Genesis 45:16-46:34 “When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Tell your brothers, “Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land. You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.’”’” [and on to Gen.46:34]
We have seen that the great reunion of Joseph with his brothers has taken place. The fruit of repentance and a new humility is evidenced in these eleven brothers. They are different men; everything is new, and the change is so wonderfully displayed so that Prime Minister Joseph breaks his heart in his delight. He feels at last he can make himself known to them; “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” (v.3). Then he speaks at length, and assures them of his love and forgiveness because he knows that God has been in everything that has happened to him. He hugs his brother Benjamin, and assuages the fear and dread in the other ten, and finally they all begin to talk to him (v.15).
1. WHAT PHARAOH SAID: HOW THE NEWS OF THE REUNION REACHED THE COURT OF PHARAOH.
When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace both he and all his officials were overjoyed. Pharaoh did everything to facilitate Joseph’s family coming to live in Egypt. “Tell your brothers to bring Dad, and bring their families too,” he says. “Don’t worry about piling up everything you own back there on carts and bringing the kitchen sink with you because when you arrive here the best of all Egypt will be yours” (vv.17-20). Two things we see here:
i] God can change the hearts of rulers to make them sympathetic to the church of Jesus Christ. This response of Pharaoh’s becomes a pattern in Scripture and then a pattern in the history of the church. Here is the famous affirmation of the book of Proverbs: “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” Today our rulers might be opponents, but their hearts are always in God’s hands and they can be changed. One has heard many rulers speaking wisely this past week about the need of a change in the hearts of rioting, looting, young people in London and Manchester and Birmingham. Inward transformation was needed, our political and police leaders have said. Pharaoh’s heart, of course, had not been against Joseph’s family, but now this king who worshipped other gods is very positively for them. Later on in Old Testament history God moved the heart of king Cyrus of Persia to deliver enslaved Israel from Babylon to be sent back to Jerusalem. And in Nehemiah’s account Artaxerxes, one of Cyrus’ successors, was moved to give help in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem at a critical time because the “gracious hand of God” inspired him when Nehemiah pleaded for the king’s help. As we consider the last twenty years of our own history we have seen a different spirit in the leadership of China and in Eastern Europe and Russia towards the gospel church of Jesus Christ. Christians still have to tread very carefully, being as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves, but we are getting hints at some remarkable things that God is doing in those places. And shall we not see one day in Muslim lands and in North Korea and in Somalia better days for the church? Will not the nations of the world become the nations of our God and of his Christ? I may not live to see it but I trust that many of you will witness such a sea change when the Pharaohs of the world will be pleased at that good news that is our meat and drink, and that they will be encouraging the spread of the good news in their dominions. My second point about the delight of Pharaoh is quite different:
ii] This passage confirms for us the truthfulness of the book of Genesis. I saw this from a sermon of Dr. Ligon Duncan These verses are not how you would have written anti-Egyptian propaganda. Do you know, one day, young people, some of you may be meeting a different message about these Old Testament chapters in SCHOOL or in a college religion class. The teacher is going to do what is known as ‘redaction criticism’ on Genesis. He’s going to explain about how all of this narrative was written politically to boost the national spirit of Israel. It was all part of a political agenda, and that most of it is a myth, made up folklore, and so on, and so on, and so on. He or she is going to say, of course, that Genesis and Exodus was the foundation of all future anti-Egyptian propaganda to justify the warfare of Israel against Egypt, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera . . .
I want to ask why would you ever write about a Pharaoh being so pleasant to the children of Israel, inviting them to come down to live in the best parts of Egypt if your whole point was to whip up anti-Egyptian feeling? This would be utterly unrealistic. In other words, you’d never say something positive about your enemy unless what is recorded here actually happened. This is yet another proof of the inspiration of scripture. If you were trying to put the Egyptians in the worst light that you possibly could, knowing that your people had been in bondage to them for 400 years, you’d never make the climax of the book of Genesis a statement of how generous this Pharaoh was to the children of Israel. But Moses knew that it was true, and so he wrote it down. Moses was under the Ten Commandments, one of which said, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
2. WHAT JOSEPH SAID AND DID: HOW HE EXPRESSED HIS POIGNANT LOVE FOR HIS BROTHERS.
i] See what Joseph gives them. These brothers had got everything; Pharaoh had promised them that the best of all Egypt would be theirs, and so you might think that Joseph would step back. My own miserly heart can think in that way, “. . . those people have everything; they’re not in need and so I won’t give them a gift. I don’t need to.” Joseph didn’t think like that. “Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey. To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes. And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey” (vv. 21-23).
