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Bible study (West Wickham. England.)
The story of Joseph

The story first told over three millenia ago has not yet ended

"Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" Gen 41:38
The words were those of Pharoah, supreme ruler of Egypt, and they concerned a young man of 30 years, a Hebrew, called Joseph.

The history of men's lives is now retold and leads up to our times and still beyond.

More on the story of Joseph.

The first book of Holy Scripture is remarkable for its account not only of the origin of man and the universe, but also for the first language in picture form of the whole plan of redemption from the fall in Eden to the restoring of life under the ministry of Christ. Even the place of the cross was marked by the offering of a dearly loved son. The pictures are so vivid, and have long been perceived by students of the Word of God. What is also remarkable is the almost total silence of the New Testament writers on some of these pictures from the history of the patriachs. W hen we find reference, say, to Isaac, it is a somewhat oblique reference drawn into a discussion of the covenants in Paul's letter to Galatians. There Isaac is compared with the church (Gal.4:28), and we have to work our logic backwards, as it were, to realise that it was Jesus Who first Isaac was pointing to as a type.

Joseph is a similar case. That he was a type of Jesus has been recognised for many years, perhaps from the beginning of this age. Yet where in the N.T. do we find this beautiful allusion explained? Perhaps the nearest we get results from a careful examination of the last sermon of Stephen to the unwilling ears of his accusers. What was the point and purpose of this defence if not to witness to Jesus as Messiah? So, after briefly tracing the movements of Abraham to Jacob and the origin of the tribes, Stephen dwells for a while on Joseph. He retells how his brethren mistreated him and he was placed at the mercy of Gentile powers in order to be rid of him. Stephen then proceeds to where Joseph was made known to his brethren, now in a position of greatest honour over the realm of Egypt. Why did he tell this story? Why did he go on to speak of Moses also rejected by his fellow men and the way in which, nevertheless, divine deliverance was put into his hands? The history of Israel was, he showed, one of rejection of the ones sent of God for their deliverance. Without doubt, Stephen was making a strong point of comparison between Joseph, Moses, and this Jesus to Whom Stephen stood as witness that he was sent of God. Peter had already identified Jesus with the "prophet like unto me" predicted by Moses. Now Stephen is adding the similar case of the rejection of Joseph.

The language of the picture of Joseph's life and experiences speaks for itself. He was the son so loved of his father, who, in the purpose of God as revealed in his dreams, was to become exalted high. But the way to that exaltation was a hard one which greatly developed and proved the character thus being prepared for great future responsibility. As with all picture language, it fits the truth it depicts wherever it touches. For example, the time features of Joseph's life are clearly not parallel to that of Jesus, though the general sequence of events suggests greater similarity. Yet there are remarkable points of comparison beyond the overall picture of the path to glory.

Joseph was the first son of Rachel, a seed long desired and waited for. She was to bear but once more before her demise. This woman was Jacob's first love, and the longing for her child was reflected in the special place that Joseph held close to his father's heart. The name, Joseph, means "He shall add." In her strong faith Rachel now believed that in his birth she had the guarantee of further fruitfulness. Joseph was seen to be a first-fruit, a promise or earnest of more yet to follow. Later Jacob was to bless Joseph as a "fruitful son (or shoot) set over a spring of water, climbing a wall and flowing over it." (Gen.49:22.) Certainly, in the words of Isaiah 53:10, "the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand." We know something of the strength of that "wall", the mighty power of God, and we know too that "fount" of living water, the One Who was and is His life. We speak of Jesus when we speak of Joseph.

This was He (Jesus) who, like Joseph, when asked by His Father to leave the comfort of His Father's house to be sent unto His brethren, replied, "Here I am." If Jacob hoped to hear a good report of the children of Israel he was to be bitterly disappointed. The appearance of Joseph brought forth the worst response from his brethren who planned how to be rid of him. Gladly they turned him over to the hands of strangers, and the events that followed closely parallelled the life of servitude by that One Who came as bond slave to this earth. When Joseph exchanged his father's house for the bonds of a slave he did not spend his time lamenting his great misfortune. Instead, he excelled as a slave. What a beautiful lesson we have here! We who are "nothings" in this world's eyes, let us excel as being "nothings."

