BIBLE STUDY SERIES #44, 45 and 46

30 August, 1992

IDENTITY REVEALED

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

One of the most dramatic themes available to an author who wishes to enhance a story's appeal is that in which, at a powerful and satisfying climax, the true identity of someone or something, previously hidden, is finally revealed or recognized.

When reading a book or viewing a play or a motion picture, many of us must, I think, have shared the experience of knowing the secret identity of a hero or heroine; one whose identity continues to be hidden from the rest of the characters in the story until the final chapter.

As I pondered how I might approach today's Bible study, which involves this theme, I was reminded of a number of near parallels in the world of the raconteur: comic-book heroes like Superman, and also of a youth-oriented T.V. series which draws upon the concept occurred to me.

There came to mind a motion picture in which the hero, after undertaking a series of daring under-cover exploits, returns four white feathers, one by one, to those who, by presenting these symbols to him, had accused him of cowardice. This same latent theme of a hidden identity lies at the base of the plot of many a spy novel, as premature discovery of the hero's identity continues to be narrowly averted throughout the account.

In "The Merchant of Venice", we find that Shakespeare makes use of it. In that play, Portia and her maid Narissa present rings to their husbands who swear to retain those symbols of fidelity forever. Later, in disguise as lawyer and assistant, and thus un-recognized by the husbands, Portia and Narissa arrive in court to mount a successful defence of the debtor, Antonio, their husbands' friend, for which service they both demand and obtain the rings which the husbands had previously received. The happy interplay of double meaning, understood by the audience but not the husbands makes for a light-hearted conclusion to the play as their identities are finally revealed.

As we turn, once again, to our sequence of Bible studies, we find this theme of a hidden identity has developed in the real-life story of Joseph and his brothers. The climax to that beautiful and well-known story is approaching. For some time we have been tracing the course of Joseph's life as he was sold into Egyptian slavery, spent time as overseer in Potiphar's house, and then those twelve years in prison, and afterwards, as the most powerful ruler under Pharaoh in the whole land of Egypt as he organized the harvests of grain against the coming famine which has since arrived.

The brothers, not having perceived Joseph's identity in the austere countenance of this high and powerful ruler, have suffered his series of tests of character; tests, the true import of which they had not understood, but which they have successfully passed. As a final seal upon the successful conclusion of this ordeal, Judah has volunteered his own life as bondservant in place of their accused younger brother, Benjamin, and at this display of nobility, Joseph is satisfied. We begin today's reading with Genesis 45:1.

1. Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
2. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
3. And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.

Well, indeed, might they have been thus "troubled at his presence"! May we stop for just a short moment to place ourselves, so to speak, alongside these brothers in order to view the matter as they must have done? Remember that they had, some twenty-three years before, sold Joseph into slavery. That was a long time ago. But their collective conscience has been allowed no peace since that hour when those twenty clinking pieces of silver had been slowly and meticulously counted out to them like the dread tolling of a bell of doom by the hands of those harsh Ishmeelites.

Probably they had divided those silver tokens, two to each of the participating brothers present at that transaction in order to insure the silence of each, and those pieces would have remained a constant weight, a heavy, burning physical reminder of their guilt and shame.

They must, with great care, have continued to keep up the pretence of Joseph's death by the attack of a wild beast, and this pretence must have involved a perpetual commitment to living a constant lie before their devoted father, Jacob, and all the rest of the tribe, concerning the matter of Joseph's true fate. They must have kept Jacob constantly in ignorance of the truth since that time, hoping that he would eventually accept the situation as they had presented it, and set the matter aside, forgetting it, but the constant grief of the aged patriarch insured that their consciences would continue to be troubled.

Had they been altogether committed to evil, they might not have been so disturbed, but the truth was that they were, in most matters of life, apparently trying to live acceptable lives. They were somewhat committed to their father's God, and this meant that God would not let the matter rest in their own minds.

It is so with all who would attempt to live a life part way between a commitment to God and to selfish interest. In Matthew 6:24, remember, in the famous Sermon on the Mount, Christ said to all those who would be His followers, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon". How true that statement is! Through those many years, they must have been as much in bondage of conscience as Joseph was in physical restraint.

Recently, compounding their continuing sense of guilt, they have come to know with fear the awesome power of this high Egyptian official in whose presence they have stood accused, first of being spies, and later of theft of an extremely valuable object; his personal cup from which this official drank.

A moment previous, the situation had seemed terrible. Now it seemed quite desperate. They can muster no hope of salvation from his terrible power. They stand guilty before God, and now, also, must assume the position of guilt in the presence of this powerful judge.

But what were these astonishing words that they heard? Joseph? Their brother? They could hardly believe their ears. If this indeed be true, would he now be prepared to execute an even more terrible vengeance upon them all than they had even now supposed, for their past treatment of him? Panic must have gripped their hearts. Whatever fate impended, they were not prepared for this disclosure.

