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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  

Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme: Overcome: Living Beyond Your Circumstances

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of our final session of studying how God worked in Joseph’s life, we will see how he was able to look back over the years and realize how God was at work in all the difficulties he faced. May we have the same perspective.



Oct. 19

Overcome Betrayal


Oct. 26

Overcome Temptation


Nov. 02

Overcome Being Forgotten


Nov. 09

Overcome Hard Times


Nov. 16

Overcome Bitterness


Nov. 23

Overcome an Earthly Mindset



We can trust God is at work on our behalf.


Genesis 50:15-21





Fear of The Past (Gen. 50:15-17)

Place of Submission (Gen. 50:18-19)

Power of The Right Perspective (Gen. 50:20-21)


  In last week’s study, Joseph had revealed his true identity to his brothers (Gen. 45:3).  Since the famine that caused his brothers to return to Egypt would last for another five years, Joseph urged them to go back to Canaan and bring their father to live out the remainder of his life under Joseph’s security.  His brothers told Jacob about Joseph and convinced him to move the entire clan to Egypt.  Jacob was stunned at the news that Joseph was alive, but Jacob consented to move and headed for Egypt as Joseph had suggested.  Joseph arranged, with Pharaoh’s approval, to settle his family in the land of Goshen, some of the best land in all of Egypt for sustaining Jacob’s flocks and herds. After Jacob had settled in Goshen Joseph sot Jacob’s blessing for his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Gen. 48).  Jacob, anticipating his own death, asked his family to bury him back in Canaan.  Joseph and the rest of Jacob’s family carried our Jacob’s wish to be buried in Canaan.  God’s plan to forge the Hebrews into a great nation was moving forward, thanks to Joseph’s never-wavering faith in the Lord!

Overviews is adapted from the following sources:

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Throughout our lives we find ourselves in many different circumstances.  Some moments are very special and overflows with happiness.  But, some moments are that are full of pain and frustration.  It is in such moments of pain and frustration that our Christian values really come into play.   If this world were all we knew, it would be easy to sink into disappointment and bitterness.  What hope do we have if our circumstances always seem against us and full of pain and frustration?  Thankfully, life is more than those moments that cause us such anguish.  Our Christian faith can sustain us through such moments.  If we could see our situations from God’s perspective, we would surely not feel despondent by the way life may have turned out.  When we can look back over our lives, through an eternal perspective, we can see God’s hand in all that we have encountered.  It is God’s eternal hand that has brought us to this moment in our lives.  We can learn from Joseph, who recognized God’s hand in all that he faced, and His hand is in all that we face.

Introduction is adapted from the following source:

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Fear Of The Past (Gen. 50:15-17)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”  16 So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: 17 ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin—the suffering they caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him.








1.   What has taken place in the life of Joseph since our last study (Gen. 45:3-11)?

2.   About how much time has it been since Jacob arrived in Egypt?

3.   Why do you think fear of Joseph’s taking revenge on the brothers resurfaced after their father Jacob died (v. 15)?

4.   Why do you think the brothers were still worried about Joseph taking revenge on them?

5.   Based on what had happened to Joseph’s brothers since they first went down to Egypt, do you think their fears were justified?  If so, why.

6.   If you think their fears were unjustified, why?

7.   What message did Joseph’s brothers send to Joseph (vv. 16,17)?

8.   Why did Jacob think it was necessary to instruct Joseph to forgive his brothers?

9.   Do you think Jacob was really the source of this message (vv. 16,17)?  Why, or why not?

10.   What events in Jacob’s life makes it plausible that Jacob was the source of the message? (See Gen. 27:36; Gen. 32—33.)

11.   Based on this passage, what words best describe the depth of their pleas for forgiveness?

12.   In their message of forgiveness, why do you think the brothers identified themselves as “the servants of God or your father.”?

13.   What do you think really caused Joseph to weep after receiving the message from his brothers (v. 17)?

14.   If Joseph could trust God throughout his life time, what message can we get from that fact?

15.   If we know, as a believer, God is trustworthy do we have a part to play in the relationship?  If so, what do you think it is?

16.   Do you think forgiveness is an ongoing process or a one-time event? Explain your answer!

17.   How can we use the Holy Spirit to keep us from remembering past strained or broken relationships that have been mended through forgiveness?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 50:15-17:

1.  Some people are tempted to retaliate against people who have mistreated them.

2.  Fear motivates wrongdoers to avoid the people they hurt.

3.  Sometimes we need an intermediary when we fear other people’s actions.



Place Of Submission (Gen. 50:18-19)

18 Then his brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves!”  19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?

1.   In what two ways did the brothers demonstrate a submissive attitude toward Joseph (v. 18)?

2.   Do you think the brothers remembered Joseph’s earlier dreams?  Why, or why not? (See Gen. 37:5-10.)

3.   When was the Joseph’s dream of 37:5-10 fulfilled?  (See 42:6.)

4.   Do you think there was a difference between the time when the brothers bowed down before Joseph in 42:6 and v. 18? 

5.   If so, how would you describe that difference?

6.   How did Joseph’s reply to them demonstrate his attitude of submissiveness before God?

7.   Why do you think Joseph’s brothers called themselves “your slaves” (v. 18)?

8.   What do you think Joseph meant by what he said in verse 19?

9.   Do you think it is important for the one requesting forgiveness to receive reassurance that is has been given?  If so, why?

10.   What are some things the “forgiver” can do to extend reassurance to the “forgiven”?

11.   What are some things the “forgiven” can do to demonstrate the acceptance of forgiveness?

12.   Do you think there are a lot of believers who have a hard time leaving judgment or vengeance in God’s hands? 

13.   If so, why do you think this may be the case?

14.   What are some things a believer can do to keep from taking judgment/revenge into his/her own hands?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 50:18-19:

1.  Wrongdoers sometimes offer to serve the ones they wronged.

2.  Christians should not “play God” by judging others or treating them vindictively.

3.  Christians can deal with sinners in a compassionate, loving way.

4.  God is the ultimate source of justice and judgment in human affairs.



Power Of The Right Perspective (Gen. 50:20-21)

20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.  21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

1.   What perspective did Joseph offer to explain the actions of his brothers and the things that had happened to him?

2.   Because he believed that God had been in control all along, what actions was Joseph able to take toward his brothers and their families?

