In the Old Testament, Almighty God was the Saviour of Israel. He rescued Abraham’s descendants from slavery in Egypt and gave them the covenant which them into his chosen people. On many occasions God saved his people by giving them victory in battle. He saved them by bringing the faithful remnant back from Exile. And through the prophets God made very many promises to send them a Saviour.
At the same time over those centuries there were particular individuals who God used as he was bringing his salvation to his chosen people. Humanly speaking, they could be described as saviours of Israel. Next week we will think about the important part Moses and the Exodus played in the history of Israel. This week we are going to look five hundred years earlier at how Abraham’s descendants came to be in Egypt in the first place. All that came about through a most unlikely saviour, Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph.
The story of Joseph was important not only for the descendants of Abraham and Jacob but also for the millions of Egyptians alive then. It was significant for the future of the Egyptian Empire and Culture and their impact on the rise of civilisation. The story of Joseph is the story of how God used one of his servants to save the nation of Egypt, the children of Abraham and the whole surrounding region from death and disaster when the seven years of famine struck.
This was a vitally important occasion when God in His mercy intervened in the history of the world. Joseph became the Saviour not only of Egypt, but of the whole of the Ancient Near East! It all came about because God had given Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. The Egyptian ruler the Pharaoh experienced two very disturbing dreams. In the first, seven thin ugly cows came up out of the river Nile and ate up seven sleek fat cows. In the second, seven thin and wind-scorched heads of grain swallowed up seven healthy grains. God revealed to Joseph that the interpretation of the dreams was a solemn warning to Pharaoh.
Genesis 41 28 “ … God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
Genesis makes clear that the famine is in God’s hands – it is something that GOD will do. Perhaps, like the plagues of Egypt which would come 500 years later, it was the hand of God in Judgement on the false gods the Egyptians worshipped instead of worshipping the one true and living God. Perhaps it was part of God’s cosmic masterplan to humble nations like Egypt and bring them back to their Creator again. Genesis does not explain why these things would happen. But it does indicate the seriousness of the crisis which was to unfold. We also see in Genesis 41 the great mercy of God. Even though the famine was pre-determined, God was also acting to bring salvation within it. Through Joseph, God would make sure that the suffering and damage from that famine was minimised.
The story tells us how God had manoeuvred his servant Joseph into a position where he could be used in this way. It all started when God gave dreams to Joseph in Canaan which provoked his brothers to jealousy and hatred, so much so that they sold Joseph into slavery. Then in Egypt, false accusations by Potiphar’s wife put Joseph in prison so he could meet Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker to interpret their dreams. That was two whole years Joseph would meet Pharaoh!
Over all those years from Canaan to Egypt , God was doing two things in Joseph’s life. By His sovereign providence God was bringing Joseph into the right place at right time, through an intricate chain of events all so that he could be introduced to Pharaoh at the proper time. But then secondly, God was preparing Joseph. God was humbling him by his experiences of rejection, slavery and imprisonment, God was changing Joseph so that the spoiled brat with the Technicolour Dreamcoat could be used by God when the time came.
In every part of life, but especially during the hard times, we need to remember that God works in the lives of individuals, but not just to bless US. God also works to purify us and refine us and change us into the kind of people He can use for His glory. At the same time, God is at work behind the scenes to bring us to the right place at the right time for his purposes. So when Pharaoh’s own magicians and wise men couldn’t interpret his dreams, his cupbearer told him about Joseph.
All according to his sovereign plan, God brought Joseph out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. And the masterplan of salvation didn’t end with delivering that warning. Joseph would have an even more important role in saving Egypt from disaster. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to be his right-hand man to collect reserves of food ready for the years of famine. God had brought Joseph into a position where Pharaoh would trust him, a foreigner, only 30 years old, to save the whole nation. And Pharaoh trusted Joseph – because he saw that He had the Spirit of God in him.
During the seven years of abundance Joseph collected all the food and stored it in the cities.
49 Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.
This was GOD’s provision for the whole nation of Egypt. Because God cared for the Egyptians. He didn’t want them to suffer! So when the famine became severe, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold the grain to the Egyptians. By God’s plan, Joseph became literally the Saviour for Egypt. God rescued the Egyptians and the whole of the Ancient Near East from disaster in very concrete physical ways. And when Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, Joseph became the saviour of all the descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob as well.
