The Closing Years of Joseph
September 14th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE CLOSING YEARS OF JOSEPH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-14-58 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the early morning hour in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, based upon Genesis 45 through 50. It is entitled, The Closing Years of Joseph.
For over twenty years, Jacob had mourned over Joseph as dead. In the forty-fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis, the strange ruler of Egypt reveals himself to his brethren, and lo, it is none other than Joseph. When his brethren looked upon him, they did so in terror. Their hearts were verily paralyzed with fear, and they shrank away. But Joseph said, "Come nigh, come nigh. It is I, your brother" [Genesis 45:4]. And he kissed them, and they wept together [Genesis 45:15]. And now with sacks full of corn, with arms laden with presents, with wagons and empty vessels to take back to the land of Egypt all that Israel possesses, they come to Canaan, unto Jacob their father [Genesis 45:23-25]. And they tell him, "Joseph is yet alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not." It was too good to be true. "And they recounted to him all the words of Joseph: and when Jacob saw the wagons that Joseph had sent for him, the spirit of their father was lifted up: And Israel said, It is enough; my son Joseph is alive: I will go down and see him before I die" [Genesis 45:26-28]. And that closes the forty-fifth chapter of the book.
Now we begin in the forty-sixth chapter the tremendous transition from the land of Canaan, from a nomadic tribe, to the land of Egypt, where, in a fiery furnace, the nation was built, and its sinews of steel and devotion were welded together. Had it not been for Egypt, I would think that Israel had remained like the Bedouins that you see today: nomads, pasturing here, tending their flocks yonder, wandering over the sparsely settled and arid lands of the Arabic peninsula. But Egypt turned them, Egypt changed them; in the fire of that furnace, they became a nation. It’s a funny thing about the Jewish people: to this day in their home country, they are farmers, agricultural people. Outside of the land they are merchants and traders and financiers; but when they go back to the land of Palestine, they’re farmers, they’re agricultural people. They are to this day. That’s one of the strangest things you’ll ever observe if you ever go around and look at all the nations of the world: how Israel, in every land and every city, Dallas and everywhere else, are merchandising people, except in Palestine where they till the soil.
In forty-six, chapter 46, you have this tremendous, vast transition. "So Israel took his journey, and all that he had, and came to Beersheba" [Genesis 46:1], that was the last halting place before the wide stretch of wasting sands that separated between Canaan and the land of the Nile. And there he had one last interview with God. His heart drew him down to Egypt to be with his son Joseph; but the memory of the tragic experiences of his ancestors, his forefathers, made him hesitate. And he paused at Beersheba, and there where his father Isaac had built an altar and there where his father Isaac had digged the well, there he paused for one last interview with God:
And the Lord spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.
And God said, I am the Lord God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:
I will go down with thee into Egypt; I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.
So Jacob rose up from Beersheba: with his sons and his sons sons, their little ones, the wagons, which Pharaoh had sent to carry them.
They took their cattle, and their goods . . . and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him
And they arrived in the land of Goshen [Genesis 46:28].
Now the forty-seventh chapter; in the forty-seventh chapter, we shall speak of the seventh through the tenth verses. In the forty-seventh chapter of Genesis, you have described one of the meaningful, interesting, historical incidents, one of the most significant that you could find in all history. "And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh." Could you imagine a more interesting, significant situation than that? And how fraught with meaning, as we look upon life and its meaning: Pharaoh [Genesis 47:7], the king of the grandest, greatest empire in that world, no more power in any throne, no more wealth, and no more grandeur to be found in the earth than right there; and Pharaoh, the king, and this wayworn, weary, decrepit, old man Israel, face to face. Now you have to remember what kind of a man Israel was. He was a sheepherder; and all of his life he had spent out in the pastures keeping sheep, in tents, a wayworn pilgrim, and now limping, decrepit, aged, and the only reason for his presence in Egypt was because of ruinous losses brought on the by the famine [Genesis 47:4]. Now can you imagine those two together, the Pharaoh, with his chariots of gold?