I have called Joseph’s spirit a ‘poignant’ love b
ecause of the reference in verse 22 to the new clothing he had given them. His father had once given him a fabulous coat so many years earlier, and his brothers had torn it and dipped it in blood and brought it as evidence to Jacob that a lion or a bear had killed him. Now do you see with what specific gifts Joseph sends the brothers back to Canaan? New clothing, festive robes of fine Egyptian linen, coats of many colours. Can you imagine his brothers received two or three of those robes from Joseph? They had once stripped him of his coat and sold him into slavery for what they thought would be a brief life in Egypt. You see the heart of this man Joseph in the grip of the grace of God and trusting in the providence of God. Repay no man evil for evil, but overcome evil with good.
ii] See what Joseph tells them. As they were leaving, dressed in their fine new clothes, and leading a caravan of twenty laden donkeys, Joseph said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way” (v.24). Apart from Benjamin he is the youngest brother in years, but in spiritual maturity, experience and authority he is years older than them all, and he does not act like a little brother. That would be a denial of the gifts and maturation he has endured over twenty years in Egypt. He gives them this word, having heard and seen them argue and blame one another when they didn’t realize that he could understand their Hebrew. This was not the time for self-justification and blame fixing, in other words saying, “Reuben, you know that I told you not to do this. All of you, if only you had listened to me . . .” There is nothing like that. There is an authority, but there is no heavy shepherding. No. “Now Judah, you’re the one who’s going to tell Dad, I’ll tell you what you’ve got to do and say . . .” No, he does not pull rank over them, but he does exhort them, maybe with a twinkle in his eye, “Don’t quarrel on the way, brothers.” All of us know about weariness in traveling and tensions on a journey when you’ve lost the way and the driver blames the navigator and you rubbish the satellite navigation system.
3. WHAT THE BROTHERS SAID; THE NEWS THEY BROUGHT THEIR FATHER.
We might be disappointed that Moses has omitted recording the inevitable confession to their father of the horrible thing they’d done to him. They had told Jacob that his beloved son was dead while in fact they had sold him into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. What monstrous wickedness. We are not told how here they howled their grief and threw themselves on the floor before him in shame. “Dad . . . we need to tell you of a terrible thing we did to Joseph and you 20 years ago . . .” We’re told nothing of that sad scene. We’re spared that abject confession by Moses. There is much heart-ache in the Bible world from which God spares us. Maybe that is a lesson to all of us, not to be prurient, not to want to be there witnessing unspeakable suffering and humiliation. We are told so little of the details of the nailing of the Lord Jesus on Golgotha.
