Joseph Wept (vv. 1-2)
To his brothers, Joseph put on a hard surface, particularly in his first dealings with them. We have seen cracks in his resolve, but after hearing Judah’s offer and knowing that his brothers are solidly on the road to repentance, he cannot hold back the floods of emotion. Remember that it has been love that led him to adopt the course of testing his brothers – love for them as his brothers, the desire for them to be confronted and to turn from their wickedness, and a hope that he might one day embrace them openly and rejoice together in God’s goodness. And here was Judah, whom Joseph remembered had made the suggestion that they sell him into slavery, offering himself as a slave so that Benjamin might be returned safely to his father. These are not the same men. Joseph knew: God has made new men out of my brothers. This is the goal of our heavenly Father’s exposing our sins and testing, as well as the discipline our earthly fathers and church elders – to confront our sins, break our hearts, and restore us to loving fraternity with God and men. If we remembered this as we should, we would more patiently bear up under God’s tests and discipline. We would also trust his fatherly intentions and know that his only desire in bringing his waves and billows over us is to receive us as his purified children and to do us good in our latter end.
Perhaps this is not the best place for a chapter break, but it allows the reader to catch his breath and take in the moving splendor of God’s grace and the depths of brotherly love renewed. Rare is a prayer like Judah’s, his utter transformation from a scoundrel to a sacrificing brother, and his willingness to suffer for another – only in Jesus Christ do we see Judah better! Joseph’s chest began heaving. This is not a moment for his attendants or even his steward to see. With his last effort at composure, he turns his cry of joy into a commanding cry for everyone to leave his presence. The door shut, Joseph began wailing. He was no longer Zaphnathpaaneah, Grand Vizier of Egypt, but simply Joseph, the son of Jacob, and loving brother. I do not know what his brothers thought. Why is this man bawling his eyes out, crying out so loudly that he was heard in Pharaoh’s nearby house and court? Why are we alone with him? Only a cold and likely dead heart can remain unmoved by the scene. See the family and the higher kingdom drama unfolding, as Joseph revealed himself as the savior of his family and of the church herself. Behind Joseph’s tears you see the Lord loving his bride and working for her beauty and salvation.
Revelation and Terror (v. 3)
Ani yosafe! I am Joseph! Two words in Hebrew, no interpreter, two worlds collide. Not, “I am going to kill you,” but “Does my father yet live?” They had told him, but he wanted to hear it from them not as the Egyptian governor but as their brother. He is all love and instant nearness to them, but they are terrified. I am Joseph fell like God’s gavel upon their consciences. Many things began to make more sense to some of them, but twenty years of guilt and hiding and resulting soul shrinkage were suddenly exploded like a balloon pierced by a pin. It rose before them out of the depths of a guilty conscience – the old hatred, seeing the teenage Joseph approaching, grabbing and stripping him, eating their dinner as their brother cried from the pit, selling him to the slave traders, breaking Jacob’s heart with their lies. And, O, now the inexplicable things this man seemed to have known and pointed questions and actions that brought back their old crimes. Did they think of these things? Perhaps some did. My guess is that they were shocked, guilty, and terrified – Joseph? They stared at him more closely, trying to penetrate the Egyptian garb and pomp of his station. Could it be? It must be. How could this man have known the name Joseph, that they had a brother named Joseph, unless he had been Joseph? What is he going to do to us? This is the last place we would expect to see our brother, even had we thought him still alive. The earth stopped spinning as their hearts stopped beating. Deeper yet, they were suddenly brought face to face with the God of Jacob. In the person of Joseph, they stood before their Judge. What would be his verdict?
Come Near; I Am Your Brother (v. 4)
Come near to me. Come closer to me. He wanted to speak more quietly to them. Servants and steward likely had their ears to the door, and Joseph did not want to publish his brothers’ crimes but to cover them in love. I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. Any lingering doubt vanished. Somehow this was Joseph before them. They sold him into slavery; he stood before them as the ruler of Egypt. They trampled him and threw him in the pit; they now were before him, but he wants only to embrace them as brothers. How long until their hearts beat again? Is this nearness to announce their doom? Your brother should have driven away that fear. He who evidently could snap his fingers and move the world only wanted to be to them “Joseph your brother.” They stood near him alarmed, dumbstruck, looking at each other with all the pain of condemned criminals walking to the gallows. Their brother would repay them now, but slow to grasp the God of mercy and the grace of his covenant, they were slow to understand their brother (50:16-18).
