GENESIS-SERIES NR 35
Journey to Egypt – Genesis 36-37
The first readers of Genesis 36 were Israelites who had to pass through the Jordan River to occupy the Promised Land and destroy the Canaanites. But there were people who were NOT to be attacked – the Edomites, amongst others, who were the descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. We read about this in Deut 2:2-5 where the Lord orders them to pass through the Edomite territory, but not to provoke them to war or occupy any of their land.
Therefore, it was important for the Israelites to know ahead of time who/what these Edomites were, and to have a fully documented record of Esau’s descendants.
Strictly speaking, chapter 36 has very little to say to the church today. Except for pointing out at least three important matters:
1 Esau was a kind-hearted and gracious man. For example, he gave up his desire to take revenge on Jacob, and was willing to be the least by leaving the fertile land to Jacob, and moving to the hill country of Seir. He therefore granted Jacob the best and put a distance between them so that there would not be strife between them.
In this we see a picture-image of the Lord Jesus, not so? In His gracious compassion towards people who actually deserve to be punished.
2 Secondly we see that – when it concerns election (of which Romans 10 speaks much later) – Esau was really the one, who should have been chosen by God, through whom the fulfilment of the covenant-promise should have run. Because Esau was a much better man than Jacob. If God’s election were based on quality and good deeds, Esau would have been the chosen one.
And yet the Lord chose Jacob. To illustrate something by it, namely that God’s election is not at all based upon MAN’S attributes, but ONLY upon God’s choice and mercy and compassion. Not on man’s free will, but only the will of God, Romans 9:16 clearly says so. The Lord does not necessarily choose people who are “good” or who are more “love-able”. His eternal plan is based on NOTHING in man and EVERYTHING in Himself.
3 Although God passed over Esau in His eternal election (particular grace), Esau was still an object of God’s general (common) grace! The Lord particularly blessed him in the short term. Hence the fact that the Israelites were not to harm the Edomites in any way, or claim any land, nor harm anybody, etc. Yes, God’s particular love includes those who are in Christ, but His general love also includes lost humanity in terms of temporary blessings.
And then, from chapter 37, the focus returns to Jacob. In chapter 36 we see the descendants of Esau. In chapter 37 (and further) we see how Jacob’s descendants unfold. And the most attention is given to that, because the Messiah would eventually be born from the descendants of Jacob, and not from Esau.
One is inclined to think that chapter 37 is the start of the history of Joseph, but technically speaking it is a continuation of JACOB’S history. Jacob finally disappears from the scene only in chapter 49. The purpose of the last part of Genesis is to show us how the Lord builds a nation/church out of Jacob, out of whom Jesus would come to earth. The Lord is busy shaping a nation. Joseph goes to Egypt and his elevation to Prime Minister made it possible that Jacob and his sons would be saved. Remember the Messiah would not come from Joseph, but from Judah. But the Lord uses Joseph to keep Judah (and the rest of the brothers) from perishing, with the eye on the future when Christ would be born.
The spiritual principle that is at work in the Joseph-story, is also fulfilled in Christ. And the principle is this: That which appears to be a curse, becomes a blessing. Jacob thought it was the end when he heard that Joseph was dead. The attrocity his brothers committed was a terrible sin. But the Lord turns the curse into a blessing when Joseph saves all of them from famine and certain death.
In the same way God later used the curse of Jesus’s death on the cross to save a countless multitude. The people committed a terrible sin by killing Jesus, but God used that very same sinful act to effectuate salvation. That is the principle that runs throughout the Joseph-story.
Back to chapter 37: Why did his brothers hate Joseph so much? Yes, he was the youngest. And he was only 17 years old. At that time girls were already married at age 17. There were even kings who were younger than 17.
Joseph’s brothers hated him because of the spiritual authority he exerted over them. He had the Lord’s authority in his life. To them it was a bitter pill to swallow. Particularly since their father gave Joseph that authority and favoured him. The special ornamented robe that Jacob gave Joseph, was in a way a symbol of that authority. It made him stand out above the others. His brothers hated that robe. And they also hated Joseph.
