THE SOJOURN IN EGYPT
Joseph is Sold into Slavery, Genesis 37
Jacob practices favoritism among his children, verse 3. In this, he is following in his parents' footsteps, as we observed in 25:28. (Parents take note: our children will pick up our bad habits.) Predictably, this caused the favorite son's brothers to hate him, 37:4. Joseph's prophetic dreams, which indicate that his family will one day bow down to him, serve to irritate an already bad situation, verses 5-11. We are dismayed, but not terribly surprised, to find that his brothers are ready to kill him, verses 18-20. Thanks to Reuben and Judah, he is not murdered, but rather sold to some traveling merchants, verses 21-28. The deception which the brothers practice on their father in verses 29-35 is a stark reminder of the one Jacob himself had practiced on his own father, when he took the blessing Isaac had intended for Esau: Jacob does not escape the consequences of his actions. As for Joseph, the merchants take him to Egypt, where he is bought by an officer of Pharaoh named Potiphar, verse 36.
Joseph Rises to Power, Genesis 41
Pharaoh has two parallel dreams that trouble him, and his wise men are unable to explain them, verses 1-8. Pharaoh's cupbearer (or "butler") tells him of Joseph, who had been thrown in prison unjustly, verses 9-13. Joseph is cleaned up and brought from the prison to hear Pharaoh's dream, verses 14-15. As is characteristic of Joseph, he gives all the credit to God, verse 16. It is precisely because Joseph never departs from God, that God is always with Joseph: see 39:7-9; 40:8; James 4:7-10. God is only far from those who depart from Him; He never initiates the separation. On the contrary, it is He who, in spite of our sins, made overtures of peace to us, offering us reconciliation through the blood of His Son, John 3:16.
God gives Joseph the ability to interpret Pharaoh's dreams: there will be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine, verses 25-32. God also gave Joseph the wisdom to present a solution to the problem, verses 33-36. Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph, that he puts Joseph in charge of preparing to meet the famine; in fact, he puts Joseph over all of Egypt - except for Pharaoh himself - and gives him a wife in verses 37-45. Joseph manages the food effectively, so that when the famine comes, people come to Egypt from all over to buy food, verses 46-57.
Joseph Brings His Family to Egypt, Genesis 42-50
When the famine strikes, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy food, 42:1-8. We are not surprised that they do not recognize Joseph: they have not seen him in over 20 years, he is dressed as an Egyptian, he speaks Egyptian - and, of course, they never would have expected to see him in his current position. Joseph puts his brothers to the test, measuring their sincerity and truthfulness. Finally, upon seeing an expression of true repentance on the part of Judah, Joseph breaks down and reveals himself to his brothers, 44:18-45:15. Again, we see Joseph's God-ward attitude: rather than holding a grudge against his brothers, he comforts them by pointing out that it was God's will that he be where he is, 45:5. So Joseph's family move to Egypt as the honored guests of Pharaoh, 45:16-20. Jacob even blesses Pharaoh, 47:7-10. After Jacob blesses his sons, he dies in Egypt, but he insists upon being buried in the land of promise, 49:33-50:10. Later, when Joseph is about to die, he instructs his family to take his bones with them when God brings them back to Canaan, 50:24-26. Joseph knows that this stay in Egypt is temporary, and it is part of God's plan as revealed to Abraham in 15:13-16. Once again we see Joseph's faith expressed, as noted in Hebrews 11:22.
A Pharaoh Who Did Not Know Joseph, Exodus 1
The Israelites grow in number, but they do not remain honored guests, because Pharaoh sees a potential military threat, verses 1-10. As God had told Abraham, the Hebrews are made into slaves. Their servitude is a difficult and unpleasant one, verse 11. When the affliction does not produce the desired result (population control), Pharaoh orders that all the newborn boys among them be killed, verses 12-22. We see that throughout history man, in his arrogance, has felt that he has the prerogative to decide which babies live and which ones die. However, Pharaoh's plan does not work, because God has other plans for the Israelites.
We may well wonder why God included this Egyptian sojourn in His plans for His people. Some of the reasons will become clear when we study the exodus from Egypt, but there is at least one reason that may be brought to light now. Remember that God had promised Abraham that his descendants would take possession of the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:5-7). In order to give the land to the Israelites, the people who lived there would have to be driven out. God was willing to do this because the inhabitants of Canaan were so thoroughly wicked (Leviticus 18:20-28). So, in giving the land to the Israelites, God punished the Canaanites for their sinfulness. But in Abraham's time, the people were not yet wicked enough that God was prepared to punish them in this way (Genesis 15:13-16). The sojourn in Egypt provided time for the Israelites to become sufficiently numerous to populate the land, and also gave time for the idolatrous inhabitants to become so utterly wicked that the land was ready to vomit them out.