We are passing now to the fifth of the
movements on the eternal line of the Cross as the way of life as we come to
speak of Joseph – Joseph whose story covers thirteen long chapters of the Bible,
that is, of the book of Genesis. You take it up at chapter 37, and you go right
on to the end of the book of Genesis occupied with the story of Joseph. I
mention that because that alone indicates how important this thing is. We are
not dealing with a little incident now, a minor character or feature. There is
something here which is very important with God.
Now, as in every other case, we cannot
appreciate the life of Joseph until we are able to put our finger upon his
particular function, for the key to the life of Joseph is not what Joseph did.
It is not the incidents of his life, that is, that he was the favourite of his
father, provoked jealousy in his brothers, was put in a pit, sold into Egypt,
involved in a woman's intrigue and put into prison, interpreted various dreams,
was lifted up and made second in the land and stored up corn against a time of
famine and saved the land. They are the incidents, but that is not the function.
That is the story, but the real meaning is within the story.
The function is that essential purpose that
Joseph served and that is what we have to discover. Not one of you believes that
the saving of Egypt and the world from famine was an adequate explanation of the
story of Joseph. Not at all. All these thirteen chapters are not written just to
tell us that Joseph saved the world in his day from famine. Of course there is
that interpretation which is perfectly right and true that makes Joseph a type
of Christ, one of the most perfect types of Christ perhaps in the Old Testament.
But when you have said all that you can say about that, you have not exhausted
the significance of Joseph and you are left with this particular function of
which we are speaking today.
Let us look, then, at this thing more closely.
Jacob, otherwise known as Israel - the man, the builder of the nation, the
foundation stone in type of the house of God - was old, very old; about one
hundred and thirty years old. A broken and sorrowful man, not only in the sense
of which we have spoken, broken at Peniel by the hand of God, but now broken in
other ways; a sorrowful and disappointed man. When Pharaoh asked him how old he
was, he says, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and
thirty years" (Gen. 47:9) and so on... in effect, sinful, disappointing, or
in one word: a failure. That is Jacob's summing up of his life right at the end.
One hundred and thirty years of disappointment, of sorrow, of failure. That is
the first fragment.
The second is Joseph's brethren who represented
the house of Israel at that time in a very low and poor spiritual state. Read
the story and you find every unhappy feature and characteristic in those men, in
that which is supposed to be the house of God: divisions, strife among
themselves, jealousies, envyings, malice, suspicion, intrigue, deceit,
prejudice, avarice, hatred, disloyalty to their father, unfaithfulness to God,
and, to crown it all, murder. You have only got to leap over the centuries, to
the days of the Lord Jesus, and you find them all in the sons of Jacob, all
those things are there around the Lord Jesus, heading up to His murder. And yet
these are supposed to be, you see, the house of God, the house of Israel. These
are the sons of Jacob, the sons of Israel.
Further, they were in the land of promise, but
wholly and utterly unsuited to the place that they were in. If ever there was an
exhibition of inconsistency with a profession, they gave that exhibition. When
you think of all that the land of promise stood for in the thought of God and
typified as to God's mind for His people, and then find people like this in
occupation you say, 'This is a glaring contradiction! There is no correspondence
between their position and their condition.' Projecting that right on to its
spiritual interpretation, it is possible to be in Christ, and be a contradiction
to Christ, altogether inconsistent with the position claimed and professed.
Next, the famine. In the sovereignty of God, a
world condition of famine and threatened disaster reaches and involves the house
of Israel. It touches them, perhaps, in a more acute way than it touched
anyone else. You see the sovereignty of God. That is why I said nobody thinks
that the life of Joseph is to be explained by just saving Egypt from famine. God
is working deeply in relation to His own purpose, very deeply in relation to His
house. And so, in His sovereignty, we repeat, this state of threatened disaster
overtakes the house of Israel and touches that house very acutely. Really it is
there where the eye of God is resting. He is working out here, doing things on a
big scale, but really He has His eye upon them. He always has had. He remembers
Abraham His friend, and this is where God's eye rests; this is the object of His
thought at this time.
Dear friends, that principle is capable of very
wide application. God very often brings great disasters and calamities upon the
world in order to secure a people out from the world. So God is moving with
profound thought and wisdom.
