A Picture of Blessings to Come
“Therefore, the LORD longs to be gracious to you. And therefore, He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him” (Isaiah 30:18 NAS).
Bible Students have long believed that the experiences in Joseph’s life picture similar experiences in the life of our Lord Jesus. How beautiful that God would reveal His magnificent plan of salvation using many individuals and events. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Besides the remarkable parallels to our Lord’s First Advent, Joseph’s work of blessing his brethren and the people of Egypt stand out as a shining example of the grace and goodness of God’s kingdom.
Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob born to four different mothers. Leah, Jacob’s first wife, was the mother to six sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Leah’s maidservant Zilpah had Gad and Asher. Rachel’s maidservant Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Rachel, Jacob’s second wife and true love, bore Joseph and Benjamin. This diversity of parentage likely led to conflicts and jealousies between the brothers.
Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob and was loved more than all his other children (Genesis 37:3). He was the first-born son of his beloved wife, Rachel. Jacob favored Joseph with a special “coat of many colors,” suggesting his more-loved status. Joseph’s prophetic dreams, inspired by God, indicated he would someday rule over them. After Joseph revealed these dreams to his brothers, their bitterness and envy were manifested into action. They plotted to murder him but, when an opportunity presented itself, sold him into slavery instead. They feigned his death by smearing goat’s blood onto his special coat, returned to their father as evidence. As expected, Jacob was beside himself as he grieved over this unimaginable loss.
These early experiences have a clear parallel to those of Jesus, who was also especially loved by his Father (Matthew 3:17). As the Logos, he was God’s “daily delight” (Proverbs 8:30). As Joseph’s brothers rejected the idea that he would rule over them, so Jesus experienced the rejection of his claim to one day “sit on the throne of his glory … judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Jesus described this rejection. “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father” (John 15:24).
As Joseph’s older brothers conspired to kill him (Genesis 37:18), the conspirators seeking Jesus’ death were the chief priests and elders (Matthew 27:1). The coat Joseph received from Jacob was a lovely portrayal of the covenant of sacrifice Jesus was under and its many colors indicative of the promises associated with it. The blood smeared on Joseph’s coat prefigured the death of Jesus as a sacrificial lamb and the fulfillment of his covenant of sacrifice.
Rather than commit outright murder, Judah suggested that Joseph be sold to a passing caravan (Genesis 37:26,27). After all, he was their brother. This corresponds to the action of the Scribes and Pharisees who did not directly condemn Jesus to death but manipulated Pilate to do their evil deed. Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver (Genesis 37:28). This was the price of a young slave under the age of 20, as in Joseph’s case (R1645). Jesus willingly “took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) and was likewise betrayed for the price of an adult slave, 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12, Matthew 26:15). Although money sealed the transactions, pride and jealousy were the real motives in each case.1
(1) There is modern confirmation. “The story of a young Joseph sold off into Egypt fits in easily, especially in the early second millennium, in the … late 12th, 13th, and Hyksos Dynasties. His brothers got 20 shekels for their young brother (Genesis 37:28) … approximately the right price in about the 18th century [BC]. This is the average price (expressed as one-third of a mina) in the laws of Hammurabi … and in real-life transactions at Mari (exactly) and in other Old Babylonian documents (within a 15- to 30-shekel range, averaging 22 shekels). Before this period slaves were cheaper, and after it they steadily got more expensive, as inflation did its work” (Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, page 344, Figure 43).
Prosperity Even in Adversity
“And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmaelites, which had brought him down thither. And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand” (Genesis 39:1-3).
God directed Joseph and helped him to prosper. He was so trustworthy and capable, that over time Potiphar made him overseer of all that he had. God blessed Potiphar for Joseph’s sake. His crops and livestock flourished, and Joseph remained faithful to Potiphar.
How beautifully this illustrates how the Heavenly Father blessed Jesus in everything he did. The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). As Joseph was trusted with all his master’s goods, so it is said of Jesus, “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:35).
