The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis is a profound prophecy of God’s plan to bring together Israel and the nations. In the story Joseph is the favorite son of his father Israel. As the favorite son he was given divine dreams that his brothers, father, and mother will all bow down to him one day. Because of extreme envy, Joseph’s brothers end up selling him in slavery to the gentiles. However, Joseph stayed faithful to God and labored in Egypt. At the right time he was exalted and given tremendous power and authority in Egypt. In the process He married an Egyptian woman and labored to help save Egypt.
After some time, the land of Canaan came under pressure from a 7-year famine and Joseph’s family was forced to go down to Egypt to get grain to survive. Joseph was the one who had preserved Egypt’s food supply and his family’s need to get food eventually reunited the family. By the end of the story, Joseph recognized that his work in Egypt was ultimately designed by God not just to save Egypt but also to save the descendants of Israel.
Joseph’s life illustrates how God uses His unique plan of election to fulfill His promises. Joseph was chosen from among His brothers for special honor. That choice caused his brothers to respond in envy, but it was ultimately for the good of the entire family. Because God choose Joseph the entire family was saved.
The life of Joseph is intended to parallel the story of the gospel for us.
Jesus was born as Israel’s greatest son and one day all Israel will bow down to Him. Even the great fathers of Israel like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will all bow down to Him. Like Joseph, Jesus was rejected by His brothers. Though many in Israel did follow Him (the first apostles were all Jewish), the nation as a whole rejected Jesus and Paul tells us that this rejection resulted in the gospel being spread among the gentiles (Romans 11:11). In the same way that Joseph’s brothers ended up saving Egypt by selling their brother into slavery, Israel’s rejection of Jesus has been used by God to release salvation in the nations.
While Jesus has never abandoned the Jewish people and there has always been a saved remnant, there is a sense in which the gospel has primarily expanded in “Egypt” or among the gentiles for 2,000 years. Just as Joseph joined himself to an Egyptian wife, Jesus has also taken a gentile bride from the nations and joined Himself to her.
However, just as Joseph’s labor in Egypt ultimately served to save his family, we also find in the Scripture that Jesus’ labor among the nations to draw a people to Himself is going to ultimately serve His purpose of restoring Israel to relationship with Him. Just as Joseph’s time in Egypt served to rescue his brothers and restore his relationship with them, so also Jesus labor among the nations is going to ultimately serve to restore Israel to right relationship with Him and preserve Israel when it faces another 7-year trial in the future.
Not only will there be a relational restoration, there will also be physical provision during this trial. Joseph used the harvest of Egypt to make provision for Israel. In the same way, the harvest in the gentile nations is going to make provision for Israel during the great tribulation. In the process of distributing food during the famine, Joseph used the opportunity to purchase all of Egypt for Pharaoh. The end result of the famine that should have been catastrophic for Pharaoh was that Pharaoh ended up owning everything. In the same way, Jesus is going to use the end of the age, which seems disastrous at first glance, to bring everything on earth under His ownership so that He can ultimately hand it over to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24).
Joseph’s story is a stunning prophecy of Jesus’ life, ministry among the nations, and ultimate intention for Israel. It illustrates how the story of Israel and the gentiles is deeply intertwined because Joseph’s life serves to save both Egypt and Israel. In the same way, Jesus’ activity in the nations – what we call the Great Commission – will ultimately serve to save the nations and Israel. Joseph’s story also gives us tremendous insight into how Israel and the nations are joined together during the end of the age.
Zechariah 12:10-12, in particular draws from the imagery of Joseph’s life to predict Israel’s end time restoration. Hosea 5:15 also draws from the imagery of Joseph to more specifically prophecy how Israel’s greater Joseph will ultimately resolve Israel’s situation:
15I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me. (Hosea 5:15 ESV)
The fact that God so deeply invested in the story of Joseph to give us a picture of Israel’s coming deliverance and restoration tells us just how important it is to God. What a day that will be when Israel is restored. The apostle Paul summarizes that day well:
15…what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 ESV)