We’ve been studying the story of Joseph for a few weeks now. And we reached the point last week whenever he revealed his true identity to his brothers who had come to Egypt to buy grain because of the famine in the land of Canaan. And instead of being angry with his brothers, and instead of punishing them for selling him into slavery all those years before, he forgave them.
And as we’ve studied this story together, we’ve not only seen God’s providential control of all things — because after all, God was the one who was working behind the scenes, ordering and directing all things in order to work out his plan and purpose for Joseph and for the future of his people — we’ve not only seen God’s providential control and ordering of all things, but we’ve also seen how God, through the history of Joseph’s life, has been revealing the history of his own Son’s life. You see, Joseph, the Beloved Son, was hated by his brothers. And though he had done nothing wrong, he was persecuted by them and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and he went down, down, down, until he ended up in the prison where he had to remain for a time. But then, wonderfully, miraculously, he was raised up from the prison and made Prime Minister so that he ruled over all and everyone had to bow before him.
And the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Beloved Son, was hated by his brothers, his fellow Jews. And though he never did anything wrong, he was hated and persecuted and falsely accused. And he too went down, down, down like Joseph, but the Lord Jesus went down, down, down to death on the cross and his body was afterwards imprisoned in the tomb. And there it remained for a time, locked up by death. But wonderfully, miraculously, he was raised up from the tomb and he ascended to heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand side where he now rules over all. So, in the life of Joseph, and all that happened to him, God was revealing something of what he was planning to do for us by his Son, our Great Redeemer.
And, of course, just as the nations came to Joseph to be saved from the famine, so now men and women and boys and girls from every nation are coming in faith to Christ to be saved from their sin and misery. And to all who come to him in faith, and bow before the Beloved Son, just as Joseph’s brothers bowed before him, he promises them a place in his everlasting and heavenly kingdom of glory. The story of Joseph reveals to us the even better story of Jesus Christ, God’s Beloved Son.
And, of course, the story of Joseph is not over yet. There’s still more to come. And in today’s passage we read how Joseph’s brothers returned to Canaan to tell their father what had happened to Joseph. That’s in chapter 45. And together they make the journey from Canaan to Egypt. That’s in chapter 46. And then we read how Isaac and the brothers were brought in to meet the Pharaoh and they were given a place to stay in the land of Egypt. And that’s in chapter 46 and into chapter 47. And that’s what we’re going to be looking at this evening.
First of all, we have verses 16 to 28 of chapter 45. Joseph has only just revealed his identity to his brothers. And last week, when we left them, Joseph was kissing his brothers and weeping over them and these re-united brothers were talking together. Well, in verse 16 we read that the news that Joseph’s brothers had come had reached the Pharaoh’s palace. And we can imagine the word getting out and everyone was talking about it in the corridors of the palace:
Did you hear the news?
The news about Joseph?
What news about Joseph?
His brothers have come to Egypt.
I didn’t know he had any brothers!
I know, neither did I. But they’re here!
And look at the end of verse 16 because it tells us that the Pharaoh and his officials were pleased. You know, that tells us what they thought of Joseph and how they must have they must have loved him, because when they hear this good news that has happened to him, they’re pleased for him. They’re not jealous and they don’t resent it. They’re happy for him. And what’s more, for Joseph’s sake, they want to be generous to his family and to make them feel welcome. And so, look at verse 17: The Pharaoh himself tells Joseph to bring his family to Egypt. He said:
Tell them all to come on down here. I’ll look after them. I’ll give them the best of the land to live on and they can enjoy the fat of the land.
And look at verses 19 and 20: He says they’re to take some carts from Egypt to carry them on the journey. And, no doubt, these are royal carts, the best ones available. And he says: Tell them not to worry about all their stuff; they can leave it behind in Canaan, because I’ll give them new stuff, better stuff, when they get here.
And so we read that the sons of Israel did this. They got the carts ready. And they were given provisions for the journey. And Joseph gave them new clothes to wear. You know, if it was happening today, they’d all be given tailored suits to wear and they’d be flown back to Canaan in a private jet, fully stocked with all the food and drink you’d want on the flight. They were given first class, luxury treatment.