3.   How would you describe the difference between the brothers’ earlier plan to get rid of Joseph as compared to God’s plan for Joseph?

4.   According to what Joseph said in verse 20, what impact do you think it had on the brothers?

5.   Based on verse 21, what did Joseph promise to do for his brothers and their families?

6.   Do you believe that trusting God and his timing is easier or harder than fixing things yourself?

7.   If it is easier than fixing things yourself, what makes it so?

8.   If it is harder than fixing things yourself, why is that?

9.   Do you think it is embedded within our human makeup to want to fix things ourselves, even when we know better?

10.   What are some things you could do to ensure that God is your first choice to fix thing rather than first doing it yourself?

11.   When God is blessing you and things are going good, why does it often become easy to forget where the blessings come from?

12.   How did Joseph keep from taking matters into his own hands in dealing with his brothers?

13.   How difficult do you think it is for a believer to see God working in the midst of evil situations?

14.   Do you think there is a link between one’s discernment and his/her relationship with the Lord?  Explain your answer!

15.   Looking back over Joseph’s life, how would you summarize his role in God’s plan for the Hebrews to reside in Egypt?


Lasting Lessons in Gen. 50:20-21:

1.  God plans for good even when humans plan for evil.

2.  Christians demonstrate their forgiveness of others with concrete actions.

3.  We should adopt a heavenly perspective on our lives, identifying the way God is active in our lives.



What have we learned about God and us from our study of the events in the life of Joseph?  Several things should stand out: God is at work, even when it is not obvious; God is always active; God is no passive, disengaged, disinterested, absentee God!  In addition to these items, we should also be reminded that being aware of God’s work of love and grace, and believing that He does all things well, will allow us to press forward during difficult times with confidence in Him.  Remember, His graciousness toward us should help us to extend love, grace, and forgiveness to others who may have harmed us along the way.  Furthermore, we can be assured that God’s will and purpose will be accomplished in a way that brings glory to His Name!

So, how would you answer these questions that are related to our study of Joseph’s life:  (1) Do people who know you well think you would hold a grudge?  Why, or why not?  (2) Who would you ask to intercede for you if someone had a grudge against you?  (3) What have you actively done to show the sincerity of your forgiveness of another?  (4) To what events or experiences can you point to demonstrate that God has played an active role in your life?  (5) When have you doubted that God cared about you?  Why did you experience this doubt?  Who helped you see that God does indeed care for you?

Remember, God works for good in all situations, even in our own lives because He loves us and wants to bless us.  So, on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (constantly), how would you rate your work for God in all situations in your life?  If your rating shows room for improvement, ask God to guide you on the road to improvement.  He will, just ask Him!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


FOCAL PASSAGE:  Genesis 50:

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:

15 And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.  16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,  17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.  18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.  19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?  20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.  21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.  (KJV)

New International Version:

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”  16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died:  17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.  18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.  19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?  20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.   (NIV)

New Living Translation: Psalm 104:1-5,24-30:

 15 But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.  16 So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us  17 to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept.  18 Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.  19 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?  20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  21 No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.   (NLT)


Lesson Outline — “Overcome an Earthly Mindset” — Genesis 50:15-21




Fear Of The Past (Gen. 50:15-17)

Place of Submission (Gen. 50:18-19)

Power Of The Right Perspective (Gen. 50:20-21)



(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,The Pulpit Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Gen. 50:1-26

Jacob’s Death and Burial (50:1-14)

50:1-14. Over half of the final chapter is occupied with a description of the mourning and burial of Jacob. Joseph himself mourned (v. 1) and then the Egyptians (v. 3). Great preparations were made both by Joseph and the Egyptians (v. 2). A special request was granted by the Pharaoh to bury Jacob in his homeland (vv. 4-5), and a large entourage (hammahaneh kabed me’od v. 9; NIV, “a very large company”) was provided by the Pharaoh as a burial processional to carry Jacob’s body back to Canaan. “All [kol] Pharaoh’s officials ... and all [kol] the dignitaries of Egypt” (v. 7) along with Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen accompanied Joseph on his journey back to Canaan. Even the Canaanites recognized this as “a very large [kabed lit., ‘heavy’; NIV, ‘solemn’] ceremony of mourning” (v. 11). The writer himself seems to go out of his way to emphasize in detail the magnitude of the ceremony of mourning.

The question naturally arises why such detail over the burial of Jacob is given when in the death of the other patriarchs we are simply given the bare facts that they died and were buried. Even the account of the death of Joseph, which is also recorded in this chapter, consists only of the brief notice that he died and was embalmed and entombed in Egypt (v. 26). Was his burial of any less magnitude than Jacob’s? Surely it was not, but virtually no attention in the narrative is devoted to it. Why, then, the emphasis on Jacob’s burial? Perhaps such a description is intended merely as a concluding flourish at the end of the book, or does it play a part in the ongoing strategy of the text? In light of the writer’s careful attention to his larger themes throughout these narratives, it is appropriate to seek a motive for such an emphasis within the narrative. We can do that by asking what themes may be sustained or highlighted in such a full description of the burial party.

One theme that immediately comes to mind is that at a number of points throughout the narrative the writer’s concern focuses on God’s faithfulness to his promise of the land and the hope of God’s people in the eventual return to the land. In the later prophetic literature, a recurring image of the fulfillment of the promise to return to the land pictures Israel returning to the land accompanied by many from among the nations. The prophets of Israel saw the return as a time when “all the nations [kol-haggoyim] will stream to” Jerusalem, and “many peoples [‘ammim rabbim] will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob’” (Isa 2:2-3); or, as Zechariah saw it, “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you’” (Zech 8:23).

It is difficult not to see the same imagery at work in the present narrative. Jacob, in his final return to the Land of Promise, was accompanied by a great congregation of the officials and elders of the land of Egypt. With him was also the mighty army of the Egyptians. Thus the story of Jacob’s burial in the land foreshadows the time when God “will bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel” (Ezek 39:25).

