The Covenant is God’s Will for Man

THE COVENANT WITH JOSEPH: V

Joseph’s journey to the top post in Egypt began as a slave in the house of Potiphar. His loyalty gained him confidence with Potiphar. However, Joseph’s looks brought on the attention of Mrs. Potiphar. When Joseph rejected her affection, she had her husband put him in prison. In prison, Joseph earned the trust of the jailer and the inmates. Two inmates, a baker and a cupbearer, were once close to Pharaoh. They had dreams and Joseph was able to interpret their dreams and the dreams took place as predicted. The cupbearer was found innocent and the baker was hung. And Joseph was also forgotten (Genesis 39-40). Two years later, Pharaoh had two very disturbing identical dreams, and no one was able to interpret them. It was then, that the cupbearer remembered Joseph and mentioned him to Pharaoh. Quickly, Pharaoh had Joseph brought from his dungeon, cleaned and properly dressed, and Pharaoh said to Joseph:

“I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it; and I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph replied, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Then Pharaoh recalled his two dreams, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; and seven cows, fat and lean, came up from the Nile and fed in the reed grass; and seven other cows came up after them, poor and very gaunt and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the thin and gaunt cows ate up the first seven cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as gaunt as at the beginning. Then I awoke. I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good; and seven ears withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, 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” (Genesis 41:1-24).

Then Joseph explained to Pharaoh:

The dream of Pharaoh is one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dream is one. The seven lean and gaunt cows that come after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh, God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 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, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine which will follow, for it will be very grievous. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass (Genesis 41:25-32).  

Joseph was an opportunist. Joseph took advantage of the situation by suggestion to Pharaoh how to prepare for such a time of want. His proposal impressed Pharaoh and he hired him on the spot:

Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take the fifth part of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine which are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine (Genesis 41:33-36).

Pharaoh believed Joseph’s interpretation. And in a way, Pharaoh felt special for having been singled out for a life-saving task, by a God who controlled events and knew the future. Pharaoh saw in Joseph the Spirit of God at work:

And Pharaoh said to his servant, “Can we find such a man as this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discreet and wise as you are; 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.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; and he made him to ride in his second chariot; and they cried before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man shall lift up a hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” Pharaoh named Joseph 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, and he was only thirty years old when he was made the second most powerful person in Egypt (Genesis 41:37-46).

All this was done to preserve those with whom God had made a “Covenant” to set up “His kingdom” on earth:

“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; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).

In order to prepare a place where God could grow His Promise to Abraham into a people that were many and powerful enough to occupy Canaan, Josef was made a powerful prince. God also softened the heart of the Pharaoh, who was willing to believe in dreams and in the interpreter’s meaning, who was sent by God. How else can one explain, why a powerful man like Pharaoh would trust some Hebrew convict with his kingdom? Joseph’s conduct left, no doubt, that he was an emissary from God to save the world. Joseph proved it by his dedication to save all the food he could store, so that they could face the seven years of drought. He made Pharaoh the richest man in the world at that time. And Joseph too was blessed with two sons:

Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphar priest of On, bore to him. Joseph called the first-born Manasseh, because ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’ The second son he named Ephraim, because ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’ (Genesis 41:50-52).

The famine was not just in Egypt, but in all the nations. People from all over the earth came to buy food:

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. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth (Genesis 41:56-57).  

God saved Egypt so that His “Covenant” to Abraham would not end. We shall see in a later chapter to what length God used individuals and even nations to keep His “Covenant of Redemption” in operation, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Now the time had come for Joseph’s own dream to be fulfilled, in which his brothers would bow to him, and so would his father (Genesis 37). Joseph had not forgotten the cruelty his brothers had inflicted on him. By searching his brothers’ conscience and to have them admit to their guilt, Joseph decided to teach his brothers some humility. Joseph was deliberate in how to administer his recompense. Joseph broke his own heart — in order to break their hearts. His brothers had to learn, “What one sows, one must reap.” It was not the ancient way to let people get away with any kind of evil. There was forgiveness after the cure, and not before, as it has become in our time. Discipline was, and discipline is, and always should be foremost in teaching the delinquents and the transgressors how their own medicine tastes. Discipline begins with teaching fear and respect for the authorities and the laws, which keep us acting irresponsibly. Paul, who had been severely disciplined for persecuting Jesus’ followers, wrote these instructions for us:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience (Romans 13:1-5).  

We carry our conscience with us! And any evil we commit that evil will haunt us until we have been disciplined. The writer, to the Hebrews, had a personal run in with discipline, which helped him face hardships and trials. He wrote:

It is for discipline that you have endured. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have earthly fathers to discipline us and we respect them. Shall we not much more be subject to the father of spirits and live? For they discipline us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11).

