“God sent me before you … to save your lives by a great deliverance.” – Genesis 45:7
Joseph spoke these words to his brothers after he revealed his identity to them. Having lived twenty-two years in Egypt, with five years of famine remaining, Joseph knew that “it was not you who sent me here but God” (Genesis 45:6, 8). Seventeen years later, after Jacob had died and been buried, Joseph told his brothers yet again, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good … to save many people alive” (50:20).
Seeing the goodness of God in men’s evil deeds takes wisdom. But in order to deliver his family – so that God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could be fulfilled – Joseph himself had to be delivered. This “great deliverance” came not from Joseph’s request to the chief butler but from God (Genesis 40:14-15, 23; 41:9-14). Sent to save his family from famine, Joseph had to wait for God to give Pharaoh his dreams (45:5-8, 50:20; Psalm 105:16-22). He would have had no strategic role otherwise. So why did Joseph languish in prison for “two full years” before Pharaoh’s dreams (Genesis 41:1)? Although “the word of the Lord tested him” (Psalm 105:19), what else happened during this time? His grandfather Isaac died.
This fact isn’t clear from the biblical account, since Isaac’s death is recorded in Genesis 35. The Word states that “Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, being old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (35:29). We learn of Isaac’s death before we ever hear about Joseph’s coat of “many colors” (37:3). Yet if one does the math, the record is clear. Isaac died at the age of 180 (35:28) when Jacob was 120 years old (25:36). Jacob appeared before Pharaoh at age 130 (47:9). In the intervening decade, seven years of plenty and two years of famine had passed (41:29-30, 45:6). Joseph was 39, since he’d been released from prison at age 30 (41:46). Therefore, it’s clear that his grandfather Isaac had died and been buried the year before. A year before that, Joseph had interpreted the butler and baker’s dreams (40:5-19). Of course, we don’t know the patriarchs’ birthdays or the days on which Isaac died and Joseph was delivered from prison. So Isaac might have died on the same night as Pharaoh’s dreams!
Why does Isaac’s death matter? Methuselah, the oldest man in recorded history, died the same year as the flood, maybe the same day (Genesis 5:25-28, 7:6). His grandson Noah was also chosen to save his family by “a great deliverance.” The world was destroyed, but he and his posterity were preserved. Noah knew he had to finish the ark and find food for the animals. He may not have known that he had to wait for his grandfather to die.
Did Methuselah fail to find “grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8)? No. God just waited for one generation to die before he blessed and preserved the next. I know of no other biblical events in which this phenomenon takes place, but it’s significant. For those languishing in physical, emotional, or spiritual prisons today, maybe biblical genealogies are the answer. Maybe God will save our lives by “a great deliverance,” after a previous generation passes away.
 All Scripture references are from the New King James Version (NKJV).