4. And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
5. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

This was what the Psalmist recorded, in Psalm 105:17-22: "He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance: To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom.

We are about out of time, once again, but I cannot leave this passage without first at least giving a hint of the majestic prophetic parallels to Joseph's life which are seen by those conscious of the Bible-based message of the British-Israel-World Federation. There are prophetic aspects to this entire story of Joseph and his brothers especially in regard to the great theme of a hidden identity, finally revealed to form a blessing to all concerned. We, today, can understand these if we, as Christians, know the identity of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate manifestation revealing, as "The Word made flesh", the nature of God to man, and, as students of Biblical prophecies, we know the present day identity of the descendants of Joseph's two sons.

The true identity of Jesus Christ is today acknowledged by many, but the aspects of Scripture which relate to the national message regarding the emergence of the Kingdom of God upon the earth are less well publicised. Christ told His followers, in The Lord's Prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13, remember, to pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven." Do we, if we say this prayer, realise the full implications of that request? It involves all His Law, and His full acceptance as King in our own lives and in the nations of His people. How matters political and economic will be changed when that occurs! What blessings will be felt among all who enjoy such citizenship at His appearing!

What two national groupings, descended in the main from those sons of Joseph, have survived the wash of history to emerge in these latter days as great and mighty nations yielding blessings throughout the world whenever and wherever they are convinced of need? That characteristic was to be an important part of the heritage of Joseph's descendants, as the birthright of Israel of old time. We shall have more to say on this topic on our forthcoming programmes.

We shall examine further of these matters on our next programme.

6 September, 1992

JOSEPH'S INVITATION

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Joseph has, at last, revealed, to his brothers' intense consternation, the amazing fact that he, the mighty Egyptian official whom they have recently come to fear, and before whom they had bowed themselves, is, in fact Joseph, the young brother whom they had sold into Egyptian slavery some twenty-three years before. Could any story have a more exciting and touching climax than that which the Egyptians overhear from the hall as Joseph explains the situation to these brothers now gathered before him in his magnificent house?

When we followed the Genesis account leading up to the end of Genesis 44, we saw how Joseph had tested these men, to ascertain the quality of their repentance and the change of character, if any, that the experience of the years of guilt had impressed upon them.

Joseph is now satisfied, upon receiving Judah's offer to substitute himself as a bond-servant for life in place of the accused younger brother, Benjamin, that their matured characters bear a sufficient mark of repentance for what they have done to himself.

He is now willing that they should know his real identity, and that they should be made aware that every circumstance leading to this moment had been part of the Great Plan of The Almighty God, that things should have come to pass as they had. He is explaining this as we, in imagination, join the Egyptians in the wings, so to speak, to listen to Joseph's words, which are found in Genesis 45, starting at verse 1.

1. Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
2. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
3. And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
4. And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
5. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
6. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
7. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

These words require some comments before we continue. The New Bible Commentary tells us that the unease among Joseph's brothers remained for many years, in spite of all assurances. The words of verse 6 indicate "neither ploughing nor harvest", and we are told that they express a compound idea: "no yield from tilling." The theme of God's preservation of a remnant has descended "from the Fall in Eden through the desolation of the Flood, and out of the idolatry that overwhelmed the nations."

The Commentary adds that the title "father to Pharaoh" is the equivalent of a title held by Egyptian viziers. The Companion Bible calls it an Egyptian title of high office of state.

Those words which Joseph then uttered were destined to have impact far beyond what might momentarily appear, for they would usher in a whole new view of life for every member of Jacob's clan, and for all history to come. They would hold the potential for life to all who would hang upon God's Word for the provision of Salvation through subsequent time.

The importance of Joseph's forgiving character can hardly be over-estimated, in light of what was to follow, down through the centuries from that moment. We may find confirmation of that view which sees in Joseph's life a prophetic picture of the work of Jesus Christ if we consult the Companion Bible. Concerning the words "God did send me before you to preserve life", that reference says: "i.e. to preserve you a posterity in the earth (v.7), and hence, to ensure the birth of the true Joseph, and all who have life eternal in Him." Here, we have evidence of the prophetic aspect of Joseph's experiences; an aspect about which we shall have more to say later. But now a new challenge will be placed before these brothers with Joseph's next words. He continues:

9. Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not:
10. And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast:
11. And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty.
12. And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you.
13. And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.

Now the brothers must face a most unpleasant task. They are commanded to tell Jacob of Joseph's glory in Egypt, and pass to him Joseph's invitation to come down to Egypt in order to receive sustenance for the coming five years of famine.