The Final Joseph Narrative (50:15-26)

Joseph’s Forgiveness (50:15-21)

50:15-21.  The narrative turns once more to the scene of Joseph and his brothers and in so doing returns to the central theme of the Joseph narratives: “You intended to harm [ra‘ah lit., ‘evil’] me, but God intended it for good [letobah] ...[to] the saving of many lives [lehahayot ‘am-rab]” (v. 20). Behind all the events and human plans recounted in the story of Joseph lies the unchanging plan of God. It is the same plan introduced from the very beginning of the book where God looks out at what he has just created for man and sees that “it is good” (tob 1:4-31). Through his dealings with the patriarchs and Joseph, God had continued to bring about his good plan. He had remained faithful to his purposes, and it is the point of this narrative to show that his people can continue to trust him and to believe that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

The last description of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers is the statement that “he comforted them [wayenahem ‘oth am; NIV, ‘reassured’] and spoke kindly to them [wayedabber ‘al-libbam]” (v. 21).  It is again difficult not to see in this picture of Joseph and his brothers a foreshadowing of the future community of the sons of Israel in exile awaiting their return to the Promised Land. To that same community the call went out by the prophet Isaiah to “comfort [nahamu], comfort [nahamu] my people, says your God. Speak tenderly [dabberu ‘al-leb] to Jerusalem,... she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa 40:1-2).

Summary of Joseph’s Life and Death (50:22-26)

50:22-26. Though his words are few, the final statement of Joseph to his sons gives the clearest expression of the kind of hope taught in these narratives. Again, as had his father Jacob, Joseph wanted his bones returned to the Promised Land (v. 25). Also like Jacob, he saw to it that his sons swore to return his bones when they returned to the land. Though he knew he would die and not see the time when his sons returned to the land, he nevertheless expressed clearly the hope and trust that he had in God’s promise: “God will surely come to your aid [paqod yipqod] and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (v. 24). As has been characteristic of the literary technique of the Joseph narratives, Joseph repeated a second time (cf. 41:32) his statement of trust in God’s promise: “God will surely come to your aid [paqod yipqod], and then you must carry my bones up from this place” (v. 25).

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


The Pulpit Commentary – Volume 1: Genesis: 50:15-26

Verse 15.  And when (literally and) Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they (literally, and they) said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, — literally, If Joseph hated us, or pursued us hostilely (sc. what would become of us?), לוּ with the imperfect or future setting forth a possible but undesirable contingency — and will certainly requite us (literally, if returning he caused to return upon us) all the evil which we did unto him. “What then?” is the natural conclusion of the sentence. “We must be utterly undone.”

Verses 16, 17.  And (under these erroneous though not unnatural apprehensions) they sent a messenger unto Joseph, — literally, they charged Joseph, i.e. they deputed one of their number (possibly Benjamin) to carry their desires to Joseph — saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying (though not recorded, the circumstance here mentioned may have been historically true), So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil (nothing is more inherently probable than that the good man on his death-bed did request his sons to beg their brother's pardon): and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. Joseph's brethren in these words at once evince the depth of their humility, the sincerity of their repentance, and the genuineness of their religion. They were God's true servants, and they wished to be forgiven by their much-offended brother, who, however, had long since embraced them in the arms of his affection. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him — pained that they should for a single moment have enter-rained such suspicions against his love.

Verse 18.  And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. Both the attitudes assumed and the words spoken were designed to express the intensity of their contrition and the fervor of their supplication.

Verse 19.  And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?i.e. either reading the words as a question, Should I arrogate to myself what obviously belongs to Elohim, viz., the power and right of vengeance, or the power to interfere with the purposes of God? Or, regarding them as an assertion, I am in God's stead, i.e. a minister to you for good.

Verse 20.  But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good (literally, and ye were thinking or meditating evil against me; Elohim was thinking or meditating for good, i.e. that what you did should be for good), to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (vide Genesis 45:5).

Verse 21.  Now therefore (literally, and now) fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. Thus he repeats and confirms the promise which he had originally made to them when he invited them to come to Egypt (Genesis 45:11, 18, 19). And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them — literally, to their hearts (cf. Genesis 34:3).

Verse 22.  And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years. Wordsworth notices that Joshua, who superintended the burial of Joseph in Shechem, also lived 110 years. Joseph's death occurred fifty-six years after that of Jacob.

Verse 23.  And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation: — i.e. Ephraim's great-grandchildren, or Ephraim's great-great-grandsons, which perhaps was not impossible, since Ephraim must have been born before Joseph's thirty-seventh year, thus allowing at least sixty-three years for four generations to intervene before the patriarch's death, which might be, if marriage happened early, say not later than eighteen — the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh-by a concubine (1 Chronicles 7:14) were brought up upon Joseph's knees — literally, were born upon Joseph's knees, i.e. were adopted by him as soon as they were born, or were born so that he could take them also upon his knees, and show his love for them.

Verses 24, 25.  And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God (Elohim) will surely visit you, — literally, visiting will visit you, according to his promise (Genesis 46:4) — and bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, — as his father had done of him (Genesis 47:31), — saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. The writer to the Hebrews (Genesis 11:22) refers to this as a signal instance of faith on the part of Joseph.

Verse 26.  So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old (literally, a son of a hundred and ten years), and they (i.e. the children of Israel) embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin (or chest, i.e. a mummy case, which was commonly constructed of sycamore wood) in Egypt, where he remained for a period of 360 years, until the time of the Exodus, when, according to the engagement now given, his remains were carried up to Canaan, and solemnly deposited in the sepulcher of Shechem (Joshua 24:32).

SOURCE: The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 1: Genesis; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Genesis: 50:1-26

50:1-3.  After his initial expression of grief, Joseph called in the physicians who served him and they began the Egyptian process of embalming which continued for 40 days. The period of mourning continued for 30 more days, with Egypt in a state of mourning during this time out of respect for Joseph’s father, and as a token of their affection and esteem for Joseph.

50:4-6.  After the 70 days of mourning, Joseph asked the household of Pharaoh to tell him about the oath Jacob made Joseph swear. He did not go directly to Pharaoh probably because he was still in mourning, which might have included sackcloth and ashes. Joseph wanted permission to bury his father in the place Jacob had prepared in Canaan. Joseph also promised to return. Pharaoh gave him permission without hesitation. Even though he was a foreigner, Joseph had earned Pharaoh’s full trust.

50:7-9.  Joseph was still the prime minister of Egypt and highly esteemed. This is shown by Pharaoh’s servants, who were the elders of his household and the elders of Egypt, traveling with Joseph to bury his father. All Joseph’s brothers and their families accompanied him as well. Only the little ones, who were probably left in the care of servants, stayed behind.