In our sermons for Lent we are looking at Old Testament figures and seeing the ways they point towards the Lord Jesus Christ and towards God’s masterplan of salvation. Last week we looked at Adam. Adam brought us condemnation – Jesus bought us salvation. As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. This approach to interpreting the Old Testament is called typology. Joseph can also serve as a type or a pattern for Christ as the way he served as a saviour in his generation foreshadows in many respects the salvation which Jesus brought. Earlier generations of preachers devoted whole books of sermons to comparisons between Joseph and the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are a dozen of the very significant similarities those preachers noticed between the life of Joseph as the physical Saviour of Egypt and the life of Jesus as the spiritual Saviour of the World.
1. Joseph was hated by his brothers, and this is what the Lord Jesus says about Himself, “They hated me without a cause.”
2. Joseph was sold by his own brothers for 20 pieces of silver, and the Lord Jesus was sold by one of His own twelve apostles for thirty pieces of silver.
3. The brothers plotted to kill Joseph. God’s own chosen people plotted to kill the Lord Jesus.
4. Joseph was 30 when he began his work for Pharaoh. Jesus was 30 when He began His ministry.
5. Joseph was hated by his brothers, and they handed him over to foreigners. He couldn’t defend himself, and he was unjustly accused. The Lord Jesus was also handed over by His own people to the religious rulers who in turn delivered Him to the Gentiles. He was innocent.
6. Joseph was mocked by his brothers and the Lord Jesus was mocked.
7. Joseph’s coat dripping with blood was returned to his father. They took the coat of the Lord Jesus and gambled for it.
8. Joseph was numbered with the transgressors. He brought God’s blessing to the butler, but judgment for the baker. The Lord Jesus was crucified between two thieves. One thief was blessed and the other thief was judged.
9. Joseph was put into the pit which was meant to be a place of death for him, but he was lifted up out of the pit again. The Lord Jesus was crucified but then he was raised from the dead on the third day.
10. The brothers rejected Joseph, and God’s people rejected Jesus. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”
11. Joseph became the savior of the world during this period, in the physical sense by saving them from starvation. The Lord Jesus Christ was in every sense is the Savior of the whole world.
12. Joseph was the one who had the bread! Jesus is the bread of life!!!
So Joseph became the Saviour for Egypt and all the surrounding regions, as many years before the birth of Christ as we are living after it. The story reminds us first of all that we serve a God who cares about ALL people – not just about his chosen people, his special people, but ALL people! Everything that happened to Joseph was not just for HIS benefit, but to fulfil God’s promises to the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and his descendants forever, and to save the people of Egypt. It was all part of God’s masterplan of salvation.
Secondly, the story of Joseph reminds us that God is often at work in our lives even when we don’t recognise it. God can weave the hard times and the challenging times and the painful times of our lives into his mysterious purposes of salvation.
When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt looking for food, they realised that their saviour was the little brother they had sold into slavery years earlier. They were scared of how Joseph would act towards them. Would he take revenge for the ways they had treated him? But instead Jospeh said this.
Genesis 50 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
God intended it for good. His purpose was to save many lives. Joseph saw the big picture. He saw beyond what his brothers had done to him, the ways they had rejected and hurt and got rid of him. he saw behind all these things God’s master-plan. How God had allowed these things for a reason. Joseph saw his life from God’s eternal perspective. Especially when the going is tough, we need to see our own lives in that way. And we can also see how God’s masterplan worked out in the life of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Everything that happened to Jesus was part of God’s plan. Even Jesus’s suffering on the cross was part of God’s plan. The prophet Isaiah foretold how Jesus would be the Saviour.
Isaiah 53 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
As God put Joseph in the right place at the right time, so God also sent Jesus at just the right time.
Romans 5 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. … 8 … God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God was at work through the lives of Joseph and of Jesus, even in the hard and painful times. And with the eye of faith we can look for the ways God is at work in our own lives, even in the difficult times. God is working behind the scenes even through this season of lockdown.
20 … God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
So the story of Joseph is the story of how God used his servant to save Abraham’s descendants and the whole nation of Egypt and the whole surrounding region from death and disaster when the seven years of famine struck. But the story of Joseph also points forward to God’s gift of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, who is an even more wonderful Saviour to us than Joseph was for Egypt.