Christ Covenant Church
Series — Joseph: Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Text – Genesis 41:46-57
May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Our sermon text for today comes from Genesis 41. While you look for it in your Bible, I want to bring you up to speed on our story.
Picking up where we left off last week, remember Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream about the cows and the corn, about the years of feast and famine. Then he presented a wise proposal that pleased Pharaoh and all his servants, so Pharaoh appointed Joseph to be the vice-gerent over all Egypt. Vice-gerent is just a fancy way of saying the official administrative deputy of a ruler.
From Pharaoh’s point of view, Joseph represented the king in all things. That is why the king dressed him in fine clothes, and adorned him in fine jewelry, and gave him a fine car, and a fine name, and a fine wife.
But (as we will see today) God had a deeper more significant purpose in mind.
Please stand and hear the reading of God’s word from Genesis 41:46-57.
Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.” So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. And the church says, Amen!
As you know we are in the middle of a series on the Life of Joseph. We are looking at stories of God’s providence for the good, the bad, and the ugly. So if that describes you in any way, then this story is for you.
Here’s what we’re gonna do today. We’re gonna walk through the story one section at a time. Along the way I will make a few observations, interpretations, and applications.
My goal today is to take the strands of this story and weave them into the strands of our story and tie them all into the story of Jesus.
We have no time to waste, so let’s get started.
SECTION ONE — Genesis 41:46-49
Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.
Thirty Years Old =
Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh. That is significant because it of what it foreshadows. Later on in the biblical story we learn that —
A man had to be at least thirty years old in oder to serve as a priest in the tabernacle/temple (Num 4:3ff).
David was thirty years old when he began to reign as king in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 5:4)
Finally, Jesus was about thirty years of age when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23).
The point is that thirty years old is not a random number.
As we read the story we should think of Joseph as a kind of priestly-king and kingly-priest. He was a shadow-type of Jesus Christ.
[Side-Note: This is also a subtle way of linking Joseph to Abraham. Joseph was 17 years old when he went down to Egypt. He was 30 years old when he went up to Pharaoh. The 13 years that lapsed between the dream and its fulfillment correspond to the 13 years that lapsed between God’s promise to Abram and the birth and circumcision of his son Isaac. (Gen 17:25)]
Over all the land =
Joseph went out over all the land. This was necessary in order for him to enact and enforce his plan. Remember what he proposed to Pharaoh?
He went out over all the land to appoint overseers over the land. Those overseers were to take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And the overseers were to gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and guard it. That food was to be kept in reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that were to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land would not perish through the famine.
[Side-Note: Joseph counseled Pharaoh to appoint overseers over all the land. The word for overseer is pâqı̂yd in Hebrew. In the Greek LXX overseer is epistátēs. That same Greek word is used seven times in the NT — all in the Gospel of Luke where it refers to Jesus as the Master over the disciples.]
This tour over all the land is significant because it of what it echoes and what it foreshadows. It echoes the story of Abraham going out over all the land of Canaan (Gen 13:17); and it foreshadows Jesus going out over the whole region of Judea/Galilee.
Going over all the land symbolizes laying claim to the land for the missional purposes of the Lord.
As the Lord revealed to Pharaoh in his dream, the land produced in great abundance, and Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, but not without the help of the overseers and the cooperation of the people.
As we saw last week, this is an example of how God’s sovereignty establishes man’s responsibility. God reveals his will, and he expects man to act on it. Some act on it wisely, others act on it foolishly, but all act on it.
In this story, Joseph acted wisely and so did all Egypt. This project was far too big for one man, but everyone worked together, one for all, all for one. That’s the way it should be. That’s the way of the Lord.
We see this sort of thing happen again and again in the story of God’s people. For example, in the Book of Acts, after a great harvest of souls on the day of Pentecost, we see that “all the baptized believers were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
And we see that “grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:33-35)
What Joseph did in Egypt was a foreshadow of what Jesus was going to do in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of earth — including Mesquite, Sunnyvale, and Forney.
To be clear: this is not a picture of communism, rather it is a picture of Christ’s covenant community loving one another, giving for one another, and serving one another according to the grace and truth of the Lord. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, and this is what life under his benevolent monarchy looks like.
sand of sea =
Now back to Genesis 41. I want to point out something else from this story: Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.