They told him the extraordinary news that one he had believed was long dead, was in fact alive and was exalted. It was all too wonderful so that Jacob couldn’t accept it. It overwhelmed him. He faints with the shock of it; he’s stunned; he’s dazed. He just can’t take it in. But his boys are all gazing at him with total sincerity and grief, yearning over their old Dad, longing that he will believe it and believe in their deep repentance. Isn’t that one important way in which we witness to the world? I am your spokesman here of the most extraordinary story of the Lord Jesus Christ making atonement for our sins, reconciling God to us, dying and rising again the third day. I speak it with sobriety, and all of you Christians in the congregation listen with such seriousness. There are the inquirers and visitors here amongst us, listening and seeing all this, the whole picture. What a testimony of the veracity of the livingness of Jesus Christ it is. Then Jacob saw the connection with what God had once said to him, those great promises Jehovah had made to him and his forefathers, and the dreams Joseph had had of his exaltation and the promise inherent in that revelation. It all fitted in, and that was set against the background of this most sober confession and his sons’ wailing their shame. Then there were the signs they could show Jacob confirming its truth, parading donkey after donkey, laden with gifts. At first it was impossible to believe, the boy he had sent on a message to his brothers, killed by a wild beast, now alive, ruling the greatest nation in the world? But they weren’t exasperated with his doubts; they didn’t give up; they persisted with their story and then the great change took place. We are told something happened in him, in his own heart, that his spirit revived. His spirit had received such a blow at the news of the killing of his beloved Joseph. It had shrunk like an old balloon, perishing, useless and unattractive. It was not the spirit of the one who had once seen as a young man angels ascending and descending a great staircase from heaven and the Lord coming and speaking to him. That spirit had withered, but now it revived! Israel cried, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
Then we’re told that Israel (that is how he is named; look at verse 28, not Jacob, but Israel), Israel responded with faith. All the evidence of these words and their spirit and the signs was enough. “And Israel said, ‘I’m convinced! My son, Joseph, is still alive. I will go and see him before I die’” (v.28). What faith he is showing. Israel is now being asked by his son, Joseph, to leave the land of promise where he has lived for 100 years, the place God promised to his grandfather Abraham, being invited to leave at his advanced age, knowing that he will not return there ever again. He is ready for it! “It’s enough for me to go and see my son, Joseph, and then I’ll die.” Many of us will be asked to make a lonely journey in old age, to go to live far from the town we know to live near one of our children, or to leave our home and live in an old people’s home, or go to a hospital and not return from those places. In faith, we must act like Israel. He heard the words of his son Joseph. He’d seen God’s providence. He’d seen the evidence of it in the loaded donkeys and the wagons. A man came to talk to me in last week’s conference. His wife has had Alzhemiers and for five years she has been in hospital, and every day he goes for a few hours and feeds her. She talks non stop but it is impossible to know what her gibberish means. Then last month he had fed her, and was singing some hymns to her and praying and suddenly she said to him, “It is well with my soul.” That was it! So, in faith aged Jacob responded and he set out on the journey.
Doesn’t all this remind you of how the gospel works, and how we live as Christians? The word of God comes to us; it is couched in a spirit of repentance as the people speaking to us are aware that they are sinners. Peter says when we give an answer to people in the world who ask us about our hope we do so with reverence and fear. That is how the eleven sons spoke to
their father. Then there was this additional personal problem of Jacob, that he possessed a defeated and deflated spirit. He was becoming cynical that there would ever be good news that he would hear again in the world, having heard much that had filled him with despair. God knows our problem is like Israel’s, a problem of an absence of good news and a problem that our spirits are heavy, that they are perishing and unbelieving. We can hear the gospel but feel it is unreal; “Surely this message is just too good to be true.” Please look at the evidence; there is the deep seriousness and penitence of those who believe it. They are not cranky; they are not charlatans, they are not weaklings; they are men and women of sincerity, with a purpose; they are ready to face up to their own sins. They are rational compassionate men. It is in that kind of context of hearing the good news amongst those who know that it is true that God works inside us, in our spirits, by his Spirit. He gives us the inner witness of God as a deposit of the good things promised. It’s a foretaste of all the things he’s going to do them.
