JOSEPH AND THE PROMISES (Genesis 37, 39-50)
Joseph represented a turning point in the making of the nation of Israel. It was his honesty that put him at odds with his brothers and into the second position to Pharaoh in Egypt. He did what was right and came out on top. His brother’s evil intention, Joseph interpreted as an act of God to save Israel. Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold to Egypt. And now, do not be afraid or be angry for selling me, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been a famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing or reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
The story of Joseph son of Jacob Israel and Rachel was filled with drama, tragedy and triumph. His parents had eleven other children from three different mothers but promoted only Joseph. They spoiled him with gifts and special treatment and turned him into a brat that spied on his brothers. He looked for faults and spread bad reports. He dreamed and his dreams frightened even his parents. He delighted in telling his brothers that ten sheaves bowed to one and the sun, the moon and the stars bowed to him. He became a little boss and his brothers began to plot how to dispose of the toddle-tale with the ornamental coat of many colors. One day, they moved their herds into a region that had dried out waterholes and when their brother Joseph was sent to inspect, they decided hastily to dump him into a deep pit and then contemplated what to do with him. Reuben the oldest tried to save the lad, but he was called away. By chance, an Ishmaelite and Midianite caravan of merchants passed, his nine brothers sold Joseph to them for twenty shekels of silver. Then, they killed a goat, dunked Joseph’s coat in its blood and took it to their parents. The merchants sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, captain of the guard to Pharaoh.
The experience of facing death turned Joseph into a man that sought meaning for his life. He decided to prove himself by being decent, honest and loyal to those who trusted him, even if it meant to be abused and punished. Joseph began to believe that there was a higher power behind his tragedy. It is this idea where tragedy upon tragedy became the way to triumph. Joseph gained the confidence of Potiphar but his wife destroyed it with her passion and her false accusation landed him in Pharaoh’s prison. In prison, he gained the confidence of the warden and ended up watching and caring for the other inmates. And in prison, Joseph met Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. They had dreams and told them to Joseph and he correctly interpreted them for the two inmates. The cupbearer was returned to his duties and the baker was hung. Two more years passed. Joseph matured and became more and more aware of the message of his dreams and those of others. He became convinced that the God of his fathers was sending him a message. During this time, Pharaoh had two dreams that frightened him. He called in all the wise stargazers and interpreters and no one had any idea what it was all about. The cupbearer whose life was spared began to remember Joseph and informed Pharaoh about his dream and the able young Hebrew that knew the meaning. From that point on, Joseph’s tragedies turned into triumph.
Joseph was brought before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh asked for Joseph’s help and the young Hebrew replied, “I cannot predict, but God will show Pharaoh what he needs to know.” The king then proceeded to tell his dreams. In the first, seven ugly lean cows ate up the seven beautiful and fat cows and in the second one seven lean heads of grain ate up seven fat ears. Joseph instantly realized that God was putting the answer into his head and he said to Pharaoh, “Both dreams have one message. God has sent a message to Pharaoh of what is going to happen very soon. There will be seven years of plenty and prosperity and then seven years of famine will devastate the land. This is God’s decision and it is final. It is up to Pharaoh to appoint wise managers that can prepare for what lies ahead by storing as much food as possible.”
Pharaoh was impressed by Joseph’s interpretation and suggestion. He saw the Spirit of God in the Hebrew and decided right there and then to put him in charge of the project preparing for the seven years of famine. He gave him full authority and privileges that surpassed all the Egyptians. He did fill the storehouses and build new ones and when the famine struck. Joseph made Pharaoh the richest man in the inhabited world by exchanging food for goods and properties. The king made Joseph the highest-ranking man in Egypt, gave him a new name Zaphenath-Paneah and a wife Asenath, daughter of Potiphera priest of On. She bore him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. It was now time for his dream to materialize. The ten sheaves or brothers were on the way to bow to Joseph and soon after that the sun and the moon and the stars will find refuge under his wings. Now it was Joseph’s term to play with their conscience. He accused them of being spies, kept Simeon as a hostage, demanded to have them bring Benjamin with them (a brother Joseph did not know he had) and had their silver was sent back with the grain. Joseph had come back to hunt them and now they had to explain another loss of a brother.
Crops continued to fail and the brothers had to convince their father that the man in Egypt would not negotiate without Benjamin. Reuben pledged his sons and Judah his life for their baby brother. This time, Joseph’s heart had melted and he had his eleven brothers brought to his home, fed them, filled their bags with all the silver they brought and put his silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. Then, he had the authorities pursue them and apprehend the one who had the cup. They all returned and begged for Benjamin. Joseph no longer could contain himself and revealed his identity and told them what they had done was part of God’s plan to save them and the Promises yet to come. Next, with the approval and assistance of Pharaoh, Joseph had his father and sixty-five relatives move to Egypt and settle in Goshen where they would live for four centuries. Then, Moses would lead them out of Egypt and slavery and Joshua would take them back to the Canaan.
Jacob-Israel was facing his end and requested that his sons appear before him and receive his blessings. Joseph was asked to bring his sons and Ephraim was blessed over Manasseh. Both would become examples in Israel but none like Ephraim. Simeon and Levi’s anger received a mild curse. The names that would bear the standard in Israel would be Judah in the south and Ephraim in the North and Joseph would be a blessing to all the brothers. The father of the nation of Israel passed away and was returned with much Egyptian and Hebrew fanfare to his burial place in Canaan. Joseph eased the conscience of his brothers by promising that he would not hold their evil intent against them and he requested that when their deliverance would take place to take his bones with them and bury them beside his parents. That wish would be fulfilled by Moses and Joshua.