The phrase “like the sand of the sea” echoes the promise God gave to Abraham after he offered Isaac is sacrifice (Gen 22:17). It also echoes the prayer Jacob offered to God before he confronted an enemy. He prayed, “O God, please deliver me from the hand of my [enemy], for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:11-12).
The point is that God makes promises and keeps promises.
In between the promise-making and the promise-keeping life often gets messy. Sacrifices must be made; enemies must be confronted; fears must be overcome; hardships must be experienced; pride must be stripped away; feasts may be enjoyed, but famine must be endured.
Sometimes our life-experience seems to confirm the promises of God, but sometimes it seems to contradict the promises of God. So what must we do? We must wait and watch for God to bring about a non-natural resolution by his power.
God is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper. The question is, Do you trust him to keep the promises he makes? That’s what our forefathers did, and that is what we must do. That’s what it means to walk by faith, not by sight.
SECTION TWO — Genesis 41:50-52
Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Gentile wife and mixed sons =
Now, smack dab in the middle of the story, the story-teller inserts what seems like a random editorial comment about Joseph’s sons. (Remember Pharaoh gave him Asenath to be his wife. She was Egyptian, and a daughter of a priest.)
As it turns out that this side-note is not so random after all. Joseph’s sons were born during the seven years of plenty and abundance. No children were born to him in the seven years of famine or beyond. Joseph’s story is tied up with the story of Egypt. His family’s story is tied up with the story of Egypt.
As it is with most parents, the birth of his sons marked a turning point in his life. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. The name of the second he called Ephraim.
Unlike us, he did not have baby name books, or google search to find the most creative names. He simply named his sons in a way that told his story with God.
Manasseh means forgive and forget. “For God has made me forget-and-forgive all my hardship and all my father’s house.” (Robert Alter explains that forget is actually a pun that means “relieve from the conditions of debt.” Thus it denotes to forgive, relieve, or cancel a debt. Genesis, p 242)
Ephraim means fruitful. “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
By the way, these are Hebrew names. Joseph may look like an Egyptian on the outside, but he is still a Hebrew on the inside.
This is significant because it gives us a glimpse inside Joseph’s heart. All these long years we never hear him say anything about the way he thought or felt in his heart about his father or brothers and the way they mistreated him. But here we learn that up until the day his first son was born Joseph has held their sins against them. For the past thirteen years he harbored anger and bitterness against them, but going forward with his wife and sons he will forgive and forget their sins because God has made him fruitful.
I confessed to you earlier this year that in my own life I find that forgiving and forgetting is one of the hardest things in the world to do. It is especially hard to do when your own brothers and sisters are ones who sin against you.
And I know that many of you feel the same way.
One thing we learn here in this story is that even the most devout and godly men struggle with this. But sooner or later we must decide whether we will keep records of wrongs or blot out the records of wrongs. That is, we must decide whether we will act like the Lord and or like the devil; whether we will demand justice or desire mercy; whether we will live by earthly wisdom or heavenly wisdom.
As the Spirit says in James 3, “if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:14-18)
Joseph lived by the wisdom from above for the Spirit of God was in him.
One more thing to note here: Even though Joseph was willing to forgive and forget the sins of his brothers against him, and even though he was fruitful in the house of Pharaoh, he still considered Egypt the land of affliction. Why?
Like his forefathers before him, Joseph acknowledged that he was a stranger and exile on the earth. For people who speak like this make it clear that they are seeking a homeland, that they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Heb 11:13-16)
Joseph’s heart was home-sick, not for Canaan, but for heaven. That just goes to show that whether you have your worst life now, or your best life now — whether you are enjoying the American dream, or enduring the American nightmare — there is something better and truer beyond the horizon. God has designed, built, and prepared a city with eternal foundations for you and who live by faith.
So keep looking by faith beyond your pit, beyond your palace, beyond your suffering, beyond your success, beyond your pain, and beyond your pleasure; keep looking by faith beyond this world of shadows and dust to the new world of light and glory, to the new heavens and new earth.
And in the mean time, do all the good you can do for the life of the world.
Now, let’s go back to Egypt and the famine.
[Side-note: Joseph taking a Gentile wife should not alarm us. Even this can be taken as a foreshadow of Christ and the church, and a foreshadow of the church bearing Jewish and Gentile children.]
