"These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph…”, Gen. 37. 2. It is with this special father-son relationship that the biography of Rachel’s elder boy really begins. The story occupies a quarter of the book of Genesis, and every section is pregnant with “the precious things of heaven’. One has only to read the summary in Psalm 105. 16-22 or Stephen’s precis, Acts 7. 9-19, to spot the resemblance, in the annals of Scripture, between Joseph’s experiences and those that are recorded of our Lord. So many corollaries may be attached to each detail that one’s study of this, the seventh and last great character of Genesis, Heb. 11. 4-22, merges into a contemplation of our Saviour in His eternal position in the Godhead, in His deep humiliation on the earth, in His present glorification in heaven, and in His future supremacy over the nations. It is as though the shadow of the Saviour was cast about Joseph, whose life then conformed to its pattern. Because of the fulness of this Old Testament illustration of our blessed Master, we must, for brevity’s sake, restrict ourselves to lines of thought directly associated with the blessings of the tribes.
The Words of Jacob. “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well”, Gen. 49. 22. Of Joseph’s sons, Jacob had previously prayed: “let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth”, Gen. 48. 16. We cannot escape the concept of ever increasing productivity in such expressive language.
The word Joseph means “shall add" or “increase”. It bespoke Rachel’s desire: “May God add”. Immediately we think of the One the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end, Is. 9.7.
While his mother saw in Joseph the beginnings of further blessing - “God hath taken away (Heb. asaph) my reproach… The Lord shall add (Heb: yoseph) to me another son”, Gen. 30. 23-24 – God’s view did not just include the other boy, Benjamin, but pointed forward to a greater Son who was to be given. “Unto us a child is born”, Is. 9.6.
The idea of abundant increase is the outstanding theme behind the story of Joseph. Peter encourages us to emulate Joseph’s qualities: “add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love”, 2 Pet. 1. 5-8; cf. James 3.17.
In the original, the word “bough" is ben which basically means “son’. In many respects a branch is to a tree what a son is to a father. The Messiah is described as the Branch of David, Jer. 23.5, and the Branch of Jehovah, Is. 4.2. He is both Son of man and Son of God.
“Whose branches run over the wall”. Continuing the botanical analogy, the word banoth, meaning “daughter”, is now used for the vigorous side shoots which spread out over the top of the well-watered enclosure. Here is multiplied fruitfulness, (cf. Acts 2.41,47), a fertility that every passer-by could see.
“The archers have sorely grieved him”.Gen. 49. 23. Who were these bowmen who embittered his life? Certainly his brothers and others such as Potiphar’s wife are meant. The Saviour suffered likewise at the hands of “his own" and knew the anguish of being falsely accused by those He had sought to serve. One also thinks of the fiery darts of the wicked one who, doubtless, would have been only too pleased if Jacob and his family had been exterminated by the successive years of famine. The devil still gets men to “shoot in secret at the perfect”, Ps. 64. 4. “But God shall shoot at them with an arrow, suddenly shall they be wounded”, v. 7. This leads us to the next clause.
“His bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong”. Gen. 49. 24. Incarcerated for thirteen years, Joseph must have been sorely tempted to reject the God of his ancestors. At the end of his protracted ordeal, however, his moral fibre was as strong as ever, his faith remained firm. Throughout it all, his bow stayed taut and his arm skilful. Thus did he rise to power, “a father to Pharaoh”, the beauty of his bearing enhanced by his trials.
“By the hands of the mighty God of Jacob”. Not only did the patriarch describe the sequence of events as providential, but he implied that that same Omnipotence had been his own constant support over the years. Do we properly appreciate that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose"?, Rom. 8. 28. If we do, we will also recognize that we have nothing of which to be proud; “what hast thou that thou didst not receive?”, 1 Cor. 4.7.
“From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel”. Literally Jacob claimed that Joseph’s strength was drawn “from the hands of the mighty God”, “fromthence”, “from the God of thy father”, and fourthly from “the Almighty".
Like his father, Joseph was himself one of the Bible’s shepherd characters. The one reference is to him feeding the sheep, Gen. 37. 2; cf. Isaiah 40. 10-11. With Jacob, we are carried away in thought to the shepherding attributes of Jehovah who nourishes His followers, Gen. 48. 15, and to the impenetrable security of God who is a sure foundation for life.
Joseph, now a dweller in Egypt, nourished and supported his family there. To them, therefore, he was as a shepherd and a stone.
There also emerges from these words a prophecy which reached through the centuries to the incarnation. “The mighty God… from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel.” Jesus came forth from the Father. As a shepherd in His loving care, and as a stone in His impervious strength, He grew “up out of his place” "the blessings… of the womb”, Zech. 6.12.
