Joseph explained to his bewildered brothers that God had ordained his descent into Egypt in order to “preserve life” and “to preserve a remnant.” (Genesis 45:5). Joseph goes on to state that, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7).
When Joseph is understood as foreshadowing the work of Messiah, a similar statement may be made. Yeshua’s brothers the Jewish people rejected Him, but God ordained that rejection to accomplish a great deliverance.
Paul seems to have read Joseph’s story in this light as well. In Romans 11, he struggled with the difficult question of Israel’s rejection of Yeshua. Though he did not directly invoke Joseph as an analogy, he seems to have alluded to it in a few places in this discussion. For example, he pointed out that Israel’s rejection of Messiah has meant riches for the world. The brothers’ rejection of Joseph resulted in riches for the famine-stricken world of Joseph’s day. Similarly, Paul pointed out that Israel’s ultimate reconciliation with the Messiah will be “life from the dead.” Joseph said, “God sent me before you to preserve life (lemicheyah, למחיה).” Jewish liturgy typically uses the same Hebrew word for the resurrection of the dead.
For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15)
I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! (Romans 11:11-12)
Paul saw the Jewish estrangement from Messiah as a necessary part of a divinely ordained plan whereby God extended salvation to the entire world. In this regard, the Jewish estrangement from Messiah closely mirrors the events in Joseph’s story. Paul conceded that Israel has stumbled (though not fallen), but he insisted that even the nation’s stumbling plays a part of God’s plan. Just as Joseph and his brothers ultimately reunited and reconciled, Paul said that “all Israel will be saved.”
All Israel will be saved; just as it is written [in Isaiah 59:20-21], “The deliverer will come from Zion, he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:26-27)
Paul did not suppose that all Israel must wait until the culmination of the age before entering into reconciliation with the Messiah. He maintained that, just as the LORD preserved a remnant of His people in the past, so too a remnant had recognized King Messiah. Again, the discussion seems to allude to the story of Joseph:
God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:7)
In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. (Romans 11:5)