From Isaac to Joseph
Genesis 37:1-50:26


God Prepares a Nation

Up to this point the major points in Genesis have been (1) God has used Jesus to create us that we might become sons and daughters of God, (2) in the Garden of Eden because of our sin we have fallen beneath the terrible curse of death, and (3) with the coming of Abraham God has begun the process of lifting the curse which will be lifted up completely and permanently by Jesus.

Most of the time when we speak, our words have only one meaning. God though is so rich that whenever He speaks, His words may have more than one meaning. For example, we saw that when God promised to bless Abraham and his seed, He was referring primarily to Abraham AND TO JESUS. Yet whereas the word "seed" can refer to only one seed, it can also be used to refer to many seeds; for example, you normally say, "A bag of seed," not "A bag of seeds." In this second sense God several times tells Abraham that his seed will be as numerous as the stars in heaven or as the sand on the seashore. In this second sense God is speaking about Abraham and his descendants, the Jewish people. God is raising up this nation so that He can use them to reveal Himself to the world. According to Gen. 15:13 what is going to happen to Abraham's descendants, the Jews, for 400 years?

What will happen after the 400 years are over (Gen. 15:14)?

The story of Joseph informs us about the way God fulfills this promise.

God's Sovereignty

One side issue we saw in the story of Abraham and Isaac AND that continues in the story of Joseph is that of God's sovereignty. Although Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands which led to the birth of Ishmael, God was not restricted to their actions. Because He is sovereign (free), He chose to raise up a son by performing a miracle in both Sarah's and Abraham's bodies.

This theme continues in the story of Isaac's 2 sons, Esau the older son and Jacob the younger son. Even before Esau and Jacob were born, while they were in their mother's womb, even before either of them had done anything good or bad, God chose Jacob to be the one to receive the blessing God had given to Abraham. Because of custom you would have thought God would have chosen the older son Esau to be the recipient of God's blessing; God though is not determined by human custom. He is free, and because He is free, He chooses the younger son Jacob over the older son Esau. God is not going to curse Esau; as a matter of fact God makes of Esau's descendants a great nation which will live to the southeast of Israel, the land of Edom. It's just that Jacob and not Esau was the one God chose to be the recipient of Abraham's blessing (see Rom. 9:6-13), to be the ancestor of Jesus.

Too often good Christians have misunderstood this and applied it to salvation. They claim that just like God chose Jacob and rejected Esau, so God today still chooses some for salvation and rejects the rest, sending them to damnation. That is not what the passage is about though; it is NOT about salvation. It is about who will be Jesus' ancestor and the father of the nation God will use to reveal Himself to the world. It is NOT about salvation though.

A similar situation to that between Jacob and Esau is that between Peter and John in John 21. After Jesus tells Peter that he is going to suffer martyrdom for Jesus' sake, Peter turns around and asks Him what is going to happen to John. Apparently Peter is afraid that John is going to get better treatment than him, and he does not think that is fair. Jesus' statement though is telling: "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you. You follow Me" (John 21:22). Or to put it another way: "Mind your own business. What happens to John is between John and Me; it has nothing to do with you. You just keep following Me."

Since Jesus is sovereign, He has the right to design a plan for you and for me which may not be for anybody else. On the surface His plan for somebody else might seem better than the plan He has specifically for me. The other plan may even be better. That doesn't matter though. I should not concern myself with anybody else's plan. All I have to worry about is the plan Jesus has for me. When it is all said and done though, I can trust Jesus that He loves me so much that His plan is perfect for me, my family, and my church.


From Isaac to Joseph (Gen. 23:1-26:43)

Just a quick survey of what happens between the time of Abraham and Joseph. Abraham had 2 sons: Ishamel by Hagar the slave and Isaac by Sarah. God chooses Isaac to inherit the blessing and promise God had given to Abraham. Like Abraham Isaac also had 2 sons; however, whereas Abraham's 2 sons had different mothers, both of Isaac's sons were by the same woman Rebekah. God chooses the younger son Jacob over the older son Esau to receive the Abrahamic blessing and promise. (Remember that He is sovereign.) Jacob goes on to have 12 sons by means of his 2 wives and 2 concubines. These 12 sons will be called the "sons of Israel" and the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel: Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Dan, and Benjamin.

(Although there are wonderful stories about all these characters between the time of Abraham and Joseph, they do not serve our purpose of studying the OT the way the apostles taught it. The story of Joseph, on the other hand, does.)