Have some of you been in that museum in Cairo? And have you seen all of the magnificence that attended King Tut? And King Tut was just an insignificant ruler; and he died when he was about seventeen or eighteen years old. Why, there’s nothing like that that I’ve ever looked at in creation; the chariot he drove in made out of gold, every bench he sat on, every chair he sat on made out of gold, all the things that are with him, multitudinous, are of fine gold, studded with gems. I tell you, the magnificence of those ancient Oriental rulers and Egyptian kings, beyond anything we think of today. Today we use our tax money for foreign aid. Then they used their tax money to glorify the throne. And this man Pharaoh, this king, covered in jewels, walking in sparkling gems, with gold and silver, with chariots and horses, with soldiers and priests, with retinue, everything, can you imagine it? And then before him, is set, you notice how the Scriptures say it? "And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him" – I suppose, being already crippled, in his decrepitude and age, he was invalid – and Joseph set his father before Pharaoh" [Genesis 47:7].
Now could I make this comment in passing? Don’t you think it a wonderful trait in Joseph that he was proud of his father? Would have been very easy for that brilliant young prime minister to keep his father in the background. When they came down into the land of Egypt, they went to Goshen, straight, immediate; from Canaan to Goshen [Genesis 46:28]. Now the capital was at Memphis, and Joseph didn’t have to present his father; he could have just left him down there in the land of Goshen. But he didn’t. He presented with great pride his father to the king [Genesis 47:7].
I read this last week in preparing this message, I read about a grand vizier, who in his great palace had a little room, into which no one but entered except him. And he entered once a day; every day he went into that little room. For, said this story, he had been a humble shepherd when he was a youth; and in that little room, he had the crude, rude, simple furniture that he knew when he was a shepherd boy, and also there, the humble tools of his calling. And the grand vizier, the prime minister of his nation, went into that room every day to meditate and to be reminded of the days of his humble childhood. You know that was good.
And this is good: he did not forget from whence he came; and though now prime minister of the great empire of the Nile, he still remembers the tent, and his old father, and his people. So the two are there together [Genesis 47:7]. Now, could you think of a more interesting thing than to contrast them? Which one was the greater? One is a king; he’s a king by the adventitious circumstance of birth. He just happened to be a king. But the other is a king too, but of how different a kind. There are three things that made Jacob royal. One was prayer. Jacob knew the Lord. Jacob was the one who made his way back to Bethel [Genesis 35:1-15]. Jacob is the one with whom Bethel is identified. Prayer! There’s a second thing that made Jacob royal: suffering. Suffering ate away his old nature; and a new Israel was born [Genesis 32:28]. A third thing made Jacob royal: he met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face; and he called the place Peniel, "the face of God," and He wrestled with him [Genesis 32:24-31]. That was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Jehovah, our Lord. Ermine doesn’t make a judge. A golden crown doesn’t make a king, nor does station and birth and rank make a great man. Israel is royal; he’s a king because of his walk before the Lord.
There the two are. I do not even know for sure the name of that Pharaoh. I’ve tried to find out, and some say one thing, and some say another thing; doesn’t matter. But we all know the name of this grand, great, old man Israel. And there they are before him, Joseph and Jacob in the presence of Pharaoh [Genesis 47:7]. "And Pharaoh says unto Jacob, How old art thou? [Genesis 47:8]. And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage" [Genesis 47:9] – strangers and pilgrims in the earth; "By faith they looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" [Hebrews 11:10] – "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have been the days of the years of my life" [Genesis 47:9]. Few, that seems strange to us that he’d call it "few," but no: Terah lived to be two hundred five years of age [Genesis 11:32], Abraham lived to be a hundred seventy-five [Genesis 25:7], Isaac lived to be a hundred eighty [Genesis 35:28]. When he speaks of a hundred thirty, he calls them few. "I have not attained," he says, "unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage." Then he says, "evil," "few and evil" [Genesis 47:9]. Compared to his brother Esau, Esau, head of a great kingdom then, the father of twelve dukes, the progenitor of a long line of kings, Esau knew nothing but prosperity and affluence from the beginning [Genesis 36:1-43]; but Jacob, Israel, knew sorrow, fleeing from his brother Esau, the years of service in Padan Aram under Laban, his uncle, the flight back to Canaan, the terrible sorrow at Shechem, the disappointment in Reuben, all of the sorrow that attended the death of Rachel his beloved wife, and above all, the grief attended upon the loss of his beloved son Joseph [Genesis 27:41-37:35], why, all of his life was one of tears, and regret, and disappointment, and despair [Genesis 47:9]. "Few and evil," and yet, Scriptures say, "And Jacob blessed Pharaoh" [Genesis 47:10]. And in the Book of the Hebrews, it says, "Without contradiction the less is blessed of the greater" [Hebrews 7:7]. Of those two, the Pharaoh, the king, and Israel, the humble sheep rancher and pilgrim, there is no doubt – I don’t think anyone would question it – the greater is Israel. So, they went out from the presence of Pharaoh [Genesis 47:10].
