In Genesis chapter 44, Joseph’s brothers discovered that the past sometimes has a way of catching up with us when we don’t expect it. That discovery came as a result of a mission that was planned and directed by Joseph and carried out by a member of his staff.
After coming to an agreement with his brothers to purchase some additional food, Joseph told a staff member, “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain” (Genesis 44:1-2). Joseph’s brothers then departed from Egypt for the long journey home but once they left, it wasn’t long before they were pulled over by the authorities.
One of Joseph’s servants approached their caravan and said, “What do you mean by stealing my master’s personal silver drinking cup, which he uses to predict the future? What a wicked thing you have done!’” (Genesis 44:5 NLT). Joseph’s brothers then agreed to a search through their belongings and the Egyptian governor’s chalice was discovered in Benjamin’s saddlebag. Unfortunately, Benjamin was the youngest member of the family and the man that his older brother Judah had personally agreed to protect.
So its clear that Joseph set his brothers up to get them into trouble, but the question is, why did he do it?
Well, one reason is that Joseph wanted to see if his brothers were still the same kind of ruthless men who had once wanted to kill him and later decided to sell him into slavery. Another reason is that Joseph wanted to know if they were willing to step up and protect their youngest brother. If so, it would help prove that they really had a genuine change of heart. But if they decided to abandon him and go back home on their own, then at least Benjamin could remain safely in Egypt with Joseph. It also meant that neither of them would have to worry about their brothers doing the same thing to Benjamin that they had done to Joseph 20 years earlier.
However, Joseph’s brothers didn’t abandon Benjamin or try to save themselves at his expense. Instead, all of them decided to go back and stand together with Benjamin before this powerful Egyptian leader. This tells us that Joseph’s brothers had experienced a complete change in attitude and they were no longer the same men that Joseph once knew.
The famous board game Monopoly features a spot on the game board that will send a player to the game’s “jail” if he or she lands on that spot. But if that player has kept a “get out of jail free” card from earlier in the game, then he or she can then use that card to leave “jail” and go back to playing the game during his or her next turn.
In a sense, Joseph (as the Egyptian governor) also gave his brothers a kind of “get out of jail free” card when their youngest brother Benjamin was caught in possession of his silver chalice. He made this offer by saying, “Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace” (Genesis 44:17). This provided a safe passage out of Egypt for the older brothers, but it also meant that they would have to abandon Benjamin and leave him behind.
What they needed was someone who was willing to step up and do what was necessary to resolve this problem- and that man was Judah…
“‘So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!'” (Genesis 44:33-34 NLT).
So Judah demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice himself in place of his brother Benjamin. But how would the Egyptian governor respond to that offer? Well, the Egyptian governor had a response, but it wasn’t the one that Jacob’s sons were expecting…
“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers” (Genesis 45:1).
Joseph was apparently so overwhelmed by Judah’s willingness to sacrifice himself on behalf of his brother that he decided that the time was right to reveal his true identity. First, he started by clearing the room of everyone but his family. One reason for this can be found in the fact that Joseph was an important government official and it wouldn’t have been right for his staff members to watch what was sure to become an emotional family reunion.
And as soon as everyone left, 20 years of emotion suddenly came flooding out from Joseph, the man that his brothers once thought they would never see again.
Even though Joseph ordered everyone to leave the room where he and his brothers were meeting, the overwhelming emotion he felt as he revealed his true identity couldn’t be hidden from the members of his staff…
“And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence” (Genesis 45:2-3).
Now before we continue, let’s stop for a moment and think about the scene that’s described for us in these verses. First, you may remember that Joseph originally spoke to his brothers by using an interpreter (see Genesis 42:23). While its clear that Joseph used this form of communication to help hide his true identity, it also tells us that his brothers couldn’t speak the Egyptian language. After all, an interpreter wouldn’t have been necessary if Joseph’s brothers had understood the Egyptian language, right?
However, these verses tell us that Joseph spoke directly to his brothers as soon as everyone else was gone. This can only mean that Joseph was suddenly communicating to them in their own language. So after having all of their previous conversations interpreted by a third party, this Egyptian governor suddenly began speaking to them in a language they could understand. No wonder it says that “…they were too frightened to answer” (Genesis 45:3 CEV).