The flocks and herds were also left behind, as further evidence that Joseph and his company would return soon. Joseph also brought along an armed contingent of war chariots and horsemen, to ensure their safety and rapid progress along the way. All this made a great and impressive company of people.

50:10-11. The great procession probably made a detour to avoid the Edomites and Philistines, and came to the threshing floor of Atad on the east side of the Jordan River. Since the Egyptians who were with Joseph apparently did not want to enter Canaan, this was an appropriate place for them to carry out final mourning rites for Jacob. The threshing floor was a level, hard-packed piece of ground outside of town. There they spent 7 days lamenting and carrying out great and grievous rites or customs of mourning, which probably included beating the breast and much wailing expressing their sorrow. The Canaanites who lived in the region saw these grievous mourning rites and were so impressed by them that they named the place Abel Mizraim, “Mourning of Egypt.”

50:12-14.  Jacob’s sons obeyed his command by burying him in the cave of Machpelah. Then they returned to Egypt. But the fact that Jacob was buried in Canaan was a reminder that God would be faithful to His promises.

50:15-17.  When Joseph’s brothers began to consider that their father was dead, they apparently concluded that Joseph had treated them so well only for their father’s sake. Perhaps he was still holding a grudge against them, and now he would surely pay them back for throwing him into the cistern and then selling him as a slave. The brothers were still full of guilt feelings. Though they had accused one another in Joseph’s presence without knowing he understood them (42:1-22), they had never made an honest, open, full confession to Joseph. Since they were afraid of what might happen, they sent a message to Joseph concerning a command they said their father made. They claimed Jacob commanded them to tell Joseph to please forgive the brothers’ offense and sin--the harm they did to him. Then they begged him to please forgive them for they were the slaves, the worshipers, of the God of his father. While the messengers were telling Joseph these things, Joseph wept. The brothers had mistrusted his motives after so many years of enjoying what he provided. They understood neither his love, nor his faith in God. This broke his heart.

50:18. Without waiting for a reply, the brothers themselves came and fell down before Joseph, saying they were his slaves. They had made an honest confession and were ready to suffer the consequences.

50:19.  Joseph told his brothers not to be afraid. His words show his first and primary reason why he would not seek revenge. He was not in the place of God. God said later, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay (Rom. 12:19; cf. Deut. 32:35). When we try to repay or “get even,” we do not leave room for God to deal with the situation. He can make enemies into friends. Joseph’s experiences were hard, but they taught him about God’s love and grace. It was a future glimpse of the love that Christ would later show, that is literally “thrown beyond” knowledge. (See Eph. 3:16-19).

50:20.  A second reason why Joseph didn’t seek revenge, was because he could look back over the course of events and see that though the brothers intended evil, God intended it for a good purpose, to accomplish what they could see that day, and to save many people’s lives.

50:21.  Joseph again encouraged his brothers not to be afraid. He would provide for them and their little children. So he comforted them and kept on speaking to their hearts. That is, he kept encouraging and reassuring them of his love and God’s.

50:22-23.  Joseph and all his father’s household continued to live in Egypt. Joseph lived to be 110, and saw his grandchildren from Ephraim and even great-grandsons who were sons of Machir, Manasseh’s son. That they were “born on Jacob’s knees” means he lived to see them and treated them like his own children. (The phrase can refer to adoption, but probably does not mean that here.)

50:24.  When Joseph knew he was about to die he told his brothers, that is his relatives. The contrast is emphatic. Joseph was dying, but God was not dead. Joseph’s faith and confidence was that God would bring them out of Egypt to the land He swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

50:25.  Joseph then made the sons of Israel, that is, all the descendants of Jacob, swear an oath. God would surely intervene. He would act to fulfill His promise to give them the land of Canaan. When He did, they must carry Joseph’s bones from Egypt to that land. When the Book of Hebrews catalogs the people of faith, it notes this confidence that Israel would return and this provision for his bones as the outstanding expression of Joseph’s faith (Heb. 11:22).

50:26. The Book of Genesis ends with Joseph dead at 110 years of age and his body embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. This coffin would be a constant reminder of their promise and of God’s promise as well.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.



TransgressionIn what the brothers claimed was Jacob’s message to Joseph, Jacob described the brothers’ prior actions as a transgression (50:17).  This Hebrew word could be translated “sins” (NIV), “trespass” (KJV), or “crime” (NRSV).  The primary meaning of the Hebrew word is “offense.”  Here Jacob acknowledged that the brothers had dealt in an evil, sinful way with Joseph when he was 17 years old.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Trespass:  The fundamental idea behind the Hebrew word rendered trespass (v. 17) is a breach in relationship between two parties.  It can be rendered “rebellion,” “sin” (NIV), or “transgression” (NASB, HCSB, ESV); that is, against an authority, either human or divine.  Primarily the word was used in the Old Testament in reference to people’s rebellion against God.  To trespass against God is to reject His authority, to violate His covenant law, and to claim independence.  The word can be applied to interpersonal relationships, as in verse 17, usually speaking of violations of one’s personal and property rights.  Certainly that was the crime Joseph’s brothers committed against him.  They rejected him as a person and violated any right he had to live.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Transgression - trans-gresh´un:  From “transgress,” to pass over or beyond; to overpass, as any rule prescribed as the limit of duty; to break or violate, as a law, civil or moral; the act of transgressing; the violation of a law or known principle of rectitude; breach of command; offense; crime; sin. In the Old Testament פֶּשַׁעpeshaʽ, occurs 80 times, rendered in all versions by “transgression.” Its meaning is “rebellion”; see REBELLION. The word “rebellion” differs from this word in that it may be in the heart, though no opportunity should be granted for its manifestation: “An evil man seeketh only rebellion” (Prov 17:11). Here the wise man contemplates an evil heart, looking for an excuse or opportunity to rebel.

The New Testament uses παράβασιςparábasis, “trespass”: “The law … was added because of transgressions” (Gal 3:19); “Where there is no law, neither is there transgression” (Rom 4:15); “for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15).

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.




Mourning The Deceased

By Fred Wood

Fred Wood is pastor emeritus, Eudora Baptist Church, Director, Preach-Teach Ministries, Memphis, Tennessee.


