Genesis 45:1-15 “Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no-one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers.’ . . . [and on to verse 15]
This great word of Joseph follows an equally great word from his older brother, Judah. Judah has been speaking passionately, without guile, humbly, man to man, transparent, hiding nothing of his sin or his own heart. The change in Judah indicates to Joseph that a deep work of God has been done in his life and in the lives of all his brothers. Judah has declared that he is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of his brother Benjamin. He is prepared to become a slave for the rest of his days so that Benjamin might go free and that his aged father Jacob would not be totally destroyed by the loss of the second child of his wife Rachel. It is a clear turnabout in this man, and a mark of true nobility of character. He has been transformed by the renewal of his mind.
As Liam Goligher says, “Now this is consistent with the Bible’s overall witness. God is in the business of saving and transforming people. Usually this transformation is not an overnight event, although that is the kind of thing we all tend to look for in life. We try the cream that helps us lose our wrinkles, and we look in the mirror next morning expecting to see a difference. Of course, it never works like that. In the same way, in the spiritual realm, the renewal of men and women is not the work of a moment or an hour; it’s not usually something that happens suddenly in a crisis of ‘complete surrender.’ It is more often a work that takes place over the long term, as the Spirit of God does his work within us, gradually weeding out the roots of sin in our hearts and loosening our grip on this world and its values. In reality, that is what is going on behind the scenes in this story. The spirit of Jesus pervades the whole scene. It is the spirit of Christ in the brothers that makes them willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to stand by their youngest brother Benjamin. It is the spirit of Christ that makes Judah offer himself as a substitute and slave in his brother’s place. And it is the spirit of Jesus in Joseph that gives him the grace to forgive his brothers unconditionally for all they have done to him” (Liam Goligher, Joseph The Hidden Hand of God, Christian Focus, 2008 p. 166).
Judah and Joseph’s brother had sold him into a life of slavery but they are now under his control. They have covered up their crime for twenty-two years but now Joseph has the power to cut their throats, or imprison them, or make them slaves for life. Or if he were simply a righteous man he could work out some just punishment. He’d been a slave for five years so . . . each of them should be slaves for five years. He had been in prison for eight years and so . . . each of them should be in prison for eight years. Wouldn’t that be just? Wouldn’t that be right? But Joseph doesn’t do that. Once he hears Judah’s plea that he show mercy to Benjamin and punish him in his place then Joseph is confirmed that a heart change has taken place in his brothers. Instead of ignoring their wickedness they are acknowledging their terrible crime and they are ready to suffer for what they’ve done.
- THE RESPONSE FORTHCOMING IN JOSEPH.
i] Joseph evicts all his servants and personal assistants out of the room. I think there are two reasons for this decision. Firstly he does it in order to protect his brothers. You can imagine what might happen if word got back to Pharaoh. “Do you know, sir, that the reason for Joseph being in Egypt is that those miserable brothers sold him into slavery?” I imagine that the response of Pharaoh to those men would have been a little more icy had he found out that that was the reason why Joseph was there in the first place. His favorite, Joseph, who had saved Egypt and was the ruler of his land and his personal counsellor, had been sold into slavery by these unspeakable brothers. And so it was for the protection of his siblings, for the privacy of the moment, Joseph sent all the servants out, and then he reveals himself . . . I am Joseph.
But there is another reason for evacuating those men. Joseph can control himself no longer, and when they left and the doors were closed Joseph broke down and all his pent-up grief flowed out. He wailed so loudly that the Egyptian servants heard it outside the room. Joseph’s posing and the acting had to end. All that posturing aimed at encouraging and testing his brothers’ repentance had to cease. All this taking the part of an aloof Egyptian prince with all his pomp and dignity in the presence of his brothers had to be laid aside. That crust of artificiality acquired over the past years had to be mortified. It was no longer the time for maintaining a show. All those symbols of wealth and power were barriers preventing renewed fellowship and affection; they were keeping him from the full expression of his heart. “He made himself known to his brothers,” (v.1).