Joseph a Pioneer
Back to Joseph's function, for we are now ready
to put our finger upon that. When Joseph himself, later in the sequence of
events, explained the course of his life to his own brethren with whom he was
reunited in Egypt, he put the whole thing, as we say, in a nutshell when he
said, "God did send me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5).
Break that into two, and you have the whole function of Joseph: "Before
you", ahead of you, "to preserve life". Well, what did that amount to?
Joseph was given by God special, heavenly, spiritual understanding and wisdom,
and it was only in that spirit of wisdom and understanding that he was ahead of
his brethren. He had gone before. It was not just geographical. That is quite
true if you talk about the story and its incidents literally, but you have got
spiritual principles here.
He was ahead of his brethren firstly in this,
that God gave him wisdom and understanding. The interpretation of various dreams
was declared to be the Spirit of God. The heathen would put it "the spirit of
the gods". Here is a man who has wisdom that all the magicians of Egypt do not
possess. This is divine. He is ahead, not only of the world, but also of his own
brethren. And being ahead in wisdom and understanding, he had bread which they
not only were without, but which they also needed for their very survival. Do
you now see his function, the real heart of Joseph's life?
So, because he had the spirit of wisdom and
understanding, God-given discernment and knowledge, and because he had thereby
the bread of life, he became the link between his brothers' tragic condition and
God's full purpose for them. I think that is tremendously impressive. What a
lesson! Here is the house of God in a deplorable spiritual condition, altogether
a denial of God's thought for that house in Christ; completely inconsistent, no
correspondence between profession, position and condition. That on the one side.
On the other side, there is God's full thought
and intention for His people, for His church: a church alive, a church well-fed
with plenty of spiritual food, flourishing. There is a big gap between the two.
Is that not true? It is true today as it was in Joseph's time; I think more
true. God needs a bridge over that gap. God needs something to come in between
to be His link between the sad, tragic, pathetic condition of so many of His own
people, and what His thought is for them. And Joseph is the man in the gap, and
he represents therefore an instrument, a vessel, that God will sovereignly raise
up to bridge that gap and to stand in between, having the spirit of wisdom and
revelation and having the heavenly food that is needed to save the situation
amongst the Lord's people.
God's Need of a Joseph Vessel
I think that this chapter brings us to the
putting of our finger upon one of the most vital matters with which we can be
occupied: God needs today a Joseph vessel. We are always reluctant to
uncover the state of God's people, to be critical, censorious, to exercise any
spirit of judgment; we say it with sadness and grief, but we cannot close our
eyes to the fact that the Lord's people are not where the Lord would have them,
speaking very generally. The condition of things amongst the Lord's people is
not what the Lord meant to be. And we could be stronger than that, could we not?
There is so much inconsistency, so much denial. Divisions, and not only
divisions, being content to live quietly in their own divisions, but also strife
between them, and jealousies. Shall we go farther?
Is not prejudice one of the most noticeable
things amongst the people of God today? Prejudice just means that the whole
thing has been judged without any consideration and the door closed without
allowing the possibility that you may, after all, be wrong and the other people
right. And there is a lot of that about, bringing the Lord's people into very
serious limitation and certainly closing the door to what the Lord wants for
many of His people. Oh, beware of prejudice! It was that that murdered Joseph
and murdered Christ. I will not pursue the list, but it is true today, not in
the world, but in the compass of Christian people. The Lord must do something
And what does the Lord do? Because Joseph is
not the only instance of the wording of this very principle found in the Bible.
God works upon this principle from time to time, that is, in His sovereignty and
providential ordering He raises up an instrument to be a bridge between the poor
condition of His people and the thing that really He desires for them. He does
it, and if we will only accept it and put away our prejudice and our suspicions,
that is a thing that God does.
God wants to counter this contradiction between
the position and the condition of His church, His people. And today He must have
some to stand in the gap who know, who really know by way of the Cross, the open
heaven. You know that the letter to the Ephesians stands right in this very
position. What Paul is talking about in that letter is just this, that here is
God's great eternal thought for His church. Oh, how marvellous is God's thought
for His church... seated together with Christ in the heavenlies, blessed with
every spiritual blessing! That is God's thought. But the letter shows that the
church is not corresponding to that thought. There are lots of things that
contradict that in that letter to the Ephesians, and so it is. But Paul comes in
to bridge the gap, he stands between and he talks about the Spirit "of wisdom
and revelation in the knowledge of him; having the eyes of your heart
enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, what the riches
of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness
of his power to us-ward who believe". Is that the condition of the church?
