And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Foramuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:
Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
Through the means of a revelation from God Joseph had made known unto Pharaoh a dire problem which would face him and his country in the near future: there was to be for them seven years of great bounty in their crops followed by seven more years of most severe famine. But in almost the same breath he gave to them an answer as to how they might meet this problem. In greatest humility he gave this answer with hardly a thought that he might gain from it personally. He felt sincerely that credit for the revelation and advice was due not to himself but to God from whom they came. At most he hoped to gain for himself only a release from prison and freedom to return to his father’s home, and that, not as a payment for the revelation which came from God, but because now he might gain an opportunity to plead his innocence before the king. In that spirit of meekness he set before Pharaoh the four-point program that God had revealed to him. 1. Pharaoh should find a man who was discreet and wise to administer the affairs of the Egyptian economy in the problem years ahead. 2. Subordinate officers should be appointed to execute the orders which this man would set forth. 3. During the seven years of plenty a fifth part of all of the crops should be taken in as a taxation from the people. 4. The goods so gathered should be stored in cities and guarded to be used when the years of famine had come.
Perhaps no one was more surprised at the reaction of Pharaoh than was Joseph. Not only did he give his immediate assent to Joseph’s plan but he also appointed Joseph to be the administrator. Pharaoh discerned in Joseph the Spirit of God which provided him with just such wisdom and discretion as was needed for this difficult task. Placing absolute confidence in the Spirit of God which rested upon Joseph, Pharaoh gave to Joseph all that was necessary for him to function in his newly acquired office. First, and of foremost importance, Pharaoh took his own ring from his finger and placed it upon the finger of Joseph. This was a signet ring which bore the seal of royal authority. The signet could be impressed in soft wax or clay and it would affix the authority of Pharaoh’s throne to any order that Joseph would give. The fact that Pharaoh gave his ring into Joseph’s care marks complete trust which Pharaoh immediately placed in him. Secondly, Joseph was provided with new clothing of the finest linen such as only the Egyptians of that day could make. This rich clothing served to distinguish him in the sight of all as a ruler of the people and a member of the royal court. Thirdly, a gold chain was placed about Joseph’s neck. In Egypt a gold chain of this kind was a symbol of greatest authority and power. Fourthly, a royal chariot was placed at Joseph’s disposal. It was second in elegance only to the chariot of Pharaoh. Whenever Joseph rode in this chariot, servants were sent before him to command obeisance from the people, for Joseph came with the authority of the king. Fifthly, lest racial prejudices should be held against Joseph, he was given an Egyptian name, Zephnath-Paaneah. Finally, even more to encourage Joseph’s acceptance by the people, he was given an Egyptian wife of high birth, Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On. Thus Joseph was thoroughly established in the court of Pharaoh. As Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”
We marvel that Pharaoh, a heathen king, could put such immediate and complete trust in Joseph, a foreigner and a former inmate of his prison. The mere fact that Joseph had interpreted his dreams and given him a bit of sage advice would hardly seem to explain it. But then we recall the words of Solomon, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Pr. 21:1). God had willed that Joseph should be the ruler of Egypt, and also Pharaoh would be made to serve this purpose. None can resist God’s will. Nonetheless, we should not explain this as merely the overruling power of God’s providence. There was more to it than that: We note that Pharaoh did not ascribe mere earthly wisdom to Joseph but acknowledged that it was “the Spirit of God” that worked in him. Furthermore we learn fromPsalm 105 (vs. 22) that Pharaoh appointed Joseph to “teach his senators wisdom.” Surely Joseph was not satisfied to instruct those “senators” in mere intellectual knowledge. As far as the wisdom of the world is concerned the wise men of Egypt had much more knowledge than Joseph; but there was one thing that Joseph had which they did not, that was the knowledge of God. Of that knowledge Joseph was always most ready to speak. He instructed the wise men of Egypt in it, and Pharaoh did not disapprove. Finally we know that when Jacob came to Egypt he gave his blessing to Pharaoh. We would conclude, therefore, that for a short time in the history of Egypt, God saw well to gather his elect out of that heathen nation. As in the house of Potiphar and in the cells of the prison, so Joseph in the court of Pharaoh was a preacher of righteousness. For a brief moment in history Egypt, like Nineveh in later years, was made a type of the gathering of the Gentiles. It was a foretaste of the day concerning which Isaiah would write, “In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them. And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation, yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it” (Isaiah 19:19-21). Pharaoh acknowledged the wisdom of Joseph because the grace of God was working in his heart.