This is how it must be when you become a Christian. You must make yourself known to God; who you are, how you’ve been, what your needs are. Take off the mask.That is not the time to hide yourself or hide from your real self. But the living God has also to make himself known to you in conversion, what he is, holy yet also merciful. He must have close dealings with you. God in Christ reconciles men and women to himself. God comes to us in showing his love to us. When the prodigal son was a long way off his father saw him and he ran to his son and he kissed him and he embraced him. There had been estrangement, and now there is reconciliation. So Joseph cried to his brothers, “Come close to me!” (v.4). Sometimes I resent this gap between myself and you across the first empty pews. We are closer on Tuesday evenings. I pray that more may attend so that we all feel closer to the word of God. So Joseph sent out of the room all his Egyptian servants. But note also . . .
ii] Joseph declares his identity and asks whether his father is still alive (v.3). Notice exactly what Joseph said as he expanded it in the fourth verse, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt.” He did not say, “I am the one whom God sold into Egypt.” God did not sell him into slavery. God does not sin. His brothers alone sinned. Then Joseph immediately spoke to them about his father, asking whether he was still alive. Now we know that Joseph has already asked this question of his brothers, and he had received the answer that he lived. In fact Judah has mentioned his father no less than 15 times in his 17-verse speech. But Joseph doesn’t want to know whether his father is breathing . . . if he exists! No! Did he live
? “If I traveled to see him would he be lying on his death bed?” Surely more than that is in this inquiry. This is an example of how the idea of living and life is often referred to in Scripture. Life is not about having a heart beat. Life is being abundantly alive. Joseph is asking about the well-being and vitality of his father. Could his father be senile now? Would his father even recognize him? Is it well with the old man? He’s not just asking whether Dad were alive; he wants to know if his Dad would be able to have a relationship with him should they meet again. He wants to know if his father is strong enough to make a journey down to Egypt to see him. Those are the ways Joseph responds to his brothers.
He evicts his servants; he reveals his identity; he weeps at being with them again as their brother, and then he inquires about their father. It was this way of expressing himself to his brothers that strengthened and deepened their repentance for what they had done to Joseph and to their father Jacob. Joseph had been a very private and mysterious man to them all the months they had known him. Now they discover, this mighty Egyptian official is actually the brother they almost killed 22 years ago whom they had sold into slavery. They had lived under the shadow of this crime for this long time, but now they discover he is alive, and has power of life and death over them, but he is weeping at being reconciled to them, and weeping at the thought of seeing their father – his father – again.
I am saying that this is the way true sorrow for sin is encouraged in our lives. As we learn of the love of the children of God for their Father, and we see our Father’s love for us. When the prodigal son faced his father running desperately towards him, arms outstretched, tears flowing down his face, hugging and kissing him, then it was that he experienced a deep godly sorrow for what he had done to the old man – as never before. So it was here. They are confronted by the man they treated so cruelly and the memory of the father they treated as badly, but Joseph has one question. He wants to know, “How is Dad?” They are shown the loving heart of a son for his father, a father he had not seen for 22 years, a father whose heart they had so callously broken, lying to him that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. They were challenged and convicted about their failure to love their father and love their brother by his love for them and his love for his father. That discovery achieves in their lives godly repentance for their sin.
- THE CONVICTIONS DECLARED BY JOSEPH.
Bitterness between brothers is sadly very common within the church. There are people who will not talk to other members; roots of resentment and criticism have gone down deep into their hearts. They are plotting revenge. They long to hear that the man they dislike has had a fall. They always put his words and actions in the worst possible light. How do you resist this spirit? You resist it first by your theology, by your doctrine of God, by going back to the first cause of every action, by going back to God and his sovereignty! Joseph had conquered bitterness by resting in the doctrine of God’s providence. God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing of all his creatures, and all their actions (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 11). God had preserved and governed the life of Joseph in all its actions. That is what Joseph believed. Notice how boldly he testifies of that on three occasions. He emphasizes and re-emphasizes, and re-emphasizes the sovereignty of God. Three times he says that it was God who had done what he had done in bringing him to Egypt, via evil brothers selling him into slavery, via his purchase by Potiphar, via his attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife, via the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker; in all of that God was preserving and governing his life. First in verse 5: “God sent me ahead of you.” This is the first speech of Joseph to his brothers after he has revealed himself, and the first thing he wants to talk about is the providence of God; it was God who had sent him ahead of them. Then in verse 7 he repeats this; “God sent me ahead of you.” Then in verse 8 he says it even more sharply; “So then it was not you who sent me here, but God.” How stark and unmistakable Joseph is: “It was not you . . . it was God.”
