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The Israelite Patriarchs - Joseph

The Old Testament patriarch Joseph was the 11th-born of the Children of Jacob, oldest of the two sons of Jacob (Benjamin was Joseph's full brother) with Rachel. Joseph was to fill a vital role in the history of ancient Israel and his descendants today form the core of the greatest Israelite nations on earth (see The Gathering of Israel and Judah).

"Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall"

Joseph was the first born son of Jacob's wife Rachel.

Israelite Tribal Lands

"And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: And she called his name Joseph; and said, The Lord [see YHVH, Adonai, Jehovah, LORD] shall add to me another son." (Genesis 30:22-24 KJV)

Of his 2 wives (Rachel and Leah) and 2 concubines (Bilhah and Zilpah), Rachel was apparently the only one that Jacob truly loved. When faced with a possible attack from Esau, Jacob positioned his family in the order of his fondness for them - the concubines and their children at the front, then Leah and her children, and then Rachel and Joseph at the most safe position at the rear (Joseph's brother Benjamin, the only one of the Israelite patriarchs to be actually born in the land of Israel, was not born yet).

"And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids. And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost." (Genesis 33:1-2 KJV)

After they were settled in the land of Israel, Joseph became his father's favorite. It was a sure recipe for resentment from Jacob's many other children, not only with a constant visible reminder from that famous "coat of many colors" that Jacob gave to Joseph, but also because Joseph seemed to oversee his older brothers and reported what they did to their father.

"And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in The Land Of Canaan."

"These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him." (Genesis 37:1-4 KJV)

The resentment grew even greater after Joseph's dreams in which he said that he would not only some day reign over his brothers, but his parents as well (all of which came true in Egypt). After that, Joseph's brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt - and told their father that their brother had been killed by a wild animal.

"And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams." (Genesis 37:18-20 KJV)

"Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt ... And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard." (Genesis 37:28,36 KJV)

With the help of The Lord (it was, after all, The Lord who arranged for the Israelites to enter Egypt, and to become slaves there - as He proclaimed to Abraham long before i.e. "And He said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance" Genesis 15:13-14 KJV), Joseph soon rose to a high position in Potiphar's household:

"And The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that The Lord was with him, and that The Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of The Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field. And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured." (Genesis 39:2-6 KJV)

Joseph soon found himself back in chains; this time it was due to false accusations made by Potiphar's lustful wife who Joseph refused who commit adultery with because he knew that it would be a sin i.e. "how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9 KJV, see also The Ten Commandments Before Sinai?):

"And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?"

"And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice: And it came to pass, when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled, and got him out."

"And she laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home. And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me: And it came to pass, as I lifted up my voice and cried, that he left his garment with me, and fled out. And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled. And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison." (Genesis 39:7-20 KJV)

The Lord again helped Joseph however. After interpreting Pharaoh's dream of a coming famine (Genesis 41:1-57), Joseph was not only released from prison, but made second in command of all Egypt, in effect the Prime Minister of Egypt - thereby actually outranking Potiphar, his former owner. No doubt Joseph's great political power thereafter caused Potiphar's wife more than a few sleepless nights, not for the harlot's usual reason, but out of worry of what Joseph then had the power to do to her for her lies that sent him to prison for over 2 years before his release. The Scriptures do not record what, if anything, Joseph did. Neither Potiphar, nor his unnamed wife, are mentioned again.

The great famine happened just as Joseph said it would, but Egypt was well-prepared for it because they took heed of the prophetic warning. They had vast store houses full of grain, more than enough for their own nation. They even had sufficient supply to enable them to sell some to neighboring nations, including Joseph's brothers who came to Egypt to buy food.

Joseph was not immediately recognized by them, but after a bit of psychological justice upon them, he revealed his identity (Genesis chapters 42-45). Although Joseph had the power to imprison or even execute them, he forgave them for what they had done to him. Joseph recognized that God had been the author of the entire series of events.

"And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 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. 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: 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: 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." (Genesis 45:7-11 KJV)

Jacob and his entire family then went down to live in Egypt to escape the severe famine in Canaan. They were settled in the land of Goshen, where they would remain, eventually as slaves, for the next 400 years until the Exodus.

While in Egypt Joseph married an Egyptian woman, Asenath, the daughter of the priest of On (Genesis 41:50-52). Ephraim and Manasseh were their sons. Although actually the grandsons of Jacob / Israel, they were established as progenitors of tribes along with their uncles, and were later assigned their own territory in the Promised Land. For most people, the best-known descendant of Ephraim was Joshua, while Gideon (Judges 6:12-15) is perhaps the most famous descendant of Manasseh.

In Bible History and Prophecy, Joseph is variously known by his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. It was through Ephraim and Manasseh that Joseph's tribal allotment of the Israelites' promised land was given (see the map above) and it was through Ephraim and Manasseh that the people of Joseph camped around The Tabernacle In The Wilderness (see the illustration below). Prophecies about Joseph's descendants, although sometimes spoken of as "Joseph," are also sometimes rendered through the names of one or the other of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. All were however maintained within the theme of Jacob / Israel's deathbed blessing upon his sons, the greatest of which was to Joseph i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh:

"Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel: Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren" (Genesis 49:22-26 KJV)

Like the rest, Joseph died in Egypt centuries before the Exodus - but he is apparently the only one who took part in the Exodus (see Where Are The Israelite Patriarchs Buried? and the Fact Finder question below).

"So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt." (Genesis 50:26 KJV)

After the Exodus, the people of Joseph were very often referred to through his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as is made evident in the camp order. Note that Ephraim and Manasseh are camped on the same side as Benjamin who was Joseph's brother.

Order of The Israelite Camp

Fact Finder: (a) Did Joseph know that the Exodus would happen, hundreds of years before it did? (b) After Joseph died, he was buried in Egypt. Did he nevertheless take part in the Israelite exodus 4 centuries later?
(a) Genesis 50:24-25 (b) Exodus 13:19


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