4. WHAT JACOB DID AND WHAT GOD SAID TO HIM.
So Jacob or Israel set out, and he traveled south in the Promised Land until he came to Beersheba which was as far as you could get in Canaan before leaving it. There he stopped. God had given them this land that he was now leaving; Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl ifi – the opening words of the Welsh national anthem, ‘the land of my fathers so dear to me. . .’ What a decision Jacob was taking to go to Egypt. When grandfather Abraham had gone down to Egypt without consulting God what trouble he and his wife had got into. Jacob wants to be sure that he’s right, that he is in the will of God. He had lived for years outside the land of promise there taking four wives and begetting a dozen sons. Was he doing right to leave that land he had entered, and to die outside this blessed place? Yet he knew the word that God had told Abraham that his seed was going to move to Egypt and live there for 430 years and be persecuted there but be brought out as a great nation. So at the border Jacob stopped and he worshiped. “He offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Gen. 46:1). He approached the holy God by sacrifice. It would be the last time for half a millennium before they would worship God in this land again. There God met with him and spoke to him warmly and intimately. God called him by his name twice, “Jacob, Jacob!” It was his old name, which by now he was meant to have outlived with its overtones of reproach. He was now ‘Israel.’ When God prevented Abraham sacrificing his son he called, “Abraham, Abraham!” When God called Samuel as a boy to be a prophet he woke him by night by calling, “Samuel, Samuel!” Centuries later, when God stopped Paul n the road to Damascus he used his Hebrew name, “Saul, Saul!” It was a time of major crisis in his life and in the lives of those men. God responded to the worship of Jacob; he always responds to our worship. God had not spoken face to face with Jacob since the dreams of Joseph. There had been silence from heaven, in fact God would not speak to anyone again until he appeared to Moses at the burning bush almost half a millennium later. How rare before the age of the prophets these occasions were. Here notice that God said six things to Jacob: they are a wonderful cluster of promises.
i] God identifies himself; “I am God, the God of your father” (v.3). God himself is always our greatest comfort. To have God speaking to us each Lord’s Day, to have God in our life and in our home and working in our land. There is no greater blessing than that. God identifies himself to Jacob specifically as the God of his father. He is reminding him that what he said and did to Isaac (and his father before him) still stands. God reinforces the covenant promises he had made.
ii] God fortifies Jacob; “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt” (v.3). God is concerned about our emotional life, our fears and depressions. How often did this incarnate Lord say to his disciples, “Fear not” and he would bring the comfort of his mighty promises to them. God gave Jacob his approval. Indeed God was giving him encouragement to take this journey and take on life in Egypt. There is no disapproval here. There is no, ‘Jacob, you shouldn’t be going there.’ There was not even silence about the journey. There was the actual voice of God saying to Jacob, “Good on you! Keep going. Don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt. This is my providential plan for you.’
iii] God reaffirms an extraordinary promise to him. “I will make you a great nation there” (v.3). That is the place where God would fulfill the promise he had made to Abraham in Ur (Genesis 12:2). We would have expected mighty growth in the Promised Land, but God did it in Egypt. Haven’t we seen this in the past decades, lands that looked so unpromising for gospel expansion have become the places for extraordinary growth?
iv] God assures Jacob of his presence. “You will never walk alone,” he tells him. “I will go down to Egypt with you” (v.4). It is the promise he makes to every one of us. It is the Great Commission promise, “And Lo I am with you always.” The great blessing and privilege and comfort that a believer can experience in this life is the gospel presence of God, his evangelical presence, his favourable saving presence where his people meet in his name. Welcome Lord Jesus to us today in this humble place! Later on David set his heart on building a temple for the Lord, a permanent dwelling place of size and substance. God came to David and he reminded him that he had always dwelt with his people, in their midst. When they lived in tents, Jehovah lived in a tent. Where they went, he went – even through barren deserts. God said that he never once asked for a bigger, better, beautiful building. So his nearness, his favour is expressed right here to Jacob. What a tremendous comfort. God is saying, “I’m not some sort of territorial God who can handle Canaan, but I can’t handle mighty Egypt. In fact, as I too go into Egypt with you, one of my things that I am going to do is to declare and display my glory in Egypt. I am going to be with you there and they’ll know it.” And they surely did
v] God confirms to Jacob that he who begins a good work will also complete it. “I will surely bring you back again” (v.4). God is not going to leave Jacob’s family in Egypt forever. In faithfulness to his word, and keeping his promise to Abraham God would not fail; he would not leave the job half done. The gates of hell would not prevail against his people in Egypt. Incidentally, this man Jacob was in fact never going to come back again from Egypt. He was going to die in Egypt. But there is this interesting mix in the Old Testament, isn’t there? The federal head of the family stands for the family. There i
s something of this in the Servant Songs of Isaiah, and ultimately we see this in the blessings which are heaped upon the Lord Jesus Christ as our mediator. Those blessings of his become our blessings. So we see a mixture of the individual and the corporate in this word, “I will bring you back again,” meaning God would bring his descendants out of Egypt.