In fact, its possible that Joseph’s brothers were so fearful that they began to step away from him because the next verse tells us…
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!'” (Genesis 45:4)
Joseph’s brothers would have normally kept a respectful distance from a high ranking official like Joseph, but now he invited them to come closer to him. This helped allow his brothers to get a better look at him and verify his identity for themselves. And once they got a closer look at him, Joseph began to explain what had been happening…
“‘And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you'” (Genesis 45:5).
On the surface, Joseph’s brothers were the ones who were responsible for Joseph’s slavery in Egypt. But Joseph explained that God was the One who had really orchestrated this event for their benefit, and the benefit of many others.
“…’I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt'” (Genesis 45:4b NLT).
Words like amazement, surprise, and astonishment are words that can probably be used to describe the way that Joseph’s brothers felt as he revealed his true identity to them. The revelation that the man that they had once sold into slavery 20 years earlier had risen to become the second ranked leader in Egypt must have come as such a shock to them that the Scriptures tell us, “…his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence” (Genesis 45:3).
This was no way to start a family reunion, so Joseph took some steps to reassure his brothers by saying, “‘…don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life'” (Genesis 45:5 HCSB). So even though Joseph’s brothers were the ones who were responsible for selling him into slavery, the reality was that God had quietly orchestrated this event behind the scenes to serve a greater purpose.
However, its important to understand that God’s involvement in this situation did not excuse Joseph’s brothers for what they had done. The truth is that Joseph’s brothers were wrong to do what they did to him.
The point is that God’s ultimate purpose for Joseph’s life could not be counteracted by the actions of his brothers. God simply took the wrong that had been committed against him and used it to accomplish His purposes. But the fact that God brought something good out of this situation didn’t excuse Joseph’s brothers for doing wrong in the first place.
One person has explained what Joseph did like this…
“Joseph’s words here are a tremendous example to us to look at things that happen in our lives from the perspective that even though we do not know why God allows some things to occur, that nonetheless He has a very good reason for the things that come into our life.
Joseph is also an example to us of how when we look at things from God’s perspective we can forgive those who have done bad things to us. God allows all things to happen in our life in order that He can work His purposes in us. …Remember Joseph when someone has wronged you and look at your situation as being something that God has allowed into your life for some good purpose, though you may not realize what it is at the time.” (1)
(1) Bomkamp, Jim; Gen. 42-45:8: Joseph Is Reunited With His Brothers And Father
“‘And now do not be grieved, nor angry with yourselves that you sold me here. For God sent me before you to preserve life'” (Genesis 45:5 MKJV).
It’s very difficult to resolve the tension between the wrong things that had been done to Joseph and the fact that God allowed those things to happen- and later brought something good from them. But the events of Joseph’s life do help us understand something that we can apply in our lives today.
You see, Joseph’s experience serves to remind us that we can’t always easily explain why things happen as they do in life. In fact, there may be certain times when the events of our lives are so confusing that the best response is to simply accept what God tells us through the words of Romans 8:28: “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).
While we can’t always be certain about why things happen the way they do, one thing we can say is that God definitely has a purpose behind those events that happen on our lives, even if we don’t always know what that purpose may be. But at the very least, the events and circumstances of our lives can serve as a useful tool to help us learn about ourselves.
One of the best things we can do when we’re stuck in the middle of a circumstance that we can’t easily explain is to step back and ask a few questions about the situation. For example, we can try asking some questions like these…
- What does the way that I’m handling this situation tell me about myself?
- What am I communicating to others through the way that I’m dealing with this situation?
- What is God trying to teach me through this?
Remember that even when the circumstances of your life may appear otherwise, God is able to make all things work together for your ultimate benefit if you’re willing to trust Him and put Him first. Jesus once illustrated this idea in a teaching He shared with his followers…
“’So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today'” (Matthew 6:25-34 NLT).
Now that he had been officially reunited with his brothers, Joseph began to share the “inside information” that he had received from God about the famine they had been experiencing…
“‘For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt'” (Genesis 45:6-8).
In saying these things to his brothers, Joseph revealed a lot about his thought process and the way that he viewed himself. First, Joseph was very honest with his brothers about what they had done. He didn’t go to one extreme by acting as if nothing bad had happened or go to another extreme by making a big deal over what they had done. Instead, Joseph chose to look at the situation through God’s perspective: while it was true that his brothers were responsible for his enslavement, God used that situation for their benefit and the benefit of many others.