Ten long years Joseph endured that situation, yet in all he did he had the blessing of the Lord. His trustworthiness became known and earned him the honour of some, though that same faithfulness and loyalty was to prove to much for others, in the shape of Potiphar's wife. She would have him fit into her shameful ways of adultery. "Ye wicked and adulterous generation.." That was the Master's description of those who despised Him for His unwavering faithfulness to the ways of His God. Jesus, like Joseph, was to be condemned for the sins, not of Himself, but of others. Joseph was incarcerated in prison, Jesus in the prison-house of death. For Joseph it was to be early in the third year that he was to emerge from that prison-house, for Jesus, three days. These sufferings were spoken of in Psalm 105:18, where, speaking of Joseph, we read, "Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:" Little could better express the bands of death, yet both the tasting of that prison and the afflictions that led to it combined to the great strengthening of this servant's character. An alternative and better rendering of the last part of that verse might read.. "And iron entered his soul." Thus was Joseph and Jesus prepared for the great exaltation that would follow. First the sufferings, then the glory to follow. Jesus said.. "Ought not these things be so..?" and the word "ought" implied a dire and certain need. Can any less thorough preparation be possible for those who are to share the Saviour's throne?

Joseph then swiftly experienced a wondrous change in his circumstance to correspond with the great exaltation of Our Lord as He ascended up on high. And it was here that we commenced our thoughts, for we read here of the plight of mankind, their desperate need for a plan of salvation and a Captain of salvation. Without such a programme man would be swallowed up in death. In Rev.5:4, the quest for such a man and the recognition of this desperate need causes John to burst into tears, until the comforting voice of an elder assures him that such a one has been found. "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the spirit of God?" The words of Pharoah, echoed before the throne of God, find total answer and satisfaction in that one ordained of God, the little lamb as it had been slain. Worthy indeed was such a one to receive honour and glory and blessing, power, wisdom, riches, and strength. The words of Pharoah so aptly portray that worthiness of Jesus for this position so high and so critical for the execution of the plan of salvation for mankind. Gen 41:39 'And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:" Jesus is the epitome of heavenly Wisdom, described in words of great beauty in Proverbs 8. His Father was His delight, and He was the Father's delight, but His delight was also with the children of men. Gen 41:40 "Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou." How wonderful that such a history should be written with so great a promise of that One Who would come! Gen 41:42 'And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand,' That ring by which Pharoah himself impressed his mark of authority upon every seal, was taken from his own hand and placed upon that of Joseph. How remarkable that one so great should be ready to pass over to a one-time Hebrew slave and prisoner such authority and power, indeed all the power of the throne! Only complete confidence and trust could allow an act as this. God has given all authority to His Son because He trusts Him so. He has total confidence in Jesus, having been obedient unto death, to fulfil all His good pleasure. Is it not an awing thought to us, dear brethren, that before our course is done the Lord will also have such confidence in US?

Vestures of fine linen, the robe of a royal prince and priest, were then arrayed upon Joseph, and a gold chain, or perhaps better, a gold deep band of many interlocking parts, was placed around his neck. In the case of Jesus, all the glories of the divine nature would now endow all the fullness of God. All power in heaven and in earth is His. No other name is higher, and to Him will every knee bow in reverent worship and praise that would ever redound to the glory of His father.

At this point, corresponding to the ascension in glory of God's Lamb, Joseph was given a new name. Gen. 41:45. In Rev. 3:12, Jesus speaks of His new name. It is a promise to the overcomers that they too will share this new name when themselves proved worthy. What is this new name of Jesus? The Rabbis thought they could identify part only of the name given to Joseph by Pharoah. They assumed it was a Hebrew name part of which would then mean "hidden." The rest they had to guess! Hence the name added in the margin of Bibles, "Revealer of secrets." However, there seems little doubt that this name given by Pharoah was Egyptian, and this is even more in keeping with the new title given to Jesus only after His death and resurrection and ascension on high. For as an Egyptian word it means either "abundant life", or "Saviour of the word" Jesus needed to release the price before He could fulfil this wondrous role. The promise to the overcomer of Rev. 3:12, to share His new name is thus a precious promise to His Bride one day to share that blessed privilege with Jesus of bringing to this sad only earth that life abundant when the Spirit and the Bride say "Come," and "saviours come up on Mount Zion."

A similar curious situation arises with the expression translated in Gen. 41:43, "Bow the knee." Here the margin has "Tender father." This is because again it was supposed the expression was a Hebrew word. It was, of course, Egyptian, not Hebrew, being the cry made by Egyptians and to Egyptians before the chariot of Joseph. While Joseph refers to his position later in Gen. 45;8, as "a father to Pharoah", that is in the sense of a counsellor or advisor, and while it is also true that one of the titles of Jesus in Isa.916, is "everlasting father", or "father of everlasting Life," a concept repeated by Our Lord in John 17:2, "Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him.." nevertheless, the cry before the chariot was better rendered by the words in our translation.. "Bow the knee." This was a call to all to prostrate themselves before their Lord. In fact the thought is that of kissing the ground, and this is the alternative rendering of Psalm 2;12. "Kiss the ground that is, prostrate yourself before the king that the Lord has set upon Zion's hill.