vi] God tells Jacob that he will die amidst the loving affections of his family. We are told in Psalm 116, and verse 15 that the death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord. How we die is important to God, and he says, “I want to tell you something, Jacob, and it is this, that your son, Joseph, is going to close your eyes. You are going to make it to Egypt. You are going to be reunited with your son, Joseph, and when the day comes for me to take you home, to gather you to the bosom of your father, Abraham, it is your son who is going to close your eyes. It is his visage that you are going to see as the last loving face before you go home. The one that you thought you would never see again, you are going to see right to the very end.” Here is a personal God, our God, our loving heavenly Father who shows his affection in a little details like this for an earthly father – an ordinary sinning imperfect father. For God knew Jacob’s love for his son. No one has ever loved a son like our heavenly Father has loved his Son, and so he granted Jacob this blessing that it would be Joseph who closed his eyes at the end.
Incidentally here is the inauguration of this nation, the people of God, which we see in verse 5, in that phrase, ‘the sons of Israel.’ That phrase, or, ‘children of Israel,’ has been used in Genesis before, just a few times, maybe three or four times prior to this passage, but it will be used something of the order of six hundred and eighty times in all in Scripture subsequently to stand for the people of God, and it begins in this passage. It becomes the technical phrase for the people of God, the people that God has chosen, the children of Israel.
What an extraordinary life Jacob has led and in these words of Jacob we have a revelation of God, and how the same God deals with us. He has been dealing with Jacob through long years and even now in old age God is doing something different. All the time he has been shaping Jacob’s character. Jacob has learned obedience by the things that he’s suffered. Remember, there is not some general universal law that ‘Adversity creates character.’ Many people have suffered and they have not learned from it. They have become harder and more cynical. It is God who specifically and personally works to shape the character of his people individually and collectively. That is what Israel and his people would learn in Egypt. Whom the Lord loves, he disciplines. God’s plan of providence for the shaping of the nation was in the crucible of oppression in Egypt. This operates for us both corporately as the people of God and at an individual level.
I came across a letter of Dr. Robert G. Rayburn, a notable Presbyterian minister in America. He battled with cancer, and he wrote in 1976 to a young man in his congregation whose faith was under attack. This is what he said to him:
“Dear Tom, I have learned from your mother that you feel that God has done something wrong in allowing me to have this serious physical problem which is facing me at the present time. But I want to assure you, Tom, that you are mistaken in feeling this way. The Bible tells us that it is the mercy of God that we are not consumed and certainly when we understand the sinfulness of our own hearts and realize how gracious God has been to us in spite of our sin, we have no grounds for complaining against him. Since this cancer has been discovered in my body, I have felt, instead of resentment, a real desire to glorify my Lord in my illness. That isn’t easy to do, I know. And the natural inclination to be somewhat bitter does rise up in my heart, but God has given me a wonderful peace about it through such verses as the one in Hebrews 12, which tells us, whom the Lord loves, he chastens. I am taking this chastening as an evidence of God’s love for me. I hope that you will accept it in the same way. The Lord Jesus Christ is a great Savior and He never fails those who put their trust in Him. That is not a bluff, it is reality. Most Sincerely, Robert G. Rayburn"
The young man to whom he wrote became a minister of the Gospel. God is reminding us here how God’s disciplining providences are to be received by his people. What Rob Rayburn was telling this man is precisely what God was going to do corporately in the life of Israel. He was going to manifest his love by recreating them in his image through the crucible of adversity. So Jacob goes down to Egypt in obedience and faith.
5. MOSES NAMES THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL.
The tribes are named in verses 8-27. God, by Moses, is recording these names because of his loving care for them. “I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine” (Isa. 43). He recorded their names that they might remember what his power had done in the day when he had brought them out of Egypt. God did a great work to fertilize and multiply and nurture and strengthen this little brood to become a nation. Now there are difficulties in this list; were there 60 or 70 or 75? Some of those numbers are symbolic and others are approximate numbers, but the point is quite clear, that a relatively small number of people went into the land of Egypt as the household of Israel but they came out as a multitude.
