Often when we reflect on the story of Joseph - especially those of us who are preachers and teachers - we are apt to point out what we see as his virtues. And thus exhort others in a likewise manner. By so doing we miss the whole point and purpose of the saga. For it is not about the virtues of a man - but the virtue of God.
Matthew Henry comments: “God overruled all to serve his own purpose, of making Joseph an instrument to save much people alive.” And in so doing - by His own virtue - He preserved alive the Messianic Covenant.
The First Pit
In the Genesis account Joseph utters not a word from the pit - whereas before that he had plenty to say. Perhaps he was stunned into silence by the betrayal and treachery of his brothers. Or were there Messianic implications here also: “And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.” Isaiah 53:7
This was the beginning of Joseph’s journey into maturity for giftedness and/or calling is not a sign of maturity - timing is. There is a purging that God has to bring about in Joseph - until he came to the point that he realized it was not about him, but God. “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use (practice) have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14 KJV
The Second Pit
It is here that he finally comes to the realization that it is not about him, but about God: “Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." Genesis 41:16 At his later blessing by his father, this source was revealed once again: “because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,” Genesis 49:24NIV
It took two trips into the pit to get Joseph to this point - and to bring him to the point of God’s timing. “God's time for the enlargement of his people is the fittest time. If the chief butler had got Joseph to be released from prison, it is probable he would have gone back to the land of the Hebrews.” Matthew Henry
It is what happened between the two pits that counts - and it is this that binds them together.
The story of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38) is inserted right in the middle of the account of Joseph for a reason - for it is THE reason and its sole locus. It reveals God’s plan to preserve the Messianic lineage - thus fulfilling the Abrahamic blessing: “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” In this chapter we have the account of the conception (let the reader of the record understand) and birth of Perez. “But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she (Tamar) said, "So this is how you have broken out!" And he was named Perez.” Genesis 38:29 A more marked example of sovereign grace hardly exists anywhere else in the scriptures. Certainly it has nothing to do with the virtues of man for there was no virtue in either Judah or Tamar - solely and supremely the virtue of God. The operation of God - in the person of the one whose name means breakthrough - deals a death blow to the vanity of man.
Breakthrough of virtue
The breakthrough of the virtue of the Lord was called forth by the elders of Israel upon Boaz at his intention to take Ruth as his wife. “Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah." Ruth 4:12 The totality herein is recorded by Matthew: “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,...Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.” Matthew 1:1, 3
The virtue of God is the Son of God. This is the purpose of the story - the predetermined plan of God: “The Book of Life of The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” Revelation 13:8 Aramaic
Joseph affirms this when he revealed himself by the sign of the covenant - “Come near to me,” - to his brothers: "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” Genesis 45:7 And returning to the psalmist: “He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” Psalm 105:17
The Ruler’s Staff
Joseph served as a steward - even a midwife if you will - of the promise that was in the loins of his brother Judah. "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh (He whose right it is) comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Genesis 49:10 This hope holds firm from the first book of the Bible to the last: “and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals." Revelation 5:5 Judah would have nothing of the plan of his brothers to kill Joseph (nor would Reuben who was the first born): "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?”
Looking again to Psalm 105:19 we see unequivocally that everything that happened to Joseph - both pits - was the word of the Lord to bring him to the place of his ultimate purpose. ‘But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’ Genesis 50:19-21
God the Father would keep many people alive unto eternal life - as the bride of the Lamb - through the promise of the Messiah who at that very time was in the loins of Judah. Joseph was his sovereign steward - and all that happened to him was of the plan and purpose of God.
“And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” Romans 9:23-24
Soli Deo Gloria!