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Sticking up for Jacob (7) - Joseph

G Hutchinson, Belfast

The father-son relationship receives its fair share of coverage in the Scriptures, principally to make known to us an eternal truth about the Godhead. In this most basic of family relationships we are taught, for example, that prudent conduct on the part of the son is the primary ingredient for a happy father (Prov 10.1). The book of Genesis particularly describes this relationship and, subsequent to the creation account, entrance of sin, and the associated judgment, it focuses on the four principal characters of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and their sons. Of special interest in this article is the affection felt by Jacob for his first son from Rachel – Joseph. The central point is that Joseph’s exemplary character, a fact almost universally acclaimed, is, in measure, due to his father.

The setting

Even as a very young believer I recall able Bible expositors taking us on the "Egypt to Canaan" journey, highlighting the lessons to be gleaned from the children of Israel’s protracted approach to the Promised Land. Regrettably, the original journey – "from Canaan to Egypt" – was, for me, a little less emphasised, although it is of no less significance. The relationship between Jacob and Joseph is of particular importance here, for the latter was to prepare the way for his father’s entry into Egypt (Gen 45.7-8; Ps 105.17). Of all Jacob’s sons only Joseph had the necessary temperament to resist the temptations of the foreign land. God is always looking for believers to take steps into uncharted territory, but the question is do we, like Joseph, fit the bill? Given the earlier promises (Gen 28.13), and the experiences of his grandfather Abraham in 12.10-20, it was no doubt difficult for Jacob to make the move into Egypt, but God, in grace, gave the necessary reassurances via circumstances and His word (Gen 45.27; 46.1-4).

The double repetition of Jacob’s name (46.2) is again similar to the experience of his grandfather as he was about to slay his son in obedience to the will of God (22.11). At times Scripture highlights important landmarks in the lives of certain characters and in particular occasions when they received a "double call" from heaven (consider some New Testament references such as Luke 10.41 and Acts 9.4). What is clear from Jacob’s experience is that each step the believer takes should have the backing of Scripture – that is one of its functions, see Psalm 119.105 – and the collaboration of circumstances as they are ordained by God. Furthermore, this step was of such importance that family documentation was vital (Gen 46.5-27; Ex 1.5): there were 70 inclusive of Jacob, Joseph and his family already in Egypt. The number seems to be particularly important for the nation (Num 11.16; 2 Chr 36.21; Dan 9.24; Lk 10.1). Once arrived in Egypt the aged patriarch was allocated the territory of Goshen (Gen 46.28-34), illustrating the twin truths of God’s provision and the believer’s distinctiveness from the world. Jacob’s family was also protected by Joseph during the famine, and the narrative indicates that whilst the provision was necessarily measured it was directed, in the first instance, to Jacob (Gen 47.12). Finally, the growth of the family during their Egyptian sojourn illustrates the spiritual principle that progress only occurs when we are in the will of God (Gen 45.26), even though that may bring adversity (Ex 1.12).

The sojourn

To elicit yet more practical truths from this phase of Jacob’s life it is necessary to have a little further consideration of his pathway. Clearly he faced many difficulties, and some were even of his own making. Initially we return to a theme already covered in this series, namely the favouritism within the home (Gen 37.3). No matter how much Joseph merited his father’s attention, it is a surprise that Jacob displays the degree of partiality that he does, not least because he knew the heartaches caused by favouritism (Gen 25.28). Jacob’s deception by his children is also a further enactment of history. As he deceived his father (Isaac) with a coat (Gen 27.15-16) so his own children did the same with him (Gen 37.31-33). There is certainly some support for the phrase that we hear from time to time in the workplace – "What goes round comes round" – and Jacob is proof that we reap what we sow (Gal 6.7).

Then, as the famine begins to bite in Canaan, Jacob has to cajole his remaining children into action (Gen 42.1-2; 43.1-2). This incident teaches the important lesson that in a local assembly burdens are to be borne by all, not just by the elders. There can be little doubt that Jacob had one of the more difficult pilgrimages of the patriarchs, a point he himself is quick to highlight in Genesis 42.36 (though note the language of Romans 8.28 that the believer can adopt in difficult circumstances). However, at the end of his life as he reflected on his walk Jacob bore testimony to the abiding goodness of God (Gen 48.15). Only divine sovereignty could arrange for Jacob to be given seventeen happy years with Joseph in Egypt (Gen 47.28), the same period he had with him in Canaan (Gen 37.2)! The believer’s presence in heaven will give us the opportunity to worship God, especially with the benefit of hindsight as we recognise His protecting hand during our earthly sojourn.

The son

Returning to the primary focus of this article, namely the extent to which Joseph’s character is a reflection of his father’s, there are a variety of interesting parallels to be drawn. Initially we note that the family is similar, for the homes in which Jacob and Joseph were raised were both riddled with envy that developed into murderous intent amongst their brethren (Gen 27.41; 37.18; Acts 7.9). Harbouring sin in the heart will cause it to fester and to bring forth a kaleidoscope of other sins (Mk 7.21-22) and it is therefore incumbent on us to deal firmly with the flesh. The period of adversity for Jacob and Joseph is remarkably similar. Jacob had over twenty years separated from his home (Gen 31.41) and Joseph endured the same period (Gen 37.2; 41.46-47; 45.11). Given their depth of character, their problems were ultimately beneficial and reflect the teaching of Paul in 2 Timothy 3.12.

The two men were also characterised by industry, and their respective employers, Laban (Gen 30.27) and Potiphar (Gen 39.3), discerned that the blessing of Jehovah flowed through them. God’s intention for His own is that they become model employees who win the respect of peers and employers alike (Eph 6.5).

Another similarity between Jacob and Joseph is that they placed an equal premium on their testimony (Gen 34.30; 39.10-12): the present-day believer ought to walk before the world with a godly character. In this context, I remember a brother once relaying a pearl of wisdom that has remained with me for years – the Christian testimony is the hardest in the world to develop but the easiest to lose. Believers should make their testimony a focus for care and attention.

Also, both men were quick to acknowledge God’s power in their lives (Gen 33.5,11; 41.16,25,28), and it is therefore important that we replicate the humility of Jacob and Joseph. As Frank Knox once remarked, the believer should be those who "Go slow, keep low, and don’t blow"!

Then, whilst both were raised in divided homes, the ultimate conclusion was unity with their respective brothers (Gen 33.4; 35.39; 45.14-15). God’s intention remains that His people dwell together in unity (Ps 133.1).

Finally, with their joint inclusion in Hebrews 11 (vv.21-22), they were alike in their spirituality. Both displayed remarkable faith in God which was particularly evident in the manner of their death. In summary, Jacob and Joseph are a positive example of the adage, "Like father, like son"!

The sovereign

In conclusion, it is worthwhile dwelling briefly on the interview Joseph arranged between Jacob and Pharaoh (Gen 47.7-10). Without embarrassment, Joseph eagerly arranges for his aged father to meet the potentate of Egypt. With a focus on Jacob, a number of interesting features emerge. Jacob’s position is a marvel as the shepherd from Canaan now finds himself before the mightiest ruler in the then known world with his son as second in command! Though we may initially marvel at Jacob’s elevation, this was the result of God’s gracious overruling. Our own spiritual privileges in Christ transcend even those of Jacob. For example, we can, at any stage of the day, enter the throne-room of the supreme ruler of the universe (Heb 4.16)! Jacob’s provision is also remarkable, for he blesses Pharaoh (Gen 47.7,10) and by so doing displays, from God’s perspective, which of the two men was the greater (Heb 7.7)! To assess true greatness we want to be guided by God and His Word (Mk 10.43-45).

To be continued.

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