Notice that Joseph also said, “‘It wasn’t you who sent me here, but God. He has made me like a father to Pharaoh, lord over his entire household, and ruler of Egypt'” (Genesis 45:8 GW). Remember that it had now been approximately nine years since Joseph had risen to the second most powerful position in Egypt. During that time, everyone (other than Pharaoh) had to treat Joseph with the utmost amount of honor, respect, and courtesy. Joseph ate the best food, traveled in the best vehicles, and lived in the best kind of home that money could buy. No one ever said “no” to Joseph during that time, and even Pharaoh looked up to him in the same way that a son might look up to his father.
Yet Joseph never allowed this power and prestige to change his humble attitude or damage his relationship with God. He never allowed himself to fall into the mistaken belief that he had achieved his position through some ability of his own , nor did Joseph use his privileges for his own benefit at the expense of others.
Instead, Joseph never lost sight of his primary responsibility: “‘God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors'” (Genesis 45:7 NLT).
We’ve already seen how Joseph quietly endured some very difficult periods in his life. And when God later allowed him to achieve a tremendous level of success, Joseph never took the credit for that success. Instead, Joseph said to his brothers, “God has sent me here to keep you and your families alive…: (Genesis 45:7a TLB). In doing these things, Joseph lived out the words of Romans 12:3 long before they were ever written…
“…I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers” (Romans 12:3 GW).
So after revealing his true identity to his brothers, Joseph then went on to give them a few special instructions…
“Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay'” (Genesis 45:9).
Why did Joseph encourage his family to move so quickly? Well, we should first remember that Joseph hasn’t seen his father in 20 years and was probably anxious to see him again. But Joseph’s father was also very old and there was always the possibility that he could die at any time. So Joseph made sure to ask everyone to move as quickly as possible so they all could be together.
Then Joseph began to talk about what he had in mind for the future…
“‘You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me — you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute'” (Genesis 45:10-11).
Goshen was located in the area of northeastern Egypt, in the Nile River delta where the Nile connects with the Mediterranean Sea. It was a region with good farmland and it was a great place for an agriculturally-based family like Joseph’s to live. But there was another important reason for this move.
You see, the five upcoming years of famine made it critical for Joseph’s family to stay in an area where he could use his position and influence to protect them and provide for them. If they failed to join him, the alternative was sure to be death by starvation their families and all their animals. That represented another reason for everyone to move as quickly as possible.
After he had been gone for two decades, Jacob’s sons had discovered that their long lost brother Joseph was not only alive, but had actually risen to become the second highest authority in Egypt. And if that wasn’t enough, Joseph encouraged them to hurry back home to pack up their families, farm animals, and other belongings so they could join him there in Egypt.
This may have been a little too much for Joseph’s brothers to absorb at once because it seems that Joseph had to reassure them again that he really was who he said he was…
“‘You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly’
Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him” (Genesis 45:12-15).
So Joseph and his brothers went on to have a very emotional family reunion but it wasn’t long until other people began to hear about what had happened…
“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'” (Genesis 45:16-20).
Why was Pharaoh so happy to hear this news? Well, one possibility is that this situation provided Pharaoh with an opportunity to show his appreciation to Joseph for all he had done. Remember that Joseph had earlier interpreted two dreams for Pharaoh when no one else could. Those were the dreams that God sent to warn him about the famine that his nation was now experiencing.
Joseph was also the person who advised Pharaoh to stockpile large amounts of food to prepare for the famine that had now gripped his country. And if that wasn’t enough, Joseph was also the man in charge of making sure that everyone got something to eat, both in Egypt and the surrounding nations that came to buy food from Egypt as well.
“The news soon reached Pharaoh’s palace: ‘Joseph’s brothers have arrived!’ Pharaoh and his officials were all delighted to hear this. Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Tell your brothers, ‘This is what you must do: Load your pack animals, and hurry back to the land of Canaan. Then get your father and all of your families, and return here to me. I will give you the very best land in Egypt, and you will eat from the best that the land produces’” (Genesis 45:16-18 NLT).