One thing you might notice is the one mention of the nationality of the mother of Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. If you will look at verse 10, as the sons of Simeon are listed, there is Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. This verse singles out the mother of this son of Simeon, perhaps to make a certain point, that it reveals something of the purposes of God, something of his reason for providentially moving Israel into Egypt. Listen to what Calvin says: “The holy fathers were on their guard not to mix in marriage with that nation from which they were separated by the decree of heaven.” Is Moses hinting to us one reason why God would place Israel in relative isolation outside Canaan and the Promised Land so that there would be less admixture with the thoughts and values and the families of the land of Canaan.
Look at God’s providence here, doing so many things at once by the same action, preserving, reuniting, multiplying and nourishing, all in one journey into north Africa. This is the God we love and serve. This tiny list will stand in stark contrast one day with the vast multitude of people that God intends to bring out of Egypt. The first martyr Stephen told the Sanhedrin that 75 people went down to Egypt. No wonder that God would say to Israel in Deuteronomy 7:7, as they stood on the verge of going into the land of Canaan, “I did not chose you because you were the greate
st amongst the people.” They could have felt pretty good about themselves coming out of Egypt. They were a multitude coming out of Egypt, and he reminds them, “You know there were seventy-five of you when you started. I did not chose you because you were the greatest. You weren’t. You were the least. I chose you because I loved you.” The love of God knows the names of his people and writes them down.
6. FATHER JACOB AND SON JOSEPH ARE FINALLY REUNITED.
If you look at verses 28-34, you will read of the reunion of Joseph and Israel, in their preparation for the audience with Pharaoh. Jacob sees the greatness that has been given to his son. Moses is again restrained in his presentation of this touching scene. If this were Hollywood there would be a number of scenes with close-ups and the violin strings would be playing loudly, but Moses, just in passing, mentions the deep affection which Joseph has for his father, and the display of that in their reunion, how he wept on the neck of his father Jacob for a long while. Jacob in turn sees his long-lost son and he cries to God, “Lord you can take me home now, I have seen the son that I thought that I would never see again.” It is beautiful and succinct.
Then Joseph gives some specific advice to his family in view of their immanent meeting with Pharaoh. He explains to them that the Egyptians can’t stand livestock herders and shepherds. He tells them that they need to delicately explain their vocation to Pharaoh, because that will insure that they won’t be bothered in the land of Egypt, because the Egyptians won’t want to be around them. They will be placed in Goshen and they will be left alone. There they can worship God and keep his commandments. There will be no attempt on the part of Pharaoh to integrate them into the mainstream of Egyptian culture. No, they must let the leaders of Egypt know that they are livestock herders, and in fact, we have hieroglyphics that confirm the contempt of the Egyptians for cowmen and shepherds. Once again you see here God’s hand of providence protecting Israel from admixture with the false gods of Egypt. God is a good shepherd of his servants, and he blesses them above what they deserve. He prepares the way for Israel to be secluded and protected in Egypt. They will go many years under the protection of Joseph, and after him, before they face strong oppression and opposition. They will be prepared then for those fiery flames having been strengthened by seclusion.
The impression you have of Jacob is that he was a melancholic man. From the time that he heard of the apparent death of his son Joseph he was often talking about death. He had become cast down and disquieted. He had no hope for his future, but to this man, discontented and depressed, God came and blessed above his deserving. What Jehovah did to him he has had to do with many of us who battle with the black dog, to prove Jacob and ourselves to be wrong, and prove himself to be the good Lord of providence, working all things together for our good, showing us that he is the God of resurrection. Jacob beheld his son Joseph again and was reunited with him. He saw the fulfillment of God’s revelation. God is good and will work all things after the counsel of his own will. Let us respond in trust and obedience, following his word, the Lord of the great promises of Scripture.
14th August 2011 GEOFF THOMAS