Joseph’s vocation as second-in-command over all of Egypt provides us with an opportunity for reflection on spirituality in one’s place of work. Joseph had a position of influence in Egypt because of his dreams and the severe famine that had come upon the land. The famine was not bound to Egypt, but affected life in Canaan, too, and the patriarchal family was forced to look to Egypt for food (Genesis 42). Already one can see the hand of Providence over the matter: God placed Joseph in a vocational position to provide for the needs of his family (41.5-6). From Gen 42.7 onward, Joseph was comforted with the reality that his family (especially Benjamin and Jacob) were alive; yet he was not concerned for revenge, but for their welfare in the midst of the famine. So Joseph—from his position of prominence—wished to find out the details of his missing family members, and what he could do to provide for them in the crisis. The absence of Jacob and Benjamin may have placed Joseph in a moral dilemma. He, as second only to Pharaoh, certainly had the means to execute retaliation against his brothers; but on the other hand, these scoundrels were the only source of information about his beloved father and younger brother.

Joseph acted according to his state before God: he was a wise covenant partner. For the next six chapters of the story, Joseph—upon recognizing that his family was still alive—desired to see Benjamin and Jacob, and secure them through the famine. In the first phase of Joseph’s plan, he arranged a security deposit to make sure that his brothers would in fact come back to Egypt—as opposed to just leaving with some grain. But God had a further purpose in Joseph’s scheme with Simeon; it began to work conviction in the heart of his brothers (Gen 42.21-22).

Ultimately the famine became so severe that it broke Jacob’s clutch on even his beloved Benjamin. As the eleven brothers returned to Egypt, in tears Joseph: prepared a feast (for spies?) (42.14), released Simeon (43.23), inquired about Jacob (43.27-28), and blessed Benjamin in word and food (43.29, 34). Yet Joseph was not yet ready to reveal his identity, and God used the cup in Benjamin’s sack to reveal His work of grace in Judah’s life. Now concerned more for his family than himself, the previously selfish Judah (cf. Genesis 38), offered himself as a substitute for Benjamin (44.33-34).

In reality, faith is proven only as it acts in accord with Providence. Joseph understood himself to be in a position to help all affected by the providential famine—especially his family. In time the story comes full circle; God’s providence was ultimately directing all human action parallel to His plans—and Joseph acted compatibly with his God throughout. Finally Joseph’s brothers told their father the news of God’s blessing upon them all:

“So they went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They said, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!’ Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them. But when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Gen 45.25-28).

The theme of famine has already played a significant role in Genesis: Abraham went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan (12.10-20), and Isaac was forced to go to the land of the Philistines because of a famine in Canaan (26.1-11). A later famine had significance for the weaving together of the storyline of Scripture. Early in the ministry of the apostle Paul—while he was ministering in Antioch—a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem “and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman world” (Acts 11.28). These (predominantly Gentile) believers took up a collection for the saints in Judea, “sending it to the elders (in Jerusalem) by the means of Barnabas and Saul” (Acts 11.30; cf. Acts 12.25; Gal 2.10). Throughout Paul’s ministry he attempted to employ the Gentiles in famine relief—especially for the Jewish Christians of Judea—as a means of bridging the gap between the two nations, as he detailed for the Romans, saying:

“I am traveling to Jerusalem to serve the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual benefits, then they are obligated to minster to Jew in material needs…

     Now I implore you, brothers, through the Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to agonize together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf: that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints” (Rom 15.25-27, 30-31; cf. 1 Cor 16.1-4; 2 Cor 8-9).



*For a complete list of references, please see