Part One - Joseph: The Abrahamic Blessing Personified
I am going to try to do a three part series on Joseph, Daniel, and Jesus. It occurred to me the other day that they share some remarkable similarities, and I wanted to think about them.
The first 11 chapters of Genesis probe insufficiently for a resolution to the situation of cursed Adam. Three major catastrophic events define these chapters- the Fall of Adam, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. This chronicle of recurring wickedness and increasingly global infection preludes the introduction of Abraham’s family. But God’s covenant with Abraham seems an unexpected and inadequate response to the deteriorating condition of the world. How could a small nomadic family influence the growing kingdoms of the world? The trend in the first 11 chapters suggests that with the passage of time and the multiplication of Adam’s descendants, evil increases. And the establishment of cities and kingdoms only compounds the problem.
The story of Joseph is not just about how the Israelites end up in Egypt. It is the first major confrontation between a chosen representative of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World, and fulfils the Abrahamic promise to “bless the nations” albeit in a limited sense. It is a paradigmatic story, laying groundwork for an increasingly global showering of grace and mercy. In the story of Joseph, the failures of the previous chapters are confronted and defeated, not by totally obliterating all evil in one fell swoop, but by showing how the evil motives and tendencies of man do not stop the design and intentions of the sovereign God. As the old hymn says: “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet”.
Joseph was a young Hebrew loved by his father but envied by his brothers. When sent by his father to meet his brothers in a field, an envy and a burning desire to take the life of Joseph(Cain anyone?) overcame the brothers. Calmed by Ruben, they sold Joseph for 20 shekels of silver. This handsome, intelligent lad became the servant of an official named Potiphar in the land of Egypt. The Lord’s blessing followed everything that Joseph did, and Potiphar quickly promoted him to second in command of all his house. But at his prime, the wife of Potiphar attempted to seduce Joseph, who strongly refused. In response she crafts a false story attempting to prove Joseph’s disloyalty for Potiphar, who threw him in prison. When Pharaoh had a dream about the future of the land of Egypt, God provided for Joseph’s freedom in order to counsel Pharaoh. It turned out that this dream impacted the entire known world. Joseph revealed the meaning of the dream, which foretold a heavy famine over the earth. Then, in order to prepare for this disaster Pharaoh promoted Joseph to second in command over all Egypt and he became so powerful that he said: “He (God) has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Gen 45:8)” When Joseph’s brothers apologize for selling him in their jealousy, he points out that God worked their evil for good, exalting him to the position of lordship over the greatest kingdom in the world at the time. The climax, therefore, of Genesis (I would say) comes when Israel (Jacob) himself stands before Pharaoh and blesses him (Gen 47:7). The nation to come of Israel’s loins becomes the gift God sent to the world.
The stories of Genesis almost seem historical, simply recounting cosmic events. But the book has a purpose deeper than history. The question is: how is Genesis describing God? And how is Genesis describing the relationship between God and the world? Genesis contrasts two starkly different avenues describing God’s method of interaction with creation. In the beginning part of Genesis, God employs the expected form of power- changing the world directly. But a contrast becomes clear upon the calling of Abraham. The narrative surprises the reader; the story slows down and describes a broken family with problems and an annoying tendency to deceive and do everything possible counter to God’s plan. It is slower and more annoying only because God begins working all the evil and broken aspects of Man and his Fall for good. But this eternally more glorious and more powerful method of interaction builds the groundwork for the rest of history and the rest of the story of redemption. Specifically in regards to the story of Joseph, the stubborn brothers had no idea what they were doing. In fact, the “stubborn brothers concept” becomes so central a theme in the redemptive plan that eventually the Messiah is lifted upon a cross as a result of the nation of Israel's stubborn and unrepentant heart. But what Israel intended for evil, God intended for good, exalting Jesus for bearing the sins of the world, making him ruler over all- Lord of the Universe. More on that in a later post.
So who is God? Genesis tells us he is the all-powerful creator, who made a promise to Noah- to work for the good of creation, not by destruction, but by redemption. He is patient and long-suffering. He meticulously works the evil of men to our good and His Glory. And accomplished his purpose in Genesis by using a young nomadic child who gets sold as a slave to the most powerful kingdom of the world, exalting him to become ruler of that kingdom for the good of the world. The stubborn hearts of men cannot comprehend the wisdom of God. To agree with Paul “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33- the end of Paul’s discussion of the problem of Israel’s disobedience)