“I Am Your Brother Joseph”
“I am Joseph!” (Genesis 45:3).
Few statements could have made a more startling impact. The eleven middle-aged men already stood uncomfortably as mere merchant-traders — tenders of flocks and herds — before the most powerful prime minister in that ancient world. Now they were astonished and speechless. Could it be? What must have passed through the minds of these shocked and frightened listeners who were the very ones responsible for selling Joseph into captivity in the first place?
The last time they knowingly had seen their brother, Joseph, was an impetuous and outspoken 17-year-old. They had watched as he disappeared into the distance, no doubt vigorously protesting his sale into the hands of Midianite slave-traders (Genesis 37:12-28). How could those brothers have known the incredible adventures — the remarkable ups and downs through which their younger sibling had passed during the intervening two decades?
Certainly, Joseph’s experiences had been incredible: transported against his will to Egypt, the dominant power of that region of the world (Genesis 37:36); sold as a slave to a high-ranking Egyptian official and officer in the very court of Pharaoh (Genesis 39:1-6); gaining respectability and position in his newfound place in life, only to find himself falsely accused and whisked away to become an inmate in an Egyptian prison (Genesis 39:7-20).
Experiencing yet another unlikely rise in station in the midst of his incarceration to become the chief assistant of the prison warden (Genesis 39:21-23); moving literally from the prison to the palace, assuming the office of prime minister under the Pharaoh (Genesis 40-41); and now finally, dramatically revealing his true identity before the very brothers who had sold him into captivity more than 20 years before.
Joseph in prophecy
Joseph’s remarkable story became a forerunner of the precise experiences that his many descendants would undergo on a national scale over the millennia that were to follow. It is a saga that remains in progress. One purpose of this paper is to make that story plain.
Meanwhile back in the 18th century B.C.E. court of Pharaoh, until Joseph identified himself before his brothers, they knew nothing of the reality of his life after his enforced departure from home as the slave of a foreign people. For all they knew, he had long since died (see Genesis 44:28).
Even if he was still alive, what chance would there have been of escaping the dehumanizing experience of his enslavement — of removal from the comfort of his homeland, and being denied the role of his father’s favorite son. Instead he was treated as property to be bought and sold at the whim of his owner. Certainly, few things so remarkable have ever happened as Joseph’s ascent from slavery to becoming a leader of the most powerful kingdom of that region, if not the entire world.
But why does the Bible record the story of Joseph’s trials and tribulations followed by his ultimate rise to unbelievable heights?
The astonishing answer is multifaceted. In ancient Israel’s traditions and history, the story of Joseph provides a captivating account of an ancient people’s pedigree and lineage. At a different level — far more important to us today — the life of Joseph was an acting-out, thousands of years in advance, of one of the most distinctive and prominent threads of Western history.
Joseph’s intriguing story holds a vital key to locating the so-called “Lost 10 Tribes” of Israel — the descendants of his and nine of his 11 brothers. These Israelites disappeared from the record of popular history around the close of the 8th century B.C.E. when the Assyrian armies invaded and largely swept them from their homeland in Palestine. More importantly, knowing the identity of the descendants of ancient Israel today equips us not only with crucial understanding of end-time biblical prophecies, but also knowledge about the moral and spiritual changes which God requires of the peoples of the United States, the United Kingdom, the key Commonwealth nations of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa as well as other nations in northwestern Europe.
The historic importance of Abraham
This remarkable story begins even before the time of Joseph in ancient Mesopotamia with a covenant (agreement) made between the biblical patriarch Abraham and the Almighty God, probably some time in the mid-19th century B.C.E. It hinges on the most important and far-reaching promises and prophecies ever delivered by God to man.
Even people only casually acquainted with the Bible are somewhat familiar with the monumental spiritual dimensions of God’s promise to Abraham.
God told this patriarch: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
This blessing to come on all nations, we later learn from the New Testament apostles, was the blessing of eternal life through the Messiah, the one Seed (Galatians 3:8, 16, 29). Thus from the virtual onset of the biblical record we can understand God’s intention to offer spiritual salvation to the whole of humanity. The fulfillment of this great promise was reached at one level on the first New Testament Passover (31 C.E.) with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the consequent breaking down of the wall of partition separating humankind from God (Matthew 27:51; Ephesians 2:14).