The arrival of Joseph’s brothers came as great news to Pharaoh for at least one important reason: Pharaoh was greatly indebted to Joseph for all he had done. You see, Pharaoh knew that if God had not used Joseph to warn him and help him prepare for the terrible famine that was approaching, the nation of Egypt might not have survived. At the very least, untold numbers of people would have surely died from starvation or disease brought on by a lack of food. But they didn’t because God provided Joseph with the knowledge and wisdom they needed to save the nation.
So it’s hardly surprising to see that Pharaoh and his officials were pleased about this development because it provided Pharaoh with a good opportunity to show his appreciation for everything that God had done through Joseph. In fact, Pharaoh didn’t only issue an invitation- he also agreed to provide the transportation and furnishings as well: “…’Here’s what I want you to do: Take wagons from Egypt to carry your little ones and your wives and load up your father and come back. Don’t worry about having to leave things behind; the best in all of Egypt will be yours'” (Genesis 45:19-20 MSG).
If you’ve ever had the experience of relocating to another place, then you probably know how difficult it can be to move an entire household from one place to another. Well, just imagine what it would be like to move eleven large families, all their farm animals, and the contents of their homes to a foreign nation that was 300 miles (500 km) away- and to do it all without the benefit of motorized transportation. That’s what Joseph’s family would have had to do, but their job was made a lot easier by Pharaoh’s offer to provide them with all new stuff once they arrived.
So Joseph’s brothers headed out on the return trip home with wagons and provisions- and the news that Joseph was still alive. We’ll see how Joseph’s father Jacob responded to that news next.
Before Jacob’s sons left on their second trip to Egypt, Jacob gave them these instructions: “‘Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift — a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds'” (Genesis 43:11).
But now, Jacob’s sons were about to leave Egypt with a lot more than they entered with…
“So the sons of Israel did this. 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” (Genesis 45:21-23).
So Jacob’s sons entered Egypt with some nuts and honey and left with 20 donkeys loaded down with food and clothes for the return trip. But as they were getting ready to leave, Joseph had one last thing to say…
“Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!'” (Genesis 45:24).
Joseph encouraged his brothers to avoid arguing or making accusations over anything that previously occurred. All he wanted was for them to retrieve their father, gather their families, and head right back. So how did Jacob respond to this news about Joseph? Well, Jacob responded just as you might expect- with stunned disbelief…
“So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, ‘Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.’ Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, ‘I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die'” (Genesis 45:25-28).
Jacob was convinced that Joseph had been killed and he refused to give up that belief even when his other sons tried to assure him that Joseph was still very much alive. Of course, Jacob’s sons had not proven themselves to be particularly honest people so its easy to understand why Jacob might be a little reluctant to believe them.
It had been a routine “missing persons” case. An inquiry had been made and the evidence presented. The evidence consisted of a torn, bloodstained piece of clothing that belonged to the subject and the testimony of those who had found it. Although a body was never found, there were no indications of foul play and the evidence pointed to an attack by a wild animal resulting in the death of the missing person. The case was closed and the subject was classified as “missing; presumed dead.”
But 20 years later, some new evidence had emerged and the case was reopened. The new evidence was the testimony of those who claimed to have found the missing person in a leadership position of a foreign nation. The authority overseeing the case was hesitant to accept the testimony of these eyewitnesses- until he was presented with some hard evidence…
“(Jacob’s sons said to him,) ‘Joseph is still alive, and indeed he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ But he was stunned, for he did not believe them. When they told him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Then Israel said, ‘It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die'” (Genesis 45:26-28 NASU).
Although Jacob was reluctant to believe that Joseph was still alive, the evidence was good enough to finally convince him to say, “‘Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die'” (Genesis 45:28 HCSB).
The evidence that finally convinced Jacob took three forms. First, Jacob had an eyewitness report from the men who had actually seen Joseph. Next, Jacob received a message from Joseph through his other sons (see Genesis 45:9). Finally, Jacob had the physical evidence that was represented by the supplies and transportation that Joseph provided.
In a sense, Jacob’s experience is somewhat similar to the way that God speaks to us today. For instance, we have the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) with testimony that details many of the things that Jesus said and did. The Scriptures also communicate God’s message to us through the prophets, apostles, and other Biblical writers. Finally we have the physical evidence of the world around us, a world that declares the glory and existence of God (see Psalm 19:1).
The evidence that Jacob’s sons brought him was enough to convince him that Joseph was still alive. Is the evidence that God brings enough to convince you?