If they do not convey the invitation, being reluctant to confess the whole story, and in so doing reveal their shame, the whole of Israel's family will be cut off from any chance to obtain further supplies of Egyptian grain, and will starve, for that would be disobedience indeed. Joseph, though their long separated brother, was still empowered as the highest official under Pharaoh, and Egypt's power extended far beyond those borders which are today associated with the name.

However, in order to convincingly convey Joseph's invitation, they must first confess to Jacob, their aged and still grieving father what they had done those many years before, and further, they must confess to all the tribe that they have sustained and lived a lie concerning Joseph all that time!

All that care with which they continually hid the deed with a sham of righteous conduct is wasted, and worse. They are, we must remember, Jacob's sons, the clan patriarchs, the supposed embodiment of righteous dignity and authority, who, by precept and injunction, were empowered to uphold the standards of tribal law before all their descendants and servants.

Now each occasion on which they had perpetuated and sustained that lie forms one more individual occasion of falsehood which they must confess before all members of the tribe! Realization of what lay before them must have been quite devastating! They have escaped one demeaning fate, that of a bond-servant, only to encounter another, almost equally hard to face, confession of a lifetime of false righteousness!

There will not be an easy conclusion to the matter when they return home to face the tribe! What would we do in such a situation? There is, of course, an easy answer. We haven't done anything so mean as that which these brothers had done. But how can we be so sure that, through some variant on the shamefilled theme, we can not find ourselves in such a position at the hour of Christ's return?

Isaiah 64:6 says "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Romans 3:23 says "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." That appraisal applies universally to mankind, and this is something to ponder. The solution to any such predicament, obviously, is to make amends to all whom we have wronged before the fateful hour when confession in shame becomes mandatory as the pre-condition before blessing may be enjoyed! But let us return to the Biblical account, observing Joseph as he mends the breach of a large fraction of a lifetime:

14. And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
15. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.
16. And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's brethren are come: and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants.

The knowledge of what had happened will not have been slow to reach the whole nation. It would have been next to impossible to halt the spread of the news, even if it had been officially so ordered.

Joseph's wise organization had filled the nation's storage granaries, and brought to Egyptian coffers the wealth of those streams of famine-starved foreigners who pressed daily into the land of Egypt to purchase sustenance. There was, as yet "grain in Egypt", and Joseph would have been known as the national hero whose wise administration had sustained the whole people in the years of drought.

The account of Joseph's arrival in Egypt by way of a slave caravan and his service as a bond-servant and prisoner would, upon his amazing promotion, have made him a favourite notable to all who yet toiled in that demeaned stratum of society, while his elevation by Pharaoh to exalted office would have displayed his capacities and admirable character to advantage before all.

Thus, the stunning revelation now circulating from Joseph's household, concerning his envious brothers' treatment of himself and his present magnanimous reaction towards them would swiftly have become common knowledge transmitted by every tongue in the land. It was what, today, we might call "front-page headline news", and it would have been the talk of the town at every well and bazaar, and circulated on every barge and in every mansion in the nation. No doubt it would be received with something like the general elation on hearing a news-flash today, announcing that a national team has won an international tournament.

While we shall have to postpone further of our Bible study until next week, perhaps it will not be out of place to consider whether we may, in our small way, prepare for our inevitable encounter with truth at Our Lord's return by placing ourselves before Him now, in contrite submission, admitting fault and asking forgiveness through His mercy in anticipation of His gracious blessings, yet to come.

13 September, 1992

JOSEPH THE PRESERVER

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

In recent programmes, we have studied the life of Joseph in Egypt as recorded in the Book of Genesis, up to the occasion recorded in Chapter 45 upon which he has, at last, revealed his true identity to his eleven brothers with the additional words of verses 5-7:

5. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
6. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
7. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

Joseph had continued by stating, as we read in verses 13 and 14:

13. And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen. and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.
14. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.

What a touching and delightful moment that was, for, as the next verse reveals, "And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's brethren are come: and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants."

Next week, at an appropriate point before we reach the end of the Genesis account, I shall be taking an occasion to insert an examination of the prophetic pattern which is being set by the whole of Joseph's life. Indeed, we shall be noting parallel cycles of stages in several inter-related Biblical themes, all of which bear the same stamp of a pattern which Almighty God must have held in His mighty Plan for mankind right from the first.

Today, because we shall require as part of that future study the rest of the immediate story of Joseph, I think we ought to continue with the account of his own life and present experiences for at least this one further programme. We pick up today's reading at verse 17:

17. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye; lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan;
18. And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.
19. Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come.
20. Also regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.

We should note here that the dominance of Egypt extended at this time well beyond the borders of that land, into the area of Canaan. Thus, when Pharaoh gave such a command, it was no idle wish, but one with the force of official sanction behind it.