 CONTEMPORARY LIFE, people express their grief in many ways.  I once asked a funeral director what was the most unusual song he remembered being requested at a funeral.  He replied, “At one man’s funeral the widow and children asked for the soloist to sing ‘Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.’”  He continued, “I softly whispered to myself, ‘I guess they all knew him better than we did.’”  As a pastor, I recall an only son, whose father was already buried, putting expensive jewelry on his mother’s corpse and more in the casket.  He then buried all of it with her body.

Ancient Egyptians shared the universal custom practiced by all cultures, even exceeding most in their mourning for the dead and conducting of elaborate funerals.  As today, more financial resources enable a family to have a more embellished ceremony in putting away their loved ones.

The activity immediately following a person’s death was described graphically by two ancient writers.  Herodotus, the first Greek historian, gives an insightful and discerning description of the initial stages in the mourning for an ancient Egyptian immediately subsequent to his passing.

He wrote, “When a man that has repute is dead and his household has lost him, then all the womenkind from that house plaster their head and face with mud, and afterwards, having left the corpse in the house, they themselves wander through the city, beating their breasts; while so doing, they wear their clothes girt up and show their breasts, and with them are all their kindred women; on the other side, the men beat their breasts, and they too wear their clothes girt up.  When they have done all this they then carry the corpse to the embalming.”1

Diodorus, an outstanding scholar of the fourth century AD, and mentor of Chrysostom, gave a similar account that agreed with many particulars of Herodotus.  His account, however, included some additional details.  According to him, “When any of them chance to die, their friends and relatives wander the town until he body is buried, heaping dust on their heads and mourning.  Indeed, they partake not of the bath, nor of wine, nor of any food worth mentioning, nor do they wear any bright colored garments.”2

The process of embalming, also called mummification, as practiced by the ancient Egyptians developed over several centuries.  In the early days, called the Old Kingdom (2830-2130 BC ), only members of the royalty, especially the king, possessed access to it for their families.  By the time of the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC ), the practice extended to almost anyone who desired and could afford it.3  The process differed according to one’s ability to pay.  The most fully developed form contained three basic steps.

First, the embalmers removed all the internal organs except the heart.  The Egyptians considered the heart necessary to activity in the afterlife.  Knowing the internal organs decomposed first, the embalmers mummified them separately.  They placed the internal organs in canopic jars in the tomb at the time of the burial.  Believing the heart was the seat of intelligence and emotion, the Egyptians left it in the body.  Contending the brain had no significant value, they removed it through the nose and discarded it.

Second, the embalmers packed and covered the body with natron, a salty drying agent.  They left the body to dry out for 40 to 50 days.  By this time, the body’s moisture had been absorbed, leaving only the hair, skin, and bones.  They then stuffed the body cavity with resin, sawdust, or linen to restore the deceased’s form and features.

Third, the embalmers wrapped the body in many layers of linen, inserting good luck or protective charms, known as amulets.  Since Egyptians considered the scarab beetle the most important good luck piece, embalmers placed it above the heart.  The priests recited prayers or incantations at each stage of the wrapping.  This entire process or operation often required as many as 15 days.  The final act consisted of putting the body in a shroud or winding sheet.  The entire mummification process required about 70 days.

Those in charge of placing the mummy in a decorated coffin also placed prepared furniture, carved statues, games, food, and other items to be buried with the mummy.  One final ritual remained, called “The Opening of the Mouth.”  Egyptians believed this ceremony gave the deceased ability to speak again, eat again, and have full use of his body in the “other world.”  Having completed the work of embalming and the accompanying rituals, the embalmers sealed the sarcophagus and pronounced it ready for burial.

What about the burial ceremony, last rites, and interment?  Unless the person was affluent or of great importance, his funeral resembled one of today but in the context of Egyptian culture and properties.  For the poor or anyone not wealthy nor of royalty, funeral services involved little pomp or ceremony.  The preparers steeped the body for a short time in bitumen or natron or perhaps even rubbed the body with these substances.  They placed his few personal ornament on it and wrapped it in one piece of linen.  To aid him in the nether world, his staff and sandals accompanied him, the former to support him and the latter to protect his feet.  A few amulets to help him meet his foe in the grave completed the package.

Not so, the burial of a monarch, his family, or an extremely opulent person!  Since when a king died, the country died symbolically, all the country’s inhabitants wept and tore their garments.  Religious officials closed the temples.  The people abstained from sacrifices and celebrated no festivals for 72 days.  Men and women went about the streets in great crowds, sometimes as many as two or three hundred with mud on their heads.  Knotting their garments below their breasts like girdles, they sang dirges twice daily in praise of the dead.  They denied themselves wheat, animal food, wine, and any kind of delicacy or dainty fare.

During this time, no one made use of baths or unguents nor did they recline on couches or enjoy the pleasures of sexual love.  The people rather continued to sing dirges and spent the days in grief.  Meanwhile those preparing the body assembled the paraphernalia necessary for the funeral and placed it in the coffin.

The Scriptures tell us Joseph instructed the physicians in his service to embalm the aged patriarch Jacob.  This varied from ordinary Hebrew custom, but the faithful son planned to fulfill his father’s request.  He expected to carry the body back for burial in the Cave of Machpelah.  This meant Jacob would realize his ambition to lie in Canaan with Abraham, Isaac, their wives, and with his first wife Leah.  This showed a noble trait in Joseph, since Jacob buried Rachel, Joseph’s mother, by the roadside near Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19).

Pharaoh granted Joseph’s request concerning Jacob’s burial.  What a royal procession that must have made the journey!  The Book of Genesis describes the details.  Everyone who saw the group immediately realized Joseph’s importance!  The pompous funeral defied description.  One Old Testament student says concerning the caravan, “in it, besides members of the family, high Egyptian officials took part, and it was even accompanied by a considerable military escort.  Even the Canaanites were astonished at this funeral.”4

The Scriptures give no clue as to which road the funeral train took.  Normally traffic went up the western coast of Canaan, cut over to Beersheba, approaching Hebron from the west.  Some evidence exists, however, that they took the detour across the Sinai Peninsula to the land east of the Jordan River, approaching Hebron from the east.  At some nearby location before reaching the Cave of Machpelah, Joseph held a seven-day mourning period for his father.