And in verse 24, just before they set off, Joseph turns to his brothers — and we can imagine him giving them a meaningful look to show how serious he is — he turns to his brothers and says: ‘Don’t quarrel on the way!’ Presumably he means: ‘Don’t quarrel about what you did to me all those years ago. Don’t quarrel about whose fault it was.’
I mentioned The Apprentice a few weeks ago. Well, in The Apprentice, whenever a team loses one of the tasks, they gather in a cafe and it all starts: Who is to blame? Who isn’t pulling their weight? Whose fault is it that we lost? And they quarrel and argue and point the finger and accuse one another. And we can imagine Joseph’s brothers, quarrelling with one another over what they had done all those years ago. But they needed to understand and to be re-assured that Joseph had forgiven them. He wasn’t accusing them. And therefore, since he wasn’t accusing them, then they shouldn’t accuse one another. So, he’s really saying to them: ‘Don’t quarrel. This is not a time for arguing, but for rejoicing.’
And, of course, it’s the same in the church. God our Father has pardoned us for all that we’ve done wrong. Instead of accusing us, he’s forgiven us. And so, since he’s not accusing us any longer, we ought not to accuse one another, and quarrel and fight. We ought not to bear grudges. Instead we ought to forgive, just as in Christ God has forgiven us.
Well, when they arrived home, they told their father the news. And what a crazy story they had to tell. They said: ‘Joseph is still alive!’ That’s amazing by itself. But then they add: ‘In fact, he’s ruler of all Egypt.’ It’s like saying to someone whose child disappeared 20 years ago: Your son is still alive. In fact, he’s the President of the USA. And, of course, at first Jacob was stunned by their news and he didn’t believe it. Do you see that in verse 26? But then, when he heard what Joseph had said, and when he saw all the carts, the royal carts from Egypt, his spirit revived. His broken and weary spirit — broken and weary because of all he had suffered over the years — began to stir within him. And he finally believed that what his sons were telling him was true.
In the opening verse of chapter 46, we read that Israel — that is, Jacob — set off with all that was his. So, this was going to be a permanent move, and not a temporary move. He wasn’t packing a few suitcases; he was taking all family and possessions with him for this move to Egypt.
And on the way, he stopped at Beersheba in order to offer sacrifices to the Lord. Beersheba was the place where the Lord once appeared to Isaac in order to re-assure Isaac that the Lord was with him and would bless him. And Isaac built an altar there and worshipped the Lord at that place. Well, it’s been many years since Isaac was there. But now, his son, Jacob, has come to the same spot. And, like his father, he worshipped the Lord there. And just as the Lord has spoken to Isaac in that place so the Lord now spoke to Jacob.
And what did he say? He said:
Do not be afraid.
Do you see that in verse 3? Now, who do you say ‘Don’t be afraid’ to? Who do you say those words to? Well, you say it to someone who is afraid. A parent will say it to their child who is standing on the edge of the diving board and who is too scared to jump. The parent will say: ‘Don’t be afraid. Jump! It’ll be okay.’ And so, when the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Don’t be afraid’ that tells us something about Jacob. That tells us that he was afraid. You see, it was a big move he was making: to go from the familiar surroundings of Canaan to the unfamiliar surrounding of Egypt. And no doubt he was wondering whether his family would be okay in Egypt. Would they fit in and prosper? Or was this the beginning of the end for them? Jacob was afraid.
But, of course, it was more than that, wasn’t it? You see, Canaan was the Promised Land; the land God had promised to give to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and to their descendants for ever. And now it seemed as if Jacob was leaving it all behind. So, he was afraid of what that might mean. Was he doing something wrong? Would he make God angry? Was he doing the right thing?
And so, the Lord spoke to re-assure him. And, first of all, the Lord promised that he would make Jacob’s family into a great nation. So, this was not the beginning of the end for them; they would prosper and do well and multiply in Egypt. And secondly, the Lord promised that he would be with them in Egypt and he would also bring them back to Canaan. In other words, although the move to Egypt seemed to be a permanent move, really it was only going to be a temporary arrangement; the Lord would one day bring them back to the Promised Land.
Well, the Lord doesn’t speak to us directly and immediately today. He doesn’t speak to us the way he spoke to Jacob. But he speaks to us through his word, the Bible. And the Bible contains all kinds of promises which he had written down there to re-assure his people and to encourage us. So, when we’re afraid, when we’re anxious, we can turn to God’s word, and there we’ll read one promise after another to remind us that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us, just as he would not leave or forsake Jacob.