Joseph was to endure a great test of loyalty through Potiphar’s wife who lustfully pursued him. Yet Joseph did not sin, recognizing his higher commitment to God (Genesis 39:9). As disappointing as these circumstances may have been for Joseph, they were very profitable, helping to deepen his already noble character, now being tested under adversity. We are reminded that Jesus was “in all points tempted … yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He learned obedience by the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). None of these experiences were wasted on either Joseph or Jesus. As Joseph was falsely accused, so false witnesses were brought before Jesus (Mark 14:56) and he was cast into prison under false pretenses.
While in prison, Joseph once again exhibited an exemplary character, indicating the LORD was still with him. In time, the overseer of the prison learned to trust Joseph and put him in charge of all the prison workings. It may have been during his time in the king’s prison that Joseph learned the workings of government. Once again, God caused the work of his hands to prosper. During this time, Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and chief baker were cast into prison for offending Pharaoh in some way (Genesis 40:1). Once in prison for some time, they both had dreams and sought an interpretation.
The cup-bearer described his dream to Joseph. “Behold, a vine was before me; and in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand” (Genesis 40:9-11). After crediting God for the interpretation, Joseph explained that the cup-bearer’s position would be restored after three days.
Being encouraged by the positive interpretation, the baker then described his dream. “I had three white baskets on my head: And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head” (Genesis 40:16,17). Joseph’s interpretation was that after three days the baker would be hanged.
As dreams were sometimes used by God to predict future events, these dreams can relate to the prophecies regarding our Lord’s life and death. They call to mind the symbols Jesus introduced at the first Memorial: his body, represented by bread, and his blood, represented by wine. The presence of a cup-bearer and a baker calls attention to the two Memorial items. Jesus said, “the bread I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Jesus forfeited his human life as the ransom price, represented in the slaying of Pharaoh’s baker, the one associated with bread.
Joseph’s interpretation of the cup-bearer’s dream indicated he would live. Wine then connects with life and may correspond to wine of the Memorial. Jesus’ blood, represented by the wine, was his life. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). The baker’s death and the cup-bearer’s life equate to the Memorial symbols of flesh (ransom) and blood (sin-offering). The ransom required death and could not be taken back. The sin-offering included Jesus’ personal covenant of sacrifice, which provided for his resurrection life.
After this experience, Joseph remained in prison for two more years. But his life took a new turn when Pharaoh himself had two dreams. Like the baker and cup-bearer before, he sought an interpretation. When the cupbearer recalled Joseph’s correct interpretation of his own dream, he recommended him to Pharaoh. Joseph again credited God for any interpretation that might be revealed. Pharaoh’s two dreams also proved to be prophetic. Seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine, both decreed by God. He suggested Pharaoh take advantage of the prosperous years and prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph’s wisdom and relationship with a God who could make such a decree that he made him ruler of Egypt, second only to himself. What a wonderful foregleam of Jesus glorified, raised from the prison-house of death to be ruler over all God’s creation, second only to God Himself.
Exalted and Given a New Name
“Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:40-43).
“When the time came for King Pharaoh to introduce the new governor or prime minister of the empire to the people, he first provided for him suitable apparel, to indicate the rank; next, the second state chariot, and third, that he should be escorted in the parade before the people by criers, who should announce his rank and call upon the people to bow the knee — to acknowledge him as the king’s representative. This is reminiscent of the Apostle’s words respecting our Lord Jesus and his high exaltation after his trials were concluded. ‘Wherefore God hath also highly exalted and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus everything should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth’ (Philippians 2:9,10)” (R3979). The items given by Pharaoh were significant. The ring represented the king’s authority, which Jesus now possesses. The fine linen is his righteousness and suggests a righteous use of power. The gold chain describes the immortality of his nature.
“And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnathpaaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:45).
How appropriate that Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name now that he was serving that nation. Bro. Russell suggests the name Zaphnathpaaneah means, “Deliverer from death by the bread of life” (R3979). The name suggests the work Joseph was to do saving people from starvation. This reminds us of Jesus’ words, “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever … the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6:51 ASV).
