HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
This morning I want to minister to you about a Bible character many people draw reference to and often preached about from the pulpit. This message is taken from the first book of the Bible Genesis chapter 47:13-31. I want to draw a comparison of Joseph and Jesus and see how to apply it in our lives today and in the life of our families and the church. For the purpose of posting, I will divide this message into three parts but the full message will be available to read in its entirety.
Sharing the Blessing of Jesus with Others
In order to better understand Genesis 47:13-31, let’s first take a brief look back at Genesis 47:7-10 and remember the occasion when Jacob, the head of Israel, and Pharaoh, the head of Egypt met. Even though he was just a nomadic shepherd, Jacob still had something to offer to Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world. It was Jacob who blessed Pharaoh, not just once but twice. Pharaoh was more powerful, from a worldly perspective, and had graciously used his power to bless Jacob and his people with land on which they could live and tend their sheep, as well as food from his stores. Pharaoh’s generosity to Israel was great but Jacob had something greater even than land and bread to share with Egypt’s ruler. As a patriarch of God’s chosen people, Jacob had blessings of great, even eternal value to pronounce over Pharaoh. In doing so, he was fulfilling in part the prophetic word of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would be a means by which God would bless peoples and nations throughout the world (Genesis 12:3; 22:16-18; 26:4-5; and 28:14).
Pharaoh’s blessing is seen, in part, in the final days of the famine. We see the people of Egypt as a whole were blessed to have access to enough food to endure the famine. God provided this blessing through Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph’s interpretation of them, plus Joseph’s ongoing food bank ministry. This blessing extended all the way through the end of the famine, with even enough seed to sow the fields once again so they could rise out of the famine’s devastation. Pharaoh was particularly blessed. Through Joseph’s management, Pharaoh prospered during the famine, seeing his land holdings grow to include nearly all of Egypt. Additionally, he grew in political and economic authority by acquiring nearly all Egyptian citizens as servants (think vassals or serfs), in an ancient version of feudalism.
Of course, Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s blessing upon the nations through the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the Bread of Life. All who come in faith to Him never hunger nor thirst. They have eternal life (see John 6:35-40).
Set Free to Be Servants
Joseph, as Pharaoh’s representative, was prepared to meet the needs of the Egyptian people in the worst of the famine as it grew severe near its end. He had plenty of grain to sell to them, because of his preparedness. As the Egyptians’ money ran out, Joseph traded grain for their livestock, then for their land, then for their very lives. He made them like vassals or serfs, working Pharaoh’s newly acquired land, giving their saviour-master one-fifth of their products and keeping the rest for themselves. By ancient standards, this was a charitable and gracious arrangement for a monarch to make with his people. To sum it up, the Egyptians were set free from the famine, with its very real threat of death, and became servants of Pharaoh, who gave them life in exchange for their allegiance.
Paul was known to use the master-servant relationship as an analogy to describe the Christian life. Those who are in Christ Jesus have been set free from the power of sin, from the death of spiritual famine, and have become servants, or slaves, of righteousness – that is, servants of God (Romans 6:15-23). This servant language may make us uncomfortable in 2020. We, especially as Caribbean people who value personal freedom as seen in the systems of democracy and capitalism, might have difficulty embracing the Biblical reality that none of us is spiritual free agents. We all serve a master of one sort or another. We may serve the idols of greed, lust, pride, self-identity, and so on. The lie that these counterfeit gods promise is that we are in control and are beholden to no one but ourselves. The truth, however, is that we are not our own masters. In pursuing our own ends we are actually making ourselves slaves to sin and the wages of sin are death. Sin is a hard master. Death is a cruel wage. The only truly liberating option is to follow Jesus, to become slaves of righteousness, to give our wholehearted allegiance to Him. In Christ alone are we truly set free from sin and death? To be sure, the cost is in one sense great (Luke 9:57-62). The Christian life is not a democracy, it is a monarchy. We do not own anything, it all belongs to God, even our very lives, for we have been bought with a price – the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are called to die to ourselves and to be living sacrifices. Though the price is steep the benefit is better yet, for we receive eternal life in Christ (Luke 4:18-19; John 8:34-36; and Romans 6:22-23). This eternal life is a gift from God received by faith in Jesus. Eternity is not a wage He owes us for our service, nor is it something we can ever attain through good service. Rather, it is ours by grace alone in Jesus. What a good master we serve!
Savouring the Future Promises
The closing verses of the passage show us, Jacob, savouring the future promises of God. He was blessed to live in Egypt for a season, in the land of Goshen in particular, where he and his people could be fruitful and multiply in relative comfort under Joseph’s care. But Jacob knew he was not home. God had promised him that Israel as a whole would one day occupy Canaan as their own. With that future promise in view, Jacob trusted the Lord, as a good servant should, and he made arrangements with Joseph for his burial to take place in Canaan, in the cave at Machpelah where his fathers were buried. As John Calvin put it, “it is a proof of great courage, that none of the wealth or the pleasures of Egypt could so allure him, as to prevent him from sighing for the land of Canaan.”
In his hymn, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, Samuel Stennett pictures Canaan as a type for the New Creation. As Jacob longed for Canaan, even in the relative comfort of the Goshen, so too did Stennett long for the New Jerusalem when he wrote,
“1 On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
and cast a wishful eye
to Canaan’s fair and happy land,
where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
oh, who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.
2 O’er all those wide extended plains
shines one eternal day;
there God the Son forever reigns,
and scatters night away. [Refrain]”
Jacob knew that the promise would be fulfilled for his people in generations to come, so he was buried there as a type of firstfruits. He went before them to show by faith their eventual destination. Even more importantly Jesus has gone before His people as firstfruits when he was raised from the dead to glorified life and when He ascended to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:20). He has gone to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house (John 14:1-6) where we will be not just servants but sons and daughters, heirs of grace and eternal life (Galatians 4:1-7). This is the good news of hope for us. It can be tempting to grow comfortable in the here and now, as many of us live in our own Goshen-like existence of middle-class life. We need to resist the allure of present comfort and instead look forward with anticipation and savour the future promises of God that are coming with Christ’s return in glory. In savouring those future promises rightly we become a better present blessing to others around us, as we point them the way to the only true Saviour and Lord, Jesus, in whom is life and joy and peace forevermore.