The ceremonies impressed the Canaanites and enhanced the Jews in their eyes.  How could it have done otherwise!  They named the river bed to commemorate the mourning of the Egyptians that took place there.  The expression “Abel Mizraim” means “mourning of Egyptians.”  Thus ended the life of Jacob and an epoch in Hebrew history.                                                                    Bi

1.    The History of Herodotus, Green, trans. Book II, Section 85 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987), 165.

2.    Murphy, The Antiquities of Egypt (Translation with Notes, Book I The Library of History of Diodorus Siculus) Book I, Section 91 (New Brunswick, USA and London U.K.); Transaction Publishers, 1990), 115.

3.    Murname, ”History of Egypt: New Kingdom (DYN. 18-20),”  The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, Freedman, ed-in-chief (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 348.

4.    Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, Marks, trans. (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1961), 426.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 40, No. 1; Fall 2013.


Joseph Ruler In Egypt

By Harold R. Mosley

Harold R. Mosley is associate professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.


HE NARRATIVE OF JOSEPH in Egypt is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible.  Countless children have listened with keen interest to the story of how God worked in the life of a Hebrew slave who rose to high position in Egypt.  Both young and old listen with anticipation at the turn of events that brought Joseph to Egypt and then to his elevation to Pharaoh’s second-in-command.  Some people might be tempted to view the narrative of Joseph as merely an enchanting tale that teaches a moral.  It is much more than that, however.  The Joseph story consists of an historical narrative that reflects the particular culture and society of ancient Egypt.  Exactly how does Joseph fit into the known societal structure and history of Egypt?


Pharaoh—The pharaoh was the supreme head over Egypt.  The word translated “pharaoh” appeared around 2500 BC and meant “great house.”  However, by 1500 BC, the name indicated a title for the inhabitant of the house, that is, the king.1  As the name is used in Scripture, “pharaoh” merely indicates the king of Egypt.  The earliest biblical narratives do not mention a personal name with the word “pharaoh.”  By the time of Solomon (about 1000 BC), the pharaohs would often be mentioned by name (such as Pharaoh Neco in 2 Kings 23:29).

The Egyptians viewed the pharaoh as the living embodiment of the falcon-god Horus.  Pharaoh was thus a god in the eyes of the Egyptians.  As in incarnation of Horus, the pharaoh spoke with divine authority.  Egyptian theology saw the king (most pharaohs were “kings,” through three women served as pharaoh) as being the only one who could prevent disaster in the land, as well as the one who maintained proper order.2  He guaranteed the land’s fertility because of his connection to the Nile River.3  Upon the pharaoh’s death, he was worshiped as Osiris, the god of the underworld.  The new pharaoh then became the living Horus as he ascended to power over Egypt.4 

All power in Egypt came ultimately from the pharaoh.  In theory, he owned all land, livestock, and people.  In practice, however, the same families often worked the land for generations, thus giving the practical benefit of private ownership of the land.5  The pharaoh maintained authority over every aspect of Egyptian life.  In essence, the pharaoh was not only the head of Egypt; he was the embodiment of Egypt.

Although the pharaoh functioned as the divine ruler, he obviously could not perform every function himself.  A complex system of government developed within Egypt where various departments oversaw the vast empire.  The pharaoh maintained ultimate control of the government, since every office operated at his whim.  He appointed all major officers, who in turn appointed other officers beneath them.

Egyptian religion had the pharaoh as its focal point, with the king functioning as the ultimate high priest.  Only the pharaoh could intercede directly to the gods.6  Temples to the various Egyptian deities existed, each with its own high priest appointed by the pharaoh and each priesthood being supported by the pharaoh.  All of these temples were staffed with several layers of priests and attendants.  As the number of temples increased over the generations, the number of priests and temple staff supported by the Egyptian king came to number in the tens of thousands.7

Vizier—Next to the pharaoh, the vizier served as the most powerful individual in Egypt.  The earliest indication of this particular office comes from around 2600 BC, although records reveal little of the position until around 2000 BC.8  At times, two viziers would share responsibilities of service with one operating in the southern region and another having authority in the northern region.9  As the pharaoh’s chief representative, the vizier held great power and influence over all the land.

The precise duties of vizier seem to have varied, depending on the administration of each pharaoh.  Even though records mentioning viziers date far back into Egyptian history, the clearest information regarding the responsibilities of the position comes from the vizier Rekhmire of the Eighteenth Dynasty (about 1450 BC).  Rekhmire referred to himself as “second to the king,” “the heart of the king,” and “the ears and eyes of the sovereign.”  The vizier was indeed “second to the king” in authority.  “He was treasurer, chief justice, high priest, chief architect, and the king’s closest advisor.”10  His responsibilities consisted of maintaining civil order, assessing and collecting taxes, preserving the state archives, mobilizing troops as needed, appointing officials, and monitoring natural phenomena, such as flooding of the Nile.11  The viziers themselves did not possess the necessary skills to perform all the functions for which they were responsible.  Thus each vizier appointed the skilled persons necessary to carry out his numerous tasks.

The Skilled Class—A large class of skilled and educated individuals developed in Egypt that consisted of craftsmen, artisans, and scribes.  These individuals lived in communities concentrated around the centers of population that required the specific skills possessed by the craftsmen.  These positions of skill were generally hereditary in nature and were learned from members of the immediate family through apprenticeships.12 

The scribes formed an important part of the skilled class.  Their task involved making careful notation of seemingly every detail of daily Egyptian life.  Records exist indicating the size of herds, the grain harvested, the amounts of seed and materials issued from storage, types of manufactured goods, supplies requested by artisans, and extensive other minute details and records.  These meticulous records helped with the administration and taxation of the land.  Interestingly, the annual flooding levels of the Nile formed the basis for the system of taxation in Egypt.  Based on past experience, flooding to a certain level typically produced a certain yield of crops.  Tax assessments and revenue came, not from what farmers and families actually produced, but from what yield should have been produced from that year’s flooding.13

Society’s Lower Classes—At the bottom of Egyptian society were the peasants.  This segment of Egypt’s population formed by far the largest group of people.  Because these individuals possessed no particular skills that made them valuable to the pharaoh, they enjoyed none of the privileges afforded the higher social classes, despite the fact that they produced food for the entire country.  No real chance existed for the peasants to advance to a higher social standing.