Now the latter part of chapter 47, then 48 and , you have in those three chapters, you have described three visits of Joseph to his aged father. In each visit, apparently, Israel is dying; and Joseph comes from his palace in Memphis, down to Goshen, in order to visit his father. And there were three visits. Now the first one is contained in these last few verses in the forty-seventh chapter of Genesis. "Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years." He was a hundred thirty when he came to Egypt; he lived in Goshen seventeen years. So Jacob died when he was a hundred forty-seven years old. "He lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years [Genesis 47:28]. The time drew near that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh" [Genesis 47:29]. Remember when Abraham made Eliezer, his steward, do that, swear to him he would not find a wife for him from the daughters of the Canaanites, but he would go to his father’s house in Padan Aram, and find a bride for Isaac there, remember that? [Genesis 24:1-4]. "If now," says the old Israel, "I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me." Now, of all the requests, guess what? Of all the requests, listen to it: "Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: But I will lie with my fathers," in the cave of Machpelah, "and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burial place. And Joseph said, I will do as thou hast said. And Jacob said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head" [Genesis 47:29-31].
Now there’s a meaning in that. Seventeen years Jacob had lived in Egypt [Genesis 47:28]. And in those seventeen years, he had opportunity to be acquainted with a people who magnified their burial places beyond any people who has ever lived. You stand and look at those ancient pyramids: to this day there is not a building a man has erected that even begins to approach the size of those pyramids. And the splendor and grandeur of those tombs of the kings, he had lived to see, Jacob had, all of the accouterments by which that ancient people magnified the memory of their dead. Jacob saw all of those obelisks, Cleopatra’s needles; he saw those great pyramids; he saw those tombs; he was acquainted with all the obsequies voted by the state. And yet, when time came for Israel to die, and his son prime minister could have given him any burial that the wealth and power of Egypt could have afforded, the aged Israel said, "Son, swear, swear to me that when I die, you will not bury me in a mausoleum, or in a pyramid, or among the tombs of the kings; but take me back to that humble cave in the land of Mamre before Hebron, where Abraham and Sarah are buried, where I buried Leah, and lay to rest my body there" [Genesis :29-31, 50:13]. I wonder why? Because God had said, "I will bring them back out of the land of Egypt" [Genesis 15:14]; and Israel believed God. And when the trumpets sounded, and Israel marched out of the land of Egypt, back into the Promised Land of Canaan, Jacob wanted to be buried in the land where God, by covenant promise forever, had promised a home to His children and His children’s children [Genesis 35:12]. And he believed the promises of God and made Joseph swear, when he dies, he will be buried in the land God has promised to His people [Genesis 47:29-31]. You know that’s been a long time ago; that promise was unconditional. After two thousand five hundred years, God is still faithful to that promise. The land is being given to the children of this aged Jacob.
Now the second – we must hasten – this second interview, in the forty-eighth chapter of the book, Genesis 48: "It came to pass after these things, that one told Joseph, Behold, thy father is sick: and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And one told Jacob, and said, Behold, thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel revived" [Genesis 48:1-2]. This aged man dying, just to mention the name of Joseph, and he revives. And there Joseph is visiting his father the second time, with his two little boys, Manasseh, the older, and Ephraim. So the forty-eighth chapter is the story of Jacob’s talking, visiting with Joseph, a very tender interview. And while the old man talks, his mind wanders back. You know, the way these stories are written down is an amazing thing. Right in the middle of his talking, his mind will wander back a hundred twenty years before.