No Modernist could say that. Many of the clergy of Christchurch, New Zealand, facing churches and cathedrals in ruins through two recent mighty earthquakes are saying, “This had nothing to do with God. God wasn’t looking when the earth shook and the buildings collapsed and people were killed.” They could give little divine comfort to the men and women in mourning. The mourners wanted to know that the living God was there, but the god they were told about by the clerics had nothing to do with it. These words of Joseph are the Waterloo of modernism. I don’t know how even an Arminian can read and believe this passage. “It was not the decision of you brothers to sell me to the Midianite slave traders and bring me to Egypt. It was God’s plan! God sent me here ahead of you. I was here, ready, waiting for you brothers because God had planned it. Of course he used your wicked thoughts and plans, but you were doing what he had determined beforehand to be done.” Over and over Joseph emphasizes this fact, not only to indicate that it was precisely the providence of God that kept his heart breaking with home sickness and bitterness, but to comfort his brothers, because he knew in this very moment that they were racked with guilt.
You see the comfort that this truth of the providence of God brings to worried and self-hating people. Joseph is speaking to 11 brothers, and how are they? We are told that they were distressed and angry with themselves (v.5). Joseph is counseling them not to feel like that because, he says, “it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (v.5), in other words, the lives of the Egyptians, and the lives of the citizens of the surrounding countries. But then, more personally, he says, “God sent me . . . to save your lives by a great deliverance” (v.7).
So Joseph is counseling them about the emotional turmoil they are in, hurting, self-loathing men. He is saying, “There is no need to give in to such negative emotions because the living God is in control. He has used even your sin for his glory and your good!” Joseph is asking them to look at what God has done with their sin! He had turned their sin to good. The one great sin of which they were most ashamed Joseph insists on three occasions that God has taken and used it to serve his own purposes.
Do you see how God used their very sin – the sin they now hated – selling their brother into slavery and breaking their father’s heart with their lies, the sin that has led to their present distress and anger – to save not only the Egyptians, but to save them! The perpetrators of that evil deed have actually been saved by God taking up and working through that wickedness itself.
God had been in the action but not in the wickedness of the action. That is grace indeed. Of course we see this most powerfully in the crucifixion of the Son of God himself, in the very worst of all man’s sins. Peter says about Jesus Christ to the men who killed him, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). It was God’s set purpose that Jesus should die the death of the cross but it was your wicked hands that killed him.
The same is true for us. Our God works all the events and actions of our lives together for our good as his children. We too can have freedom from the guilt of our own sin, because we know that God is in control. He will use even our sin for his good, sovereign purposes. Sometimes we feel, “I’ve blown it! My life is now a mess. I’ve disobeyed God so much that I’ll never be able to get back to where I should be.” We think we’ve made decisions that have made our lives crooked, and there is no way ever to straighten it out. Does sin have consequences? Of course; by all means. You sow and so you will one day reap. Remember, Joseph was in slavery and prison for 13 years because of his brothers’ wickedness! He never got those years back. But God uses the very consequences of our sin to his own good ends.
In Joseph’s case that is quite clear: if the brothers hadn’t sold Joseph into slavery, he would never have got into Potiphar’s house; if Joseph had never entered Potiphar’s house, Potiphar’s wife would never have wickedly accused him of attempted rape; if Potiphar’s wife had not falsely accuse Joseph of attempted rape, he would never have been thrown into Pharaoh’s prison; if Joseph had never entered the prison, he would never have interpreted the cupbearer’s dream who was there in prison by his own folly; if Joseph had never interpreted the cupbearer’s dream, he would never have comes to the attention of Pharaoh; if Joseph had never come to the attention of Pharaoh, he would never have become the second most powerful man in Egypt; if Joseph had never become the second most powerful man in Egypt, many Egyptians would have died and all in Jacob’s household would have died; the seed of Abraham and the seed of the woman would have been destroyed. If this chain of events were broken at any link, the final outcome would have changed. Every sin against Joseph had to happen if Joseph were to play the role God had planned for him. Yet the sins were man’s not God’s. “You sold me into slavery,” Joseph reminded them. Today many of us are half way through a chain and we as yet cannot see its end and the good that will and must come from our folly.
The pattern is true for you all. You are the ones held responsible for your sin, not God, not God at all. No one can say when they are tempted to sin that God is tempting them. God tempts no man to sin. It is your sin and you alone carry the consequences of it, but God is involved in our actions and uses them for our good. You must trust the all-wise, all-knowing God to use even your sin to humble you and give you a true repentant heart, and equip you for service in ways that you cannot imagine. Why does Joseph forgive? Because Joseph went back to the first cause of all things, to the God who works all things after the counsel of his will, who makes even the wrath of men to praise him.