To appreciate fully the story of Joseph, we need to look at a prediction God had made to Abraham after He had promised to make of him a great nation. What was that promise (Gen. 15:13-14)?

The story of Joseph is going to bring that prophecy to fulfillment.

Joseph is Rejected by His Brothers (Gen. 37:1-36)

Whereas Jacob had 12 sons, he favored the 2 youngest, Joseph and Benjamin because they were the only offspring of his favorite wife, Rachel, who died giving birth to Benjamin. At first Jacob shows favoritism to Joseph by bestowing upon Joseph a coat of many colors. As if this would not make Joseph's brothers angry enough, what did Joseph share with them which made them even madder (Gen. 37:5-11)?

The brothers are so angry at Joseph that if given the opportunity, they will get rid of him. That opportunity comes whenever the brothers head north with the sheep and Jacob sends Joseph to check on them. What happens (Gen. 37:12-36)?

God Exalts Joseph (Gen. 39:1-41:40)

Once more we see God's sovereignty and power at work whenever Joseph arrives in Egypt to be sold as a slave. Joseph is faithful to God by using his skills to advance his new master's welfare. How does God exalt Joseph (Gen. 39:1-6)?

Disaster strikes though whenever Potiphar's wife gets the hots for Joseph. After Joseph repeatedly rejects her advances, she finally throws herself at Joseph. After Joseph flees from her, how does she respond and what does Potiphar do (Gen. 39:7-20)?

God once more shows that He is not restricted by what others do. While Joseph is in prison, he once more uses his gift of administration to further the welfare of those around him. (Joseph is truly remarkable in that he not once ever becomes bitter. Rejected by his brothers and slandered by a woman in heat, he nevertheless keeps being faithful to God by doing the best he could in every situation.) How does God respond to Joseph's situation (Gen. 39:21-23)?

God will then use one of Pharaoh's officials (the cupbearer) to exalt Joseph. Joseph will go on to become 2nd in charge of the entire nation of Egypt. (Whereas it might seem strange to us that a foreigner would rise to such a position, we need to understand that at that time foreigners actually ruled Egypt, the Hyksos from Libya, just to the west of Egypt. This foreign Pharaoh would have welcomed another foreigner into his court.)

God had a purpose though in exalting Joseph. When a famine hits Egypt, Joseph's family who don't know he's even alive eventually receive help from Joseph. Jacob sends all 11 of his sons except for Benjamin to Egypt to get help. When Joseph realizes they are his brothers, he remains in disguise until he can determine that they are truly changed men. Upon discovering that they have changed, he reveals himself to them as their brother. He then arranges for all the family, including his father Jacob, to come to Egypt in order to live there. At this time how many people made up the entire family of Jacob (Gen. 46:26)? This number though does not include Joseph's family; according to Acts 7:14, how many made up Jacob's entire family?)

Why would God have His people spend 400 years in the land of Egypt, especially Goshen? First, Goshen was more secluded from the ancient pagan world than Canaan was. Canaan was actually at the crossroads of the ancient world because the caravans from China and the Middle East passed through Canaan on their way to Egypt, and vice versa. The Jews would have constantly been flooded by the filth of paganism if they had remained in Canaan. Instead in Goshen they were off the main highway. Second, Goshen was one of the most fertile parts in Egypt, as opposed to Canaan which is always just a few inches of rain short of being a desert. This would allow this group of 70 people actually to become the great nation God wants them to be. For the next 400 years God will quietly be working His plan by developing them into a great nation.

It is interesting that all this takes place in 400 years. Another 400-year period of silence is going to occur. After the prophet Malachi (last of the OT books) is written, God is silent for the next 400 years. It's not that He was not doing anything. In fact He was. He was preparing the world for the coming of the Savior, Jesus. Don't be misled into thinking God's silence doesn't mean He isn't working. He is. In both of these case God was preparing the events for the greatest salvation we and the nation of Israel have ever known. In the same way God's silence in your life may mean that He is about to do something marvelous in your life.


The lesson the apostles draw from the story of Joseph is not the one we were expecting. Whereas the author of Hebrews shows that once more Joseph was a man of faith by predicting that the Israelites would carry his bones back to the land of Canaan for burial, that is not the main use of Joseph in the NT. The main principle drawn from the life of Joseph is found in Acts 7. Stephen, the first Christian deacon, is hauled before the Jewish Supreme Court (the Sanhedrin) and accused of blasphemy against God and against the Temple. Actually, they are attacking him because of his allegiance to Jesus.

