God moves in different ways. On the one hand He can move in an individual person’s life in a split second. For instance someone was telling me about a car accident they were in one time where they were driving the car and the whole drivers side was smashed in. Yet when they were pulled from the car they were in the passenger seat with no injuries. It seems as though God moved in that split second in a person’s life.
Yet God also moves in macro-ways: unfolding big plans of His that are global in nature and extending phase by phase over multiple generations and centuries. What is happening now surely was “in the works” a long time ago, and what is happening now is laying the ground for what He is going to do later on. This is one reason it is difficult for us to understand often times “what God is doing.” We see only the foot of one person marching in a parade when God is seated way above it looking at the whole thing.
For instance, arriving to our text today we see that God has been working out a multi-generation, regional plan. And Joseph has been at the center of that plan. Remember that we are reading in Genesis today, and the rest of the Bible is God’s promises to Abraham unfolding in history, stage by stage.
SAVED FROM STARVATION (13-26)
During the last five years of the famine Joseph ends up enslaving the whole nation of Egypt to Pharaoh (19, 21, 23, 25). The famine was so severe that in order to survive the Egyptians used up all their money to buy food from Joseph; then when that food was out they gave him all their livestock for food; finally they gave their land and even themselves as slaves just to have food to eat. It was either death or enslavement. Slavery was survival.
Our American senses may recoil here at the notion of selling oneself to the king as a slave. I struggle with this. But I have to stop and remember that they didn’t live in America and our founding ideals didn’t exist back then to shape their perspective. I also have to take notice that they didn’t resent the transaction at all. Everyone in Egypt revered Joseph and they were all extremely grateful to him for mercifully accepting their offer to become slaves in order to get food from him and not starve to death (15, 19)..
Notice two things about this massive economic and political shift. First, Joseph institutes a 20% tax on their land. Everyone’s land became Pharaoh’s land and the people living on Pharaoh’s land would have to pay one-fifth tax to Pharaoh of all their land produced. This did not come out of “nowhere” and was not unreasonable. Remember a one-fifth tax had already been in place for over ten years. When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and informed him that seven years of abundance were coming followed by seven years of severe famine, Joseph advised Pharaoh to collect one-fifth of all the land produced during the seven abundant years and store it in preparation for the seven famine years. So the nation was already used to a 20% tax, which indicates that Joseph was not really trying to take advantage of the population.
Secondly, another point we take note of is the privilege of the priests: they were not taxed. They were not taxed because they did not sell their land to Pharaoh to buy food. They did not need to buy food because Pharaoh had already been giving them a regular allotment of food.
The irony is pointed out by all the commentators: long ago in the beginning Joseph entered Egypt as a slave; now in the end he has enslaved the whole nation.
APPLICATION: The last will be first and the least will be the greatest. Joseph entered Egypt as the least and the last, and in the end was the first and the greatest. How often is this seen in Scripture: the begging Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom; the decapitated saints in the Tribulation will reign with Christ in His kingdom; the Church will judge the world and angels; and the crucified lamb will be the king of kings. Great reversals will take place when Christ comes. Joseph’s own life pictures that grand theme. Yet we see it not only with Joseph, but his family, the Israelites….
APPLICATION: Bless Israel. God’s rule is He will bless those who bless Israel and those who curse Israel will be cursed. How do I see that here? Pharaoh. He blessed Israel first by honoring Joseph and as a result God blessed Egypt by providing for it to survive the famine. But Pharaoh blessed all of Joseph’s family when they arrived and honored them “with the best of the whole land of Egypt.” What did God do for Pharaoh? We see in our passage that Pharaoh gained all the money, livestock, land and people of the whole nation of Egypt. God blessed the man who blessed God’s man Israel.
Remember that in several generations a different Pharaoh would curse the Israelites: killing their babies and enslaving them. What did God do to that Pharaoh? He killed all the firstborn sons of Egypt and then killed Pharaoh himself with his whole army. I will curse those who curse you – that was the promise. The man in this pulpit will always bless Israel even while praying and hoping for their repentance and salvation.