Adam Clarke says, “Some translate it [Zaphnathpaaneah], ‘The Revealer of Secrets; others, The Treasury of Glorious Comfort.’” If these translations are correct, they offer another insight into the reign of Christ. The Gospel is referred to as a “mystery” (Ephesians 3:3,4,9), something known only to the initiated. But in that day the mystery of God’s plan will be known by all. The Kingdom will comfort all that mourn and hope for a far better life than any have ever experienced. Isaiah described God as “a God that hideth Thyself” (Isaiah 45: 15). But when the antitypical Joseph becomes “The Revealer of Secrets,” God’s character will become known and He will be seen through the work of His son as His representative.
In addition to a new name, Pharaoh honored Joseph with an Egyptian wife, named Asenath, meaning, “favored.” This was a foreign bride for Joseph but fits the picture of a bride for Jesus that is primarily Gentile. His desire for her is described by the Psalmist, “So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty” (Psalm 45:11). Although she was Egyptian, it is most likely Joseph taught her the worship of Jehovah. As Gentiles, the bride of Christ learns the proper worship of God.
A Tender Heart
Respecting Joseph’s initially harsh treatment of his brothers, Bro. Russell says, “His heart was not hard. He was merely giving them a lesson that would be profitable for them in the coming years. The Messianic kingdom will begin to shed its blessings abroad, the antitypical Joseph, Messiah, will likewise speak roughly to the people in a time of trouble, and cause them great vexation and worry as to what the outcome will be. But all the while the Lord’s heart will be full of love and sympathy for the groaning creation, for whom he already has died, and in whose interest his kingdom will be established” (R5225, see also Zechariah 14:2).
Joseph’s actions caused his brothers distress. But it laid the groundwork for them to receive later benefits from Joseph. This treatment may describe the preparation of Israel, causing them to see the futility of their own ideas and plans. Joseph was revealed to his brothers at their second encounter, and Jesus will be revealed to Israel during his Second Advent. After acknowledging their sins against Joseph, they feared, learning his true identity. Likewise, after Jesus reveals himself, Israel will understand the evil they committed against Jesus and will “mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10, John 19:37).
Not until their hearts were tested did Joseph offer forgiveness. Peter described the same discipline and blessing when he spoke to the Sanhedrin about Jesus. “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). Joseph’s brothers enjoyed Pharaoh’s unmerited favor because of who Joseph was and what he had done for them.
Jesus is now a merciful and compassionate High Priest whose character will be manifested after his revelation to Israel. Before this, Israel will experience great distress during Jacob’s Trouble when the nations are gathered against Jerusalem. When things appears desperate, God will bring deliverance, as prophetically described in Zechariah 14:1-3.
Upon returning to Egypt for additional food, the brothers were invited to sit with Joseph for a meal. They once again feared Joseph’s intention, saying, “he may seek occasion against us, and fall upon us, and take us for bondmen” (Genesis 43:18). They feared the worst, but Joseph’s heart was full of love for them. Many other men would have used the opportunity to get revenge. But Joseph was a man of integrity and mercy and displayed no anger whatsoever. He seemed overjoyed to see them again.
Benjamin’s Special Treatment
“And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, ‘Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me?’ And he said, ‘God be gracious unto thee, my son.’ And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber and wept there” (Genesis 43:29,30). For the first time in some 20 years Joseph saw his only full brother. The moment overwhelmed him, and he left the room, to hide his emotions.
After being reunited with Simeon, the brothers sat for their meal and were again surprised Joseph had them seated in order of their ages. They “marveled” that he would know the correct order. Evidently, Joseph knew a great deal more about this Hebrew family than they realized. When food was brought to them, Benjamin’s portion was five times greater than the others. What did this all mean? It was an interesting scene. “So, they served him [Joseph] by himself, and them [the brothers] by themselves, and the Egyptians, who ate with them, by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews” (Genesis 43:32 ASV). All were eating the same meal but remained at separate tables.
Knowing the order by which to seat his brothers shows that Jesus is well acquainted with the history of his people and has a deep desire to nourish them, spiritually. As each group sat apart, we see separate and distinct classes which share in kingdom blessings. There is first the sanctified heavenly class, pictured in Joseph. Then, there is the seed of Abraham, as seen in the brothers and set apart for a special purpose (Amos 3:2). The world of mankind is then represented by the Egyptians, feasting at their own table.
