One of the most significant benefits of our study of exodus patterns in the book of Genesis to this point is that it frames the Exodus from Egypt as something other than an absolute and definitive datum of meaning, to which all else is rendered relative, but suggests that the Exodus from Egypt needs to be interpreted relative to previous and subsequent ‘exodus’ accounts, and as a variation of existing themes in the sacred history. In other words, although within the Old Testament the Exodus from Egypt is by far the greatest of all of the exoduses, exerting an immense force of typological gravity on all other exoduses in its textual and theological proximity, the ‘exodus pattern’ is something that has independent sources and existence of it and thus provides a more contingent and relative, and less absolute, meaning to each concrete ‘exodus’.
It would be possible to devote a few posts to studying the various exodus themes within the life of Joseph. It is in the story of Joseph that the great and most developed Exodus narrative of the Old Testament begins. However, I plan to cover the story of Joseph within a single post, hopefully giving some impression of the key exodus themes present in the narrative in the process.
Joseph’s Descent into Slavery
There are several motifs within the Joseph narrative that should be familiar to us. Joseph is sent away from his father’s house (37:13). Like in the case of Moses, Joseph is set apart from his brothers. Moses is set apart from his brothers by becoming the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Joseph by being the particularly beloved son of his father. Like Moses, Joseph goes out to visit his brothers (cf. Exodus 2:11). The scene in which Jacob sends Joseph out to his brothers takes a form similar to those in which God commissions or sends a person from one place to another (Genesis 22:1; Exodus 3:4; 1 Samuel 3:4).
Joseph has an encounter on the way, with the man in Shechem (37:14-17). The encounter along the way parallels with Jacob’s encounter with YHWH on the way to Haran in Bethel. When Joseph meets his brothers, they play the part of violent shepherds, who throw him into an empty well in the wilderness (v.22). I have already drawn attention to the importance of wells, cisterns, and springs, and their connection to sheep and shepherds. In Exodus 2, for instance, we see Moses, fleeing from Egypt (in the passage which began with him going out to visit his brothers – v.11), encountering some violent shepherds at a well (vv.16-17).
The fact that the empty well is described as being ‘in the wilderness’ might also be worthy of notice. At this point, the wilderness – and especially the site of water in the wilderness – is associated with Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 16:7; 21:14-21). Later on, Moses will be a shepherd in the wilderness for his Midianite father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 3:1). Unsurprisingly given the connection, some Midianite and Ishmaelite traders turn up. Joseph is drawn out of the ‘dead’ well and sold for silver to the traders to take to Egypt along with their healing spices.
The traders sell Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, where YHWH is with him and causes everything that he does to prosper (39:2-6). The initial position reception is like the reception that Jacob received at the house of Laban. There is a sort of fall/attack of the serpent theme in the story of Potiphar’s wife, who see that Joseph is desirable and reaches out and catches him, revealing nakedness. Potiphar is like God in the Fall scene, coming to the scene after the sin, questioning, and judging the parties. The words of Potiphar’s wife are very similar in character to those of Adam: ‘The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us…’; ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me…’ Potiphar’s wife accuses Potiphar: Adam accuses God. Although Potiphar places Joseph in prison, his wrath is primarily aroused against his wife and her attempt at falsely accusing him and getting his house to rebel against him (cf. v.14). Potiphar is the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, so presumably he is in charge of the royal prison, giving him the opportunity to mitigate Joseph’s punishment. Like the Fall, the situation leads to expulsion.
The theme of an attack upon the beautiful seed ties in with a dimension of the exodus patterns that we have already witnessed. Most of the earlier attacks focused on the woman, although in the story of Rebekah and Jacob we see the threat gradually refocusing upon the seed. We already know from the beginning of chapter 37 that Joseph is set apart for rule and leadership of the covenant people. Unsurprisingly, he comes under attack, first from his brothers, and then in Egypt.
Like Jacob and the other patriarchs before him, even when taken captive, reduced in status, or oppressed, Joseph still prospers, being put over all under the keeper of the prison. While the seed is being held captive, prophetic dreams are received, first from the chief butler and baker (Joseph later becomes the ‘cupbearer’ – chapter 44 – and the bread-giver of Egypt – 41:56-57), and then later by Pharaoh himself.
Joseph’s Exodus and the ‘Plague’
As Joseph is brought before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams we see the captive in Pharaoh’s house being released (remember that Joseph is in the royal prison with other members of the royal household who have fallen into ill-favour). Being in Pharaoh’s house should be related to the state of Sarai in Genesis 12:15, or the beautiful child Moses as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, for instance.