The Way We Overcome Bitterness and Resentment (vv. 5-15)
5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. 9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not: 10 And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: 11 And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty. 12 And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. 13 And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither. 14 And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.
Yield to God’s Sovereign Purpose: God Sent Me Here (vv. 5, 7-8)
Joseph’s attitudes and explanations to his brothers are a compelling study in the way to overcome bitterness and resentment. Joseph had many years to stoke the fires of vengeance, but when the moment came, he only wanted to embrace and comfort his brothers. No fiery wrath or judgment issued from his throne; only the cooling streams of brotherly love and a soft answer. God had refined Joseph in the furnace of affliction, and Joseph had long meditated upon the purposes and workings of God in his life and in his family. Nothing quenches a vengeful spirit at the mistreatment we receive from others or more strongly inclines us to do good to them than the persuasion that the Lord of Hosts directs all things for his glory and our good. Three times Joseph directs his brothers’ attention to the truth that “God sent me here.” Yes, you were the human instruments and had evil motives and intentions, but God was superintending you for our good. This idea did not suddenly come to Joseph’s mind. Rather than nurturing bitterness, he had for years nurtured a delight in the wise and provident goodness of God. As his brothers are near to him, he delights to share this with them. Yes, they had done evil, and he certainly experienced pain and a broken heart. Their father had suffered and never recovered from having his favorite snatched away from him, but all of this is nothing, all must give way including resentment on my part and fear of reprisal on your part, to the revelation of God’s sovereign will in these matters. Faith in God’s goodness and in the wisdom of his plans and dealings with us settles our hearts. It makes us willing to bear injury, as David with Shimei, for behind all the evil of men, for which the Lord will judge them, stands the God who directs all things for the good of his people. Our thoughts must go here first, when we are suffering for righteousness’ sake or feel the world’s mockery or receive insults and bad treatment from our families. God has done this. We need not understand the reason; we need only know that God has sent it and yield to his purposes with a trusting, if broken and bleeding, heart (Job 1:21).
Freely Forgive All Offenses: Do Not Be Angry with Yourselves (v. 5)
If all the brothers were not converted by the first part of Joseph’s sermon, perhaps their bowing to Joseph as their teacher was effectual when he came to this point. It must have concerned them more than anything else ~ what is Joseph going to do to us? Do not be angry with yourselves. What! Will our brother now teach us mercy? Yes! Joseph is not trying to take the edge off their repentance, but he is letting them know that he has no edge upon his vengeance. What they did, they did. It is over. Since God sent him to Egypt, to be angry with them is to resist him. Would that we had a similar conviction when it came to bearing with the injuries we receive from others or the world’s reproach. We must freely forgive our enemies, as our Lord from the cross. Vengeance is a cold and lifeless ember in a heart that burns with a sense of mercy and gratitude to God for his goodness. God sent me here, dear brothers, to preserve your lives. We are but at the beginning of the famine; there will be no attempt at farming for the next five years. This part of the world will become a dust bowl, and the Lord set me on this throne to raise you from the dung hill of famine. You will be princes with me in Egypt, or at least enjoy the best of the land. There is no time for self-recrimination. Yes, God sent me here to deliver you, but focus upon his love and faithfulness to his covenant promises, not upon what you have done to me.