Slaves formed the lowest of the social classes.  Extensive slavery did not exist in Egypt’s earliest days.  In fact, the pyramids, which date to around 2500 BC, were not built primarily with slave labor.  Rather, the three months of Nile flooding allowed the conscription of the peasant class for work in the various building projects of the pharaoh.  With the advent of the “New Kingdom” (in 1570 BC), however, slavery began to increase.  Slaves consisted originally of foreign captives of war.  This group often engaged in the large-scale building projects of the various pharaohs.14  Israel’s slavery in Egypt fits well into this time frame.

What Was Joseph’s Role?

The precise placement of Joseph and the Israelites into Egyptian history persists as an unanswered question.  The Genesis account clearly reveals Israel’s presence in Egypt.  However, because the narrative mentions no specific individual who can be placed into Egypt’s known history, Joseph cannot be placed with certainly into any particular time period.  In spite of the lack of clarity as to the exact date of Joseph, the Egyptian context in the story of Joseph cannot be denied.

The Genesis narrative does not preserve the translations for the precise Egyptian titles given to Joseph.  Rather, the attempt of the Hebrew text is to describe the titles given to him.  Because of this, scholars disagree regarding the exact position Joseph achieved.  The gist of the story in Genesis, however, seems to indicate Joseph rose to the position of vizier.  The most convincing statement for Joseph’s position as vizier is Pharaoh’s declaration in Genesis 41:40: “Only in the throne will I be greater than you.”15  

Also the reference to Joseph riding in the “second chariot” (v. 43) pictures him as second-in-command to the pharaoh.  The known duties of the vizier mesh well with the stated responsibilities of Joseph.  The vizier held responsibility for the oversight of the royal granaries.16  Joseph presided over the gathering of the excess harvests in the seven years of plenty (vv. 47-49).  During those years he stored the grain, and in the lean years that followed, he opened the storehouses to sell the grain.  Again, the pharaoh’s words indicate the authority of Joseph over Egypt as the keeper of the storehouses: “Go to Joseph.  That which he says to you, do” (v. 55).

The title of “father to Pharaoh” (45:8) indicates Joseph’s close advisory role for the king.  Although the title could refer to a physical relationship, a common usage of the term indicated an advisory function.  The title appeared often in reference to viziers.17

One particular duty of the vizier figures prominently in the Joseph story.  After the famine had become severe in Canaan, Jacob sent 10 of his sons to Egypt to buy food.  There, they appeared before Joseph (42:6-26).  The function of vizier required that he receive foreign embassies.18  Joseph seems to have been functioning in this capacity when the brothers came before him.

The Genesis story points to the conclusion that Joseph indeed served as vizier, that is, the second-in-command to the pharaoh.  This high position for Joseph played a role in God’s plan for Israel.  Years later, Joseph told his brothers: “You, on your part, thought evil against me; God thought it for good” (50:20).  God had given Joseph authority in Egypt second only to the pharaoh in order to accomplish His purpose for Israel.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Bi

1.    See “Pharaoh” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (HIBD), Brand, Draper, England, gen. eds. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1285-1287.

2.    Brier and Hobbs, Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999), 59, 61.

3.    Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 24.

4.    See Browning, Jr. and Kilpatrick, “Egypt” in HIBD, 468.

5.    Brier and Hobbs, 63.

6.    Ibid., 68.

7.    Ibid.

8.    Brewer and Teeter, Egypt and the Egyptians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 70.

9.    Brier and Hobbs, 66,

10.   Brewer and Teeter, 71.

11.   Ibid.

12.   Ibid., 77-78.

13.   Brier and Hobbs, 66.

14.   Ibid., 73.

15.   Scripture quotations within this article are the writer’s own translation.

16.   Aling, Egypt and Bible History: From Earliest Times to 1000 BC (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 47.

17.   Ibid., 47-48.

18.   Ibid., 49.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2007.



By Janice Meier

Janice Meier is adjunct instructor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and William Carey College, teaching in the areas of Old Testament, New Testament, and Hebrew.


OSEPH, whose name comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to add” (see Gen. 30:24), was added to the clan of Jacob by divine providence. Joseph, the oldest son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, received favored treatment from his father. To his older brothers, Joseph was an unwelcome addition to the family. Joseph’s unpopularity with these brothers increased as he began to share his dreams of domination over them. The brothers’ increased as he began to share his dreams of domination over them. The brothers’ animosity toward Joseph culminated in their act of selling him to some passing merchants (37:28).

Joseph was taken to Egypt. There he suffered imprisonment but eventually became second-in-authority to Pharaoh due to his God-given ability to interpret dreams. A central theme running through the stories of Joseph is that of divine providence. The Lord was with Joseph, even in Egypt (39:2,3,21,23).

Most likely, Joseph’s rise to power occurred during the Hyksos rule in Egypt, between approximately 1800 and 1550 BC. Who were the Hyksos, and what was life in Egypt like under their control? Understanding the origins and culture of the Hyksos provides much insight into how a Hebrew such as Joseph could have risen to power in the Hyksos period.

From Manetho, an Egyptian historian of the third century BC, comes information about the Hyksos. Although none of Manetho’s writings survived, the Jewish historian Josephus (first century AD) quoted Manetho. The designation “Hyksos” means “shepherd kings . . . out of the eastern parts.” Obscurity surrounds the beginning of the Hyksos dominion in Egypt. Probably the rulers at Thebes were subject to the Hyksos during the fifteenth and sixteenth dynasties in the north. No clear evidence indicates the Hyksos fully controlled the territory of Thebes and the area to the south. The Hyksos established their capital at Avaris in the Delta region. The Delta area, serving as the Hyksos base of operations, included Goshen where Jacob’s descendants settled. Genesis 46:26-34 indicates Pharaoh’s court was located near Goshen. Both before and following the Hyksos era the capital city was Thebes in Upper Egypt.

The Hyksos were not an ethnic unity. Because the Hyksos adopted the language of Egypt when they arrived, the linguistic evidence for the composite ethnic background of this group consists mainly of personal names. The only personal names that can be identified with certainty are Semitic. Since Joseph’s origins were Semitic, as likely were a majority of the Hyksos origins, Joseph had an opportunity to rise to power during this period. Joseph apparently was related ethnically to the Semitic Hyksos rulers. Native Egyptians, in contrast, viewed the Semites with contempt.