Joseph’s response is wonderfully useful in pastoral care. It shows us how we must deal with repentant sinners. Joseph knew that their hearts were breaking before the Lord. He had been turning the screws on them for months, and especially in these last days to encourage the fruit of gospel repentance appearing in their lives. But enough is enough; he didn’t have to turn the screws any further. Everything that Joseph continued to say to them now was – like all his actions – designed to nurture and cultivate the repentance that God had given them. If they had been still unrepentant Joseph would have come with harsher words. But they were angry with themselves for the folly and wickedness of their past. They were repentant; their hearts were opening up before the Lord and before Joseph. They were stunned. They were guilty sinners and Joseph could see it. He had heard these great words of Judah spoken on their behalf and had heard of his willingness to suffer instead of his little brother, and so now it was time for Joseph to speaks words of comfort to them. And what does he do?
He directs them not to their misdeeds but he points them to the overriding providence of God, and not only to the providence of God, but to the wisdom of the providence of God. God is not arbitrary. You know that’s one of the things that some people think that we in this church believe, that God can just go off and do any kind of crazy stuff he wants to do. But Joseph says, look at how wise he is, what God does in his providence. These three times in verse 5, verse 7 and verse 8 he says, God did what he did for a reason. He permitted them to sell their own kid brother into slavery for a great reason. Look what he says in verse 5: “it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” Verse 7; “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save you alive by a great deliverance.” Verse 8; “He has made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.’ God had a purpose in what he was doing. Now, of course, we know that the ultimate purpose of God sending Joseph down into Egypt was to reveal his own glory; to reveal that glory to the Egyptians; to reveal that glory in the life of Joseph; to reveal that glory to the brothers of Joseph; to reveal that glory to Israel. God’s glory is the ultimate reason. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever, and it is this providence that enables Joseph to overcome his bitterness and to love his brothers.
- THE WORDS AND ACTIONS DISPLAYED BY JOSEPH.
What are the consequences of Joseph’s belief in the sovereignty of God? We see how his embracing God’s providence gave him a magnanimous spirit in accomplishing reconciliation with his brothers. We are confronted now with a corporate reconciliation, that is, he is joined in affection and forgiveness with all his brothers, but also there is personal reconciliation with Benjamin. See Joseph’s love for his brothers; in the first place for them all. Notice the things he says to them:
i] First of all Joseph wants them to take back quickly to Jacob the father of all of them the news that Joseph was not dead. “I want you to tell him that his son is the lord of Egypt.” Actually, that’s not what he says. Joseph says, “I’d like you to go back, and I want you to tell my father that God made me the father of Pharaoh and the ruler of all Egypt” (v.8). The first subject of the first sentence that Joseph asks his brothers to share with his old Dad was the living God. Jo
seph is radically God-centered and God-focused and God-trusting, and he wants his father to know that the exultation that he has experienced over the last 22 years had been a God-created and God-sustained exultation. His first concern was his father, and there was nothing he wanted more for his father than to strengthen Dad’s sorely tried faith in the sovereign lordship of God over Joseph’s life and over his own life. A student once came to me whose life was in a terrible muddle, and from the moment he sat with me I was given grace to talk to him to tell him how his life could be sorted out. That morning when he left the Manse I had given him instructions what he was to do, buy a Bible, read the first chapter of the first letter of John, come to church the next day and see me the following Saturday, but the most important counsel I gave him was the he was to go down to the telephone kiosk and call his mother that morning and tell her that he had been to see a servant of God and that he was better. So he did all those things and within a year I had baptized him as a professing Christian. His mother and sister came to the baptism exceedingly glad for what God had done in his life. It is a life that God continues to help to this day.
ii] Then the second thing Joseph says to his brothers is that all of them were going to live with him, near him, in Goshen in the land of Egypt (v.10). Joseph was no NIMBY – “Not In My Back Yard.” He forgave his brothers and the sincerity of that forgiveness was seen in his wanting them to live near him. You know the old cynical verse –
“To dwell above with the saints in love, ah that will be glory.
But to dwell below with the saints we know, ah that’s a different story.”
