Joseph had a position of influence in Egypt because the Lord revealed to him that a famine would come upon the land and Pharaoh needed to prepare rations. The famine was not bound to Egypt but affected life in Canaan too. The patriarchal family was forced to look to Egypt for food (Genesis 42). God thus placed Joseph in a vocational position to provide for the needs of his family (Gen 41:5-6). From Gen 42:7 onward, Joseph was comforted with the reality that his family (especially Benjamin and Jacob) were alive. From his position of prominence in Egypt, Joseph wished to find out the details of his missing family members and what he could do to provide for them.
Upon recognizing that his family was still alive, Joseph desired to see Benjamin and Jacob and provide for 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 him—as opposed to just leaving with the 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 (Gen 42:14), released Simeon (Gen 43:23), inquired about Jacob (Gen 43:27-28), and blessed Benjamin (Gen 43:29, 34). In Genesis 45, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, weeping at God’s providence over both his station in Egypt and the famine God used to re-unite him with his family. Joseph’s brothers returned to Canaan and told their father the news of God’s blessing upon them all. When Jacob heard the news about Joseph’s position in Egypt and saw the provisions Joseph had sent with his brothers, his spirit was revived, and he made plans to go to Joseph in Egypt (Gen 45:25-28).
In Scripture’s storyline, God used famine to direct His people and advance His redemptive plans. The theme of famine shapes the narrative of Genesis. Abraham went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan (Gen 12:10-20) and Isaac was forced to go to the land of the Philistines because of a famine in Canaan (Gen 26:1-11). In Deut 28:48, Moses warned the people that if they were unfaithful to God in the Promised Land, God would bring famine upon the land. Ruth, the Moabite who would become the grandmother of King David, came into the line of Abraham’s descendants because Elimelech’s family came to Edom for food when there was a famine in Canaan (Ruth 1:1; 4:17). God used famine in the Promised Land during the ministries of Elijah (1 Kings 18:2) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:38) to display His power of provision through them, beckoning Israel to return and be faithful. Early in the ministry of Paul—while he was ministering in Antioch—a prophet named Agabus came from Jerusalem and prophesied by the Spirit that a great famine would come upon the Roman world (Acts 11:28). The church in Antioch (comprised predominantly of Gentiles) took up a collection for the saints in Judea and commissioned Barnabas and Paul to take the contribution to Jerusalem (Acts 11:30; see Acts 12:25; Gal 2:10). In Paul’s second and third missionary journeys, he employed the Gentiles in famine relief, receiving gifts from them and taking those gifts to Jerusalem to meet the needs of Jewish Christians there. Paul hoped that gifts from the Gentiles would demonstrate to the Jews that these Gentiles, like Paul himself, were truly people of God. Paul’s travel plans and administration of famine relief are a fitting conclusion to the book of Romans, his most thorough reflection on the storyline of Scripture:
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 minister to Jews 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; see 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15).