Our text this week is found in Genesis 43. Before we dive in, though, let’s take a look back on our journey through the book of Genesis up to this point. After the flood, humanity began to spread over the whole earth, just as God had told them to do after the flood. There was a small hiccup in Genesis 11 with the tower of Babel, where the people not only tried to refuse to be dispersed over the whole earth, but they actually made a waterproof tower, indicating that they didn’t believe that God would keep his promise to never destroy the earth with a flood every again. But God confused their languages, and humanity spread into all the earth. During these chapters we get name after name of people who lived, had children, and died.
Then the story comes to a screeching halt in Genesis 12 as Moses narrows his focus to the family of Abram (later Abraham). We see Abram called by God, taught about God, and finally we see him in covenant with God. God promises to bless Abraham and to bless all the world through Abraham. God gives him a child in his old age. And when I say old age, I mean old age. Abraham and Sarah were 100 and 90 years old respectively.
The birth of Isaac was important, not simply because God was keeping his promise to Abraham, though he was doing that, but because God had promised to fulfill his promise of Genesis 3:15 through Abraham’s offspring, specifically through offspring who would come through Isaac. This “line of the promise” is very important for the rest of the book of Genesis. Why was Jacob blessed rather than Esau? Because God chose Jacob to be in the line of the promised Offspring. And, for our chapter this week, why was Joseph sent to Egypt, wrongfully imprisoned, elevated to power, and given the opportunity to lead Egypt through the great famine of his day? Because God was using him to preserve the line of the promised Offspring.
You see, in the subsequent history of the people of God, the tribe of Judah is far more important than the descendants of Joseph. David came from Judah. The returned exiles were from Judah. Christ would come from Judah. Yet by my accounting, between twelve and thirteen chapters of Genesis are devoted to the account of Joseph’s life. That’s between 24% and 26% of the book. So roughly one quarter of the first book of the Bible is dedicated to the story of Joseph, yet he will fade from the scene and later Old Testament history will have his descendants as rivals to the tribe of Judah (from which Christ would come).
So, why does Moses spend so much time on the story of Joseph? Remember, Moses is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, he’s spending this much time on Joseph because the Holy Spirit wants him to spend this much time on Joseph. I think the best answer is this: Moses spends so much time on Joseph because Joseph was used by God to preserve the line of the promised Offspring of Abraham even though that line won’t go through him.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Joseph is part of God’s Covenant People. Joseph is our brother in Christ. In fact, Joseph trusted in Christ for his salvation just as you and I do. But Christ would come through Judah, not Joseph. The tribe of Judah would have king David. The tribe of Ephraim (Joseph’s son) would have king Jeroboam. The Davidic line had some bad kings too, don’t get me wrong, but the archetype of Ephraimite kings was Jeroboam “who caused Israel to sin.” The line of Joseph is almost universally portrayed in a negative light in the later history of Israel.
Joseph, then, is playing a role similar to that of John the Baptist. John the Baptist wasn’t the star of the show. He was the opening act. Christ had to increase, and that meant John had to decrease. John was there to point people to Christ. Joseph was used by God to preserve the line of the promised Offspring. Once that was accomplished, just as John had to decrease, so did Joseph.
It should go without saying, but this makes no sense to us as human beings. If God was going to choose one of the sons of Jacob as the best candidate to be the patriarch of the tribe through which Christ would come, Joseph would clearly be the best candidate. The rest of Jacob’s sons were all terrible! Reuben slept with his father’s concubine. Simeon and Levi murdered an entire city. Judah solicited a prostitute. And the rest for whom I don’t have specific examples, well they were all complicit in selling their own brother into slavery. Joseph, on the other hand, was the victim of an attack by his own brothers, yet he later forgave them. Joseph trusted God in his enslavement, and he prospered. He was falsely accused and imprisoned, yet he refused to take Job’s wife’s advice and “curse God and die.” No, instead, Joseph trusted God and was delivered from prison, raised up to the highest position possible at that time. Then, when he had the chance for vengeance, not once but twice, he showed kindness to his brothers. He blessed and did not curse, just as Christ teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount.
Joseph is a wonderful example of a follower of Christ, someone we can imitate as we seek to imitate Christ. Judah is a wonderful picture of God’s grace, someone who didn’t deserve God’s favor in a million years, yet had divine blessings poured out upon him for the sake of Christ and of Christ alone. Christians, we are all as undeserving as Judah, yet may we all strive to walk as blamelessly as Joseph.