So the next part of this series focuses on the most obviously fruitful part of Joseph’s life. Last time (link) we left Joseph aged 30 as he entered the Pharoah’s service as Prime Minister. 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 next 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
At the end of chapter 41 we see that Joseph is quick to implement his strategic plan for storing up food during the seven years of abundance. If you remember Joseph had told Pharaoh to look for a wise and discerning man to be put in charge of Egypt and to take 20% of the abundant harvest and store it up in reserves. It was then to be used during the seven years of famine which would follow the years of abundance. Pharoah had asked “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (41:38b) and he had therefore made Joseph Prime Minister second in command to him alone. 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).
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 famine was severe (41:56-47), and we are told that “both Egypt and Canaan wasted away” (47:13).
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:
When his family arrived in Egypt, Joseph was also very diligent towards his family as he sought to provide for them too. 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 ‘sons’ (not including the women or Joseph’s family) and Pharaoh allowed them to settle in the land of Goshen. Joseph saw to it that all of them were amply provided for.
What I like about Joseph is that his major contribution in this phase of life is to do his job faithfully and diligently. For most of us that is our lot in life – whether it is the family or the workplace that will be the place where we spend a significant part of our time. Work/ministry like all things can be taken to an extreme and thus become both an idol and a distraction to serving God. Can I encourage you that this will be the primary sphere where you serve God over the coming years! In the life of Joseph, his integrity and diligence was evident to all. That was why he had enjoyed success in both Potiphar’s household and the prison (chapters 9-40): in both he had been given responsibility over the day-to-day management of these places. Not bad preparation to later run a country heh! We also see a glimpse when the brothers try to return the silver they had found in their sacks after their first visit. Joseph’s servant told them:
‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.’Genesis 43:23
This Egyptian servant had been learning from Joseph about the generosity of his God: we trust also that those around us will also learn about the God that we serve!
3. The Next Generation
Finally, and inevitably more briefly I also want to comment on Joseph’s investment in the next generation. At the end of 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.
50 Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ 52 The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’Genesis 41:50-52
These names are exceedingly important and tell us a lot about where Joseph is at in his thinking at this stage.
- The Footnote says Manasseh is derived from the Hebrew for ‘forget’ and we are told that Joseph chose it because God made him forget all the trouble he had faced.
- The footnote says that Ephraim sounds like the Hebrew for twice fruitful and the text says that 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. For those of us who have been involved for some time with the Navigators the idea of investing in the next generation is very familiar. How are you doing with investing in the next generation whether it be physical generations (kids, nieces, nephews, godchildren etc) or with spiritual generations (those who God has given you a part to play in building them up in faith)? Next time we will be thinking about finishing well and about the question of legacy. For both Jacob and Joseph a massive part of their legacies were the people they left behind – the people they had impacted and through whom them believed in faith that God would continue to work out His great promises to them.
See more in the Life of Joseph Series