The dreams of Pharaoh should be related back to the dream received by Abimelech in 20:3-7. Perhaps we are to relate this to the fact that the seed of the woman has been attacked, by the people of God and by the Gentiles, and see that the whole world will face a famine as a result. The famine is thus a sort of ‘plague’ faced by Egypt and the wider world (cf. 41:57): it is something that God is about to do, a fact that is stressed (41:25, 28, 32). Just as Abimelech is told to ask the prophet Abraham to pray for him to relieve the plague on his house (20:7), gives great gifts to Abraham (vv.14-16), and seeks to be blessed through blessing and allying himself with Abraham (21:22-24), so Pharaoh seeks the counsel of the prophetic dream-interpreter Joseph, gives him great gifts, and establishes a close relationship with him.
Throughout this passage we see the supremacy of YHWH over the gods of the Egyptians being demonstrated. YHWH can destroy the life-giving power of the Nile and the Sun, and Pharaoh must recognize the authority and power of this Most High God over all of the gods of his people. It is a judgment upon mankind, but also a judgment upon Egypt’s gods.
A reference to a certain divine judgment with an advance warning should remind us of the exodus of Lot, but far more importantly, of the exodus of the Flood, where a forewarned righteous man prepares the way for the people of God to pass through a worldwide judgment. Through Joseph, YHWH is preparing Egypt as an ark for Israel. However, this ark will also include the Gentile nation of Egypt. This is also the reversal of the Babel project, a human attempt to render themselves immune to divine judgment, where Shemites worked under the guidance of a Hamite (Nimrod).
We have already seen the development within various exodus stories towards the increasing spread of the influence of the Abraham’s seed in fulfilment of the promise made to him that all of the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (12:1-3) and the blessing on Jacob, declaring that nations would bow down to him (27:29). In the story of Joseph, this theme reaches a climax. Joseph exercises rule over the greatest empire of his day, showing wisdom and divine blessing (we will probably show the relationship between Joseph and Daniel in a later post).
The story of Joseph began with Joseph going to his brothers: now his brothers come to him. Joseph puts his brothers into the same sort of position in which they sinned earlier, to ascertain whether they have repented. He also gives them an experience like his own. They are thrown into prison (42:16-17), before all except Simeon being returned to bring Benjamin back with them. Their money is returned in their sacks. Returning home without a brother, but with unexplained silver in their possession was a situation that would be painfully familiar to both the brothers and their father, who clearly suspected them of orchestrating Joseph’s apparent death (v.36).
The brothers must later return to Egypt, as the famine grows more severe. They are sent with gifts, including the same three items that the Ishmaelite traders were bringing to Egypt with Joseph (43:11; cf. 37:25). Benjamin accompanies them this time. Like Joseph, they don’t have much choice in the matter. Their experience is being conformed to that of Joseph’s.
After being entertained by Joseph as his subordinates and guests and Simeon being returned to them, they are sent back, but Joseph places the money for the grain in each man’s sack, and his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. Silver, grain/bread, and wine are recurring themes in the Joseph narrative, much as clothing is. Joseph was sold for silver to Egypt and so giving them silver that is not rightfully theirs from Egypt is a very significant act. The bread and wine are associated with the baker and cupbearer, but also now with the silver for the grain and the silver cup. As already observed, Joseph has become the bread-giver and cupbearer of Egypt.
The wrongfully taken cup represents Joseph. The brothers are told that the person with whom the cup is found must become Joseph’s slave (44:9-10): the scene is set up for them to make Benjamin another Joseph. However, like Jacob, they tear their clothes (44:13; cf. 37:34) and offer themselves all as slaves (44:16), all accepting the destiny of Joseph, rather than abandoning Benjamin to face it alone. When Joseph insists that only the guilty party shall remain, Judah (who is compared and contrasted with Joseph throughout the narrative, forming a pair akin to Abram-Lot, Ishmael-Isaac, Esau-Jacob) intercedes for Benjamin, offering himself in his stead. It is worth recognizing that the brothers did not necessarily know that Benjamin was innocent. For all they knew, Benjamin was another upstart younger brother who wanted to practice divination and have dreams and that he stole the cup of divination for that reason. It is at this point that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.
Within this story we see two ‘visitations’, a theme that Stephen explores in his address to the council in Acts 7. The first time Joseph is rejected and sold into slavery. At the second visitation, he delivers good news to them and they are brought into Egypt. The same pattern occurs in Moses’ life. His first ‘visitation’, when he goes out to see his brothers in Genesis 2 is rejected. He later returns for a second visitation after forty years in Midian to deliver them.
