Preserving Life (Gen. 45:5)

concepts iconWhen he revealed to his brothers who he was, Joseph said, “And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). One can marvel at Joseph’s perspective, yet here the ordinary-Hebrew-turned-second-in-command-in-Egypt models even for New Testament believers how they should trust an all-wise, all-knowing God to place them where He wants them to be. Being sold into slavery was rather a rough beginning on a journey to save many lives, but the Lord, in His sovereignty, orchestrated this very thing in Joseph’s life.

Note the purpose for which God sent Joseph on this journey. In Joseph’s own words, it was “to preserve life.” The Hebrew term used here is used just a few other times in the Old Testament. Because it often relates to the preservation of life, it is not unusual for it to tie in with sustenance or food. Examine these occurrences of the word, the English equivalent of which is underlined in each instance.

  • “They encamped against them and destroyed the produce of the land, even as far as Gaza. They left nothing for Israel to eat, as well as no sheep, ox or donkey” (Judg. 6:4).
  • “Micah replied, ‘Stay with me and be my father and priest, and I will give you four ounces of silver a year, along with your clothing and provisions.’ So the Levite went in and agreed to stay with the man, and the young man became like one of his sons” (Judg. 17:10-11).
  • “Then Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar. The Cushites fell until they had no survivors, for they were crushed before Yahweh and His army. So the people of Judah carried off a great supply of loot” (2 Chron. 14:13).
  • “But now, for a brief moment, grace has come from Yahweh our God to preserve a remnant for us and give us a stake in His holy place. Even in our slavery, God has given us new life and light to our eyes. Though we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our slavery. He has extended grace to us in the presence of the Persian kings, giving us new life, so that we can rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:8-9).

The word also is translated raw in Leviticus 13:24-25: “When there is a burn on the skin of one’s body produced by fire, and the patch made raw by the burn becomes reddish-white or white, the priest is to examine it.”

Overall, especially after studying the uses of the Hebrew word translated “preserve life” in Genesis 45:5, we are reminded from Genesis 45:5 and from Joseph’s testimony that despite hardship, God desires to use His people for noble, wholesome, redemptive purposes. Most of us will not have authority as great as Joseph’s, but we still can make a positive difference in our own spheres of influence. Joseph’s perspective reminds us as well that God gets the credit for this, not human ingenuity or intellectual skill.

B. Nathaniel Sullivan
Christian educator, Bible teacher, and Editor

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in materials are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®,  Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

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