March 14, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Joseph confronts his brothers in Egypt

John F. Fink(Tenth in a series of columns)

Last week’s column left the patriarch Joseph a slave of Potiphar, the chief steward of the Egyptian pharaoh. We pick up the story with chapter 39 of Genesis.

Joseph got along well with Potiphar, so well, in fact, that he was put in charge of his whole household. But Joseph was handsome, and soon Potiphar’s wife took notice. She tried to get him to sleep with her, but he refused.

“She tried to entice him day after day” (Gen 39:10), with no success. On one occasion, Joseph fled the house. The spurned woman then told Potiphar that Joseph had tried to lie with her. Enraged, Potiphar threw Joseph into the prison where royal prisoners were confined. Joseph soon made friends with the chief jailer.

Later, Pharaoh’s royal cupbearer and chief baker angered him and were thrown into prison. They each had a dream and Joseph interpreted its meaning—that the cupbearer would be restored to his position and the baker killed. That’s what happened.

Two years passed. Pharaoh had a dream, and then a second. He called the magicians and sages together and asked them to interpret the dreams. When none could do so, the cupbearer told Pharaoh about his experience with Joseph.

Joseph was brought into Pharaoh’s presence and asked to interpret the dream. He replied that it wouldn’t be he, but God who would give Pharaoh the right answer.

After Pharaoh described his dreams (in chapter 41), Joseph told him that both of them indicated that Egypt would have seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. He suggested that Pharaoh seek a wise man and put him in charge of the land so he could appoint overseers who would store the food during the seven good years.

Pharaoh was so impressed that he put Joseph in charge of the whole land of Egypt, second in rank only to Pharaoh himself. He also gave him in marriage to Asenath, daughter of an Egyptian priest. Joseph was then 30 years old.

During the next seven years, Joseph saw to it that food products were stored throughout Egypt. He and Asenath also had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. When the famine began, Pharaoh told the people to go to Joseph, who rationed the food that had been stored.

The famine affected Canaan, too. When Jacob learned that there was food in Egypt, he sent his 10 sons (all except Benjamin) down to procure some. Joseph, of course, immediately recognized them, but concealed his own identity and spoke to them through an interpreter. He accused them of being spies and threw them into prison.

After three days, he told them that one of them must remain in prison until the others returned with their youngest brother. Talking among themselves, and not realizing that Joseph could understand them, they said that they were being punished for what they did to Joseph.

Leaving Simeon behind, they returned home with food. When they emptied their sacks, they discovered the money they had taken for payment. †

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