We’re almost at the end of the story of Joseph. And we’re followed his life, from the time when he was 17 years old when he dreamed his dreams about his brothers bowing down to him; to the time when his brothers sold him into slavery and he ended up a slave in Potiphar’s home; to the time when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him and he ended up in prison; to the time when he interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker and then the Pharaoh; to the time when he became Prime Minister of Egypt and was able to prepare the nation for the coming famine; to the time when his brothers came to Egypt and bowed before him in fulfilment of the dreams he dreamt when he was only 17 years old; to the time when he was finally re-united with his father, and his father and all his family moved to Egypt to settle in the land for a time.
We’ve been following Joseph’s life with interest. And we’ve seen how, in the history of Joseph’s life, God was revealing the history of the Lord’s life, because Joseph, Jacob’s Beloved Son, suffered much and went down, down, down to prison, before being raised and exalted to the place of authority. And the Lord Jesus, God’s Beloved Son, suffered much and went down, down, down to death on the cross, and burial in the tomb, before being raised and exalted to the highest place. And just as Joseph, in his position of authority, was able to save all who came to him, so the Lord Jesus, in his position of authority in heaven, is able to save all who come to him.
And last week, we saw how the history of Joseph’s brothers reveals something of our own history. They once hated their brother and did not want to bow down to him. But when they eventually came, and bowed before him, confessing their need, he forgave them and he helped them. And by nature, we hate the Lord Jesus and we would never bow down to him. But then, the Holy Spirit worked in our lives and enabled us to love the Lord and to trust him and to bow before him. And instead of treating us as our sins deserve, instead of punishing us for our sins, he forgives us and he gives us everlasting life.
So, we’ve been following the life of Joseph and we’ve seen how his life points us to the Saviour and to the everlasting life which we find in him and in him alone.
Well, today we turn to the second half of chapter 47. And really we can divide this passage into three parts. First of all, in verses 13 to 26, we have Joseph and the famine. Secondly, in verse 27, we have a report on how the Israelites were doing at that time. Finally, in verses 28 and 31, the passage closes with Jacob, expressing his desire to Joseph that, after his death, he wants his remains to be return to Canaan. And we’ll look at those three sections now.
Verses 13 to 26
We’re reminded in verse 13 of the severity of the famine. Remember: there had been seven years of plenty, but now they’re going through seven years of famine. And we’re told that there was no food in the whole region. I mentioned last week what Matt Williams said about the food shortages in Malawi where he used to work. In some places, there’s too much rain and the fields have been water logged. In other places, there’s too little rain and the crops have dried up and withered. Yes, the people may have mangoes to eat, but you can’t live on mangoes. The people need their maize to cook with, but the crops have failed this year. Well, there was this famine in Egypt, which was to last for seven years. And we’re told that both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. No crops growing in Canaan, the Promised Land. No crops growing in Egypt either.
However, there was food in Egypt, because God had forewarned the Pharaoh about the famine; and Joseph had prepared the nation for the shortage by storing up grain in the years of plenty. And in the verses which follow, we read how the people came to Joseph for food and he was able to sell it to them.
And first of all, the people bought the grain from Joseph with their money. And look at verse 14: Joseph was able to collect all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan. He collected it all up, on behalf of the Pharaoh. The word for ‘collected’ here is used in the book of Ruth for what Ruth and the other women used to do in the fields. Do you remember? They labourers, when they were harvesting the crop, would gather the stalks of grain and tie them into bundles. But from time to time, they would drop some stalks. And the women were allowed to come after them and to collect these stalks which had been left in the fields. So, they were collecting the last stalks, gathering up all of what was left. And that’s what Joseph was able to do with all the money in Canaan and Egypt. He collected it all, every last penny, so that nothing was left. And in return, he gave the people the grain they needed so they would not die.
And then, once all the money was gone, he was able to collect all their livestock. Do you see that in verses 15 and 16? Verse 15 tells us that their money was gone. And they came to Joseph and said:
We’ve got no food. We’re going to die. Help us!
