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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Joseph the Son of Jacob

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The story of Joseph is among the best known in the Bible. It spreads over more than a dozen chapters of Genesis and shows how God was fulfilling his promises to Abraham.

God had promised Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, but those descendants would be able to take possession of it only when they had sufficient numbers to do so. First of all, therefore, they had to develop as a nation, and the story of Joseph shows how this became possible. It recounts the events that led to their migration to Egypt and their subsequent growth and development. Although, after Joseph’s death, they suffered a period of slavery, in due course they left Egypt and took possession of Canaan (cf. Genesis 15:13-16).

From Canaan to Egypt

Joseph was Jacob’s eleventh son but, being Rachel’s firstborn, he soon became Jacob’s favourite (Genesis 30:22-24; Genesis 33:1-7). By the time Joseph was seventeen, his brothers so hated him that they decided to get rid of him. They sold him to traders who took him to Egypt, though they told their father that a wild animal had killed him (Genesis 37).

In spite of his blameless behaviour, Joseph ended up in prison. Because of his good conduct, he was given a position of responsibility that proved to be of benefit to the other prisoners, but he waited in vain for anyone to help him (Genesis 39; Genesis 40). When at last someone told the king of Joseph’s wisdom, Joseph warned the king of a coming famine and advise him how to deal with it. The king was so impressed that he made Joseph the administrator of the famine relief program, and then governor of all Egypt (Genesis 41:1-45; Acts 7:9-10).

Governor of Egypt

At the time of his appointment as governor, Joseph was thirty years of age (Genesis 41:46). He married an Egyptian and they produced two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 41:47-52).

Egypt alone had made preparations for the famine, with the result that people came from everywhere to buy food. Among these were Joseph’s brothers. Although Joseph recognized them, they did not recognize him (Genesis 41:53-57; Genesis 42:1-8).

To see if his brothers had changed for the better over the years, Joseph cleverly arranged a striking sequence of events. He worked them into a trap from which they could have easily escaped by sacrificing their brother Benjamin, who was their father’s new favourite. But they refused to forsake Benjamin (Genesis 42:9-38; Genesis 43; Genesis 44). Joseph, satisfied that his brothers had experienced a genuine change of heart, told them who he was. He then sent wagons to Canaan to bring Jacob and all his family to Egypt (Genesis 45; Genesis 46; Acts 7:11-14).

Joseph arranged for all Jacob’s family to settle in Goshen in the Nile Delta. There, separated from the Egyptians, they could multiply and develop without their culture or religion being corrupted by the Egyptians (Genesis 47:1-12). Meanwhile Joseph continued as governor, and his economic policies saved Egypt from disaster (Genesis 47:13-26).

Later events

Before Jacob died, he raised the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, to equal status with the brothers of Joseph. Manasseh and Ephraim would therefore become heads of tribes in Israel. Joseph, by receiving two tribes instead of one, received the inheritance of the firstborn (Genesis 48; Genesis 49:22-26; 1 Chronicles 5:1-2).

When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared he might now have revenge against them. Joseph was saddened by such mistrust and reassured his brothers that he would continue to look after them (Genesis 50:1-21).

Joseph lived over ninety years in Egypt, but he still believed that Canaan was the land his people would one day possess. Before he died he showed his faith in God’s promises by leaving instructions that when the people of Israel eventually moved to Canaan, they take his remains with them (Genesis 50:22-26; Exodus 13:19; Hebrews 11:22). His descendants buried his bones at Shechem, in the tribal area of Ephraim (Joshua 24:32).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Joseph the Son of Jacob'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/j/joseph-the-son-of-jacob.html. 2004.

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