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The Wise Leadership of Joseph

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Genesis 47:13–31; 48:1–22

Joseph was mistreated, imprisoned, and forgotten, yet he remained faithful to God, and in the end, God honored him and used him greatly. His life illustrates that our role is to remain always faithful to God and allow Him to work in and through us according to His timing.


At this point in our journey through the book of Genesis, we are given some insight into the wise leadership of Joseph during these days of famine. In chapter 47 verse 13 we read:


There was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine.


Remember, under Joseph’s direction, grain from seven bumper-crop years had been stored in massive granaries for this seven-year famine. 


The people are buying grain from the government of Egypt. Then we’re told that at some point, the people ran out of money, so they traded their livestock for grain. Now what’s left? 


Verses 18-19 tell us: 


[The people] said to [Joseph] . . . “There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land . . . Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die.”


Joseph now demonstrates compassion. He’s loyal to Pharaoh, but he’s not going to take advantage of the people. So, he creates a generous system for them as they farm the land. In verse 24 he says to them:


“At the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.”


Old Testament scholars believe this was a tax plan set up for the benefit of both Pharaoh and the people. Everyone essentially wins. In fact, verse 26 tells us that this system remained in force till the time of Moses, four hundred years later. I can’t imagine a tax plan working so well that you keep it running four hundred years. We change our tax plans every other year.


Keep in mind that this is also the perfect opportunity for Joseph to pad his own pockets—to follow the pattern of power that so many leaders have taken throughout history. But notice: Joseph’s plan gives the people seed and food for their families, and I love how he adds in verse 24, “and . . . for your little ones.”


No wonder the Egyptians loved and respected Joseph. Verse 25 tells us they said to him, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” In other words, “We’re going to be loyal Egyptian citizens out of sheer gratitude for your kindness and care for us.”


This wonderful truth is captured here in verse 27: 


Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly.


This confirms that God is keeping His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob is living in Egypt with his family, and just as God promised, his family is multiplying. When they leave Egypt some four hundred years later, this family of seventy will have become a nation of several million people.


If I could put this text into the form of a principle, it would be this: God’s promises have their own perfect timing.


If you’re worried today that God has forgotten to keep His promises to you, or somehow missed the deadline, He hasn’t. His timing is absolutely perfect. 


Verse 28 says, “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.” Not only has Jacob lived a long time, but this is the author’s way of alerting us to the fact that the age of the patriarchs—the era of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—is coming to a close. 


Jacob calls Joseph to his bedside and says to him in verse 29, “Do not bury me in Egypt.” He wants to be buried in the land of Canaan, the land God promised to his descendants, the nation Israel. This is more than Jacob just wanting a nice cemetery plot under a big oak tree. This is Jacob’s statement of faith: “Bury me in the land of promise. That’s where I belong.” 


Joseph agrees. But then Jacob here makes Joseph take an oath that he’ll keep his promise. I think that’s because Joseph’s been in Egypt all these years and Jacob’s probably wondering if some of Egypt has worn off on Joseph. But it hasn’t at all. Joseph will keep his word.


Genesis 48 focuses entirely on the future of the nation of Israel, and the narrative highlights the two sons of Joseph who were born in Egypt. Manasseh is the oldest, and Ephraim the youngest. More than likely, they’re both in their twenties at this point.


Joseph gets word that his father is dying, so he goes to his bedside with his two sons. Jacob, again called Israel here, speaks to Joseph and begins to recount the promises God made to him many years before.


Then in verse 5 he asks about his two grandsons and says to Joseph: 


“And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.”


With these words, Jacob is adopting these grandsons and making them equal to his own sons.


Joseph realizes his father is about to give a blessing to these two young men. So, he positions his oldest son, Manasseh, at Jacob’s right hand, which symbolizes the place of prominence; and Ephraim, his second-born, is placed at Jacob’s left hand (verse 13). But as Jacob begins to give his blessing, he suddenly crosses his hands, switching the greater blessing to the younger son.


When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know.” (verses 17-19) 


This was God’s direction to the old patriarch Jacob, who, you remember, was himself the second-born son who received the firstborn blessing. This was God’s plan. 


Let me put it this way: God’s plan often reverses our plans.


Sometimes God turns everything upside down in order to make everything right side up. Maybe you have some plan, some dream that’s been fading away, unfulfilled. Maybe God is keeping some door closed, or someone else received the blessing you wanted to have.


I remember applying to a church to become their pastor after my seminary studies were finished. This little church was interested. Everything was the right fit. My wife and I visited several times, and I preached and met with the leadership. My wife had recently delivered our twin boys, and we were ready to settle in and begin our new ministry. But then a week after graduation, the church sent me their decision; they weren’t interested after all. Frankly, we didn’t know what to do. 


A few months later God moved our hearts in an entirely different direction, and we ended up planting from scratch a church where we have served for nearly 40 years. 


I like to say that when God closes a door, He opens a window. We climbed through that window and learned what Joseph learned here: God’s thoughts and plans aren’t necessarily our thoughts and plans. 


Sometimes doors remain shut, and God opens a window to something entirely different.

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