ISRAEL FLOURISHES (27)
Yet, in the middle of this catastrophic famine Israel Flourishes. Verse 27 says, “Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.”
Everyone else was wasting away from the famine but God’s people were flourishing. Everyone else was selling their property to eat but they were gaining property. People were dying but they were increasing.
APPLICATION: On the one hand God is not restricted in his ability to bless because of the circumstances of an economy, or crisis, or situation. His hands aren’t “tied” from blessing by anything.
Let me push the idea a little further and assert that God’s people flourish in adversity. It could even be argued that adversity is often where the most growth happens for God’s people. Here was Israel blossoming in the most unlikely circumstances. Now, for us Christians, I don’t mean our flourishing in the midst of our adversity is material. I mean spiritually. Watching a person who trusts in Christ go through a trial is indeed different than watching a person who does not go through the same sort of trial. The difference is God is the life and perspective of one and not the other. And it makes all the difference. Is there not a peace, a hope, a faith that begins to shine when a genuine Christian suffers? Maybe a person is not “shining” right away and God teaches them those things through that darkness. Maybe they’re doing better on some days and worse on others. But all in all, a believer who walks by faith through their trial displays things that unbelievers could never, ever display. And therefore, their suffering is a testimony for God. Somehow when someone goes through something difficult and they’re trusting God through it their words have more impact, people watch them more closely, and the things they say that praise God and show their faith carry more weight. And for unbelievers its often incomprehensible why a Christian could have the peace, hope, love and light that they do. “Oh its because they’re a strong person.” NO! Its because we have a strong God and He teaches that to us when we are at our weakest. “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness.”
What suffering are you going through? What circumstances are you in? What difficult hardship are you in the middle of? Let your faith shine through. Trust God has you there for His purposes. Determine that He will be glorified through you. Know your situation is the soil that God has planted you in and it is for you to grow. You may be begging to be transplanted out of your situation but God wants to transform you in it. The Israelites were fruitful and grew in the Egyptian famine. How does God want you to be “fruitful” and grow in the midst of your own famine? Your adversity is the soil God has planted you in for you to grow.
In Genesis 1:28 God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Here were the Israelites multiplying and filling all of Egypt!
Here’s something to notice: we see the continued developments of God’s promises to Abraham. God’s promised Abraham that his descendents would possess the land. God had the seedling nation of Israel, only 70 people, leave the promised land to go to Egypt. While in Egypt God built the people up into the size of a great nation and then led them back to take possession of the land. God enlarged and built up the population on foreign soil and once he did that he led that population out of the foreign land and into the good land he promised to take possession of it.
God did not leave the Israelites in the land and build them into a great nation there. Why? I don’t have definitive answers for that. I have some ideas that I’ll suggest though
First, one possible reason was to test the faith of His people. “Why don’t we just stay in Canaan? This is the land you’re giving us, Lord. Surely you can provide for us here during the famine. Surely you can protect us from our enemies here. Surely you can cause us to multiply and gain more land here. We don’t have to do this whole Egyptian detour.” Jacob and his family could have asked God that.
But, the point is this: our faith does not rest on God’s ways always making sense to us and fitting in with our perspectives. “I’m going to have a son, God?” Abraham said. “You want me to kill my only son that you’ve given me and the son you’ve promised I would have many descendents through? If I kill him how will that ever happen?” Right?! Our faith does not rest on God’s ways always making sense to us and fitting in with our perspectives. True faith will enable us to go on with what God is doing when we don’t understand what God is doing. True faith does not demand perfect understanding of God’s ways before trusting Him because true faith understands that God Himself is perfect – perfect in wisdom so He knows what He’s doing, perfect in goodness so He is working good towards me, perfect in justice so He will never do wrong to me. I know God, therefore, I am less demanding to know just exactly what He’s doing.