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ made it possible for people of all the nations of the earth to enjoy a relationship with the God of Israel who until that time had dealt almost exclusively with the descendants of the patriarch Jacob, also called Israel. But is the spiritual dimension of the promise to Abraham the entire story? What exactly did God mean by his promise in Genesis 12:2 to make of Abraham a “great nation”? A closer examination of God’s relationship and dealings with Abraham reveals one of the most important and least understood aspects of the biblical record.
From Genesis chapters 12 through 22, seven different passages describe God’s promises to Abraham. In the initial account (Genesis 12:1-3), God tells Abraham to leave his homeland and family — a condition preceding the promise. For God promised to bless him and make his name great. His progeny would become great. A few verses later, God miraculously appeared to Abraham, promising his descendants the land of Canaan (verse 7).
Massive material blessings through Abraham
In chapter 13, the Bible provides us even more details — knowledge implying a physical dimension tied directly to the promise to Abraham. Following the dramatic account of his willingness to give the fertile Jordan River plain to his nephew Lot (verses 5-13), we see that God in turn promised all of Canaan to Abraham forever (verses 14-17). Moreover, He promised to make the still childless Abraham a father with descendants “as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (verse 16).
About a decade later God again appeared to Abraham in a vision. Notwithstanding the fact that Abraham and Sarah remained childless, God reiterated His promise that an heir would “come from your own body,” that his descendants would be as large in number as the stars of the heavens (Genesis 15:4-5).
A few verses later, we see that God promised Abraham not only numberless descendants but specific territory stretching “from the river of Egypt [the Nile] to the great river, the River Euphrates” (verses 18-21) — a swath of territory including considerably more than the original commitment to turn the land of Canaan into the hands of Abraham’s progeny (Genesis 12:6-7, 17:8, 24:7).
The longest and most elaborate articulation of the Promise to Abraham appears in Genesis 17:1-22. As is the case from the earliest record of the promise itself, realization of God’s blessings remains conditional on Abraham’s obedience and living of a spiritually mature life. God admonished him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1; compare Matthew 5:48).
Abraham — a progenitor of many nations
Remember God promised to multiply Abraham’s descendants. This was a yet-to-be reality God emphasized by renaming this patriarch heretofore known as Abram — a name denoting “father of Aram,” the location of Abraham’s original Mesopotamian homeland. God told him, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham ...” His new name meant “father of a multitude” or “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5).
The earliest record of the promise (Genesis 12:1) shows that the narrator of Genesis introduces the theme of nationhood — a matter of physical, material, and national concern. Indeed, verse 6 elaborates on this dimension of the promise, indicating what God intended to make Abraham: “exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:6, see also verses 15-16).
The material nature of this aspect of the promise is further demonstrated in verses 8-9 which makes use of the plural pronoun “their.” God said, “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God ... You shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”
The Genesis 17 account establishes God’s agreement with Abraham as an “everlasting covenant” (verses 7, 13, 19), binding obligation, requiring God to give the patriarch’s descendants the Land of Canaan in perpetuity (verse 8). It reinforces the notion that God’s commitment to Abraham included not only the Messianic promise of grace — unmerited pardon for sins committed — and spiritual salvation ... but a national inheritance complete with material possessions, power, and position.
The sixth account of the Promise to Abraham appears in Genesis 18 in a setting immediately prior to the story of the destruction of the sin filled cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s guests (two angels and the “LORD,” YHWH, the Word, who became flesh, John 1:1) — messengers with news about the divine retribution to come on the cities of the plain — confirmed the soon-coming birth of a son to the 99 year old Abraham and Sarah, 10 years younger than her husband (verses 10-14).
With God promising that He would not “hide from Abraham” what He would do (Genesis 18:17; see also Amos 3:7), the angels visiting the aged patriarch reconfirmed that Abraham would “surely become a great and mighty nation” — a physical, material, national promise in scope and dimension. They also affirmed the spiritual promise that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Genesis 18:18). True to the promises of God, about a year after this encounter, Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1-3). But there remained one great test awaiting Abraham.
The supreme test
The grand climax of these benchmark accounts comes in Genesis 22, one of the most interesting and significant events in all of the Bible. In this account we find the seventh and final elaboration of the promise to Abraham. As the story of Joseph is an acting-out in advance of the human history of the Israelite people, so the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac forecasts the opening phase of salvation history: the 1st century C.E.2 sacrifice of God the Father’s only begotten Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Previous descriptions of the promises show that the blessings of the covenant (Abraham’s agreement with God) were dependent on Abraham’s actions and behavior (e.g., Genesis 12:1, 17:9). The events described in Genesis 22 transformed the Covenant, elevating it to an entirely new and different level.