Could there be a more beautiful picture of God’s mercy and of our Savior’s love at such a time as this? Joseph says, “Look not upon your evil deeds but upon the Lord’s good provision for you.” Our Savior says, “Look not upon your sins but upon my blood and obedience.” If you want light to return to your soul and guilt to flee far away, for every honest look you take at your evil heart and deeds, look at me a hundred, a thousand times. Keep looking at me and let your heart be melted by the goodness of God so that your repentance is sincere and lasting. With such an attitude, there is little room for personal vengeance or demanding that others satisfy our sense of having been offended. There is only the desire to do them good, even if they make but a little effort at amendment and reconciliation. Let us not drive a bruised reed and smoking flax away by demanding a repentance that we cannot give or being so peevish about the wrongs they have done to us that unless they grovel in the dust and show signs of angelic perfection, we remain cold toward them. This was not evident in Joseph’s brothers, but he told them to look away from themselves and to see the goodness and wisdom of the Lord in the whole matter. Then, even the offenses of others against us, if we are humbled before the Lord and submit to his providence as we should, will be received as coming from God’s hand. Others may sin in the way they treat us, and this is certainly true of the way the world treats the church, but the Lord ordains this treatment to chasten us, refine our faith, and give us opportunity to display mercy, so that we may forgive our enemies as the Lord has so wondrously forgiven us.
Prefer Others to Self: Tell My Father and Bring Him to Me (vv. 9-13)
Giving them no time to object and little time to take in his unveiling – has a minute passed since his “I am Joseph?” – he immediately laid out his plan for their deliverance. Go and tell my father that I am alive and that I rule Egypt and that I am basically a father to Pharaoh so that he does not lift a finger throughout his realm without me. Go and tell him these things – and bring the whole family here. Joseph’s plans were deeply laid. The land of Goshen, near to the location of the royal court in Upper Egypt, would be their dwelling place. Joseph thought this would be until the famine passed; little did he know that he was preparing a place for the church for the next four hundred years. The Lord’s longer term care and infallibly laid plans for our preservation in the world should drive away every fear and fill us with grateful amazement! This is another reason that Joseph did not have time for vengeance – he was not thinking about paying back his brothers but upon his father’s joy and the preservation of his family, and therefore the preservation of God’s covenant promise to redeem the world through the seed of the woman.
If we are to put aside bitterness and a vengeful spirit, we must also think upon the Lord’s larger purposes and prefer the joy we can bring to others through steadfastness and love to the injury we might inflict upon them for mistreating us. Life is too short and God’s grace in Christ too precious to waste a moment in thinking about self that would be better spent thinking about how we can do good to others and bring them joy – the same way our heavenly Father treats us. He rejoices over us to do us good (Deut. 30:9), and it was no small part of Joseph’s joy that he had been planning to bring blessing to his family. He was so much like a parent hiding and then showering gifts upon his children, so much like our heavenly Father who delights in the prosperity of his servants and children (Ps. 35:27; 37:23; 147:10. Does it delight us to be an instrument of joy to others? Or, are we so focused upon rights and restitution and being thought right that even if we are right, we make an idol of self rather than seek to be poured out for the happiness and peace of those around us?
Show Sincere Affection: Crying and Kissing (vv. 14-15)
It is sometimes hard for us to be treated generously, mercifully, by those against whom we have sinned. It would be easier for them to be harsh with us. We expect this and in some measure it is almost easier to bear punishment than it is to carry the weight of forgiveness. Of course, some who extend mercy make a great show of it and want to be seen as magnanimous. They want us to feel our indebtedness to them. Joseph was free from this selfishness and pride. He was so excited to be with his brothers and tell them his plans. In childlike faith, he seems to have taken for granted that his brothers would understand in five minutes what he had been learning for over twenty years! But he only loved them. Drawing Benjamin to his side, he hugged and hugged him, weeping tears of joy, almost holding his momma again. He kissed and wept over all his brothers. That his brothers began talking more freely with him indicates that full reconciliation has taken place. Their amazement still burned hotly, but they were able to talk about the past, the twenty year gap, the present, and the future. If Joseph’s words did not fully melt their hearts, his affection for them did. How can you not fall utterly in love with a man whom you tried to kill and sold into slavery but who now freely forgives your crimes, saves your life from destruction, gives you the world as a gift, and then takes such delight in doing so? I hope we feel this way about Lord Jesus Christ, for he has been just this kind of Savior, elder Brother, and Friend to us!!
