A King Who Did Not Know Joseph

ayear0845ocAn exit sign is important when you need to leave a room. The Book of Exodus recounts Israel leaving their slavery in Egypt. But it is not only an exit from Egypt. It is an exit in order to worship and have fellowship with their covenant God, first in the wilderness, then in the promised land. Exodus 1:1-14 sets the stage as it describes the rise of an Egyptian king who did not know Joseph.

What do you need to know about Joseph? Joseph, ill treated by his brothers, became the savior of Israel. Exodus begins with a series of names which connect you with the end of the first book, Genesis. Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 summarizes the treachery of the brothers which resulted in Joseph being sold as a slave into Egypt. Their terror, when they encountered him years later, as he was the ruler of Egypt, was countered by Joseph’s statement that they had intended their actions for evil, but God for good. His rise to power in Egypt brought salvation from starvation, for a famine had gripped, not just Egypt, but the surrounding area. Jacob and his sons move to Egypt kept them from being absorbed by the increasingly wicked Canaanites. Stephen reminds his audience of a betrayed, persecuted brother who brought deliverance for his people. Among the listeners was Saul of Tarsus, though it would be some time before the point of Stephen’s message sunk in.

Joseph was used by God to deliver Egypt and the world from famine. Although God’s primary purpose in bringing Joseph into Egypt and raising him, eventually, to a position of authority was to preserve the line of Abraham, the covenant people he had selected. But, for the sake of them, deliverance from famine was provided to the whole land of Egypt. And it was not limited to Egypt. Due to the storehouses of grain set aside during the fertile years, Egypt had grain to sell to people coming from other parts of the world as well. God often shows mercy to those who are still rebels against him—for the sake of his people who live among them.

What happened when the new king did not know about Joseph? The new Pharaoh saw the people of Israel as a threat. This Pharaoh (the name is really a title) did not know about Joseph. He was likely the first ruler in a new dynasty, and the memory of the wonderful deliverance through Joseph several hundred years earlier had become a lost memory. Meanwhile, the sons of Jacob had multiplied. The people had grown from the 70 who went into Egypt to a nation of 600,000 fighting men, perhaps a couple of million people.

The kingdom of this world is in conflict with the kingdom of God. Understandably, this Pharaoh saw Israel as a threat. Gone were the days of being honored. They were put to hard labor—and worse. But this is more than a Machiavellian plot to control a potential threat. Behind the decrees of Pharaoh lie the conflict that God had described just before our first parents left the Garden of Eden. The seed of the Serpent is trying to crush the Seed of the Woman. That conflict becomes more evident as the plagues take place.

Why did God give you the Book of Exodus? Exodus looks back to the promises God made in Genesis. Go back to the promise to Abraham as God made his covenant with him. Some of what was promised was being fulfilled in the events of the Exodus.

Exodus looks forward to God fulfilling those promises as Israel journeys to the promised land. In the near future, from the perspective of Exodus 1, God would be establishing his covenant with, not just an individual, but with the nation. The Exodus is deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but don’t forget what it is deliverance to. Israel is led out into the wilderness to worship JHWH, and then to the borders of the promised land, where a more permanent place of worship would be established. The glory of Eden would be represented in the structure of the Tabernacle. The Spirit of God who had moved over the face of the newly-created earth would reappear in a pillar of cloud and fire to lead his people to their promised destination.

Exodus anticipates the redemption God gives you in Christ. The Exodus defines you as God’s pilgrim people, Hebrews 3 & 4. You cannot begin to grasp Christ’s work of redemption until you study Exodus. What would John the Baptist’s cry, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” have meant had the people not had in mind the lamb sacrificed on the eve of the tenth plague? What would the Lord’s Supper mean without the Passover feast as setting and background? Even baptism has its antecedent in Israel being baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. The whole concept of a mediator between God and man is found in Moses, interceding for the people and speaking God’s Word to them. “[W]hat we read about in Exodus is the provisional deliverance of the people of God, the Church. In the light of the revelation that came later, we must read Exodus in the awareness that all was fulfilled in Christ. What we read in the second book of the Bible has to do with the deliverance of the Church—then and now.” (C. Vanderwaal, Search the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pp. 104-105).

Exodus is about more than a king who does not remember Joseph. It is about more than Joseph. It is about more than Moses. It is about the one who was transfigured on a mountain. According to Luke 9, Moses and Elijah appeared with him and discussed his departure, his own exodus, which he was about to make in Jerusalem. The Book of Exodus points you to trust in and to have fellowship with that Mediator.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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