For example, in that third verse: his mind goes back to Bethel, when the Lord God Almighty appeared to him in the land of Canaan and blessed him [Genesis 48:3]; that was a hundred twenty years ago, and he remembers it as though it happened yesterday. Now look at that seventh verse: right in the midst of his talking to Joseph, and his mind goes back to that sorrowful day, when Rachel died by the way, when as yet they were but a little way from Ephrath, "And I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; which is Bethlehem"; never forget the sorrow of the tears of that day [Genesis 48:7]. Then as he talks to him, he takes the two boys, Manasseh and Ephraim, and he says, "These God hath given thee in Egypt are mine, as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine. And thy issue, which thou begettest after them, shall be thine, and shall be called after the name of their brethren in their inheritance" [Genesis 48:5-6]. That is, Joseph was to have a double portion in Israel. There are two tribes given to Joseph: Manasseh and Ephraim. Now that’s what is meant over here in 1 Chronicles 5, where it says:
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn . . . but his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.
For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler.
[1 Chronicles 5:1-2]
Jesus the Messiah, "but the birthright was Joseph’s" [1 Chronicles 5:2]. The birthright that was given to Jacob and not Esau, the birthright is given to Joseph; and Joseph is to have two tribes: the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Ephraim, named after Joseph’s two sons; he’s to have a double portion. "They are to be mine," says Jacob; that is, they are to head tribes. "They are to be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are mine. And thou shalt have a double portion in Israel" [Genesis 48:5, 22].
Now, in the story here, when Joseph brought the two boys to be blessed of Jacob, why, he brought them so that Manasseh would be before the right hand of Jacob, and Ephraim the younger before the left hand of Jacob, so the older boy would have the greater blessing. But when old Jacob blessed them, he crossed his hands like this, and put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, the older one, and his right hand upon Ephraim’s head, the younger one. And Joseph greatly resented it. Joseph said unto his father, "Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head" And his father refused and said, "I know it, my son, I know it: he also, Manasseh the older, shall become a great people, and he shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations" [Genesis 48:14-19]. So Ephraim, according to the old prophet Israel, Ephraim shall be the greater of the two. And of course, the after story, the story of Israel, the ten tribes, is the story of Ephraim.
Now we hasten to the close. That beautiful and precious interview closed with a gift:
And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.
Moreover I give to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.
[Genesis 48:21- 22]
And Jacob gave to Joseph a parcel of land before the city of Shechem or Sychar [John 4:5]. Now, isn’t it an unusual thing? Long time ago that little parcel of land that Jacob gave to Joseph had reverted to its former owners. Jacob is down in Goshen; all the family, the seed, their cattle, their substance, are in the land of Egypt. Yet Jacob says to Joseph, "One portion I give thee above thy brethren, that little piece of land that I bought before this city of Shechem, before the city of Sychar, I give to you, Joseph; it’s to be yours forever" [Joshua 24:32]. Isn’t that strange? Down there in the land of Egypt, so beautifully situated, with all of the luxuries of the court and the best of the land, and multiplying and flourishing; "No, your home is to be up there in Canaan, in the land of promise. And that little extra portion, that little piece, Joseph, I give to you" [Genesis 48:22].
"Then cometh He to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. And Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well" [John 4:5-6]. Who would ever have thought it, over thousands of year? Don’t be discouraged.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
["Light Shining out of Darkness"; William Cowper]
You may not see it in your lifetime. Your children’s children may not see it in their lifetime. God may take a thousand or a thousand thousand years to bring it to pass; but He abideth faithful.
Back there, Joseph, back there, in Canaan’s land, in the Promised Land; this is not our home, we are strangers and pilgrims here [Hebrews 11:13]. Our home is in heaven [Philippians 3:20].
While we sing our song, somebody you, give his heart to the Lord; somebody you, put his life in the church; while we sing the song, would you come and stand by me? "Pastor, I give you my hand; I have given my heart to Jesus." Or, "We’re putting our lives in the church." While we sing this song, as God shall open the door, would you come? While we stand and while we sing.
THE CLOSING YEARS OF JOSEPH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Jacob mourned for Joseph for twenty years; Genesis 45:25-28
II. Jacob’s final interview with God; Genesis 46:1-7
III. Joseph and Jacob in Pharaoh’s court; genesis 47:7-10
IV. Joseph’s first visit to his dying father; Genesis 47:27-31
V. Joseph’s second visit; Genesis 48:1-22
VI. Joseph’s third and final visit; Genesis
VII. Death of Joseph; Genesis 50:22-26