Joseph, himself, was undisciplined, like his father and his brothers. However, in captivity, Joseph rapidly learned to discipline himself and therefore he rose in statute and power. It enabled him to deal with his conscience — stricken by his brothers. Joseph used the same method, which his brothers had used on him when they tried to destroy him. However, Joseph used his brother’s method to make them better and more responsible men. To bring out the best in his brothers, he had to rattle their conscience and awaken their guilt. Joseph’s brothers had to face the trials before Joseph could identify himself and declare that God assisted them in getting him to Egypt to save Abraham’s seed. It was discipline that led them to understand Joseph’s role in God’s greater purpose for Israel. Ten of his brothers came to buy grain and Joseph accused them of being spies. He threatened to imprison nine, and send one home to bring back their youngest brother, whom Joseph had not met. Joseph, then listened in on their confession of guilt:

“In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he besought us and we would not listen; therefore is this distress come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the lad? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood” (Genesis 42:21-22).  

Joseph forcefully imprisoned Simeon. To free Simeon, Joseph had the nine brothers promise to bring Benjamin back. When they checked their sacks of grain, they found their money in their bags. They were deeply disturbed and asked themselves, “What is this that God has done to us?” What will happen to them when they meet their father without Simeon and the returned money? (Genesis 42:1-28).

Living with a lie is not easy. Eight of the ten brothers of Joseph must have reached a boiling point in their conscience for what they had done to Joseph. How could they call themselves, “Honest men?” Was it not high time to tell their father what they had done to their brother? It must have been nerve wracking to tell their father:

When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had befallen them, saying, ‘The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us, and took us to be spies of the land.’ But we said to him, ‘We are honest men, we are not spies; 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.’ 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 household, and go your way. Bring your youngest brother to me; then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver to you your brother, and you shall trade in the land’ (Genesis 42:29-34).

The disturbing message of the nine brothers became much more troubling when they opened their sacks and found that their money was never used to pay for the grain. In dismay Jacob said to his sons:

“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 upon me.” Then Reuben said to his father, “Slay my two son if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he only is left. If harm should befall him on the journey that you are to take, you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to Sheol” (Genesis 42:35-38).

Starvation has no bounds and life has no options. When hunger breaks down, human pride and man’s desire to live becomes priceless. Joseph had made his delinquent brothers’ choice very painful; namely, to stay alive — they had to give up Benjamin. Joseph appeared confident that his cowardly brothers would give up his brother Benjamin as they had given him up. Judah, the brother who saved Joseph by selling him into slavery, stepped up to be the leader and offered himself up for Benjamin, and their father Jacob began to trust Judah.

Judah said to his father, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food; but if you will not send him, we will not go down for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so ill as to tell the man that you had a brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, asking, ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions; could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down?’ And Judah said to Israel (Jacob) his father, “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame for ever; for if we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice” (Genesis 43:3-10).

Israel had no choice but to send Benjamin with his brothers to the lord of Egypt. The lord of Egypt had some more heart-searching tests for his brothers. They had to learn how to submit to the authority, among strangers. One reason Joseph may have kept Simeon was because he was a ringleader of violence against the Shechemites. Joseph was willing to forgive, but not until his brothers learned to be more merciful and more humane in their behavior toward their own brothers, their friends, and their enemies. Joseph could not bring a bunch of hoodlums to Egypt who would cause trouble for him. With his brother’s own record, he had no reason to trust his brothers. Joseph’s brothers were not the honest men that they pretended to be. Therefore, Joseph was testing them and they, too, began to prove to Joseph that they had regrets and that they had changed their conduct. They, too, began to show dedication and compassion toward each other. That is how families and how nations are made and are sustained. Even in a family, undisciplined people do not live in consideration of each other. Joseph respected his own family and the family of Potiphar. Unfortunately, neither of the families understood him. Just as the brothers ended up bowing to Joseph, so they should have bowed down to their parents. It is for that reason, that Moses was given the Law, “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12). When the brothers arrived, for the second time in Egypt, they expected to be punished for the grain they had not paid for and for the delay of returning. Instead, the lord of the land made a feast for them. According to Egyptian customs, Joseph ate by himself at a separate table. After Joseph had learned that his father was alive, and after he wept alone for joy to see his younger brother Benjamin, he had their sacks filled and had his silver cup placed at the opening of Benjamin’s sack, and he sent them away without Simeon (Genesis 43:11-44:3). The stage was set for the second crucial loyalty test for the ten brothers who had plotted to kill their deliverer. Was it possible that Jesus in “The Parable of the Tenants” may have had Joseph in mind (Mark 12:7-8; Matthew 21:38-39)?

The ten brothers had not gone very far when the Egyptians overtook them and accused them of stealing their lord’s silver cup. They were told to ask, “Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he divines? You have done wrong in so doing” (Genesis 44:4-5). The spokesman for the brothers was too quick to assert their innocence without thinking, and pronounced judgment on his brothers:

“Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; how then should we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” The steward was more lenient and said, “Let it be as you say: he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be blameless.” In haste they opened their sacks and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. They tore their clothes and returned to the city (Genesis 44:6-13).

