April 30, 2017
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 19:10 in the audio file.
Or, Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers
If Genesis 44 is one of the greatest displays of repentance in all of Scripture, Genesis 45 is one of the sweetest reconciliations. We might not believe it except for the fact that most of us have heard it so many times since we were kids. Bitter, jealous, angry hatred planted some twenty-two years previous is now plucked up as Joseph reveals himself to his brothers without returning resentful, offended, grudge-holding wrath on them.
Joseph had set them up by having his steward place his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers had been sent away, then the steward chased them down and accused the of theft. They didn’t know they’d been framed, but Benjamin had the cup. The brothers could have left their youngest brother as a slave to “the man” in Egypt, just as they had sold their youngest brother to be a slave in Egypt two decades ago, but they did not abandon Benjamin. They all turned back to Joseph’s house. Joseph confronted them and told them that they were all free to go except for Benjamin and Judah made an extended plea on behalf of his father, even offering to take Benjamin’s place.
Judah did all of the talking in the second half of chapter 44. In chapter 45, Moses records almost none of what the brothers said. The majority of the chapter is Joseph revealing himself to his brothers and then inviting them, along with Israel and the rest of the family, to come and live in Egypt.
To outline the story is almost like to dissect a tear; it’s possible and sort of misses the point. Yet for the torrent of emotion expressed by Joseph, it is his theological perspective that is most amazing. Without his theology, he would have had a lot of emotion, but it would not have ended like this.
I’m not sure which would be more surprising to the brothers, that Joseph was still alive, that Joseph was “the man” they had been dealing with, or that Joseph wasn’t angry with them.
Judah finished his appeal on behalf of Benjamin Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He’s already had a couple times when he had to leave the room in order not to show his feelings in front of his brothers. Now he doesn’t want to show his feelings in front of his attendants so he has them leave. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” And Moses clarified: So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. It is personal, and the privacy will be important as well.
And he wept aloud, he “gave his voice in weeping” (Hamilton), so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Again, he’s cried at least twice before (Genesis 42:24; 43:30), but he pulled himself together before letting his brothers see. Now he wants them to see. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” We can assume that his interpreter also went out, since “no one stayed,” so he starts speaking in their language. As Moses relates the story, there are no more tricks, no more delays, he just comes out with it. And immediately he asks about his father. Judah had just appealed to become a substitute in order to keep Jacob from dying, but Jacob is a key concern to Joseph.
But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. They didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know what to believe. The word dismayed could be translated “dumbfounded” or “stunned” or “terrified” (NIV). Sometimes the word was used to describe “paralyzing fear sometimes felt by those involved in war” (Wenham). “Their lives are clearly in the hands of the one they thought they killed” (Waltke).
So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” They gathered in around him and he presents inside information, information that no one else could have known, nor does Joseph let anyone else know. Here is a reason for the privacy, not exposing their sin (perhaps so that no one else in Pharaoh’s house, someone sympathetic to Joseph, would take it out of them either).
”And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, though it isn’t because what they did was okay. Joseph urges them to see things from his perspective. ”For God sent me here before you to preserve life.” Joseph will attribute his current position to God rather than to his brothers at least three times in these next verses, and he will clarify whose life he was sent to save.
”For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing or harvest.” It’s only going to get worse. The ground will be so barren that no one will even bother trying to grow in it. Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh will save Pharaoh’s house and all the Egyptians from starvation, but it’s more than that. ”And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” Joseph himself, not just Moses writing hundreds of years later, sees this as God’s way of saving his family, preserving his brothers and his father. ”So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” This is more than an historical statement, it an interpretation of history. The brothers had sent him to Egypt, but God was at work behind what the brothers did. God was also the one who lifted up Joseph in Egypt which the brothers had nothing to do with. ”He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord all of his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
Joseph passes over, at first, the mistreatment, servitude, false accusations, imprisonment, forgottenness he experienced for twenty years since they had sold him. He doesn’t say when he realized it, but now he understands. He is Pharaoh’s father, that is, an advisor like no other, and exalted in a way that he can actually help.
Joseph knows what they should do next.
Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” (Genesis 45:9–13)
Joseph is eager for his dad to know he is well and eager for the entire family to move to Egypt. Did they remember the prophecy given to Abraham, about a long sojourn in Egypt for his future family (Genesis 15:13)? He repeats that the famine won’t be over for a while, but if they come to Egypt he can provide for them. Goshen would be nearby, close to the royal court, a land for pasturing.
Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. This is reconciliation and reunion. This is a twenty-two year rift overcome. This is grace on Joseph’s part, though he believed that their hearts were changed. He still doesn’t make them pay, he pours out his affections on them.
The brothers still don’t have much to say, at least not that’s recorded. Pharaoh will affirm their welcome to Egypt, Joseph will provide for their journey, and they will have to bring news to their father.
When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. This was not only big news, it was exciting news. Pharaoh himself and his servants are happy about it, it “was good in their eyes.”
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’” (Genesis 45:16–20)
Pharaoh is not speaking directly to the brothers because he didn’t speak Hebrew. But he extends the royal invitation, or perhaps ratifies the invitation that Joseph had given; Pharaoh and Joseph are thinking the same way. Joseph has saved the country, Joseph’s family should dwell in it. Pharaoh even promises that the best of all the land of Egypt is yours. They don’t have to worry about anything.
They don’t argue. The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey.
Not only did Joseph provide them with supplies for the trip, he also added to it.To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. He shows favoritism to Benjamin, but that doesn’t bother the brothers. They had sold him for 20 shekels of silver and ruined his special clothes in blood. Joseph returns better to them.
Joseph also sent gifts for Jacob. To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey.
Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.” It’s as if he knew them. They didn’t argue about relocating to Egypt, but they could have argued about any number of things between Egypt and Canaan, such as their guilt, perhaps most about how they were going to tell their father.
So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” There must have been more to their words, such as, “Oh, yeah, please forgive us for lying to you twenty-two years ago when we didn’t tell you we had sold Joseph because we were mad at him and you for showing so much favoritism to him.” But this is all the attention Moses gives to their words. The brothers do describe that their brother has become ruler, just as he dreamed he would (Genesis 37:7-8).
As for Jacob, his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. He believed the lies about Joseph being dead, he could not believe the truth about Joseph being alive. He became as dead from the shock. If you really don’t believe someone it doesn’t affect you. If you don’t believe someone because you really don’t even want to believe that it could be true what they’re saying because it’s too unbelievable and amazing to be true, the numb-defense kicks in.
The brothers now tell him more of the story. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. He came alive again.
And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” He thought he was going to be going down to Sheol in sorrowful death. Now he’s going down to Egypt in joy before death. It’s a surprising lack of resistance recorded in light of Jacob’s call to Canaan. More about this in the next chapter.
God uncovers twenty-two year-old sin. Joseph didn’t expose it to Pharaoh’s house, but it was exposed to Jacob. The brother’s hearts have changed, they’ve shown signs of repentance. But that doesn’t always lead to reconciliation. It takes two to reconcile: those who must humble themselves to repentance and those who must humble themselves before a sovereign God who works all thins according to the purpose of His will.
Calvinists, those who understand and submit to God’s plan, should do better than get so easily offended.
Good men, who fear to expose the justice of God to the calumnies of the impious, resort to this distinction, that God wills some things, but permits others to be done. As if, truly, any degree of liberty of action, were he to cease from governing, would be left to men. If he had only permitted Joseph to be carried into Egypt, he had not ordained him to be the minister of deliverance to his father Jacob and his sons; which he is now expressly declared to have done. Away, then, with that vain figment, that, by the permission of God only, and not by his counsel or will, those evils are committed which he afterwards turns to a good account. (Calvin)
Joseph credits God with getting him into position to be a blessing for his brothers, his father, and for the preservation of their family. The brothers meant it for evil, but God meant the series of unfortunate events for good (Genesis 50:20). Nothing happened to Joseph that God had not predestined. Nothing happened to Jesus that God had not predestined (Acts 2:23; 4:28). And nothing happens to us that God has not predestined for good (Romans 8:28).
You might say, “But I won’t ever be second in command in Egypt, or any other country.” That’s true. But how do you know it won’t be better than that? Now, or in the age to come? Has the sin of others made you more like Christ (Romans 8:29)? Has enabled you to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4-7)?
Where has God sent you? Are you able to see why you should be thankful and how you can bless others in this position, even perhaps those who’ve sinned against you?
Joseph’s brothers still had a lot of work to do, and, while they walked back to Canaan, they realized they were going to have a lot of explaining to do, too. Reconciliation enables work, it doesn’t end it. Remember as you leave, that even if someone else around you really messed up something for you, you both got grace. Love others by burying your enmity toward them. As Joseph might say, “Do not quarrel on the way.”
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31–32, ESV)