Furthermore, prior to the era of Hyksos domination, the nation consisted of numerous small landholders over whom Pharaoh ruled. After the Hyksos domination, Pharaoh personally owned all the land of Egypt and the people became his servants. During the famine, the Egyptians sold their land, their possessions, and ultimately themselves into servitude in order to survive (see 47:15-21).

What was Egyptian culture like under the Hyksos domination? Certainly these invaders were not barbarians in many respects. Among the cultural changes associated with the Hyksos invasion of Egypt was the introduction of the horse and chariot. In Genesis 41:43 Pharaoh had Joseph ride in a chariot (see also 46:29; 50:9). Superior weapons of bronze, heavier body armor, and a new type of earthen fortress were introduced. Massive embankments erected of beaten earth surrounded major Hyksos cities. Moats lay outside these embankments. The Hyksos exhibited special skills in metallurgy and making jewelry. Fine linen was exported from ancient Egypt. Observe the references to both jewelry and fine linen when Pharaoh placed Joseph in charge of the land of Egypt (41:41-43). The Hyksos supported art, commissioning various works. Also as active merchants, the Hyksos introduced a new system of weights into Egypt.

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37 – 50 reflects economic, social, religious, and governmental aspects of Egyptian society during the time of the Hyksos rule. Economic elements may be observed in Genesis 41:56-57 and 47:20-26. As the severity of the famine increased, Joseph sold grain to the Egyptians and to people from other countries. When the people’s financial resources had been exhausted, they sold their livestock, lands, and even themselves into servitude in exchange for food. Evidence from nonbiblical sources indicates that such a major shift in landholdings occurred during the Hyksos period of rule. Joseph established the law that a fifth of the produce in the land of Egypt belonged to Pharaoh (47:26). This statement reflects the return of normal conditions and the end of crop failures. In effect, Joseph levied a 20 percent tax. Joseph’s economic policies highlight his skill as an administrator.

Social aspects of Egyptian society during the Hyksos period also appear in the story about Joseph. Two verses indicate social practices the Egyptians regarded as detestable. Genesis 43:32 records that the Egyptians would not eat with Hebrews. Thus when Joseph’s brothers dined with him, they were served separately from Joseph and from the other Egyptians eating with them. In Genesis 46:34 shepherds are described as abhorrent to the Egyptians. This latter fact probably influenced Pharaoh’s decision to permit Jacob’s family to settle in the border area of Goshen, the good grazing land located in the northeast part of the Delta (47:5-6).

Burial practices described in 50:1-3,22-26 also reflect Egyptian customs. Both Jacob’s and Joseph’s remains were embalmed according to the Egyptian custom of mummification of kings and high officials. Mummification was expensive and time-consuming. These burial procedures indicated Joseph’s social standing in Egypt. He was both wealthy and influential. Through their practice of mummification, the Egyptians believed that they were preparing the body for an afterlife.

Religious aspects of Egyptian culture during the period of Hyksos rule are evident in references to Pharaoh’s dream, priests, wise men and magicians, and divination practices. The nature of Pharaoh’s dream reflects Egyptian culture. Appropriately Pharaoh’s dream included cattle, an object of many Egyptian paintings. The word translated “reeds” in 41:2 has an Egyptian origin. Pharaoh’s dream involved the welfare of cattle and grain, both dependent on the Nile River, an object of Egyptian worship. The Hyksos worshiped a pantheon of both Egyptian and Asiatic deities.

Priests received special status in Egyptian culture as evidenced in Genesis 37 – 50. Pharaoh gave Joseph Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the high priest of On, as his wife (41:45). This action indicates Joseph’s noble status. Joseph was assigned the name Zaphenath-Paneah, meaning “the God speaks and he lives.” Joseph’s authority as an administrator who brings life is affirmed in this name. The name change also was a ceremonial act intended to draw Joseph completely into the Egyptian court circle. When Joseph began buying Egypt’s land, the priests’ land did not become Pharaoh’s (47:26). The priests received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from that allotment (47:22).

Finally divination was practiced in the Hyksos period (44:5). The silver cup found in Benjamin’s sack was used for divination. The king or Pharaoh erroneously believed that knowledge of the future belonged to those with specially trained skills in divination. Yet Egypt’s wise men and magicians could not interpret Pharaoh’s dream (41:8). In contrast the biblical writer asserted that true understanding comes only from God (41:16).

The story of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt provides some insights into governmental conditions during the Hyksos period. Joseph originally was sold as a slave to Egypt. In that era slaves commonly were brought from Canaan to Egypt. Joseph, the model servant, soon gained favor with his master Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials and captain of the guard (39:1-6). Out of loyalty to both God and his master, Joseph rejected Potiphar’s wife’s advances (39:9). Joseph’s moral stance resulted in imprisonment. Potiphar’s wife referred to Joseph as a Hebrew (39:17), the term here designating a socially rejected individual. The punishment Joseph received may indicate that Potiphar was not convinced of Joseph’s guilt since he was only imprisoned instead of being sold into base slavery or put to death for such action. Little, however, is known of Egyptian or Hyksos laws related to such matters.

Joseph’s status advanced to that of second-in-command of the land of Egypt due to his God-given ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dream (41:41). Joseph’s installation ceremony described in verses 41-43 reflects actual Egyptian practices. The words for “signet ring: and “fine linen” (41-42) have an Egyptian origin. The chain about the neck signified honor. Joseph became the authorized representative of Pharaoh and directory of the palace.

Frequently Joseph’s rise to such high status in Egyptian government is attributed to the nature of the Hyksos rule. The biblical writer, however, repeatedly asserted that Joseph’s status resulted from the Lord’s presence with him. (see 39:2,3,21,23). A young man away from all family influences in a foreign land maintained his integrity, morality, and faith in God in the face of prolonged and severe testing. The story of Joseph reveals his faithfulness, fortitude, and forgiveness. Joseph, whose model character blesses our lives today, remained steadfast because behind all his life’s circumstances, he recognized God’s hand at work (45:5-8; 50:15-21).                Bi

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 1995.




What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (11/16/14)  (Three-part question) Who slew 600 Philistines with an unusual weapon?   Answer next week: (Who?); (What kind of weapon?); (Found in?).

The answer to last week’s trivia question:  (11/16/14) (Two-part question)  (1) Who prophesied concerning which (2) nation dwelling in Gad?  Answer: (1) Who: Jeremiah; (2) Where: Ammon;  Jeremiah 49:1.