And verse 16 tells us that, since there was no more money, Joseph took their livestock. And he gave them food in exchange for their horses and their sheep and their goats and their cattle and donkeys. The handed over all their livestock; and in exchange, he gave them the food they needed so that they would not die.
And then, the following year, what could they give in exchange for food? They’d given him all their money. They’d given him all their livestock. What more could they give? Well, look at verse 18. They suggested to Joseph that they could give him themselves and their land in exchange for food. ‘Buy us’, they said, ‘in exchange for food and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh.’ And the people asked for seed. Now, that’s interesting: They asked for seed which they could plant; and not for food to eat. The famine is almost over and they’re ready to plant their fields again. And look at verse 20: Joseph was able to buy all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. And we’re told that the Egyptians — one and all — sold their fields and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to another. Everyone — apart from the priests — had to sell their land and they all became servants of the Pharaoh in exchange for the seed they needed so that they would not die.
Well, what are we to make of all this? What are we to think of Joseph now? Well, the commentators are an interesting bunch of people. Many of them — many, but not all — but many of them have been critical of Joseph, right from the start. When he was 17 years old and told his father a tale about what his brothers were doing, and when he told them all about his dreams, many of the commentators criticised Joseph for being an annoying pest, a tell-tale, telling on his brothers; and they criticised him for being proud, boasting about his dreams. And the commentators also criticised Jacob for making clear that Joseph was his favourite. Many of the commentators are quite critical of the 17-year old Joseph. I think I said at the time that I didn’t think this was right of them: the text doesn’t condemn Joseph and he’s clearly being depicted as Jacob’s Beloved Son because God was revealing to us through Joseph what God’s Beloved Son would do for us.
Well, the commentators are also quick to criticise Joseph for what he did in chapter 37. Wasn’t he taking advantage of the people? The people were in desperate need, and instead of giving them the food they needed, he took all their money, and all their livestock, and all their land, and he made them slaves. That’s not right! He shouldn’t have done that. People used to complain down south about the owners of hotels and guesthouses who would onflate their prices whenever there was some special event on or a sports tournament was being played nearby. People would complain that it was a rip off! And the commentators complain about what Joseph was doing, taking advantage of the situation and putting the people into subjugation. One commentator who defended Joseph when he was younger, said this about Joseph in this chapter:
This is the third time in the narrative that Joseph’s behaviour is open to criticism. So far we have been able to find excuses….
But in this final case we are forced to join in the censure…. Joseph’s fault here was simply that he acted harshly and without pity in the face of massive human misery.
So, are they right? Are they right to criticise Joseph? Well, look at verse 25 and you’ll see what the people at that time thought of Joseph. Verse 25:
‘You have saved our lives’, they said.
The people regarded Joseph as their saviour. They didn’t complain that he was taking advantage of them. They didn’t complain that he was ripping them off. They regarded him as their saviour, the only one who was able to save them from starvation.
So, let’s look again about what we read here to see why the people at that time might have said that about him. First of all, back in verse 13, we’re told that there was no food. Because of the famine, there was no food to be found in either Canaan or Egypt. But Joseph had prepared for this day and he has plenty of food to give to those who were in need and who were in danger of perishing. So, that’s good.
Secondly, we should notice Joseph’s honesty. Look at verse 14. He collected all the money. And what did he do with it? We’re told that he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. We’re used to politicians and people in power helping themselves to what they can. We’ve heard about the directors of big charities who receive massive salaries for their work, even though their salaries have come from donations. But we’re told that Joseph took all the money he collected and he brought it to the Pharaoh. In other words, he was scrupulously honest. And that’s good.