The Pharaoh of this time, along with his senior staff and ministers, may well have been of the Hyksos dynasty. The New Bible Dictionary, under the entry for Joseph, mentions that the presence of horses and chariots in the account would indicate that fact, and if so this Pharaoh would probably be especially favourably disposed to the settlement of Joseph's clan on the somewhat secluded corner of the Nile Delta called Goshen, which was suited to their occupation of cattle-raising. The Companion Bible notes in regard to the mention of wagons in this passage that such were not yet used in Canaan, and that those in Egypt were depicted as having two wheels.

The whole clan were to be assured that all their needs would be met in Egypt, and that they should not be unduly concerned over leaving possessions behind them as they took their journey. Indeed, the wealth which Joseph sent to every member of his family would assure them of this. Continuing at verse 21:

21. And the children of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the commandment of Pharaoh, and gave them provision for the way.
22. To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment.
23. And to his father he sent after this manner; ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way.
24. So he sent his brethren away, and they departed: and he said unto them, See that ye fall not out by the way.

The above account is really an understatement if we are to believe the non-Biblical book of Jasher which elaborates in some detail on the matter. We might for a diversionary moment let our imagination sample the account contained in that book, for it explains that Joseph provided many garments, being robes of royalty and many gifts. According to that account, each of the brothers received a gold and silver garment and three hundred pieces of silver. I would take that description to mean garments with gold and silver threads woven in among the strands, for even in recent times samples of such woven material were produced.

Eleven chariots, including Joseph's own, according to that reference, were sent, and, for the children, garments according to their numbers, and a hundred pieces of silver to each. He sent garments to the wives of his brothers from the kings's wives, and sent with each brother ten men as servants to facilitate his move. Benjamin's sons received ten suits of garments as a portion above the rest of the children. Jacob received those ten asses laden with all the luxuries of Egypt and ten she-asses laden with corn and bread and nourishment for the road. To his sister Dinah, the Book of Jasher adds, Joseph sent "garments of silver and gold, and frankincense and myrrh, and aloes and women's ornaments in great plenty, and he sent the same from the wives of Pharaoh to the wives of Benjamin." That account adds that many items of costly jewelry were also included among the gifts.

Well, I shall leave it to the listener to weigh the accuracy of that account from the Book of Jasher! Certainly it may be viewed as generally consistent with the Biblical account. But let us continue at verse 25:

25. And they went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father,
26. And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not.
27. And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived:
28. And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.

This Biblical account is restrained, and sufficient to place the situation before us but other references may enhance our view. The Companion Bible notes that the Bible uses the name "Jacob"when the Patriarch is yet fainting in a state of unbelief, but in verse 28 it switches to "Israel" as his spirit revived.

Once again, that Book of Jasher elaborates upon this account with plausable details. It tells us that as the brothers approached their home they were concerned lest their news that Joseph was a ruler in Egypt, and the sudden display of all that had been sent, should cause Jacob extreme alarm. It explains how they broke the news.

It says that they met Serach, the daughter of Asher, a girl described thus: "the damsel was very good and subtle, and knew how to play upon the harp." To her they entrusted the conveyance of the suggestion that Joseph was alive and a ruler in Egypt, which she did in an agreeable song which she sang to her grandfather, Jacob, before they actually appeared.

We may imagine the astonishment of the patriarch upon the arrival of his sons and upon hearing their statement of the same theme which the song contained as an actual fact. Often we may prayerfully wish for something to happen, but not believe the actual answer to our prayers when it has occurred! Enthralled in a dream of desire by the song's theme, Jacob at first found the actual news impossible to accept.

I am reminded of a somewhat parallel occurrence in Acts 12. When Peter was chained between two soldiers in Herod's prison, we read, prayer without ceasing was made for him by the church. Released from prison by the intervention of an angel, Peter made his way to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where the prayer vigil was continuing within. He knocked, and the damsel, Rhoda, heard his voice beyond the door. Without waiting to open it she rushed to tell the others who were praying for Peter's release, that Peter was at that moment right at the door but they would not believe her. Peter had to continue knocking to get their attention, you may remember!

Next week, I hope to sketch, at least in outline, a special study of the prophetic aspects of Joseph's life pattern. At that time, I shall attempt to draw some parallels with the life of Jacob himself, with the history of the whole Nation of Israel, and with the pattern of Our Lord's work among His people.

Later, we will follow the story as Jacob and all his household receive the blessings which Joseph has provided, and as they make their way to the land where provisions await them under Joseph's care.

As we conclude today's talk, let us remember that God can provide more than we assume, even in our fervent prayers. In Luke 1:37, at the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel told Mary "For with God nothing shall be impossible", and in Matthew 19:26, in reference to Salvation, Christ stated "...with God all things are possible." As Jacob, in unbelief, became Israel when he believed, let us also become aware with conviction that Our God is capable, beyond all that we know or understand, of creating a blessing, and let us remain in the faith, awaiting His Appearing.

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