One of the great stories in the Old Testament is the story of Joseph. He was a tattletale who ran back to his father Jacob to report on everything his brothers did and as a result his brothers didn’t like him very much. So one day his father, probably oblivious to the fact because he doted so much on Joseph, sent him out to his brothers who were tending sheep a distance away.
Now, when the brothers saw him coming they said, “Lets kill him,” but then cooler heads prevailed and they decided to put him in a pit and leave him there to die on his own. Then an opportunity popped up to make some money and get rid of Joseph at the same time. They saw a group of wandering traders moving through on their way down to Egypt so they sold Joseph to them, pocketed the money, tore his coat up a bit and sprinkled animal blood on it and went home to tell their father that Joseph was eaten by wild animals.
Meanwhile, Joseph goes to Egypt, gets sold into the home of Potiphar a high-ranking Egyptian official and does very well for himself. He is soon in charge of the family estate and proves to be a very loyal and trustworthy servant. One day, however, Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph and tries to seduce him. Joseph resists and eventually, out of anger for being rebuffed, she accuses him of rape. Potiphar, probably knowing better than to believe his wife, sides with her anyway to keep harmony in the family and Joseph is thrown into prison.
The reason I say Potiphar doesn’t totally believe his wife is if he did, he would have had Joseph killed instead of putting him in prison. In prison Joseph soon makes himself invaluable to the keeper of the prison and takes on many of the administrative duties. However, he is still locked up.
Then one day Joseph hears a baker and a steward of the Pharaoh telling their dreams and he interprets for them. All he asks of the steward, who is going to be restored to Pharaoh’s service, is to remember him and put a good word in for him when he can.
Sure enough the steward is restored to his old job of serving Pharaoh, but quickly forgets Joseph until one day years later when the Pharaoh has a dream that no one can interpret. Then the steward remembers Joseph and mentions him to the Pharaoh who quickly calls for Joseph and has him successfully interpret the dream.
The Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph and his skills that he senses there is something very special about the man. He puts him over the land to administrate the securing of crops and storage of those crops for the coming famine that was the central theme of his dream that Joseph interpreted.
After seven years of plenty came the seven years of famine, but Egypt was ready for it because of Joseph’s managerial skills. Now, the famine was wide spread and it wasn’t long until the people of Canaan felt it and even the household of Jacob was without grain. Jacob called ten of his remaining eleven sons together and said go down to Egypt and buy some grain that we don’t starve.
The sons did what their father told them to do and in one of life’s great ironies they ended up standing before Joseph asking to buy grain. Joseph immediately recognized his brothers but they had no clue to the identity of this high ranking Egyptian official who had the power of life and death over them since he could either sell them food or not sell to them.
Joseph, without giving away who he was, sold them the grain and when they were not looking put their money back in their saddlebags and sent them on their way. End of the story—not quite. He had a ruse to make them return with Benjamin his youngest brother. He accused them of being spies and told them that one of the brothers had to remain behind in jail until they brought Benjamin. Only then would he believe they were not spies and could be trusted.
The brothers returned without Simeon who remained as a hostage in Egypt and reported everything that happened there to Jacob.
The famine continued and the children of Israel had to go back down and ask for more food, but this time they were a bit nervous about it because they had found the money in their saddlebags and wondered what would happen if they returned not having legally paid for the grain. But, their biggest problem was simply they couldn’t return without bringing Benjamin. To make a long story short, Jacob, finally allowed the boy to go with his brothers and they returned to Egypt.
Now when they arrived in Egypt the brothers were surprised and a bit confused by the high-ranking Egyptian official’s offer to have them over to his palace for a meal. Still Joseph didn’t reveal to them who he was but once again sold them grain and sent them on their way. But, again Joseph had a plan to test his brothers. He had his servant put into Benjamin’s saddlebags Joseph’s cup and hides it beneath the grain.
As all the brothers began their way home they must have felt overwhelmed by all their good luck. They were not accused of stealing money by not paying for the original purchase of grain, and they seemed to hit it off with the high-ranking Egyptian official. They were feeling good about themselves until a detachment of soldiers caught up with them and accused them of stealing the Egyptian officials cup.
The brothers swore they didn’t take it and offered to go into slavery to the Egyptians if they found the cup. What seemed like a nice leisurely trip back home after a great experience in Egypt was now turning into a nightmare. All the brothers returned with Benjamin to Egypt and found themselves standing before the Egyptian official trying to explain how the cup might of gotten into Benjamin’s grain pack.
In Genesis chapter 44 we read about how Judah comes forward and talks to the Egyptian having no idea it is Joseph and explains that he had assured his father that Benjamin would come home and if the boy didn’t return his father would be heartbroken. Judah then offered to take Benjamin’s place as a slave if only Benjamin could go home.
The Egyptian official had the room cleared and then revealed to his brothers that he was actually Joseph. He then revealed to them that the famine was going to last another five years and they should return to Canaan and bring their father and all their households down to Egypt so he could provide for them. And they did as Joseph advised.
After seventeen years in the land Jacob died and the brothers began to panic that Joseph might still harbor ill will towards them and take his revenge now that Jacob was dead. Now, comes the point of why I recounted the story of Joseph and his brothers over these last twelve hundred words. Joseph says to his brothers,
19“Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?
20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21)
Verse 19 actually reads more accurately in the RSV, “for I am in the place of God.” So, what is being said here? We are seeing the Gospel at work. Joseph is a type of Christ and has great evil done to him by the people he loved—his family. They betrayed him, sold him into slavery, pretended he was dead and brought misery, guilt, and shame upon themselves not to mention broke Jacob’s heart.
And yet, just as God forgives us our sins, so Joseph forgave them. As second in command of all Egypt he truly did stand as God before his brothers and with a wave of his hand could have had them all killed. But instead “he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
When we read the story of Joseph we are reading the story of God’s love manifested to undeserving people. We are reading our own story. And, instead of being treated as we should be treated we are treated with love and compassion and forgiveness.