We should keep in mind that Jacob was going to give Reuben’s firstborn-right to Joseph because of the fact that Reuben (the eldest) had dishonoured his father’s concubine (Gen 35:22). That is written in 1 Chron 5:1-2). It is only in Genesis 49 where Jacob formally handed Reuben’s firstborn rights to Joseph, but it was always in his heart and inclination and attitude, and that is why he gave Joseph pre-eminence over the others. He appointed Joseph as a kind of supervisor over his brothers. That is why it was logical that Joseph would report to his father his observations about his brothers’ work, reliability etc. It was not as if he would spy on them and then tell tales about what he had heard or seen. In addition, his responsibilities were important. When his father sent him to Shechem it was a good 60 km journey, and then another 80 km to Dothan. And Shechem was a perilous place, because that was where Joseph’s brothers murdered all the men of the town in revenge for their sister’s rape.
Joseph’s two dreams also did not make things easier, it rather made it worse. In fact, it was the last straw. Now his brothers wanted to murder him. Because everything indicated that Joseph wanted to, and would become ruler over them. Therefore they rejected him and condemned him to death, because all they saw when they looked at him in his ornamented robe was authority, leadership, ability, status, power…
The ACTUAL reason therefore, why his brothers wanted to get rid of Joseph with all their might, was their refusal to subject themselves to the authority that their father gave to Joseph, because they felt threatened. Their own pride and power and prestige were in question. They felt that what Joseph had, really belonged to THEM!
In this the Holy Spirit is showing us how Joseph was a foreshadowing of the Greater Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ. Because what was the main reason why the Jewish spiritual leaders rejected Jesus and condemned Him to death? Think about Matthew 7:28 “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law”. Just imagine what a set-back that was for the pride of the Scribes.
The Jewish spiritual leaders wanted to protect their own position and do away with Jesus, because His authority and majesty and glory were a treat to them. And God the Father, whom they confessed as their God, gave Jesus that authority! Exactly the same as with Joseph’s brothers.
We see therefore Joseph-in-his-rejection-by-his-brothers, as a prophetic prefigure to the Lord Jesus.
The hostility in the hearts of these men have reached breaking point. Now they are just waiting for the right opportunity to kill him. And remember: these men were mean and cruel. They did not behave as covenant-people should do. Remember how they slaughtered the men of Shechem without a second thought.
While they were in Dothan and Joseph – by Jacob’s order – had to visit them, they had their opportunity. Although Reuben pleaded that they should rather murder him without shedding his blood. Rather cast him into a cistern to drown him and then his body could be hidden there. Then they could tell their father that a wild animal devoured him. They would smear blood on his stupid robe and show it to their father. One could hardly believe how hard and cruel they were. After they had cast Joseph into the well, they went to eat a meal without any care. No feelings of guilt, no remorse, no pity. Just hungry! While Joseph was shouting and calling out of the well, they enjoyed their meal.
Identical to the way the Jewish leaders behaved towards the Lord Jesus.
But do not for one moment think that the Lord God is asleep. God is sovereign and HIS plan will succeed in the end, and not the plans made by men. The Lord used the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers to reach His own aims. Look at God’s provision in action:
1 The Lord made sure that the well is empty. Therefore Joseph did not drown. 2 At that moment a caravan of traders passed on the way to Egypt. 3 The Lord awakened a feeling of concern in the heart of Judah. He suggested that they take Joseph out of the well, and sell him to the traders. Then they would make a few extra rands at the same time. Twenty shekels – the price of a slave, Moses later determined according to Leviticus 27:5. To Judah it was about the money, but the Lord used that to work His master-plan in order to get Joseph to Egypt. Because his two dreams had to be fulfilled. He had to become Prime Minister in order to provide his family with food, and they had to bow down before him. As Christ had to be exulted after His suffering and death.