But Benjamin was treated with extra care. Being Joseph’s only full brother, he likely corresponds to the Great Company, the class most closely related to the Joseph Class. He receives five times more food than the others, indicating a greater honor bestowed on this soon-tobe spiritual class. The number five may relate to the five foolish virgins of Matthew 25. Although falling short of being part of the Bride of Christ, this class has received more spiritual nourishment and will have a special place in the kingdom.
Joseph’s Silver Cup
After leaving this great feast and purchasing their food, the 11 brothers started for home. But there was another problem, now involving Benjamin. Joseph had his own silver cup secretly placed in his younger brother’s sack. When Joseph’s steward found them, they were informed of the missing cup. The steward conveyed the words of Joseph and said, “he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless” (Genesis 44:10). When the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, they were devastated.
Judah came quietly to Joseph and pleaded to take Benjamin’s place. How significant it was that, years earlier, Judah introduced the idea of selling Joseph into slavery instead of killing him (Genesis 37:26,27). He now offered himself as a slave rather than his young half-brother. His once jealous heart now valued his younger half-brother. What a remarkable change.
In discussing the servitude to which Benjamin was now subjected, Eugene Burns suggests that the Great Company will not reign with Christ but will be servants before the throne of God, as seen in Revelation 7:15. The cup, being silver, represents a specific truth the Great Company possesses at the end of the age regarding Israel’s role in the kingdom. These are reasonable conclusions given Benjamin’s unique relationship to Joseph.
With Judah’s heart-felt words, Joseph could not contain himself. Commanding all the Egyptians to leave the room, he wept and finally revealed his identity to his brothers. “And Joseph said unto his brethren, ‘Come near to me, I pray you.’ And they came near. And he said, ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. … And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance’” (Genesis 45: 4-6). What a moving expression of love and forgiveness. Joseph’s understanding of God’s purpose gave him a wonderful perspective in dealing with his sinful brothers. He now knew his brothers had changed and were remorseful for past sins. This combination of Joseph’s good heart and the brothers’ repentant attitude led to the reunion for a divided family.
Before returning to Canaan, Joseph presented his brothers with gifts. “To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment” (Genesis 45:22). This was the second time Benjamin was shown greater favor than his brothers. But, as another positive indication of growth in the brothers, there was no hint of jealousy towards him.
The gift of garments is significant. We saw earlier that Joseph’s coat of many colors pictured the covenant of sacrifice Jesus was under. When brought to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, he changed his garments and shaved. Shaving his beard is reminiscent of the Nazarite Vow. An individual under the Nazarite Vow would shave once his vow was accomplished (see Numbers 6). This describes the point in time when Jesus’ earthly sacrifice had come to an end. Changing his garment then relates to our Lord’s resurrection, being robed as a divine spirit being.
After being lifted to the right hand of Pharaoh, Joseph was given a fine linen garment, Pharaoh’s ring and a gold chain, picturing Jesus’ glorification to the right hand of God. When Joseph gave each of his brothers a coat, it illustrated how Israel will come under the protection of the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31). Again, Benjamin was given more than the others, picturing the higher reward of the Great Company, a group having the same spiritual mother as the Joseph class (see R5232).
When word of the wonderful reunion reached Pharaoh, he was pleased and gave Joseph instructions. “Lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan; And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Also regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours” (Genesis 45:17-20).
As the kingdom begins, the call goes out to Jews throughout the world. “Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together and appoint themselves one head” (Hosea 1:11). As the family of Jacob came to Egypt, they recognized the authority of Pharaoh and accepted his blessings through Joseph. All Israel will accept the kingdom authority and appreciate what Jesus has done and will do for them. As the family of Jacob was then given Goshen, the choice land of Egypt, Israel will be specially favored in the earthly kingdom. As the kingdom begins, the call goes out to Jews throughout the world. “Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together and appoint themselves one head” (Hosea 1:11).