“The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors… they shall be on the head of Joseph”, Gen. 49. 26. Jehovah took upon Himself the title “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. The revelation developed with each generation. This, Jacob predicted, was going to continue through Joseph “unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills”. Discounting the child of the bondwoman, Abraham had one son, Isaac, whose birth was a miracle, Heb. 11.11. Isaac, in his turn, besought God for children, Gen. 25. 21, and received twin boys. Jacob’s family could be divided into two bands, so greatly was he blessed. Joseph was to be the father of two tribes!
“On the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren’. God is no man’s debtor. He took up a seventeen year old youth, Gen. 37. 2, cut him off from family and friends, made him endure the rigours of slavery and the privation of prison. Yet the cost of every hardship was reimbursed bountifully, enabling Joseph to speak only of the wisdom and goodness of God, Gen. 45. 5-8.
As well as physical separation, and not having a common mother, Joseph was apart from his brothers morally. Again we sight the Saviour who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens",, Heb. 7. 26.
The Words of Moses. Where Jacob stopped, Moses took up the expanding blessing. Jacob bestowed the honour of the firstborn upon his favourite (younger) boy. Moses concerned himself with the prosperity of that inheritance; “he shall be like a tree planted”, Ps. 1.3.
“Blessed of the Lord be his land”, Deut. 33. 13. Moses particularized. He itemized the dew, the deep, the sun and moon, mountains and hills, “the earth and fulness thereof”. It would seem as though the whole world was to be a blessing to, and be blessed in, Joseph. And of course, in adopting this philosophy, Moses was in absolute accord with God’s design for the ages. Joseph, long ago, had authority over “all the earth”; Jesus, in a day yet to dawn, will hold universal sway as King of kings and Lord of lords.
In Egypt Joseph was given a new name, Zaphnath Paaneah, meaning “Revealer of secrets" or “Saviour of the world”. Famine, in Scripture, is linked with sin and apostasy. But when the famine covered the known world, Joseph opened all the storehouses. No one else could have dealt with the situation. Had it not been for “the dreamer”, death would have prevailed through many countries. As it was, the world was blessed. Turning to John 4 we have another desert scene. The only source of supply for the land that Joseph had obtained from his father was Jacob’s well, John 4. 5, and there sits the Revealer of secrets, v. 29, the Saviour of the world, y. 42; cf. i John 4. 14. The heart that does not quicken in the meditation of these things is cold indeed. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ"} Eph. 1.3.
“The good mil of him that dwelt in the bush"} Deut. 33. 16. Moses had been commissioned at the burning bush by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Exod. 3.6. For eighty years the motivation afforded him that day had never waned. He had learnt to speak with Jehovah as a man speaks with his friend. The aging leader now prophesied that this intimate relationship of goodwill was to be Joseph’s privilege. But Joseph was dead. His body had been placed in a chest in Egypt, and that very coffin was there in the camp as Moses spoke. It was not interred until about 24 years later. Moses must therefore have visualized God’s special attention going with Joseph’s descendants and maybe with Joshua in particular. It is surely not coincidental that it was Joshua, an Ephraimite, who led the children of Israel into the promised land, as predicted by his forefather Joseph, Gen. 50. 24; Heb. 11. 22.
“The firstling of his bullock, majesty is his; and his horns are the horns of the wild ox”, Deut. 33.17 r.v. Gideon, a descendant of Joseph, is a good example of those who exhibited these qualities. Under his leadership the Midianites were “pushed” out of the land.
The standard of the twin tribes of Joseph was an ox. No animal could better typify Joseph’s patient attitude, faithful diligence and obedient service. As God displays His beloved Son, He cries: “Behold… my servant, the Branch”, Zech. 3.8.
“To the ends of the earth”. The narrative recording Joseph’s pre-eminence in Egypt anticipates the world scene during the millennium, when all commerce and international trade will be headed up in the Saviour of the age, the Messiah of Israel, Pharaoh made Joseph “lord of his house”, Ps. 105. 21; “God hath made that same Jesus … both Lord and Christ”, Acts 2. 36.
The fourth gate of the city of God will be named after Joseph, Ezek. 48. 32. There the Lord shall reign, and Joseph’s ancient dreams will reach their ultimate fulfilment. The eleven brothers hated the suggestion of bowing down as humble sheaves to Joseph; Jacob was mystified at the notion of his deceased wife, himself and his family giving obeisance to one of his youngest children. But “God planned it for good”, Gen. 50. 20 Berkeley, as events proved. Still future, after a short mock Utopia, seven years of terrible dearth will come upon this world; and then the climax of those dreams will arrive. “All Israel shall be saved” and own allegiance to the One who is Lord of all. Hallelujah!