Next in sequence of events following Our Lord's exaltation in glory at His ascension was the process of taking a wife. This wife would be taken largely, as we know, from the Gentiles and this is beautifully depicted in the Moabitess Ruth, taken by Boaz, and other cases of Gentile wives being incorporated into the seed of promise include Rahab, and Bathsheba the Hittite. In the case of Moses it was the daughter of a priest or prince of Midian, Jethro. Here, in the Joseph account, it is Asenath, daughter of a priest or prince (the Hebrew word is the same for either) of the city of On, centre of learning in the Egyptian world of that day.

The name Asenath, if her original Egyptian name, would refer to her belonging to a different world to that of Joseph, and once worshipper of a different god, steeped in the wisdom of this world. From this the church has been called to forget her own people and her father's house. Ruth 2:10-13, fits so well. 'Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, "Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" And Boaz answered and said unto her, "It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust." Then she said, "Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens."

However, if the name , Asenath, be a Hebrew name given to his wife by Joseph, then we have reference to a deep spiritual truth therein, for then it means "a Storehouse." To explain the signi-ficance of this to the plan of God we need to take note now of the special sequence of history predicted in Pharoah's dream and interpreted by Joseph. This was that there would be seven years of great famine, but that this would be preceded by seven years of abundance. The plan was that during these plentiful years provision should be made and stored for the needs of the people to come. The abundant years commenced shortly after the time of Joseph's exaltation, which
we see to correspond with the exaltation of Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel age. How does this compare with the facts?' How often it helps brethren, when we ask the right question! Let us ask.. Has the Lord made any provision for the needs of mankind in the future age under the rule of the greater Joseph? Has this provision been stored up during preceding years of fullness? The answer then is clear.. Indeed from Pentecost onwards the Lord has been engaged in such a programme of preparation for all man's future needs in the kingdom age. The abundance of this period has been for the saints in course of their development for that future work of ministry. These He has blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. These blessings have far exceeded those of each previous age, and as result, the completed Christ is all but ready for the work ahead. These are His treasure houses in which are stored all the benefits of heavenly grace and that wisdom from above to make them able ministers. Sensitively aware of all human need, sympathetic with human failure, acquainted with the endless resources of divine providence, and with inside experience, just as their Head Himself, with the need and process of being saved.

In another picture, this age has been set aside for the engraving of the stones with the ways of God high in the mount in the hands of the Greater Moses. Then does He descend from heaven, the work of the age in His hands, His finished church, in whom the principles of divine righteousness, the standards on which the new covenant ministry will be based, are indelibly engraved, a witness forever to the power and grace of the Lord. In the Joseph picture language, the church is the storehouse of divine grace, and this makes the Hebrew meaning of his bride's name so meaningful Asenath, "Storehouse." All the saints can testify that the Lord spared no good thing. All that they needed His hand hath provided, He has in no wise stinted His work. Gen.4l:48, speaks of Joseph actively engaged in the filling of them with his fullness, abundantly beyond all they could think or ask, as the text states, "for it was without number,"

Thus already did Joseph see fruit for all that he had suffered which to him, far outweighed the afflictions he had endured, and that is to us a precious thought, that even during this age, before the grand kingdom work for the world proceeds, the Saviour can look at the travail of His soul and be satisfied, that satisfaction being in His church, these blessed first-fruits to His Father's praise.

This appears in the choice of names for Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, "forgetfulness" and fruitfullness," ''For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." Gen. 4:52. This satisfaction came as result of his union with his wife, Asenath.

The years of fullness draw to an end, The storehouse Is full pressed down and brimming over. Now come the years of dire distress for mankind. It might well be said that from man's fall such days have ever been. The fact remains that this world is to close with a time of trouble such as never before. This is a time of great trial for mankind, yet, in the words of Ecc. 3:l0. "I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it." There is point and purpose in those ultimate of all trials which will bring home to man the nature of his deepest needs and draw them to the Source, the only Source, of satisfaction for those needs, the Source of Life, and that life, life with God, abundant life indeed.

Man needs such experience. He needs the breaking of the arrogant spirit of self-sufficiency regardless of his Maker. When man's river Nile of sinful pleasure and transient material toys, when that river of man's pleasure dries up, as it indeed will, then will man begin to thirst for the river of God's pleasure from which all will be invited to drink. Gen 41:55 'And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, "Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do."' Many years later Mary used these very words of instruction to those whose resources had run out.. and a miracle resulted, as indeed the same has been proven over and over again throughout time. How we look forward to that message spreading throughout this earth.. "Have all your resources failed you..? Go to Jesus; what He saith to you, do!"