Is that the state of the Lord's people? Well, it would not be there if it was
not the Lord's will for them, and it would not be there if it were not possible
for them to come to it.
But how will God get it? Through a people who
are already there to be the embodiment of it, and to show it forth. And so
Joseph became the very embodiment of the thing that God was after for his
The Cost of Such a Ministry
And that leads us to the peculiar cost and deep
way by which such a function is fulfilled; for in type there were few in the Old
Testament dispensation who knew more deeply the meaning of the Cross than did
Joseph. Yes, the Cross was planted very deeply in his life. He suffered in a
measure all that the Lord Jesus suffered later: the suspicion of his own
brethren after the flesh, the prejudice, the ostracism, the hatred, the malice,
the jealousy and the murder. Joseph went through it all, cast off among the
dead, lowered into the pit as one slain, put into the dungeon and left by men,
forsaken, cast out. And it says, "His soul entered into the iron" (Psa.
105:18). Poor Joseph! And he did not know what it was all for. He did not know
what was coming. He did not know of the glories that should follow. He went
through it in utter loneliness and if the Cross means one thing more than
another, that is where we feel it most, the utter desolation of soul where no
one can go with us in understanding.
Yes, there was peculiar cost in suffering, in
experience, bound up with this function. We can say that others do not go that
way; even others of the Lord's people do not go that way. It is for this
particular kind of instrument. It goes by a particular kind of way and it has so
much that a multitude of Christians know nothing about. Their Christian life is
more like a playground than a winepress.
Yes, Joseph knew the Cross deeply and terribly.
Disliked, suspected, cast out, hated, killed, made to suffer immediately by them
of his own family, and made to suffer resultantly at the hands of the world. You
get the interpretation. I need not say more.
What was the issue? 'God sent me before you to
be used in this way.' We have to pioneer the way for others. Such an instrument
of such necessity to God and value to God, has to go ahead in a lonely way. It
may be an individual or it may be a company; it may be a little nucleus. It is
all the same. It is going ahead, and all going ahead is a very lonely thing. You
are tasting something that so many others have never tasted. Yes, "sent me
before you, in advance of you, to preserve life". You see the Lord's thought for
His people is life and life abundantly, fulness of life. Who will say that the
church is in the good of that? What is the way? Well, it is the way of the
I do not want to finish on that note, although
that, of course, is the heart of the matter, that it is the way of the Cross and
you cannot avoid it. The measure of your value to the Lord in relation to His
full and ultimate purpose depends upon the measure in which the Cross has been
applied to your life. That is an unavoidable fact and you cannot escape it. But
when the day of need was really manifested, Joseph was the man for the hour. All
that had been God's secret, unexplained preparation for a coming hour. Oh, how
true that is, how true that has ever been, how true it is today!
There is a dear man of God in China today lying
in prison. He went ahead of Christians in China; he sought to pioneer the way
for God's fuller thought for His people. He went a way in which he met all the
prejudice, all the suspicion, all the hard blows, all the exclusions and
ostracism at the hands of Christian brethren and Christian missionaries. The day of
overflowing came, Communism walked in and spread itself like a terrible scourge
over the land, and all the missionaries had to go and hand over to that man! He
is the key to the situation. They asked him to carry on. Here is an up-to-date
illustration of this truth.
You go ahead with God, you go right on with
God, you accept what it costs to go right on with God and a time will come when
you, by the grace of God, having been thoroughly crucified and dealt with in
your own nature and ambitions and brought very, very low before the Lord, you
may be the key to a big situation, to a need which God foresees is coming.
That is the message, that is the function of a
Joseph, and it is no small one, is it? Tremendous! Well, God give us grace to
see His need and the need of His people; to accept all that the Cross means in
order to be in a position available to God for not only the salvation of the
unsaved, but also the salvation of His own people into His full purpose.