Throughout history, certain kings and emperors and other executive authorities have enjoyed the privilege of rule without accepting any of the responsibility of rule. Sometimes they were considered too important to do the work of government. Sometimes they were incompetent. Sometimes they were merely lazy. In every case, someone else was found to do the real work of governing the land. Joseph became such a man in Egypt. After interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh, predicting seven years of bounty followed by seven years of famine, Joseph was put in charge of Egypt, collecting supplies during the good times to take care of people during the bad times. Joseph ran Egypt, while the Pharaoh sat on the throne and enjoyed the worship of his people. In a similar way, in the book of Esther, first Haman and then Mordecai took royal authority in Persia. The real emperor sat on the throne, but his prime ministers did the work of running the empire.
We call such a power a “right hand man.” As the right hand of the king or emperor, he does the work to run the country while the chief executive gets the credit. Medieval France had a “mayor of the palace” doing the real work while the Merovingian kings got all the credit. Medieval Japan had a Shogun doing the real work while the Japanese emperors got all the credit. Modern corporations and universities often have a President who receives all the credit while a presidential assistant is doing the real work that brings success to the business.
After his resurrection, Jesus told his apostles, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). The apostle Paul shared the same message in a different way, saying that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father (Ephesians 1:20 and Colossians 3:1, among others). The right hand of the Father is not a ceremonial position. Sitting at the Father’s right hand means doing the work of the Father. Because Jesus has been given power and authority by the Father, Jesus is the only Way to approach the Father. Those who try to come to God the Father through their own good deeds, or because they were created by him, cannot reach the Father. Only through Christ can the Father be approached.
As the Pharaoh’s right-hand man, Joseph had power to reward people and power to punish people. Though they did not recognize Joseph, his brothers placed themselves under his power when they came to buy food in Egypt. Joseph, unlike Jesus, was not sinless. He could not resist the temptation to toy with his brothers before he finally told them who he was. Like Christ, though, Joseph forgave his brothers all their sins against him. He provided generously for his family without accepting any payment from them. In the end, he brought them to live with him, as Jesus brings his people into Paradise and into the new creation. Our sins caused Jesus to suffer, as the sins of his brothers caused Joseph to suffer. Yet Jesus does not hold a grudge against any of us. He forgives us, he provides for us now, and he has guaranteed us a home where we will live with him forever in peace and joy. J.