Second, God’s plans for justice. Turn to Genesis 15:16 with me and follow along. God had plans to bring His just judgment upon the Amorites. He knew when He was going to do it – because He is eternal and omniscient – and he knew how – because He is perfect in wisdom and justice. His judgement was just because he was letting it grow and multiply until it got to the point where destroying them by an invading force would be the only righteous way to judge them. Hypothetically, had the Amorites ever repented they would not have been destroyed. Hypothetically. But in reality, we all know what Paul told the Corinthians, “a little yeast works its way through the whole batch,” meaning a little sin grows and grows and grows until the whole population is corrupt. That’s true in a church and its true in a nation. The Israelites, the descendents of Abraham, would be that invading force. God knew when He would bring judgment to the evil Amorites and how. So God was not going to have the seed nation of Israel grow up in the corrupt land.
APPLICATION: God judges nations for their wickedness. That is not something He only did in the Old Testament. He will judge any nation that persists in wickedness. May a great repentance happen in America like Nineveh had happen. If we do not repent He will judge the violence done to the innocent preborn life and the violence done to the minds and bodies of children with gender dysphoria; He will judge us for the violence done to the marriage covenant (Mal 2); He will judge us for the “pride” our nation has over all its extreme sexual perversion; He will judge us for our Laodicean complacency and self-indulgence; He will judge us for dishonoring our parents; He will judge us for the greed and corruption of our government; He will judge us for our idolatry with the ever swelling godless paganism, and even now outright Satanism;
Third, it may be that God did not want the Canaanites to have influence on His covenant people. Perhaps He wanted them separated from the wickedness that was happening there to keep them pure.
If thats the case, then can you see the APPLICATION? Separate yourself from the godlessness and wickedness around you. Do not participate in the deeds of darkness – the deeds that are the very reason God is bringing His wrath on this world. Separate yourself from worldly ways and worldly thinking. Get out of what is dark and walk daily in the light of righteousness. Are there things you keep letting in your life that tempt you away from devotion to Jesus Christ’s commands? Be Joseph and “flee” those things. “If anything like your hand or your eye causes you to sin” Jesus said, “cut it off and cut it out.” What do you need to start separating yourself from that keeps separating you from Christ?
Fourth, God was using past history to give signs of His future Redemptive plans. Having Israel in Egypt and the whole saga of their deliverance later on had numerous specific events associated with it that parallelled Jesus’ life and redemptive career. The point is this: Knowing what He had planned for the events and timing of Christ’s life and career of redemption, God caused many past events so they would serve as predictive patterns of Christ and His career.
- What did Jesus say? “Just like Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days and 3 nights so too the Son of Man will be in the belly of the earth for 3 days and 3 nights.” The past historical event of Jonah in the fish was predictive of something in Christ’s life – his burial.
- Or like Matthew 2:14-15 says about Jesus and his parents fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s orders to kill him. It says in the middle of the night Joseph grabbed Mary and little 2 year old Jesus and they bolted to Egypt and they stayed there until Herod died and an angel told them they could go back. Matthew 2:15 says, “And so was fulfilled what the LORD had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Here’s the thing: that is something God said about the nation of Israel in Exodus4 and in Hosea 11. But, the dual meaning of those words were fulfilled when just like the nation of Israel in the past, Jesus was also “called out of Egypt.” In order to have a past event be a pattern for Christ the nation of Israel had to go to Egypt and be led out as well. But in order to go to Egypt to be a pattern for the Christ the little group of 70 Israelites had to leave the promised land for a while and go to Egypt. Hence, the past 10 chapters we’ve studied. God was using past history to give signs of His future Redemptive plans.
Those are some possible reasons why God chose to take the nation in its infancy to Egypt and grow it there rather than on the land He promised them. It leads me to a thought I will end with:
You can see a parallel for us as the Church. We are on foreign soil in this world where we are considered strangers and aliens. Christ is building His Church here on foreign soil and increasing its population. And there is a coming day when He will lead this holy nation out of this foreign land into the place He has promised. Amen!