Pharaoh’s Hospitable Invitation (vv. 16-20)
16 And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's brethren are come: and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants. 17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye; lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan; 18 And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. 19 Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Also regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.
Whatever may have been Pharaoh’s ordinary response to foreigners, in the case of Joseph’s family, gratitude colored all and won the favor of the earth’s princes. Pharaoh and his court were very pleased that Joseph’s brothers had come to Egypt, and Pharaoh sent a direct invitation ~ return to Canaan, load up your families and households, and come unto me, and I will give you the best of our land. Do not worry about bringing all your “stuff” – the best of the land is yours for the taking. Could Pharaoh offer less to the family of the man who had saved his land and people from destruction? Very different was this Pharaoh’s response than a later ruler who did not remember Joseph – or gratitude. I wonder very much whether it is gratitude to God’s goodness that is what is most lacking, especially for Christians, whose every breath should be praise to God for his mercy in Jesus Christ. Were we more thankful, we would be more obedient and less conscious of any burden in obedience (1 John 5:3). Lord, of course we love you and want to please you. You laid down your life for us and bore our curse. We will not offer unto God what cost us nothing but offer you our absolute best, which is unworthy of you unless in grace you overlook our deficiencies and receive us in mercy. If Pharaoh felt so thankful to Joseph for saving Egypt that he offered all the land of Egypt (v. 20) to them, how much more must we be utterly devoted to the God and Savior who loved and gave himself for us on the cross? It is, child of God, ingratitude and forgetfulness of mercy that turns our hearts cold toward him, makes obedience a burden, and makes us complain over the smallest thing he might ask of us rather than wanting him to ask everything of us, if only we might love and serve him with purer devotion and love.
Advice for the Journey Home (vv. 21-24)
21 And the children of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the commandment of Pharaoh, and gave them provision for the way. 22 To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment. 23 And to his father he sent after this manner; ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way. 24 So he sent his brethren away, and they departed: and he said unto them, See that ye fall not out by the way.
I suspect that Joseph knew that his father would be shocked by the news that he was alive, much more by his glory and dominion over the land of Egypt. Did Joseph suspect that Jacob did not quite trust his sons? To ensure that the brothers’ would be able to prove their story, Joseph sent them home well-supplied and much richer than when they left. He gave them wagons, likely of the royal variety, and abundant foodstuffs. He gave each of his brothers three changes of clothing – the outer robe that was a symbol of wealth and rank – but five changes to Benjamin and three hundred pieces of silver – more than ten times the worth of a slave! The brothers left Canaan hungry, fearful, and guilty; they returned forgiven and wealthy princes! This is God’s grace to us through faith and repentance; the destiny of his forgiven children is heirs and princes in heaven with Jesus our Lord and Head. Joseph gave them a parting word. To his father he sent a special gift, distinct from the rest – ten asses bearing Egyptian treasures and ten she-asses carrying corn, bread, and meat. Joseph did not need to purchase his father’s good graces; he wanted to prepare his father for his glory in Egypt! To his brothers, he also gave a parting word – do not fight on the way home. No bickering. It would likely be the first time they would be together and alone since Joseph made himself known, and Joseph did not want them arguing about anything – the past, the greatest guilt, what their father would say when the full story came out – nothing. It was as if he said to them, “Think only upon God’s goodness and mercy, and thus be at peace with yourselves.” This is a good lesson to us. When our minds are occupied with the delights of divine grace and mercy, there is little room and less energy to entertain negative thoughts about others and what they have done to us. All human offenses must fade out in the blinding light of God’s mercy to us.
Joseph My Son Is Alive (vv. 24-28)
25 And they went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father, 26 And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not. 27 And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived: 28 And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.
