Reading an account of Joseph’s brothers journey to Egypt is enough to bring laughter and tears at the same time. After being sold off by his brothers as a slave, Joseph becomes an attendant to one of Pharaoh’s officials, a prisoner, and later the governor of Egypt. A few years down the line, famine strikes all the land and food is only found in Egypt. Joseph, ‘in whom is the Spirit of God’ (Genesis 41:37) knew of the famine long before it occurred and ‘stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea’ (v49) causing ‘all countries to come to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world’ (v57).
Reading Joseph’s account forms an antitype of Jesus Christ, whom the weary and hungry in a sin-stricken and death-stricken world go to for supply. Like people who in a famine-stricken land went to Joseph for supply, so we run to Jesus ‘who will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land’ (Isaiah 58:11). His brothers’ journey to Egypt correlates with our journey to the Messiah, one filled with laughter (in hindsight), surprises, and tears of joy.
When his brothers reached Egypt to get grain, ‘Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him’ (Genesis 42:8). In a like manner, Jesus sees us first before we see Him. He sees us in our haggard, sin-stricken state as we go about looking for salvation. When we meet Jesus and He intervenes, like Nathanael we ask Jesus, ‘How do you know me?’ (John 1:48). ‘Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Phillip called you’ (v48). Jesus knows each of us and the moment we come to know him, he shifts from being ‘the son of Joseph’ (v45) or whatever we might think Him to be, and declare like Nathanael, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God . . .’ (v49).
As soon as we come to Jesus, He asks us to surrender everything to Him, especially the things we hold dear. When Joseph’s brothers came down to Egypt, the youngest was left back at home prompting Joseph to say, ‘And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here . . . If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households’ (Genesis 42:15, 18-19). In an almost exact fashion, Jesus to the rich young man says, ‘if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ (Matthew 19:21). The rich young man, ‘went away sad, because he had great wealth’ (v22).
Many when they see what is asked of them by God, turn away. What they fail to realise is that when God asks things of us, it is not because He needs them or is a sadist and wants to take away everything we have worked for. Quite the contrary; He is testing our obedience so that He can add more to us. When Joseph’s brother obeyed and went back to get their youngest brother, on the way, ‘one opened his sack to get feed for the donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of the sack. “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers’ (Genesis 42:27-28). The money they used to purchase the grain was returned and essentially the grain was given for free causing them to remark, ‘what is this that God has done to us?’ (v28).
Making a distressing journey to go get their brother and leaving one behind was agonizing the same way our journey in following Christ is. We lay everything (seeming freedom, fun, pleasures, ourselves, and ways of the world) down. However, along the way, Christ bestows us things that we thought we lost (true freedom, complete joy of the Lord, our identity in Him and satisfaction in His presence) causing us to exclaim like Joseph’s brothers, what is this that God has done to us? throughout our Christian journey. If only the rich young man would know, how different his life would be.
When Joseph’s brothers finally brought the youngest before him, Joseph further enquired about their father and asked them to bring him over to Egypt. Joseph then ‘settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land’ (Genesis 47:11). Likewise, Jesus is not only concerned about us and our salvation, but for our family, friends, neighbours and enemies. After giving the parable of the lost sheep, where a shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to go and look for one that is lost, Jesus says, ‘In the same way, your father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost’ (Matthew 18:14). More than what Joseph did for his family, Jesus assures us, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:2).