Plenty Followed by Famine
Seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine depicts aspects of God’s plan which are used to develop mankind. Carl Hagensick shared an interesting insight regarding the symbolism of why the time of plenty came first. “It is ironic that the seven years of prosperity in Pharaoh’s dreams pictures a period when man is living under sin and death, and the seven years of famine pictures the kingdom. We need to redefine the word famine to understand why this is so. Famine is a lack of food with an abundance of need. Mankind’s present experiences, though difficult and trying, are rich indeed; they will be stored up for the time when man realizes his need. The future distribution of food pictures the distribution of the lessons man learns during his experience with sin and evil. During plenty, the people did not see their need for Pharaoh and Joseph; during famine the people learned their complete dependence upon them.”
Society’s understanding of their needs is different than it will be in the kingdom. Today, people use a flawed standard to gauge prosperity, as described by the prophet Ezekiel. “This was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). But in the kingdom, recognizing their sinful condition and foolish criteria of success will allow them to be fed with a higher standard of truth from the antitypical Joseph. They once believed they were prosperous, but the meaning of prosperity will change. They will realize their true spiritual needs and seek help from the one who can fill them. This is depicted by the lean cows of Pharaoh’s dream eating the fat ones. Their new reality will consume their original misconceptions.
Joseph wisely distributed needed food to the people of Egypt. However, it was not given freely, but instead sold for a price. When people ran out of money, Joseph required they trade their cattle, horses, and flocks. When these were gone, they sold their lands and finally even themselves to become the servants of Pharaoh (Genesis 47:13-19). This progression describes the ever-increasing commitment people will make to God and the kingdom arrangement. As the world realizes its continued need for spiritual nourishment and growth, they will sell themselves to Pharaoh, picturing their full consecrations as servants of God (see Proverbs 23:26, Revelation 21:24).
Purchase of Land
“And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so, the land became Pharaoh’s. And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof. Then Joseph said unto the people, ‘Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land. And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones.’ And they said, ‘Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants’” (Genesis 47:20,21,23-25).
What a powerful description of the flourishing kingdom. Joseph’s purchase of land draws our attention to the fact that Jesus has purchased not only humanity, but the earth itself. This is depicted in one of the Tabernacle ceremonies described in Leviticus 9. It was on the eighth day, after the seven day “Consecration of the Priesthood” ceremony, that the blood of the sin-offering was poured out on the earth, in front of the Brazen Altar (Leviticus 9:9). This pouring of blood upon the earth illustrates how even the earth was purchased by our Lord’s sacrifice (see Tabernacle Shadows, page 42).
After purchasing all the land of Egypt, except the portion for the priests, Joseph did not keep it for himself. With the famine, he removed them from their land and brought them to the cities (Genesis 47:21). However, once this was accomplished Joseph provided them with seeds for planting. They could work the land now owned by Pharaoh and retain 80 percent of their harvests, while 20 percent was given to Pharaoh. The people then did not own the land but were still able to reap its benefits.
This aptly describes how our Lord Jesus purchased the earth but will eventually return the dominion to mankind. Pharaoh’s 20 percent is similar to Israel’s tithing, which was a reminder that their prosperity and blessings came from God. However, Israel was required to give only 10 percent. This 20 percent then may point to greater appreciation and heart devotion. Mankind will owe God a portion of their increase as an expression of thanksgiving. This grateful spirit is described in Proverbs 3:9. “Honor the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase.”
Joseph’s life was a human drama depicting how one man was used by God to save his family and all the inhabitants of Egypt. The parallels between the experiences of Joseph and our Lord’s life, both past and future, are unmistakable. Jesus was sent into the world to preserve life. It was a sacrifice filled with suffering. Yet, it was a price he willingly paid because he understood the great benefits it would reap for humanity. During his earthly life, most of his brethren “knew him not” (John 1:10). But someday they will know what he did for them and for each of us, and all will rejoice that the Son of Man now serves the Great King of the Universe. All will enjoy the fruits of the long-promised kingdom. How delighted we are that the antitypical Joseph made himself a willing servant, is a fulfiller of dreams, and is now an able minister to mankind.
“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you. Therefore, He will rise up to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18 NIV).