I am sure that Reuben, Judah, Benjamin, and the rest vied to cover the last mile quickest and run fastest to tell their father about Joseph. Practically all at once, they burst in and said, “Joseph is alive; he is the governor of all the land of Egypt.” Whatever Jacob had been doing, he fainted. The sight of his sons returning as princes, laden with riches, and the very mention of Joseph from their mouths – I dare say that they avoided his name like a virus. And to hear that he was alive and the ruler of Egypt; it was too much. He did not believe them – but there were also Simeon and Benjamin. Nothing good ever came from his older sons until this very moment – all returned and safe, all promises kept, and Joseph. They told Jacob all Joseph’s words. He saw the wagons and the riches. His spirit revived. “Few and evil” may have been the days of Jacob’s life to this point, but God had saved one of his best gifts for the end. Jacob freely yielded Benjamin to save his family, and now the Lord would give Joseph back to him so that he would enjoy both of Rachel’s sons for the rest of his life. It was too much for our father. It is almost too much for us to take in, and we have had almost four millennia to digest God’s goodness. I wonder that Jacob did not die with amazement and joy.
And Israel said – not an editorial or source shift, as blind critics suggest, but the Spirit again indicating that Jacob truly was a prince of heaven and that he prevailed with God. How? For twenty years he had been grieving, Benjamin his sole earthly joy. God had been working and preparing joy for his faithful servant. The deceiver had been deceived but would now have every deception removed. The Lord sustained him and his beloved Joseph. I am old and near death. It is enough for me that he is alive, but I will go to Egypt and see Joseph my son. The old bones prepared to journey again, leaving the land of promise for the land of survival. But he would have joy there beyond any expectation, God reserving a final earthly blessing for the last of the patriarchs. He entered this world with difficulty, endured years of trouble and mistreatment, lost his favorite wife and son, but will close his life with joy and peace. How great is God’s goodness to those who fear him and hope in his mercy (Ps. 103:11)!
Rejoice in the Lord’s Goodness!
In some ways, this entire section of Scripture is like a coloring book for children. It teaches us the outlines of God’s goodness to his people and the way we may trace out his workings in our life. When Joseph was bring tried, we know what God was working and preparing behind the scenes – good for Joseph, for Jacob, for his brothers, and for the church. This should settle our hearts and teach us to expect that the Lord is working good for us, as the prophets and apostles constantly teach us (Ps. 31:19; Jer. 29:11; Rom. 8:28). Sadly, we often expect him to work against us or to be indifferent to our cries, but this is only guilt talking, as in the case of Joseph’s brothers. If we see Jesus as we should (Heb. 2:9), we know that God is smiling upon us, ready to receive us as his children, and willing to pardon freely our sins. Joseph’s brothers learned this by Joseph’s mercy to them, and we should learn it also. When we look to Jesus, God does not hold our sins against us but blots them out and is ready to show us his great favor and generosity. And thus, our lips should always be praising him and our hearts patient and trusting as we wait for good. It is coming. Our Father did not choose in Christ to withhold anything from us but to lavish us with his kindness. He brings us from the Egypt of this world to Canaan and his heavenly country as princes and possessors of all things (2 Cor. 1:20). If we thought more on his goodness, we would be much more willing to forgive the offenses of others, slow to take offense, patient and joyful in difficulties, and confident in our Father’s love and good purposes for us. Then, whatever we go through in this life, we would know that he intends to work good for us through it – through the tears and losses and pain. He collects them all in his bottle and will pour them out upon us in showers of gladness.
Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts
1. Why was Joseph overcome with emotion?
2. Why were Joseph’s brothers terrified?
3. How did Joseph comfort them?
4. What do we learn from vv. 5-9 about overcoming bitterness and resentment?
5. Why do peace and love require that we are yielded to God’s providence?
6. Why should the thought that “God has done this” settle you in adversity?
7. How was Joseph able to completely forgive his brothers?
8. What kills the spirit of bitterness and the desire for vengeance?
9. What do we learn from Joseph making good plans for his brothers and family?
10. How is our Lord’s affection to us similar to Joseph’s for his brothers? How are you responding to his mercy?
11. Why is Jacob here called Israel?
12. How are these chapters in Genesis like a child’s coloring book for us to learn the ways of God’s providence and goodness?
13. Why should we expect the Lord to do us good?
14. Do you praise him for his goodness? How does a praising spirit quench a complaining one? A judgmental one?