So many lessons in the language of the history of Joseph, and each with meaning and significance, like those 'handfuls of purpose' left in the path of Ruth for her to find when gleaning in the fields of Boaz. The money the people brought at first to Joseph in exchange for the bread of life represented their time and effort demanded to receive the first blessings of the age of salvation. They came to recognise that life was indeed more precious to them than their goods, and these too were relinquished. At last, as with the church before them, they come to realise that "love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all." And the people yield themselves, as in the language of Psalm 110:3, as willing offerings, free-will offerings to the Lord. These Joseph accepts on behalf of his lord Pharoah, and in turn comes to a most satisfactory arrangement in the which man is made steward of all God's creation, man, wiser for his sins and their results, humble now under the mighty hand of God, and instruments of that mighty hand.

But early in this time that the Saviour operates we find a special work progressing of bringing Israel, Joseph's own brethren, to the state of heart required for them to become fitted for the part Divine Wisdom and Grace has designed for them to play, first witnesses to the saving power and mercy of God. ' "Ye are My witnesses," saith the Lord.' Thus do we find in these next few chapters of Genesis 42 to 45, the enthralling account of just where we are this moment in the stream of time and in the progression of the plan. We are watching with deep interest a process of the work of Joseph, or Jesus, with His people Israel to bring them to Himself. Their attitude and spirit has to be reversed from that which brought about the Saviour's rejection and death to one prepared for the highest form of self-sacrifice in order now the please their father whose heart they were once so ready to break. Amos 6:6, Woe unto them that "are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph."

How wonderful that the Lord can undertake such a programme with those who so hated and despised Him, thus piercing the very hand that gave so precious a gift of a Father's great love. How wonder--ful to us too that He can undertake this process with the full confidence of His ability to complete what He begins, perfect is His work always and this is true of His work with Israel that they might be to all mankind a blessed evidence and witness of divine skill and power, and the abundance of heavenly grace.

If we ever think that Jesus is beyond all feeling corresponding to human emotion in this work, then let us remember His tears over Jerusalem, and remember again the tears of Joseph during the needful process of opening first his brethren's hearts, and then their eyes. Seven times is it recorded that Joseph wept in this process. These have to be most touching moments for Our dear Master. What is it that first causes the children of Israel to start that journey in the direction of their salvation? The Joseph account associates it with the same period of human extremity that will ultimately also bring the world to His feet. Israel are to be brought to recognise a need they themselves are powerless to fill. Nor will any money or support from Gentile powers avail. Gen 42:7, says that when 'Joseph saw his brethren,' he 'made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them;' Now this part of the account may sound strange, yet how aptly does it describe the needful experiences to bring this people to the Lord. In Isaiah 40:2 we read, "speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.." and we know that this means, in the Hebrew, "speak to the heart" of this people. How does He do that?

How does the Lord break through those barriers of hearts of stone, thus far impervious to the truth, unyielding to the spirit of their Messiah? How interesting, brethren, that in peering into the days just opening before us we find ourselves looking back to this first book of God's word for indications of both His purpose and His ways of bringing that purpose to fruition.

The overall picture is quite clear. The new ruler brings about situations and circumstances that prove a great trial to to his brethren, yet with the most merciful intent, that needful change of heart. Terrible choices are laid before them, and all the while they know him not who is their saviour. Strange mixture of events, some so perplexing, like that money.. They have blessings they have not earned, are not worthy of in any way, yet interwoven with grievous trials that cause great searching of heart. The apparently unjust accusations, yet all the time that stirring within of conscience. Oh Israel, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks of conscience! Judah is brought at last to the point of offering himself in the place of one whose loss would break his father's heart. And the work is then all but complete, the spirit of self-sacrificing love has triumphed, and the scales fall from their eyes. The Joseph/Jesus that they persecuted stands before them with arms outstretched to save. Gen 45:4, 'And Joseph said unto his brethren, "Come near to me, I pray you." And they came near.' It was a time of deep emotion for Joseph, and he wept. What meaning in those tears! What wonder in the eyes now opened to behold their kinsman and their King! The words of that Jew so long resistant to the light of truth will doubtless speak for them all.. "Lord, what shall I do?" (Acts 22:10.)

Yes, they are a chosen vessel to the Lord. They shall yet bring forth His praise, and it will be the wonder of the age, blessed herald to more wonders yet to be when all the world will bow the knee, prostrate themselves, in heart receive and welcome their King, and bring the tribute due to His great Name. As they add their tithes, all their living, all that they are and have, to fill the storehouse of their God, heaven's windows open and earth cannot contain the blessings then that freely flow from love's domain above to love's domain below.