These past few days, two of our adult children have been with us on our vacation. We like to play cards and board games. These two have not seen each other for nearly three years, so with the games and their antics, laughter fills our space. I cannot imagine what a long separation would be like, never mind the one that happened between Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery.
That story always makes me weep. After several years apart and his brothers and father thinking he was dead, Joseph faced them without being recognized. With some strategy, he arranged that his brother Benjamin was with him in Egypt along with the others. Finally it was time for the reveal . . .
“And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, please.’ And they came near. And he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.’” (Genesis 45:3—8)
I wept reading this, particularly that Joseph understood the plan of God in all his suffering. He was where he was so that he could save those who put him there. This is a picture of what Jesus did. He went to the cross because of our sin; we put Him there so He could pay our penalty for sin and set us free from eternal damnation. He was where He was so that He could save sinners who put Him there.
I am deeply touched by Joseph’s understanding. He was not angry or vengeful toward his brothers. He may not have known the plan of God at the time, but as it unfolded he could see what God was doing. This happened because Joseph put his faith in God, even during his struggles and hardship.
Later Solomon wrote about the value of this trust: “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5–6)
I cannot fully understand the plan of God, just as I cannot understand how life comes to an unborn child. I cannot predict the outcome of those tomatoes we planted in the spring or the devotional posts I put on this blog. I have no idea what God will use or do with anything I do, but He is faithful. He knows the end from the beginning. He just asks me to trust and obey Him.
Seeing Jesus in the life of Joseph is not far-fetched. The Bible says that the Scriptures point to Him, just as the law is but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. However, a shadow such as those sacrifices that were continually offered every year, cannot make perfect those who drew near to God in that way. If a shadow could do it, once the worshipers were cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sins. Yet the shadows are not the reality. Those sacrifices reminded the people of their sins and they knew that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away those sins. (Hebrews 10:1–4)
Then God sent His Son, and like Joseph, He had a special role. He was not saving His people from death by famine but from death as a result of their sin. Joseph was the shadow; Jesus is the reality . . .
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’”
Joseph forgave his brothers because he loved them. Jesus forgave sin because He also loves us, but His love was not enough. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness from God. Sin must be punished and sin’s reward is death. That is why Jesus died – and His death was enough.
“Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:14–22)
The story of Joseph makes me weep with joy. However, the Gospel story fills my heart with indescribable emotions, including gladness, humility, sorrow, relief, and even outrage at myself for putting Jesus on the Cross to die for me.