I do not believe that that is a faithful expression of Christian experience. Our best day is the Lord’s Day each week when we meet with one another, and we worship God, and we hear his Word, and break bread, and renew fellowship in Christ. To miss our Sundays in church is a terrible trial for us because we’re not meeting with the folk we know and love. Jesus chose twelve disciples to be with him. So too Joseph’s future was all tied up in the lives of his brothers and their families. “You shall be near me, you, your children and grand-children” (v.10). Joseph loved his father and he loved his family – not the ideal family but these men who once had wished him dead and then made money out of selling him into slavery.
iii] Then the third thing he says, I’ll provide everything you need because we’re only in the second year of a seven-year famine. You won’t make it, but I’ll provide everything you need (v.11). He shows great consideration for their provision. We are told constantly in the New Testament of the concern of the early church for those in need, of a collection taken for the famine hitting Jerusalem, of a financial gift being sent to Paul in prison to buy him creature comforts and help in his defence of the faith. We are told of these Christ-like actions, and then we are told that God supplies all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. So we are urged to show our love for the brethren and help them when they are sick and lonely and hungry and in prison. We are asked how can we say we love God – whom we have not seen – when we do not love the brethren whom we have seen. Joseph does not only forgive his brothers, he takes care of them
iv] Fourthly, he reassures them of his love for them. He says, “Look, brothers, your eyes are not deceiving you. The voice that you hear is indeed the voice of your own long-lost brother, Joseph. It’s really me talking to you” (v.12). The Scripture is God speaking to us. It brings great promises to us, personally and sincerely; “I will work all things together for your good. Nothing is going to separate you from my love. I will supply all your need. When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will be with you. Where I am there you will be also. You will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever . . .” The Lord is saying, “It is really I who am speaking to you” (v.12). We are to believe every promise God makes in his word. When we are feeling as cold as ice we are to believe them. When no word comes jumping off the page and thrilling us then we are to believe that God is speaking to us. It matters to him that we trust him and his promises, that they are yea and Amen in Christ Jesus, every single great and precious promise! We live in days when doubt and unbelief abound, and yet in such days we are to enjoy the assurance of his love. God desires that. “It is really I who am speaking to you!” he says.
v] Fifthly, in verse 13, he tells them to tell their father of all the honour accorded to him in Egypt and to hurry up in bringing him there (v.13). The old dream has come true. All have bowed down to him. These boys had failed in keeping the fifth commandment. They had not honoured their father. They had destroyed so much of his life. Now they were to give Dad all honour and tell him of all the blessing that had come upon his son.
Why does Joseph emphasize that they are to tell his father about his rule and his glory in Egypt? Is it because Joseph is still the proud, slightly un-self-aware man that he was more than twenty years ago? No. It’s because he wants his father to remember God’s revelation in the dream. What had God said? God had said he would exalt his son, and Joseph wants his father to remember the dream and to realize that the Lord God had brought this dream to pass in a most amazing way. We couldn’t have ever dreamt that this is the way he was going to fulfill the dream of the grain bowing down to his son, Joseph, and the stars and the sun and the moon bowing to him as the ruler of Egypt. And Joseph knows that’s going to be hard for his father to take in. So he emphasizes to them, “You must tell them of the glory that you have seen of my status in Egypt because it’s a fulfillment of the revelation of God. So we see Joseph’s corporate reconciliation with them all.
But we also see one of the sweetest personal reconciliations in all of Scripture (vv.14&15). Joseph falls on the neck of his full brother, Benjamin; he weeps and they embrace one another. Then something very special happens. Up to this point we know that the brothers have been stunned. They’ve not been able to say anything. I can’t imagine all the thoughts that were running through their minds all at once, and naturally they’d been unable to say a word, but finally (Moses tells us) that they were able to talk with Joseph. There had been this utterly shocking aspect of those first moments when they discovered that the prime minister of Egypt was the brother they’d sold into slavery. Then that stunning amazement wore off, and they were able to speak about themselves and the past years, and their folly, and his amazing rise to power; “
We were learn in Genesis 37 that there had been so much hatred and loathing amongst the brothers that these men could not even speak easily to one another (v.4). A deep and vicious resentment resulted in a stony silence. They simply ignored one another, and what Moses is telling us here in verse15 is that God in his grace enabled these brothers to talk to one another in love. How much it can mean in ordinary everyday life if we are free and open in talking to each other conveying our affection and goodwill, sharing our experiences and burdens as we listen to one another. It is an incredible reconciliation that the only wise God has worked. David says, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psa. 34:3). Only a full embrace of God’s providence can enable us to embrace him and trust him in the vicissitudes of life. As we embrace his providence, we are enabled to face anything. Joseph is spared living a life that could have been one gigantic ball of bitterness, because he trusted the Lord that he knew what he was doing. He trusted in him the good times when every part of Potiphar’s house was blessed, and in the bad times when he was tied to a donkey and had had to walk all the way to Egypt and a life of bondage he trusted in God. In all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy, the praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ.
31st July 2011 GEOFF THOMAS