothers could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.

And Joseph said to his brothers, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years has the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be plowing nor harvesting.

And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me here, but God: and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. Haste you, 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 without delay. And you shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shall be near unto me, you, and your children, and your children’s children, and your flocks, and your herds, and all that you have: And there will I nourish you; for yet there are five years of famine; lest you, and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty.”

The importance of Joseph’s life, and this story of it, is that Joseph was given the privilege of presenting a very important part of Jesus’ character to the world at large. What Joseph did was to suffer on behalf of those who caused his suffering, who hated him. At the end he did it willingly, to save them from starvation and death. Jesus did that very thing – He suffered on behalf of those who, still being in their sins, hated and rejected Him. He did it willingly, out of love, for their salvation.


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