A King Which Knew Not Joseph

“Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.” (Exodus 1:1)

Flipping through the pages of the Old Testament, it is interesting to note how many books begin with the word “now” or “and.” Exodus is among them. Whether translated as “now” or “and”, the Hebrew term is identical. It is actually a single pen-stroke representing a conjunction which denotes a continuation of thought. It ties together something that has already been said with something which follows. Although using such a conjunction as the first word in a new book would seem, at first glance, very unusual, it tells us something very remarkable about the Bible. The Bible is a Book of books, and though each book tells a different part of the overall story, they are each but a continuation of that story; a link joining the events already told with those to come.

As such, Exodus picks up right where Genesis left off. Genesis ended with Joseph being laid to rest in a coffin in Egypt, Exodus opens with the death of Joseph and everyone else in that generation (1:6). Many of the events which God revealed in Genesis are now fulfilled in Exodus. The affliction of the descendants of Abraham that God told him would come in Genesis 15 is precisely the condition wherein we find them in Exodus 1. The promise made to Jacob that his descendants would become a great nation in the land of Egypt (Gen. 46:3) finds fulfillment in Exodus 1:7. The family of Israel, the subject of the final chapters of Genesis, is now the Nation of Israel — the subject of most of the remainder of the Old Testament.

From the chain of events spanning more than four centuries, we are given but a single sentence of explanation concerning how a nation which had been rescued from the brink of starvation by Joseph could so easily come to persecute his descendants. “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).  How is it that a man who had been so revered and adored by a people end up having his descendants despised by the same? They knew nothing of him. He had been utterly forgotten. The man who had been second only to Pharaoh himself was now less than a footnote in their history — his name was not even remembered among the Egyptians.

What a lesson to those whose loftiest goal in life is to leave a mark on this world! So many people can think of no greater accomplishment than to have their name remembered and memorialized. Though a few names survive the passage of time, most do not. Even within families, names of those living just three or four generations prior are seldom remembered, much less anything they have accomplished. It is a sad truth that even the noblest of deeds and greatest of achievements rarely outlive the people who witnessed them first-hand.

It is, therefore, all the more ironic that Joseph, a man whose legacy lives on more than three millenia later, was forgotten by a Pharaoh whose proper name is not even given in the Text of Scripture. The king who came from a dynasty known for its opulent monument building — a dynasty of rulers who did all within their power to ensure that the world would never forget them — is himself but a footnote in history. His name is not even mentioned though the children of Jacob are all listed by name. The legacy of the sons of a shepherd has outlived that of an emperor.

We spend so much of our time invested in the pursuits and business of this world. We desperately try to make an impact by pouring ourselves into the affairs of this life. But only what is done for the Lord and in His name will survive into the world to come. God never forgot Joseph because he was faithful to Him. The kings and rulers of this world may not know your name, but if you belong to Christ, then the King of kings does. And that is what ultimately matters.