In my last post I talked about how Joseph’s brothers were given a second chance. They had acted in the most appalling way when they sold their younger brother Joseph and then deceived their father. Having then lived with the consequences of their actions for more than 20 years, they were placed in an almost identical situation, as a test to determine whether they had changed.
Emphatically they had, and Joseph wept for joy when he saw them for who they had become, and then revealed himself to them.
In like manner we are given opportunities in our lives to test whether our determination to change and grow closer to the Saviour is deep-seated and can withstand trial. And always He stands ready to forgive, weeping for joy over “…the soul that repenteth.” (D&C 18:13)
In this way, Joseph of Egypt stands as a “type” of Christ, serving to teach us of His atoning mercy and grace.
But there are many other ways in which Joseph is a “type” of Christ. Much of the following list may not be new for many people, but I find it worthwhile to remind myself of these symbols before I go on to think about the next aspect of the story.
So consider the following:
One writer has further described beautifully the symbolism as Pharaoh elevates Joseph,
“Joseph had lost everything and descended below all; now he is Restored, given retribution many times over, provided and equipped with power and authority. He stands the worthy replacement, substitute, likeness of the king himself, clothed and endowed with power.”
Ultimately, his elevation to power enabled him to save not just his family, but “all countries” from the famine, and this leads me on to the next point.
Through Joseph it was revealed that there would be a severe famine, and this enabled him to prepare Egypt, but there are a few interesting points here.
Firstly, the Biblical story is explicitly about a literal famine that would have caused vast numbers of people to die through lack of food. But life’s famines aren’t all about food. We may have both times of plenty as well as famines of our physical health, or our emotional wellbeing, or of our spiritual capacity. I think it is worth pondering what constitutes a time of plenty in each of these areas, and how we can gather it so we can be better prepared for the famines.
Secondly, while Joseph and Pharaoh may have known there would be 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine, it’s not clear whether the general population of Egypt knew, and certainly the surrounding countries didn’t know.
Joseph’s father, Jacob, was righteous – one of our covenant fathers in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – but he didn’t know about the time of plenty followed by the time of famine. By two years into the famine he had already sent his sons to Egypt twice because they were running out of food. So, life’s famines come to us all, regardless of how righteous we are.
Finally, although we are expected to do all we can to build up sufficient reserves in each part of our life for the famines that will inevitably come, our own lives are not conveniently split into 50% good times and 50% bad, with predictable timescales for each. The Saviour’s words, “I will not leave you comfortless” (John 14:18) are important precisely because we all need comfort. Our covenant promises to bear one another’s burdens and comfort those that stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:8-9) are important because we all have burdens and need support.
Despite the fact that Jacob was a prophet, he could not sustain himself or his family without help. But, there was one he could go to who would provide. “And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn.” (Genesis 41:57)
And that, for me, is one of the key messages of this story. Though you and I are required to try, it is an inevitability that we will fall short in our preparations. One famine or another will become too much for us. We are simply not capable of sustaining ourselves on our own (see Alma 26:12).
But, there is One who has sufficient; One who can make up any shortfall, whether great or small. Just as all countries went in to Joseph, so all of us need to come unto Jesus, who has finished all necessary preparations, and who is anxiously awaiting us.
There is a beautiful verse near the end of Genesis, where Joseph is speaking to his family, still getting used to a strange land with strange customs, and unsure about whether they had made the right decision to trust their younger brother, “Now therefore fear ye not; I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them…” (Genesis 50:21) What a beautiful message on which to finish the Old Testament’s first book.
As I look back across the story of Joseph in Egypt, I see a story of high drama. There are (at least attempted) love triangles, sibling rivalry, violence, false accusations resulting in imprisonment, deceit and trickery, rise to tremendous power and privilege, and dramatic rescue. It has all the elements needed for a great Hollywood film.
But it is ultimately not a story about Hollywood-style drama – but is rather about the drama of our souls. Ultimately it is a story that teaches that no matter our past we can repent; that there is One there who stands ready to forgive. It is a story that though we should do our best to prepare, we need not fear when our preparations fail, as they must; for there is One there who stands ready to provide and to save.
It is not ultimately a story about Joseph and his family; it is a story about Christ and His family. And the message He gives to us all is, “Now therefore fear ye not; I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them…” (Genesis 50:21)