Thirdly, the people themselves suggested to Joseph that they should become Pharaoh’s slaves. It wasn’t his idea, but their’s. And why would anyone suggest that they should become a slave? Well, when we think of slavery, we think of the slave-trade in Africa, when African people were kidnapped by slave traders and taken by force to America. But in the ancient world, it was common for people who could not afford to live to sell themselves into slavery. And, in fact, sometimes when people were slaves and they were given the opportunity to go free, sometimes they would choose to remain a slave, because often their masters were good and kind and they had a place to live and they had food to eat and everything they needed and wanted.
But then fourthly, look at the arrangement Joseph put into place. Verse 23: Joseph bought them and their land. What did he do next? Well, he gave them seed to plant on the land. So, in a sense, nothing had changed: they’re still going to plant the seed and grow the crops and do everything they used to do on the same land as before. Nothing has changed. But surely now they have to give all that they grow to Pharaoh? Well no. They only had to give him a fifth of what they grow. 20%. They could keep the rest. In other words, they would have to pay a 20% tax just as we do. In fact, we have to give away more in tax, because not only do we pay income tax, but we pay VAT and all kinds of other taxes. So, although the Pharaoh owned them and their land, nothing much had changed, apart from the introduction of this tax. And the historians tell us that in other nations at that time, people were typically taxed at the rate of a third of their income. So, Joseph’s rate of taxation was lower than the average.
And so, when the people heard what Joseph was offering them, they said to him:
You have saved our lives. You’re our saviour.
They praised him for what he had done for them.
And just as Joseph saved the people from perishing because of the famine, so the Lord Jesus saves all who come to him. He saves us from perishing because of our sins and he gives us forgiveness, and the assurance of God’s love, and the hope of everlasting life in his presence. And, just as the Egyptians praised Joseph for saving them, so we ought to bow down before the Lord and give thanks to him and praise him because he has saved us and given us everlasting life.
But look with me now at verse 27, which is really very interesting. Listen again to what it says:
Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
It’s an interesting contrast, isn’t it? In the previous verses, we read how the Egyptians had to give their money, their livestock, their land, and their lives to Pharaoh. They had to give everything away. By contrast, the Israelites — Joseph’s brothers — acquired property. And they were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
I wonder, does that phrase ring a bell?
They were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
Back in Genesis 1, God said to Adam and Eve:
Be fruitful and increase in number.
Remember? They were to increase in number and fill the earth with men and women and boys and girls who were all made in the image of God and would reflect the glory of the Lord. God wanted Adam to fill the earth with men and women and boys and girls who love the Lord and who trust him and who want to obey him. But Adam wasn’t able to do that, because he sinned against the Lord. And all of his descendants after him were like him in that they too were sinners.
And then, years later, Noah and his family came out of the ark. And God said to Noah:
Be fruitful and increase in number.
God wanted Noah to fill the earth with men and women and boys and girls who love the Lord and who trust him and who want to obey him. But Noah wasn’t able to do that, because he too sinned against the Lord. And all of his descendants after him were like him in that they too were sinners.
God commanded Adam to fill the earth with people who would love the name of the Lord and who wanted to glorify him. God commanded Noah to do the same. Both Adam and Noah failed.
But then the Lord called Abraham. But he didn’t command Abraham to be fruitful and increase in number. Instead he made a promise to Abraham; he promised to make Abraham into a great nation. In other words, he promised to make him fruitful and to increase in number. And he repeated the same promise to Isaac and to Jacob. And here we read how the Israelites — descended from Abraham and Isaac and Jacob — were fruitful and they increased in number. God kept his promise.
And, of course, as we’ve seen before, God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation is fulfilled not just in one way, but in two ways. First of all, it was fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way in the people of Israel, who became this great nation in the land of Egypt.
But then, secondly, and more importantly, God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation is fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in the church of Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus and who is a member of Christ’s church is one of Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s spiritual descendants. And Christ’s church — his believing people — extends throughout the world and it exists in every nation. And every day, more and more people are being added to it, so that it is truly fruitful and is increasing in number, just as God promised.
