What they intended for evil, the LORD intended for good… for the saving of many lives. -Gen. 50:20
After we had settled in Goshen, Joseph took five of his brothers and went to see Pharaoh. When Pharaoh asked their occupation, they told him they were shepherds, as Joseph had instructed them. In the distant past, Egypt had been ruled for a time by foreigners they called the Hyksos, or shepherd kings. It had not been a pleasant time for Egypt and its memory gave birth to their dislike for all shepherds. Joseph knew that describing ourselves as such would insure that we would be given land in Goshen, a fair distance from any major population center, effectively separating us from the Egyptians and avoiding any social problems arising out of this dislike. He also knew Goshen was an area particularly suited for raising animals and would be to our liking as well. Everybody wins.
Later Joseph introduced me to Pharaoh, who was amazed when I told him I was 130 years old. Then I said that my father and his father had lived to be much older. You see the average life span among Egyptians was only about 35 years in those days. Much of this disparity was due to the differences in our diets. The so-called kosher diet that Moses would later document in the wilderness had been with man since the beginning (modified in Noah’s time to include specially slaughtered meat) but only those of us who remained faithful to God followed it. The Egyptians and others who had turned away from God in favor of their pagan religions ate unclean food, lived in unsanitary conditions, and followed generally unhealthy practices. This made them easy prey for disease and infestation drastically shortening their lives. Later, when Joseph died at age 110, the Egyptians believed he had lived a charmed life, one favored by the gods, when in fact all his older brothers were still alive.
But the famine was still going strong when we settled in Goshen, and without the regular provisions Joseph sent our way we would have all perished. Soon Joseph had collected all the money in circulation from Egypt as well as Canaan and deposited it in Pharaoh’s accounts. And still the people faced starvation. So he traded them food for their animals and livestock and before long they all belonged to Pharaoh as well. When they came to him for still more he took their land and finally themselves in trade until Pharaoh wound up owning all the money, livestock, land and people in the known world, and Joseph was in charge of it all. The people were happy with this arrangement, because he had kept them alive. Being in bondage to Pharaoh was better than any alternative they could see. (Try seeing yourself this way with the LORD. Same conclusion?)
At the end of the seven years of famine, Joseph gave each family enough seed to plant crops, but passed a law requiring them to give Pharaoh 20% of each years harvest from that time on.
Some time later Joseph brought his two sons to visit me, and while they were there I adopted them as my own. I told Joseph that all his subsequent sons would be his but that these two were mine to make up for the sons Rachael never got a chance to give me, having died giving birth to Benjamin. As I blessed them, I reversed the order of their birth signifying that the younger, Ephraim, would surpass the elder, Manasseh. From that time on the names of Ephraim and Manasseh were included in any mention of my sons.
As I grew older my health continued to decline until one day I realized the end was near. Calling my sons together I told each of them what would befall their descendants in the latter days. I prophesied over them beginning with the oldest.
I reminded Reuben that although he was my firstborn and had been strong in honor and power, he would not receive the rights of the firstborn and his descendants would no longer excel because he had had a sexual liaison with Bilhah, one of my concubines.
I then condemned Simeon and Levi for their inexcusable actions against the Shechemites and passed over them in bestowing the rights of the firstborn as well. I said their descendants would be scattered in the Promised Land, and indeed Simeon’s people were absorbed into Judah and the Levites received no land allotment at all, being given forty cities located through out the country.
Judah was next. To him I gave a part of the firstborn’s rights; to have authority over his brothers. Later, Judah’s descendants became the Kings of Israel, and ultimately the King of the Universe, the Messiah, would come from the tribe of Judah.
I told Zebulon his descendants would live near the sea, and become a haven for ships. Issachar would share a border with Assyria and be conquered by them.
Dan, whose name means judge, would provide justice. Samson, who began Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines and became one of its judges, came from the tribe of Dan. But others, more treacherous, would bring about Israel’s downfall. The descendants of Dan introduced idolatry into the land around the time of Solomon.
Gad, whose people settled the Golan, would live in almost constant warfare, protecting Israel’s northern flanks.
The tribe of Asher would settle in the north near Lebanon and contribute nearly $3 billion worth of materials for Solomon’s Temple in the currency of your day.
I called Naphtali a doe set free who bears beautiful fawns. His descendants included more daughters than sons, but 11 of the 12 disciples came from the region of Naphtali and Zebulon.
I included prophecies for Ephraim and Manasseh in my words to Joseph, predicting the strength and battle skills of their descendants. Together they settled most of central Israel including the hill country and land east of the Jordan, the most fertile lands in the nation, and spilled over into Jericho. The blessings of the Almighty would be upon them because of the favor Joseph had found with the LORD, and the double portion of the first born would go to Joseph as well, for distribution to his two sons.
Benjamin, I said, would be a ravenous wolf. The heroes and warriors of Israel often were Benjamites, and their fighting forces were feared far and wide. King Saul and his son Jonathon are good examples. Saul of Tarsus, later named Paul, is perhaps the greatest from your perspective.
Just before dying, I made Joseh promise to carry my body to Hebron, to be buried in the cave with Abraham and Isaac and their wives. My first wife, Leah is also buried there. When the time came all of Egypt spent 70 days mourning my passing and a huge company of officials from Egypt accompanied Joseph to Hebron and took part in seven more days of mourning there.
After I died my other sons were afraid that Joseph would now seek revenge for all they had done to him. But he reminded them that even though they had intended evil in their actions, the LORD had meant it for good and many lives had been saved. So they all lived in peace in Egypt.
At the time of his death, Joseph reminded his brothers of the promise the LORD had made to me that He would be with us there and would surely bring us back into the land He had promised us. Joseph made them promise to carry his bones with them when the time came for their return. Then at age 110 he died and was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
I hope my story has helped you see the many ways in which the life of my son Joseph was a preview of the life of the Messiah. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us …”(Rom 15:4). Studying Joseph’s life can’t help but illuminate events in the life of Jesus and prove once again the extent to which the LORD has gone to reveal Himself to you through the lives and times of His people.
And so my son Joseph, having been hated and betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave, literally rose from his intended grave to become the second ruler of the known world. Through his supernatural power and selfless acts, he single handedly saved the world’s population from certain death, acquiring all its wealth on behalf of the king in the process. It’s no wonder some call Jesus “Messiah ben Joseph.” Shalom.