Promise Context

Genesis records that Joseph, renowned today as the subject of a popular musical, was sold into Egyptian slavery by his jealous brothers. They did not realize it then, but their guile would become part of God’s plan to save their lives and establish the nation of Israel.

Joseph’s extended family eventually sought refuge in Egypt because of a severe famine in their homeland east of the Red Sea, the land God had promised their patriarch, Abraham. By then, Joseph had risen to be the country’s prime minister. He used his authority to save his family.

In Genesis 50:24-25, Joseph told his brothers just before he died, “God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised…then you must carry my bones up from this place.”

The brothers agreed to exhume Joseph’s remains when they left Egypt and rebury them in their ancestral homeland. God’s promise and the brothers’ pledge extended to their descendants, who were called Israelites.

The Israelites became Egyptian slaves after Joseph’s death. Several generations lived and died, hoping God would fulfill his promise of deliverance during their lifetime, yet they heard nothing from him but silence for four hundred years.

Moses and the ten plagues eventually persuaded Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. As recorded in Exodus 13:19, Moses memorialized the fulfillment of God’s promise by collecting the bones of Joseph before they departed. Here is the verse.

“Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”

The Israelite enslavement and specific details about their eventual release were prophesied in a covenant God made with Abraham centuries earlier. Here is the pertinent information recorded in Genesis 15:13-14.

“Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”

God’s covenant with Abraham, conveyed long before Joseph was born, undergirded his promise of aid to the Israelites in Egypt through Joseph.

God’s fulfillment of that promise, centuries after Joseph died, affirmed the integrity of his covenant with Abraham.