This was with very good cause. Much to Abraham’s discomfort, God commanded him to take the son of promise and sacrifice him as a burnt offering atop of Mount Moriah (verse 2). Trusting in God’s wisdom, truth, and faithfulness, Abraham did as he was told, only to be miraculously stopped at the very moment he was about to slay his son (verses 9-11).
Abraham did not know that in advance. God’s words spoken shortly thereafter are powerful and revealing: “... now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:12). In obedience to his God, the patriarch was willing to relinquish that which was most precious to him (verse 16; compare John 3:16).
His behavior demonstrated to the Creator that Abraham was truly a man fit for the role of “father of all those who believe” (Romans 4:11-22; Galatians 3:9; Hebrews 11:17-19) — that he was suitable as the progenitor of numberless descendants who would become the people of God (Genesis 18:19).
It is only at this point in the story of Abraham that the promises become unconditional. God’s assertion, “By Myself have I sworn” (Genesis 22:16) implies that Abraham is no longer obligated to act in order to receive the benefits of the promise. The language used in Genesis 22 implies that there are now no other parties to the contract other than God Himself.
The narrative concludes with a rehearsal of the central elements of those things promised: “blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore [compare Deuteronomy 29:13; Joshua 24:3-4; Acts 7:17]; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies [all promises of a physical, material, national nature — see Genesis 24:60]. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed [the spiritual blessing of Christ and making salvation available to the whole of humanity rather than any single people or nation], because you have obeyed My voice” (verses 17-18).
Promises renewed from one generation to another
God repeatedly renewed the promises to Abraham by passing the covenant (agreement) in succession from the patriarch’s son Isaac (Genesis 26:1-5) to his grandson Jacob (27:26-29; 28:1-4, 10-14; 35:9-12 — in this last-named account, God changed Jacob’s name to “Israel” meaning “one who prevails with God”) ... and ultimately to the great-great-grandchildren Ephraim and Manasseh (48:1-22), the sons of Joseph through his wife from the ranks of Egyptian nobility (41:45).
As is the case with those promises described prior to Genesis 23, accounts of the passing of the blessing provides additional evidence that the Abrahamic Covenant included physical-material-national aspects as well as the more important spiritual ones. The Genesis 26 account of Abraham’s passing of the promise to Isaac includes reference to the title and deed for large amounts of land. The double reference to “all these lands” (verses 3-4) implies an inheritance involving colossal material benefits.
As in previous repetitions of the promise from God to Abraham, we see his son Isaac guaranteed a progeny of almost limitless proportions, likened again to “the stars of heaven” (verse 4), reiterating this magnificent promise is repeated to Isaac.
By right of birth (the ancient law of primogeniture), the physical blessings passed down to Isaac should have gone to Esau, the firstborn son (Genesis 25:21-26). However, Jacob, the younger sibling induced his older brother to sell his Birthright for a meager bowl of lentil soup (verse 29-34).
To insure the acquisition of the blessings that the Birthright entailed, later Jacob even tricked his blind and aged father into passing the preponderance of the family inheritance to him in place of his elder brother Esau (verse 18-27).
Isaac blessed Jacob saying: “Therefore may God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you!” (verses 28- 29).
But in spite of Jacob’s trick to secure the birthright blessing for himself, God eventually confirmed the passing of the promises to him in a dream at Padanaram (Genesis 28). In the account describing this event, we learn that Jacob’s descendants would spread throughout the entire earth, “spread[ing] abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south” (verse 14). No wonder the apostle Paul later identifies Jacob’s grandfather Abraham as the “heir of the world” (Romans 4:13).
Two national identities
In Genesis 35 we first find an interesting and critically important new dimension to the physical-material-national aspect of the promise. This passage adds the novel element of “a nation and a company of nations” (verse 11), a concept essential to the understanding of where Israel’s descendants are found in modern times. From the Genesis 35 account we learn that Jacob’s descendants will one day comprise two separate and distinct national entities.
Finally, we see the promise passed by Jacob to Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48). The aged patriarch used this occasion to place his very name on his two grandsons (verse 16), implying that many references to “Jacob” or “Israel” in the prophetic writings of the Bible point primarily to the offspring of the Patriarch Joseph. Once again, the language of the biblical narrator reveals a clearly physical-material-national dimension to the promises transmitted to the fifth generation.
