In the aged father Jacob who fears he has lost his favourite son, we see the emotions that bind the generations. In the tension between Joseph and his brothers, we see age-old problems of family dynamics.
In the setting – first the land of Israel, then the southern desert and finally Egypt, the most powerful and civilised nation of the time – we see the interplay between cultures and peoples.
Everything is woven into the story. Nothing lacks its crucial significance. All is part of the unfolding purpose of the Lord of History.
So many questions impel themselves into our minds. One of them is why things turned so sour for Jacob’s family.
Entering Egypt as honoured dignitaries, they found themselves suddenly degraded and turned into slaves. Maltreated for generations, they cried out to God, and finally He sent a deliverer, Moses, who succeeded in bringing them out as free people on the way to independence in the historic homeland.
If all this is part of God’s purpose, why was the suffering necessary? Could the Hebrew people not have stayed home all this time, built their houses, brought up their children, tilled their land, harvested their crops, and enjoyed sunshine and prosperity without dark clouds or black nights?
An explanation is given by Rabbi Hans Heinemann, who places the story in the context of Israelite and world history.
The world, epitomised by the greatest nation on earth, had to learn that however great a ruler or nation may be, there is a limit to the patience God will extend to it. It had to learn that there is a King over the earthly kings, a Law higher than the pretensions of a power-driven regime.
The Israelite people themselves had to learn there is no success without effort and even suffering; without moral courage, faith and hope, neither an individual nor a people can steel its character and earn its destiny.