So the final part of this three part series focuses on the latter part of Joseph’s life. Last time (link) we left Joseph aged 30 as he entered the Pharoah’s service as Prime Minister. Joseph lived a further 80 years and died at the good old age of 110. By then he had seen the third generation of his son Ephraim’s children and the grandchildren of Manasseh (Genesis 50:2-3). It is apt that we come to these years now while we continue to process the seemingly never ending series of COVID19 induced restrictions. Joseph himself also orchestrated heavy restrictions on the people of Egypt as they fought to store way enough food to help save their lives during the coming famine. Joseph for us is a fantastic example of someone who worked within the confines of his situation for the sake of others. In contrast to the learning years (0-17) and maturing years (17-30) these latter years were very different for Joseph. In that time he brought his family together and brought reconciliation, he worked hard to work out his strategic plan to ensure the survival of Egypt during the famine and he invested deeply in the next generation.
1. Family Matters
Joseph is quick to implement his plan for storing up food during the seven years of abundance. This was no simple task as they soon had ‘huge quantities of grain, like the sand on the sea’ (41:49). So when the famine arrived they had ample supplies, and we are told that ‘all the whole world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph’ (41:57). In chapter 42 the focus of the narrative returns to Joseph’s family. They too were feeling the effects of the famine and so Jacob sent them to Egypt to buy grain. When ten of Joseph’s brothers came to buy grain, Joseph recognised them but he pretended to be a stranger. To them of course, Joseph was as good as dead and so they failed to recognise him.
In the events that follow Joseph pushes his brothers hard to see if they had learned their lesson. First he accuses them of being spies, and then he sends them back to retrieve their missing brother (Benjamin), in order to back up their story. Jacob is not convinced but eventually because of the famine it becomes necessary to send all eleven sons back under the protection of Judah who convinces his father that this is necessary. However, while in Egypt for a second time, Joseph springs a trap on them by placing his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. When they come to leave Joseph sends his servants after them and the cup is found. All Jacob’s sons knew the risk they were taking and their Father had only agreed as a matter of last resort. When it becomes apparent that he must now remain, it is Judah (son #4) who stands up and offers to remain in Benjamin’s place.
33 ‘Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.’Genesis 44:33-34
After this Joseph can no longer hold back his emotions and after weeping loudly he declares to them that he is Joseph. Understandably they were terrified, but Joseph reassures them and tells them that it was not they who had sent him there, but God. Joseph says that God had sent him in order to bring about a great deliverance. Rather than bitterness and resentment Joseph is filled with trust in the plans that God was working out and in and through his life. Soon enough Jacob joined them in Egypt and the whole family were reunited.
2. Leading with Integrity
Joseph’s role as Prime Minister was a demanding one but it was a role he executed with much faithfulness and integrity. Joseph had worked hard to build up resources so that there would be sufficient provision during the years of famine. The food shortage however was severe and we are told that both Egypt and Canaan wasted away. Joseph sold them grain until all their money had gone. Then he agreed to give them grain in exchange for their livestock. Soon all that the people had left, was their bodies and land. Joseph agreed to sell them grain for their servitude, land and even a fifth of the produce of the land. Did Joseph take advantage of them? I don’t think so. He balanced integrity towards the commission Pharaoh had given him, with compassion towards the people. Their response was one of gratitude:
25 ‘You have saved our lives,’ they said. ‘May we find favour in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.’Genesis 47:25
Joseph was also very diligent towards his family as he sought to provide for them. He told his family that he would mediate on their behalf before Pharaoh. He was not however going to leave anything to chance so he instructed them how to respond to Pharaoh when he introduced them. The family who came up from Canaan was a total of 66 persons (not including Joseph’s family) and Pharaoh allowed them to settle in the land of Goshen. Joseph saw to it that all of them were provided for.
Joseph was also a man of faith. God had told Abraham;
“Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and ill-treated there.”Genesis 15:13
Joseph is mentioned in Hebrews 11 because of his faith. We might think of a number of ways in which Joseph acted in faith, but the writer to the Hebrews speaks about the fact that Joseph instructed his family to carry his bones up from that place. Even in Egypt Joseph looked back to the promises God had made to his forefathers and forward to the day when God would bring his people out from Egypt.
3. Leaving a Legacy
The final thing I want to bring out from this latter phase of Joseph’s life is Joseph’s investment in the next generation. Back in chapter 41 we see that Pharoah gave “Asenath…to be his wife” (41:45). She bore Joseph two sons who he named Manasseh and Ephraim. These names are exceedingly important. Manasseh means forget and we are told that Joseph chose it because God made him forget all the trouble he had faced. Ephraim means fruitful and Joseph chose it because God had made him fruitful in the land of his suffering. Taken together these names give us a window into Joseph’s heart, suggesting that Joseph was looking not to the pain he had experienced in the past, but to the potential of the future.
Towards the end of Jacob’s life a message was relayed to Joseph that his Father was ill. So he and his two sons visited him. This was a great encouragement to Jacob who “rallied his strength and sat up on the bed” (48:2). Jacob reminded Joseph of the promises God had given to him and he told him that Joseph two sons would be reckoned as his. Indeed in time these two sons would become two half tribes within the nation of Israel.
What is really interesting however is that when Jacob sees Manasseh & Ephraim he does not recognise them (48:8). Were his eyes failing or had he just seen little (or even none) of them while he had lived in Egypt? We’re not sure but it sure seems like this is a big deal for Jacob who is thrilled to see not only Joseph but is children also. He said ‘I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too’ (Genesis 48:11). Jacob gave his blessing to his sons and and his grandsons. They were the legacy both of Jacob and Joseph. We too can invest in the next generation whether it be in terms of physical or spiritual generations.
We began by seeing that Joseph lived a healthy 110 years and was blessed to see the third generation of Ephraim’s children and the grandchildren of Manasseh. As well as all he did for his family and the way that he served Egypt and the wider area, Joseph was a father and a grandfather. Like most of us, Joseph’s legacy was tied up in respect to those he left behind. His sons had seen firsthand how he had served both God and Pharaoh, how he had wholeheartedly trusted God even through the hard times.
19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.Genesis 50:19-21
His brothers had received his assurance that God had intended the harm they had done to Joseph for good and the saving of many lives. In time the family would find their way back to the land God has promised them in Canaan. Through Joseph (though not from his direct line) God had ensured the legacy of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Joseph finished well because he remained true to the wholehearted dependence that he had placed in God and which had seen him through both the good and the bad times in his life.
See more in the Life of Joseph Series