It is necessary to note that one of the major themes the NT deals with is that of the nation of Israel rejecting Jesus, the One God sent to be Israel's king. The Jews claimed that since the Jews God's chosen people rejected Jesus, then surely He could not have been the Messiah, the One sent from God to save His people. What Stephen does is this: he uses both Joseph and Moses as evidence that Jesus was sent from God.

According to Stephen how did 10 of the 12 patriarchs treat Joseph (Acts 7:9)?

According to Stephen although Moses realized that God had chosen him to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, how did the Israelites respond to Moses (Acts 7:25-29)?

Later when Moses led the children of Israel through the wilderness, how did they treat Moses (Acts 7:39)?

Later we will study about the tabernacle Moses built for the Israelites in the wilderness so that they could worship God. How did they treat the tabernacle though (Acts 7:41-43, see especially verse 43)?

What conclusion does Stephen draw about the Israelites from this brief survey of their history (Acts 7:52)?

Was this conclusion true only about the Jews of OT days or was it also true of the Jews of Jesus' day (Acts 7:52)?

In fact according to Stephen what kind of relationship did the Jews of Jesus' day have with the Jews of OT days (7:51)? Master/slave, friend/friend, father/son? (This kind of relationship between the Jews of the OT and the Jews of Jesus' day shows you how similar the 2 groups were.

Stephen most likely did NOT come up with this view of Jewish history on his own. Jesus tells a parable which illustrates the same point: the Jews rejected Jesus because they nearly always rejected God's man in OT days.

In the following parable the vineyard is most likely the privileges the people of God enjoy because they are His. The keepers of the vineyard are most likely the Jewish people who are following their religious leaders. How do the keepers of the vineyard treat the messengers God sends to them (Matt. 21:33-40)?

In this brief statement Jesus summarizes the way the Jewish people primarily treated God's messengers. It would have been out of character for the Jews if they HAD accepted Jesus as being sent from God. How does God think that the Jews will treat His Son (Matt. 21:37)?

Yet how did the keepers of the vineyard treat the Son, Jesus (Matt. 21:38-40)?

The mistake most people make in this issue is that their logic is all fouled up. They claim (rightly) that the Jews are God's chosen people. Next they claim that as God's chosen people the Jews should have recognized and accepted God's Messiah. Then they claim (wrongly) that the Jews WOULD have recognized and accepted God's Messiah. That's where they go wrong. Although the Jews should have, they did not. In fact their past history shows you that they did not accept God's man.

The truth is the fact that the Jews rejected Jesus argues MORE for His claim that He is God's Son than if they had accepted Jesus. The Jews had so consistently rejected God's messengers, if they had accepted Jesus, then He most likely would NOT have been from God.

The truth is that simply because God's people do not accept a person does not mean that person is not God's man or woman. The fact is that as God vindicated Joseph and Moses, so in due time God will vindicate His messengers, His people. Just give God time. In due time we will know whether that person is or is not from God.

In spite of the way the Jews have rejected Jesus, God still calls them His chosen people. Although they must be saved like everybody else by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, God nevertheless has His hand upon them. The primary reason He continues to work among them is His promise to Abraham. When God in the smoking oven passed through the slaughtered animals, He passed between the animals ALONE. In other words, the covenant ultimately was not based upon the faithfulness of the Jews, it was based upon God's faithfulness. During the past 2000 years although they have rejected Jesus, God continues to keep them together as a people to work among them (Rom. 11:28-29). In the 1800's when Disraeli the Jewish Prime Minister of Great Britain was asked how he could prove there was a God, he pointed to the existence of the Jewish people. For 1900 years they were without a country and yet they remained together as a people, a true miracle which could have only come from God. He has held them together as a people so that He might work among them again.

These truths do not apply simply to the Jewish people. Whereas the Jewish race is the only race God has promised to preserve, He has promised to preserve His people, that is, His sons and daughters regardless of their race. The reason He always perseveres with us is that we ARE His sons and daughters. Nathan and Molly may one day reject me; however, I will NEVER reject them. The relationship of a parent to his/her child is permanent. No matter what happens, Nathan will always be my son and Molly will always be my daughter. In the same way because God is truly our father, we will always be His sons and always be His daughters. Just like good parents discipline their children whenever they go astray, so our perfect heavenly Father will discipline--sometimes even severely--His children; yet they remain forever His children. We would be wise not to take advantage of His commitment to us, but rather we should be faithful and enjoy the relationship with the Father Jesus died to give us.