The remarkable story of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt is not just another rags-to-riches story. Fundamentally, the story is about how the Lord created a nation out of a troubled family.
Jacob’s family was plagued by jealousy. Rachel envied Leah, and Leah envied Rachel (Genesis 30:1). Leah’s sons inherited this pattern of jealousy. They envied Joseph so much that they sold him as a slave (Genesis 37:28). It may even be that Reuben abused Bilhah because of jealousy toward Benjamin (Genesis 35:18–22). Also, the family was separating. After Joseph was sold into slavery, Judah left the family, associated with the Canaanites, and married a Canaanite woman (Genesis 38:1–3). Simeon followed Judah’s lead by also taking a Canaanite wife (Genesis 46:10). With these jealousies and divisions, Jacob’s family, the family of God’s eternal promises (Genesis 12:1–3), was becoming more and more like the pagan Canaanite community around them.
But the Lord did not let the troubles of this family thwart His good purposes. He had promised to shape a great nation from it—a nation that would spread His blessings to the whole earth (Genesis 12:1–3). Jacob’s family was divided, but God worked the events so that the family was reunited. Through a remarkable series of circumstances, God elevated Joseph from the position of slave and prisoner to administrator of Egypt, Pharaoh’s righthand man. God transformed the evil plans of Joseph’s brothers into something good (Genesis 37:19–28; 50:20). As the administrator of the Egyptians’ plan to survive the coming famine, Joseph could save the lives of many people in the world. With his new name, Zaphnath-Paaneah (“The God Speaks and Lives”), and his remarkable story, Joseph could witness to these people about the power and goodness of the living God (Genesis 41:45).
But God’s good plan did not end there. God used the physical hardship of famine to reunite Israel’s family. When Joseph’s brothers saw him, not only did they express sorrow for their former evil actions (Genesis 42:21; 45:5), but they demonstrated a new loyalty to their other half brother, Benjamin. Judah, who had left the family before (Genesis 38:1), begged for Benjamin’s life, even at the cost of his own freedom (44:18–34). The reunion of the family and the pressures of famine prompted Jacob to move closer to Egypt, to the land of Goshen. God used the evil attitudes of the Egyptians—their hatred of shepherds—to isolate the family there (Genesis 43:32; 46:34). In this isolation, God could develop a nation dedicated to worshiping and obeying Him.
In all the exceptional events of Joseph’s story, God remained faithful to His promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). He created a great nation out of Jacob’s family through a maze of human jealousy, family divisions, and racial hatred (Genesis 50:20).