And look at the Lord’s final word to Jacob that day. The Lord said: ‘Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.’ What did he mean? Well, he was re-assuring Jacob that he would die in peace, surrounded by his loved ones. I sometimes say to people, whenever they’re at the bedside of an aged parent who is dying, that there’s no good way to die, because every death is heart-breaking and awful. But if there was a good way to die, it would surely be like this: dying peacefully in bed, surrounded by your loved ones. And that’s what the Lord was promising to Jacob. He will die in peace; and his descendants will one day return to the Promised Land.
And so, we read how Jacob left Beersheba and he and all his family set off to go to Egypt. And we read their names here in chapter 46: all the sons he had by Rachel and by Leah and by Zilpah and by Bilhah. All his sons and all of their sons. And in verse 27 we’re told that the total number of Jacob’s family who went into Egypt was seventy.
Seventy is, in one sense, a big number. Imagine having seventy children and grandchildren! Well, that’s a lot of people to buy Christmas presents for. But in another sense, it’s a small number. There were only seventy of them compared to the thousands and thousands of Egyptians. But, of course, God kept his promise to Jacob; and whenever the Israelites eventually left the land of Egypt in the days of Moses, the seventy who went down to Egypt had become, according to Exodus 12, six hundred thousand men plus women and children. As he promised, the Lord blessed them and made them into a great nation.
The last part of chapter 46 and the first part of chapter 47 tell us how Joseph met his father. And when they met, Joseph threw his arms around his father and wept, we’re told, for a long time. He hadn’t seen his father for many years and perhaps he wondered if he would ever see him again. But here he is. And Jacob, when he saw Joseph, said: ‘Now I’m ready to die.’ He thought he’d lost his son. He thought he’d go down to the grave without ever seeing his Beloved Son again. But here was his son and he’s alive; and Jacob was content with that and there was nothing more he wanted from life than that.
And then we read how Joseph presented his brothers to the Pharaoh. And then Joseph presented his father to the Pharaoh. And in verse 11 we read that Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to their number. And that’s how this section ends, with Joseph and his father and brothers, living at peace in the land with all that they need.
We’ve seen on previous weeks how the history of Joseph’s life reveals to us the history of the Lord’s life, because there are all these parallels between what happened to Joseph and what would happen to the Lord Jesus. However, today I want us to think for a few minutes about how the history of Joseph’s brothers reveals something about ourselves and our own history.
Back in chapter 37, at the start of the story of Joseph, we discovered that Joseph’s brothers hated him. They hated him because he was their father’s Beloved Son. And after Joseph dreamed his dreams about how his brothers would one day bow down to him, they hated him all the more. They hated him and they hated the idea that they might serve him. And so, even though Joseph had done nothing wrong, they plotted together how to get rid of him and they sold him into slavery.
Well, when we next met them, they were in trouble: the famine had come to the land of Canaan, and they didn’t have enough grain to live on. They were in danger of dying. And do you remember their father’s words to them at the beginning of chapter 42? He said to them: ‘Why do you just keep looking at each other?’ You see, they didn’t know what to do: there was no food; and they were about to perish; and they had no idea what to do to save themselves.
But their father had a plan: Go to Egypt and find food. And so, they went to Egypt, hoping to buy enough grain so that they would survive. And when they arrived, they all bowed down before whom? Before their brother, the Beloved Son, whom they once hated, but who had been exalted to rule over all. Now, they didn’t recognise him, but they bowed before him and asked for his help.
And then their brother — instead of punishing them for what they had done to him, which is what they deserved — instead of punishing them, he welcomed them and he kissed them and he forgave them.
And in today’s passage, we read how, for Joseph’s sake, they were welcomed by the Pharaoh. And for Joseph’s sake, they were given the best land to live in. And for Joseph’s sake, they were given homes and other property to enjoy. For Joseph’s sake, they were saved from the famine. And for Joseph’s sake, they were allowed to live in peace and rest in the land of Egypt. Instead of being treated harshly because of their sins, or instead of being treated like strangers, which is what they were, they were brought into the Pharaoh’s palace and they were warmly welcomed and treated like kings.