SECTION THREE — Genesis 41:53-57
The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.” So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
What he says do =
When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”
This is significant because it shows that Pharaoh has given Joseph authority over the land. He has entrusted all things to Joseph, and he trusts Joseph to do what is right and good for Egypt.
[Side-note: It is also significant because Pharaoh’s words about Joseph foreshadow Mary’s words about Jesus at the wedding at Cana. “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And his mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)]
Stories like this remind us that God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Not just Hebrews, but also Egyptians. Not just Anglos, but also Hispanics. Not just Texans, but also Mexicans. Not just Americans, but also Asians, and Africans.
Our God is a missionary. He sends men like Joseph to places like Egypt, and he sends people like us to places like Mesquite and Forney. Why? What is our salvation for? It is for the life of the world.
God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come and put their trust in Jesus. Including you.
And in his providence for the good, the bad, and the ugly, he arranges and uses various circumstances to draw people to come near to him. In Joseph’s time God used a famine to draw people to the savior of Egypt. In our time he uses other things to draw us near to the Savior of the world.
All the earth came to Joseph =
So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
Now at last we see why Joseph was made in the image and likeness of Pharaoh. In God’s providence, Joseph the Hebrew became like and Egyptian, he became all things to all people in order that by all means he might save some. He did it all for the sake of the gospel, in order that he might share with all people in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:22-23)
At last we see the dream of the sheaves realized and fulfilled in a bigger and better way that previously imagined. Joseph’s sheaf rose up and the whole world comes and bows to him — and his brothers and father will follow suit in the very near future.
All this was made possible because God’s sovereignty establishes man’s responsibility.
For the past seven years the Egyptians had been contributing one-fifth of their grain to Joseph. They brought the full tithe into the storehouses, and now there is plenty of food in the house for everyone. They put Joseph to the test, and now he can open the storehouses of Egypt for them and pour out a blessing upon them until there is no more need in the land. (Malachi 3:10)
Likewise, Jesus — the true and better Joseph — calls us to trust him and test him with our tithes and offerings. If we give faithfully and joyfully and generously to the Lord as grace requires, then the Lord will graciously open the windows of heaven in our time of need and generously pour out blessing to meet our need.
As the scripture says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-9)
Again, God’s providence often works through ordinary human means, through people just like you. So, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Our story ends on an ominous note: “the famine was severe over all the earth.” (41:57)
As we go out this week, let’s remember that the world is broken and things are tough all over. We might not be experiencing famine in our land the way they did, but there is a famine in the land. “Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)
People you know and love are hungry and thirsty for the nourishing and refreshing word of God. People you know and love are aching, and broken, and crushed, and desperate. They need the life-giving word of God, they need the gospel of grace.
We might not be able to give them much money, but what we have we can freely give them — much love and truth and grace in the name of Jesus Christ.
As we go out this week, let’s remember that we are on mission with God for the life of the world. We are here to show and tell people where they can find the bread of life; where they can buy wine and bread without to nourish and refresh their souls.
We are here to love and serve others with the gospel of grace. We are here to point people to the Savior Jesus Christ.
As we go out over the land this week, let’s remember that God desires all kinds of people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth about sin and grace and the cross.
For there is only one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom – a blood-payment – for all kinds of people, high and low, rich and poor, male and female, red and yellow, black and white, for you and for me. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)
We have seen many times before that ultimately, the central character in the stories of God’s providence is not Joseph but Jesus. And this story is no different.
Joseph was a shadow-type, but Jesus is the Reality.
As Joseph was transfigured, his face and clothes were changed, at Pharaoh’s word, so Jesus was transfigured, his face and clothes were changed, by the Father’s word. (Gen 41:14, 42; Luke 9:29)
As Joseph descended into a pit in the ground, so Jesus descended into the lower regions of the earth.
As Joseph ascended up to the palace, so Jesus ascended far above all the heavens.
As Joseph filled the silos with grain, so Jesus fills all things with gifts. (Gen 41; Eph 4:8-10)
As Joseph was a mediator between Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so Jesus is the mediator between God and man (Gen. 41:55; 1 Tim 2:5).
For the love of God, and for the life of the world.