There is also a two stage ‘exodus’ experience. The destiny-bearer of the covenant – in this case Joseph, and later Moses – undergoes the exodus before anyone else. Through the destiny-bearer’s exodus, all others will be saved, as their experience is conformed to his and they are united to him. We see the same pattern in the New Testament: Christ’s exodus precedes ours and we are saved as we are conformed and united to him. Joseph, Moses, and Jesus are the ones who set the pattern for everyone else to follow.
A further thing to observe here is that the kingdom comes first to the Gentiles and only after the Gentiles are saved that the brothers repent. Once the brothers repent, the blessing flows out further. Tim Gallant has suggested a possible connection between this theme and Paul’s argument in Romans 11: the bearer of the Jewish covenant destiny is rejected by his people, bringing the riches of the covenant to the Gentiles. The Jews are then made jealous of those riches and repent, entering into them too, leading to greater blessing for all.
Exodus INTO Egypt
Peter Leithart makes some incredibly helpful remarks concerning the parallels between the entry into Egypt and the land of Goshen and the later Exodus. My comments below follow his closely. Both in Canaan in Joseph’s day and in Egypt in Moses’, Israel faces a threat that means that they need to leave the land. The land of Goshen is, like Canaan, described as a rich and beautiful land, the very best of the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:18; 47:11). As already observed, Joseph is like Moses (recall the parallels between the stories of their visitations and rejections by their brothers, encounters at wells, etc.), both princes of Egypt, who lead the Israelites in and out of the land.
During Joseph’s rule he establishes a feudal state, bringing the entire people of Egypt under his and Pharaoh’s direct rule. He ransoms their lives. All of Egypt become the slaves of Pharaoh. We will see a similar thing in the Exodus: the Israelites were claimed by God as his servants and liberated from slavery to Pharaoh in such a manner. This isn’t a negative development, but one that saves people from death and brings them under the godly, prudent, and provident rule of a wise and blessed leader, under incredibly generous terms of service (47:24-26). This theme of releasing dependent people through a benevolent slavery/servanthood is one that we have already observed and will return to again in time.
As Leithart observes, there is a numbering of the people when they first leave Egypt (in the book of Numbers), and a numbering when they leave Canaan in Genesis 46:8-27. There is a blessing of them as they enter Goshen in Genesis 47 and a parallel blessing of the children of Israel just before they enter Canaan (Deuteronomy 33).
The experience of the Exodus is also bookended. Israel is welcomed into Egypt with chariots and wagons of gifts (Genesis 45:21-23) and they leave with gifted plunder (Exodus 12:35-36). They are welcomed in with chariots, and they are driven out with chariots (for more on the symbolism of chariots, see this post).
All of this presents us with an exodus into Egypt, before there is ever an Exodus out. Egypt was a place where Israel would grow and mature, waiting for the time when, through great birth pangs, it would be born as a great nation. It was the site of rescue from the worldwide judgment, the ark within which Israel would be protected and prepared for new creation.
Promise of Exodus
Just as we saw Joseph as the pioneer of the entry into Egypt, so we can see Jacob as the one who is the beacon sent on ahead into Canaan. As James Jordan has observed, Jacob’s burial involves a ‘going up’ (50:5, 6, 7, 9, 14): it is an exodus and an ascension. Jacob is buried in the ‘firstfruits’ of the land of Canaan, the field and the cave purchased from the sons of Heth in Genesis 23 (49:29-32; 50:5). Israel’s burial is thus the firstfruits of the later exodus of his children.
Joseph’s burial, on the other hand, is different. Joseph was put in a coffin (50:26) and made the children of Israel swear to carry up his bones from Egypt when God visited them (v.25). In this respect, Jacob is like Christ, who is the firstfruits of the resurrection, while Joseph like the Spirit, the one who tarries with us, guaranteeing that we will follow.
In the story of Joseph we see the pattern of exodus recurring again, even as the great Exodus cycle of the Old Testament begins. Joseph’s exodus precedes that of his family, and is an exodus into which they are included. It represents the culmination of many themes that have been operative in previous exoduses in the book of Genesis. It involves themes such as plagues, humiliation of foreign deities and proof of YHWH’s supremacy, and release from death through becoming a servant. In Joseph’s exodus the Gentiles are blessed and through their blessing the people of God are saved.
It is an exodus into Egypt, and entry into a rich and fertile land, away from a realm of famine and death. Finally, it is accompanied by both an anticipation and a certain promise of the great Exodus to come.