And here’s the thing: They did nothing to deserve this. In fact, they deserved to be punished for what they had done. But Joseph forgave them. And for Joseph’s sake, they were treated far, far, far better than any of them deserved.
Well, the history of Joseph’s brothers reveals to us something about ourselves and our own history, because by nature, we’re just like Joseph’s brothers. By nature, we hated the Beloved Son and we hated the thought of bowing down to him. By nature, we hated him, because, by nature, we’re sinners and we don’t want to bow down to God. We only want to please ourselves and we only want to serve ourselves.
And that’s the way we would still be, and that’s the way we would remain for ever and ever, hating him always, even in hell. That’s the way we would still be, if he had not been so gracious and merciful to us, and if he hadn’t sent his Spirit into our lives to give us a new heart, one that’s able to love him, so that we were happy to bow before him and to serve him as our Lord.
And when we bowed before him, what did we find? That he did not treat us as our sins deserve, but he forgave us for all we had done wrong. He pardoned all our sins. And then, for Jesus’s sake, we received one gift after another, one spiritual gift after another, because not only were were justified and pardoned for Jesus’s sake, but for Jesus’s sake, we received adoption, so that we were adopted into God’s family. And for Jesus’s sake, we received sanctification, so that we’re being renewed in God’s image. And for Jesus’s sake, we received assurance of God’s love, and peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Spirit, and growth in grace and perseverance, all those gifts which we read about in our church’s Catechism. Do you remember Paul’s words in Ephesians?
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
‘Every spiritual blessing in Christ.’ In other words, for the sake of Jesus Christ, God has bestowed on us one good thing after another, just as, for Joseph’s sake, his brothers received one good gift after another.
And then, in chapter 2 of Ephesians, Paul wrote:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…..
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. We were spiritually dead. But we have been raised with Christ so that now, by faith, we belong in the heavenly realms with Jesus Christ, God’s Beloved Son. Joseph’s brothers were as good as dead, because of the famine. But because of Joseph, they were saved and welcomed into Egypt where they were treated like kings. And we too have been raised with Christ.
Well, it’s remarkable, isn’t it? It’s remarkable what Joseph did for his brothers. But it’s even more remarkable what Jesus Christ has done for us. And so, we ought to bow down before him, and we ought to worship him and give thanks to him for all that he has done for us, because what we deserve is to be cast into hell, but he has raised us up to the heavenly realms which is where we now belong by faith, and where we will one day come in person. We ought to give thanks to him, and we ought to trust in him always, because just as Joseph was the only one who could save his brothers, so Jesus Christ is the only one who can save us.
United in Glory
And what will happen on that day, whenever we come in person into the heavenly realm? Well, at the end of today’s passage — in the first 12 verses of chapter 47 — we have this wonderful little picture of Joseph, presenting his brothers and his father to the Pharaoh. And look: he’s not ashamed of them, but he’s happy to present them to the Pharaoh and to say: ‘These are my brothers. This is my father.’ And then we read how he settled them in Egypt, giving them homes to live in, and food to eat. It’s a picture of peace and rest and of a family re-united.
Well, in Hebrews 2, we read how the Lord Jesus is not ashamed to call us — sinners though we are — his brothers. One day, the Lord Jesus will gather us together — just as Joseph gathered his brothers — and he’ll bring us into the heavenly kingdom of glory; and he’ll present us before his Father and he’ll not be ashamed to call us his brothers and his sisters. And think about that: think of all the ways we’ve let him down and all the times we’ve been unfaithful to him and have offended him and have sinned against him. And yet, he has pardoned us and forgiven us and does not hold our sins against us. And he’s not ashamed of us. And he’ll present us to his Father in heaven.
And there, in heaven, he’ll make room for us and give us a place to stay. And he’ll provide us with everlasting peace and with everlasting rest. And Christ’s family — all those who belong to him and who have loved him and trusted him — will be brought together to be with the Lord for ever and for ever.
You know, Jacob must have looked at Joseph and his other sons that day, surrounded by all that luxury in Egypt, and he must have thought it was like heaven on earth. After all the years of suffering and sorrow, could his life get any better than this? Well, it can; and it will, when all of our Saviour’s family will be gathered together in the true heaven, where all of his brothers and sisters will live with him for ever and for ever.