In this way also, we can understand the marriage of Joseph to Asenath. Was Joseph unequally yoked together with an unbeliever? Surely he would have never consented to a marriage such as that. He had refused to corrupt the house of Potiphar with adultery; surely he would never have allowed his own house to be polluted with the service of idols. But Asenath was not an unbeliever. She was one of those who under the preaching of Joseph came to see the vanity of the religion of her fathers. She forsook, therefore, her idols for the God of Joseph. Only thereafter did Joseph take her to be his wife, and the blessing of God rested upon their marriage.
The first thing which Joseph did after receiving his office from Pharaoh was to visit all the different parts of the land of Egypt. This he did even before the seven years of plenty were begun. The purpose was to become thoroughly familiar with the land and with the people, so that, when the problems of gathering and distributing the grain would come to him, he would be able to evaluate them correctly.
Soon the years of plenty did come, and Joseph’s time was fully occupied with gathering the excess in safe and proper storage. These were not just good years, a bit better than average, they were years which overflowed in plenty. There was a touch of the miraculous in the way that the land brought forth its fruit. Many times the average crop was reaped by the workers. It was necessary for Joseph to keep very close watch over all of the land to keep the people from wasting that which was extra. Year after year under the careful supervision of Joseph the storage cities were filled with their treasure. Not only did Joseph take the fifth part of the crop to be held in the possession of the government, but he taught and instructed the people on their part to put up for the years of famine which were to follow. With his example it was necessary to show the people that the years of plenty were not to be taken for granted or wasted. As much as possible had to be kept for the future. So great was the amount of food placed in storage that it exceeded the ability of the Egyptians to count it.
We see in Joseph a beautiful example of a God-fearing ruler. Although all of the wealth of Egypt was at his disposal, he applied himself diligently to the work which he was given to do. He would not take advantage of the favors that were his, but bore himself always as a willing servant faithful in his work. God had prepared him well for the position which he filled. Normally to be lifted from the position of a slave in a prison to ruler over all the land would be a very dangerous experience. Easily one’s heart becomes filled with pride, and he begins to think that somehow his good fortune is due to his own personal excellence. But Joseph had been purged beforehand from the inclination toward such pride. From the favored position in his father’s house, he was sold as a slave into Egypt. When again he rose into favor in Potiphar’s house, he was cast down into the depths of a dungeon. Thus Joseph was taught how impossible it was for him to care for himself. He was left with only God in whom to trust. Thus when finally he was raised to a position of highest glory, he knew that it was due not to himself but to God. With all meekness he used his position as a servant and not for his own satisfaction. He was an example to all of a meek and a Godly life.
Gradually the pattern and purpose of Joseph’s life was beginning to come into focus. Joseph remembered the dreams which he had had in his youth. At the time his brothers had laughed and mocked him for them; they had seemed utterly impossible. As a slave in Potiphar’s house, and especially within the darkened walls of Pharaoh’s prison, they had seemed more impossible than ever before. Still he had not been able to escape the conviction that those dreams had been a revelation from God. Often he had pondered those dreams in the hours of his suffering but had not been able to understand. Now, however, this was suddenly changed. The fulfillment of those dreams began at least to appear possible. In his new position of authority, his brothers had only to come out of Canaan and they might easily bow before him as the dreams had foretold. Why it had to be, he did not know, but the possibility was clearly evident. For that reason also Joseph did not use his influence with Pharaoh to obtain permission to visit his family in Canaan. There he would meet them as equals, and the purpose of God, revealed to him from his youth, was that they should bow down before him. With patience he would wait for the fulfillment of the way of the Lord.
Thus when God blessed him with the birth of a son, he named the child Manasseh; “for God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.” The idea was not that his love for his father, or even for his brothers, had grown dim; actually he longed to be reunited with them. But the sting had gone out of that memory. It meant that he no longer held any evil feelings toward his brothers for their sin; and, even more, he was now able to distinguish that behind the deed of his brothers there had been the hand of God guiding things toward an end that He had long before ordained. Joseph was content in the way of the Lord. So when his second child was born, he named him Ephraim, “for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” It was not the riches that had come to him. It was not the power and glory of his newly acquired position. It was the knowledge that he was being led in the way of the Lord. Surely that was the fruitfulness of his life in which he could rejoice.