When they came to Joseph’s house, he was waiting for them. They fell to the ground before Joseph and heard him ask:

“What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed divine?” And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it for me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:14-17).

Guilt has a fatal sting and there is no escape from it unless someone acts in behalf of God and covers the transgression. A substitute will not replace the pain sin causes. To return to their father without his last and most important son was as if one commanded, “Go home and drive a sword through your father’s heart!” To set the guilty brothers free for the prize of their brother was no freedom, but mortal imprisonment. That was the plea Judah made:

“O my lord, let your servant, I pray you, speak a word in my Lord’s ear, and let not your anger burn against your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a younger brother, the child of his old age; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children; and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes upon him.’ We said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your younger brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ When we went back to your servant my father we told him the words of my lord. And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us little food,’ we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother goes with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; one left me, and I said, surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring down my gray hair in sorrow to Sheol.’ Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, then, as is life is bound up in the lad’s life, when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ Now therefore, let your servant, I pray (beg) you, remain instead of the lad as a slave to slave to my lord; and let the lad go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the lad is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would come upon my father” (Genesis 44:18:34).

Judah’s plea is an amazing example of how God makes things right, in spite of human blunderings. God’s “Covenant” cannot change and neither can God! But to fulfill the “Covenant,” God needs men, women, and even children who are willing to become instruments of reconciliation. The admission of guilt, without forgiving the offender, will not bring about reconciliation between them. It takes the transgressor willing to repent and the forgiving attitude of the one who was hurt to bring about the reconciliation. Even though Judah actually saved Joseph’s life, we have him acknowledging his guilt; and we have Joseph, who had to find it in his heart to respond to Judah, the spokesman for his guilty brothers. Being a member of the brothers, Judah also was as guilty as they were when he consented to dispose of their brother, whom they disliked. Judah’s melted heart contributed to Joseph’s melted heart to be reconciled. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Gentiles, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5:2). What did Christ Himself understand how reconciliation is achieved? Who has to do the reconciling?  

So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and remember that your brother has something against you, leave the gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24).

Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.” “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

I love to take comfort in Paul’s convincing statement, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). When I look closer at what Paul wrote, two words come to me that remind me of the broken relationship between Judah and Joseph, which almost voided the fulfillment of God’s purpose. It is really beyond our apprehension why God put so much trust in a man that God would open His heart to reconciliation?

The main purpose of  the “Covenant” is the reconciliation between three parties or streams, which merge into one river. The parties involved must come to an agreement for God’s purpose to be fulfilled; for God’s purpose is always good. And only man can make it good in this world. Judah’s pleads touched Joseph deeply. Joseph could no longer contain himself! Joseph’s feelings gave way and he burst out in loud cries, which was heard as far as the palace of Pharaoh. He had every one leave except his brothers and Joseph said to them:

“I am Joseph; is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him for being shocked that he was alive. Joseph reached out to his brothers and said, “Come near me, I beg you.” And they came near and he said again, “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 is not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord over all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Make haste and go 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; 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; and there I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come; lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Make haste and bring my father down here” (Genesis 45:1-15).

After Joseph’s his lengthy attempt to exonerate his brothers by telling them that they had merely done what God wanted them to do. Joseph embraced his brothers, kissed them, and wept over them. Pharaoh was pleased that Joseph had brothers and a father who was still alive. Pharaoh ordered that his brothers be supplied with wagons, mules, and food to bring his father and all his sixty-six people to Egypt and settle them in Goshen:

“Then Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father in Goshen; and he presented himself to him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive” (Genesis 46:29-30).

The Egyptians were permanent dwellers and they were not sympathetic to nomads with large families, flocks, and herds. Nevertheless, because of Joseph and his humility to ask Pharaoh permission, even though Pharaoh had empowered him to make that choice, Pharaoh was pleased to allow Joseph’s people to restrict themselves to Goshen, fully suitable for nomadic living. The gracious conditions and place was absolutely necessary to fulfill the “Covenant” of God with Abraham. God used a gracious, kind, and receptive Pharaoh to help his “Covenant” bearers fulfill God’s purpose of reconciliation with and between men on earth. In a later chapter, God used Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, and Persia under Cyrus, and then under Rome to continue the “Covenant of Reconciliation” in the world. Rome, in particular, did become for Christianity what Egypt would become for Israel. In both instances, Israel and Christianity — it did take about four hundred years to grow Israel into a nation or “God’s Kingdom” to be a viable power on earth. It would become history in the making for the redemptive covenant of God with Abraham that through him a nation or nations would be either blessed or be cursed. God had sworn to Himself that heaven and earth would pass away but not “His Word” (Matthew 24:35).