Jacob’s blessing on the two boys involved the giving of land “for an everlasting possession” and the expansion of their own descendants into “a multitude of people” (verse 4). Then for a second time, we see articulated the idea of a great nation and “a multitude of nations” (verse 19).
1 Chronicles 5 also contributes to our understanding of the promise to Abraham, particularly concerning the difference between its spiritual and physical dimensions. This chapter reminds us that the “chief ruler” would arise out of the house or tribe of Judah (verse 2, King James Version).
It confirms Jacob’s prediction that “the scepter shall not depart from Judah” (Genesis 49:10), a prophecy which points to both the House of David ruling over the Kingdom of Judah and Israel, and the role of Jesus Christ as Messiah and the One who would make salvation available to all of humankind (Hebrews 7:14; Revelation 5:5). In contrast, the promise of physical, material, and national greatness went not to Judah but rather to Joseph, Jacob’s firstborn son by his wife Rachel. In an apt description of how this promise fell into Joseph’s hands, the chronicler writes: “Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel — he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed [Genesis 35:22; 49:4], his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s” (1 Chronicles 5:1-2).
Israel’s future destiny
Perhaps the most revealing of all biblical passages is found, however, in Genesis 49 which describes Jacob’s blessings on and prophecies about all of his sons’ descendants “in the last days” (verse 1). The description of those things to befall the people of Joseph is monumental (verse 22-26).
Similar to the blessing pronounced by Isaac on Jacob (Genesis 27:28-29), they included favorable climate and weather conditions (the “blessings of heaven above,” Genesis 49:25); fertile tracts of land and agricultural abundance; abundant natural resources essential to insure national economic strength and world dominance (those “blessings of the deep that lies beneath,” Genesis 49:25); generally peaceful conditions in which they were to live and grow; and power and influence over the peoples of the world. Jacob predicted that Joseph would become “a fruitful bough” (Genesis 49:22) — a people greatly benefited by the “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” (verse 25), indicating the sizeable population of Joseph’s seed at the end of the age.
The patriarch also forecast a time when Joseph’s “branches [would] run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22), implying a people broadcast by colonization and imperial expansion literally to all four corners of the earth (compare Genesis 28:14). Jacob represents Joseph’s descendants as a people imbued with military might, their “bow” abiding in “strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob” (Genesis 49:24).
Only a very few modern nations can lay claim to the prophetic promises relating to economic greatness and superpower status.
Sidebar: “Blessings of the Deep That Lies Beneath”
That the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic peoples have inherited the richness of the earth is plain for all to see. Jacob prophesied of such nearly four millennia before these material blessings literally overtook the British and American people. A part of that prediction foretold that the children of Joseph would fall heir to the “blessings of the deep that lies beneath” (Genesis 49:25).
Many examples could be cited to illustrate how time and again during the modern period, Jacob’s words have been fulfilled. One of the most dramatic testimonies to the faithfulness of God’s word comes out of the British imperial sphere in South Africa. Not only did the southern region of the African continent provide the British with a treasure trove of diamond mines; it yielded the largest diamond ever found. In 1905, the superintendent of the Premier Diamond Mine made an unbelievable find.
This 2,601 carat diamond, named after Sir Thomas Cullinan who opened the Premier Mine, is the largest diamond ever found. The Transvaal government gave the “Cullinan Diamond” as a gift to King Edward VII who had it cut into several pieces. The largest, 530 carats, is found in the scepter of the British monarch. “Cullinan Two,” a 317 carat diamond, is a part of the Imperial State Crown. If the Cullinan Diamond is one of the most dramatic illustrations of Joseph’s inheritance of the natural resources of the earth, it is no less remarkable than the gold mines, oil fields, coal and iron deposits all found in great abundance from the British Isles to North America or from Australia to South Africa. These treasures lying deep beneath the earth bear witness to Joseph’s modern-day identity.
Bringing his prophecies to a rousing crescendo, Jacob concludes, “The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills. They shall be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers” (verse 26). In this final and emphatic pronouncement, we find yet another clue to locate the people of Israel in the latter days. While this final phrase is clearly an allusion to the story of young Joseph’s separation from his human family at age 17, like so many other aspects of the Joseph stories, it is also highly prophetic.
We should look for the modern-day descendants of Joseph in a setting where they are a separated people... insulated from the progeny of the other Israelite tribes by some kind of physical or geographic barrier. And indeed, this has been the case with the descendants of Joseph during modern history.