God’s Plan: Salvation Through Slavery

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Have you ever noticed that the hardest passages of scripture tend to be the ones that call us to the greatest commitment to Christ? I was reminded of this after reading the closing chapters of Genesis.

In the Bible’s story of Joseph we see a man with incredible integrity, a man of great character. We admire him when he rejects the advances of Potiphar’s wife. We are impressed by his commitment to do what is right no matter the cost—even many years in prison. We are amazed when he stands before Pharaoh to interpret dreams but he never complains about being imprisoned unjustly. We admire his cunning and tact when he confronts his brothers and professes his tender love and forgiveness for having sold him into slavery.

How many times have you heard a sermon on the life of Joseph and the things just cited above? Probably more than you can count. But the chances are that you’ve never, or perhaps almost never heard a sermon on Genesis 47 when Joseph, that humble, just, man of God sells all of Egypt into slavery.

Yes, that’s right, Joseph sold Egypt into slavery.

Joseph is one of those people in the scripture that we refer to as a “type” for Christ. His innocence and suffering and his rise to power are all marks of what would come centuries later in the life of Jesus. His is one of only two people in the Old Testament whose sin is never mentioned (Daniel is the other).

So how can such a wonderful example of a man, of man of great integrity, a man with firsthand knowledge of what it was like to be a slave, a prisoner, and even a great ruler—how can this high and lofty figure have sold Egypt into slavery? Recall Genesis 47:13-26. The seven-year famine was long from over. The people of Egypt cried out to Joseph for food. Once the money was depleted Joseph offered them grain for their land and animals. Eventually even that was not enough and the Egyptians sold themselves to Pharaoh in exchange for food. When the deal was concluded the Egyptian people said the most important thing in the chapter, possibly in the whole story of Joseph, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.”

If the life of Joseph is a type for the Christ to come then this small story near the end of Genesis equally tells us something about our relationship to Jesus. Just as Joseph had saved their lives so too Jesus has saved our lives—eternally, from sure damnation. Here we see the commitment one must make to walk under the care and name of Jesus. Through the work of Joseph, the Egyptian people and all they possessed belonged to Pharaoh. So too, our lives, all we have and all we are, belong to God through Jesus Christ. He has saved our lives and we are his servants. Without Joseph the famine would have ravaged the people. So too, without Jesus sin would have ravaged us. We are set free from our sin by God’s provision through Christ just as the Egyptians were set free from the famine through Joseph’s provision for the nation.

What kind of commitment do you have to Jesus? Is he your friend, your buddy, the big guy upstairs? Or is your commitment to Christ of a more serious nature? He may call us his friends as he did Abraham. But our attitude toward Christ should be like that of the Egyptians to Joseph and Pharaoh. Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.

Genesis 47 can be a difficult chapter. But it does not mark an error or oppression of the Egyptians by Joseph. It is a picture, a type for Christ who requires from us a commitment no less greater than that made by the Egyptians.

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