In the days of Joseph, God enabled his people to be fruitful and to increase in number so that they became a great and mighty nation in the land of Egypt. And that great and might nation points us forward to God’s better promise to fill the earth with believers, the church of Jesus Christ. He has promised it; and he will do it; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
And here’s the thing. Under what circumstances did the Israelites increase in number? Well, it was while they were living among the Egyptians. And even though the Egyptians were having a hard time, even though they were struggling, God was taking care of his people, the Israelites, and he made them increase in number whenever the Egyptians were struggling to survive. That’s remarkable.
And then, years later in the days of Moses, the Egyptians turned on the Israelites and made them slaves. And you’d think that the Israelites would be wiped out. But no. God was still taking care of his people and he made them increase in number even when they were being persecuted, so that when they left the land of Egypt, there were how many? Six hundred thousand men plus women and children. So, under what circumstances did the Israelites increase in number? Under the very worst circumstances: because, first, there was a famine and still they increased; and then they were persecuted and still they increased. God enabled his people to be fruitful and to increase.
We worry, don’t we? We worry about the state of the world; and all the things that are happening in the world; and all the changes that are happening in our country; and all the decisions the government make which seem to go against everything we believe. We worry about all the ways society has been changing. And we worry because people seem so indifferent to the gospel and often they seem hostile to the church. And we worry, don’t we? How will the church survive? How will the church continue? What can we do? Well, what we can do is trust that God Almighty is still in control. And just as he enabled the Israelites to increase whenever they were living under the worst possible circumstances, so we can trust in the Lord to take care of his people today. Instead of doubting him, and worrying, we can trust in him to work out his purposes in his way and in his time, and to do all that he has promised so that his people — the church of Jesus Christ — is fruitful and will increase in number and will fill the earth.
Remember Jacob last week? He came to Beersheba and the Lord spoke to him and said…. What did he say?
Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation.
And he did. And he’s doing the same today, because all over the world, God is at work to do what he has promised and to enlarge his church on the earth. And so, God’s people today don’t need to be afraid, because nothing can stop the Lord from working out his purposes on the earth.
Verses 28 to 31
You’ll perhaps recall that God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were always twofold: There was the promise of a people; and there was the promise of a place. We’ve been thinking about the promise of a people, and how God made the Israelites into a great nation, which speaks to us of how he’ll build his church on the earth. But in the remaining verses, we’re reminded of his promise of a place.
Jacob knows that he’s about to die. And so, he asked Joseph to promise him that he won’t bury his remains in Egypt. Instead he wants Joseph to carry his remains out of Egypt so that he can be buried where his fathers have been buried. In other words:
Bury me in the land of Canaan; bury me in the Promised Land. That’s where I want my remains to be, because that’s the land God promised would be ours.
And, of course, in duce course, God kept his promise and he gave the land of Canaan to the Israelities. He first rescued them from their slavery in Egypt in the days of Moses; and he brought them through the wilderness; and he enabled them to enter the Promised Land in the days of Joshua. God kept his promise to give them the land of Canaan.
But, just has God’s promise of a people is fulfilled in two ways, so his promise of a place is fulfilled in two ways, because not only was it fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way in the land of Canaan, but his promise is fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in the new heavens and the new earth where all of God’s believing people will live for ever and ever. Jacob knew that Egypt was not his real home. But he also knew that Canaan was not his real home. Like his grandfather, Abraham, he was looking for a better country, a heavenly one, where he would be with the Lord for ever.
And that’s the great hope the Lord gives to us and to all who trust in him, because one day he is coming again, and when he comes, all things will be made new, and all the sorrow of this troubled life will be gone and we’ll be with the Lord for ever in perfect peace and rest.
Do you remember how Jacob described his life last week?
My years have been few and difficult.
And they were, weren’t they? Think of all he suffered. But he was looking forward to — and we are looking forward to — the day when all things will be made new and we’ll be with the Lord for ever and ever in glory.