31 “Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 The men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you, and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our ancestors’—in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.” (Genesis 46:31–34 (NRSV)
The following, prophetic words of God through His servant Moses return for our consideration and remembrance. They provide us perspective concerning Joseph’s actions found in today’s text.
Genesis 37:5–11 (ESV) says, “5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.”
Today’s text reveals that what was prophecy when Joseph was a youth of seventeen (Gen. 37:1-2) became a reality when he was a man of thirty-nine (Gen. 41:46; 45:4-6). His brothers have already twice bowed down to him (Gen. 42:6-11; 43:26). Now Joseph directs not only his brothers but also his father as the governor of Egypt. He in effect is ruling and reigning over them. This provides an affirmative answer to his brothers’ question from so long ago (Gen. 37:8).
However, much like the LORD Jesus Christ of whom Joseph was a type, he ruled with the perspective and practice of a benevolent dictator. Joseph’s conduct was in sharp contrast to a future pharaoh who would rule Egypt at the time of Moses’ birth (Ex. 1-2). Joseph not only informed his family of what he would say to pharaoh, but also what they were to say to pharaoh. Joseph made it clear that his family were to reside in the adjacent land known as Goshen. Why?
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “To be a holy nation, Jacob’s sons must reside in a land where, as clearly defined aliens, they will be less likely to adopt a lifestyle that goes against the ways of God. This explains why Joseph moves to secure for his family a place in Egypt. No full-blooded Egyptian wants to associate himself with an “abominable” shepherd (46:31–34), and this will enable the Israelites to become a distinct sub-culture in the land of the Nile.”
John Calvin explains, “Jacob’s offspring will learn to cherish more fervently mutual union between themselves. They will begin to learn how to be God’s people in the world, but not of the world. The Lord often permits Christians to be despised or rejected by the world, that being liberated and cleansed from its pollution, we may cultivate holiness.”
As believers in Christ, the church must love those who do not love God, but conforming ourselves to their standards for their approval and acceptance is disastrous. Though we must not be offensive, we should expect people to be offended by the Gospel message. We must never change the offensive gospel message so as to be less offensive to the fallen world. In other words, we must never use the fallen world’s cultural norms in order to win the culture to Christianity. The only way God converts fallen sinners is by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let each of us thank the LORD today for being His objects of love and rejoice that He has made us slaves to righteousness, freeing us from our slavery to sin (Romans 6). He is our benevolent dictator. Have a blessed day in the LORD.
Soli deo Gloria!