At Reuben’s suggestion, they then rubbed blood all over Joseph’s robe and showed it to their father. And of course, Jacob believed it. His whole world collapsed. Now he might as well have died. That is how he felt. He was broken. He was inconsolable.
One cannot help but notice how Jacob’s sons deceived him in the same way that he had deceived his father – Isaac! They slaughtered a goat and lied to Jacob. Just the same way Jacob had gone to Isaac with a goat to deceive him. And that lie spiritually put him and his father in bondage. Just as the lie about Joseph put his brothers and his father spiritually in shackles for many years. A lie forms a spiritual bondage and provides satan with a foothold. One must deal with it quickly, otherwise one will never be able to live as a liberated, content, peaceful person.
But while Joseph was crying “woe is me”, the Lord was busy arranging everything behind the scenes to let it all work together for the good of all of them. Because in Egypt the traders sold Joseph to Potiphar. And he was one of Pharaoh‘s officials. And that was not per chance. It was ordained according to God’s provision. When Joseph was there in a strange land in dire circumstances, he was still cared for by the Lord. But it would still be many years before the actual purpose of the Lord would be revealed.
THE MESSAGE FOR US
The most important message is that we learn to better understand the nature, character and working method of the living God: His sovereignty, His grace of predestination, His faithfulness, His omnipotence, His Providence. We also see the perplexing way in which the Lord Jesus – who would only be born centuries upon centuries later – already moves in the background, and how His innocent rejection and suffering was represented in Joseph. The miracle of the perfection of the Bible and the inspiration of the Spirit in every book of the Bible. Yes, the Divine management of history. It is really and truly awe inspiring. It gives one’s confidence anchorage in the Scriptures a great push.
It is wonderful to see how the Lord God manages everything in His sovereignty according to His Divine plan. Unfolding here – in the Joseph-story – is fulfilled that what the Lord had promised Abraham many years before, already in Genesis 15:13. God told Abraham: “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and they will be enslaved and ill-treated 400 years, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions”.
In God’s eternal Divine plan it was documented ahead of time that His nation would be in Egypt for 400 years under oppression. And that the exodus led by Moses would take place, also the desert-journey and later the crossing into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.
Joseph’s brothers who sold him to the traders on their way to Egypt was therefore the start of the fulfilment of God’s word to Abraham, because Joseph’s stay in Egypt would result in the nation Israel ending up in Egypt.
Joseph’s brothers had no idea of what they were ACTUALLY busy doing. They certainly did not want to fulfil God’s intentions. That was the last thing on their minds. They only wanted to get rid of Joseph. They committed a terrible sin and were going to pay a price for it, but through it all the Lord still reigned over it and through it! He did not condone their actions/sin only because they were helping Him to execute His eternal plan! No, they remained guilty and accountable, but still the Lord’s Divine plan triumphed despite their sin. The Lord had promised and decided to fulfil His covenant-promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through SPECIFICALLY THESE sons of Jacob born out of 4 women! And nobody or nothing could prevent the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises. Not Jacob OR Joseph OR Reuben OR Judah OR any other son of Jacob’s OR Pharoah OR Potiphar OR seven year drought could prevent or delay it! Ephesians 1:11 says that the Lord works everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.
God’s election is also something which is not based on anything that is present in any human. To think that those men – sons of Jacob – were the root-system of the Israelite nation and the OT-church and the NT-church! People who were prepared to hate their own flesh and blood, and to get away with it and live with deceit and lies for years and years. The pagans in Canaan showed much more loyalty and love.
That is the reason why Romans 9 states that the divine election is based on His own decision and grace and NOTHING in man. And of course: Whomever He has chosen for Himself, will not remain the same. We see that as we go further into the Joseph history – how these brothers became broken and were transformed and became new people.
Therefore, the principle is this: The Lord does not call those who are good in His eyes. But those whom He calls, He MAKES good in His eyes.
Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh