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Startling Revelation and Reconciliation
Genesis Chapter 45, verses 1-3
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. 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.
After hearing the moving appeal of Judah, there was only one thing Joseph could do. Judah’s heart and lips had overflowed with loving concern for his father and with selfsacrificing love for his brother Benjamin. Joseph knew now that his brothers had changed.
The tender scene that was about to unfold in that room was much too private to be shared with outsiders. Joseph’s gentle reminder to his brothers of what they had once done to him was for their ears only; nobody else in Egypt needed to know that. Joseph therefore dismissed from the room everybody but his brothers when he made himself known to them.
In the presence of his brothers Joseph broke down and wept. The brothers found it difficult to believe what they were seeing and hearing. The strangeness, sternness, and sharpness were gone from his voice now, as Joseph spoke to his brothers in Hebrew, no longer through an interpreter. “I am Joseph!” Now that he had seen a change of heart in his brothers, he could tear off the mask he had been wearing, the mask of a harsh foreigner who seemed to do nothing but make trouble for them.
When they heard him say, “I am Joseph!” they were terrified. Sin is the great destroyer, the great tension maker. Until the brothers had been assured by Joseph that the barrier between them and him was removed, there would be no peace of mind for them. Before they could bring themselves to speak, Joseph had to assure them four times that God had used their evil deed for a good purpose. Joseph had previously asked about his father and had learned that Jacob was still alive. But he needed to hear that again.
Genesis Chapter 45, verses 4-8
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! 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. 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.
“Come close to me.” We can easily imagine how the brothers had kept their distance. Joseph now showed them not only with words but with actions that he felt no bitterness toward them, that he had only feelings of love toward them. There was no sadness, no anger in his heart; there should be none in theirs, now that God had given them back to one other.
From the marvelous way things had developed in the past few months, Joseph had been able to recognize what God, the Lord of nations, had been working to achieve. Using such unlikely building materials as the hateful and misguided actions of the brothers two decades earlier, God had constructed a plan to save lives, the lives of the important family still living in famine-plagued Canaan. “God sent me ahead of you.”
“To preserve a remnant on earth.” Joseph and his brothers and their families had escaped starvation in order to grow into a great nation. Here is the key to the entire narrative. The brothers had once sold Joseph to Egypt out of hatred and spite. God had overruled their evil intent. His steady and sturdy love had used their action to preserve a remnant, a precious handful of his people, through a crisis that was now threatening them with starvation.
Genesis Chapter 45, verses 9-14
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. 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.’
“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.
There was no time to waste. For five more years, the famine in Canaan was only going to grow more severe and cause more problems for their families. Joseph’s main concern, however, was for his aged father. “Your father is anxiously waiting for you.” The suffering Jacob had gone through for 20 years had lasted long enough. To remedy that, Joseph gave his brothers a tough assignment: “Tell this to my father: ‘Your son Joseph is alive and well and wants you to come down to Egypt!’ Bring him down to me quickly! You can live in the region of Goshen.” Although the exact location is uncertain, it’s usually thought that Goshen was east of the Nile delta, in the vicinity of what is today the Suez Canal.
The words kept pouring from Joseph’s lips, because he could see his brothers were having difficulty believing that their long-lost brother was not only still alive but was their friend. He was not a powerful man who would take revenge long overdue but a loving brother who wanted only to restore the happiness and peace that had long been absent from Jacob’s family. “You can see that it is really I who am speaking to you, and no longer through an interpreter.”
Now Joseph let his arms do the talking. He embraced each of his brothers warmly, until finally the brothers found their voices and spoke to him. Tears flowed freely, and built-up tensions flowed out of them. At last the brothers could speak freely, and they had much to tell Joseph. Now they could confess how their vicious deed to him and to their father had lain for 20 years like a blight upon their personal and family lives and how happy they were that this awful burden had now been lifted from them. No doubt they told him that they appreciated the stern but salutary treatment he had given them.
Genesis Chapter 45, verses 16-20
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.’”
The news that Joseph’s brothers had arrived spread through the capital and reached the palace. Nine years of the 14-year emergency food conservation project were now over, and the king had been impressed with Joseph’s wisdom and his faithfulness. In gratitude to Joseph for having saved his country from disaster, Pharaoh issued an invitation to Joseph’s family to leave Canaan and come to live in Egypt.
Pharaoh gave the invitation in the form of an order: “You are directed to . . . ” (literally “commanded”; the verb root is the same as in the Old Testament word for the Ten Commandments). Pharaoh was issuing an order to Joseph: “Bring your family down here!” God had led Pharaoh to the same conclusion that Joseph had reached with his brothers. Transplanting Jacob’s family to Egypt had been in God’s plan all along, and now things were falling into place. Pharaoh even told them not to worry about having to leave some of their household possessions behind; they could replace these when they arrived in Egypt.
Genesis Chapter 45, verses 21-24
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. Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!”
As further evidence of his goodwill, Joseph gave each of his brothers a going-away present. They had once sent him into slavery without his richly ornamented robe; he gave each of them new clothing. Again, Benjamin got a particularly generous gift.
Joseph wanted nothing to spoil the brothers’ homecoming, but he knew their job of breaking the news to their father was going to be tough. They were going to have to admit to Jacob that they had deceived him 22 years earlier, that Joseph had not been killed by a wild beast, that because of their cruelty Joseph was now in Egypt. During their long ride home, as they planned how they would break the news to their father, Joseph didn’t want any of them arguing: “Selling our brother wasn’t my idea.” “You were more to blame than I.” Tensions could rise and tempers could flare on that long trip home, and Joseph warned against that: “Don’t quarrel on the way!”
Genesis Chapter 45, verses 25-28
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.”
The aged father had been eagerly waiting for his sons to return. He was glad to see them, glad especially to see that Benjamin was with them. But he was not ready for the news his sons brought him about Benjamin’s older brother: “Joseph is still alive!”
At first the news stunned Jacob. He had believed a lie for almost a quarter century, and hearing the truth about Joseph was an emotional shock for the patriarch. He found it difficult to comprehend, let alone believe, what his sons were telling him. The sons patiently repeated all the words Joseph had asked them to tell their father, and gradually the truth began to sink in. Jacob saw the costly gifts from his son and the Egyptian carts Joseph had sent to transport his family to their temporary home, so they could survive the famine. And finally Jacob was convinced: “What my sons have told me is true.” And then he had only one desire: “I will go and see Joseph before I die!”
A new home for Jacob’s family
Genesis Chapter 46, verses 1-7
So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. They also took with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan, and Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt. He took with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.
Israel, the patriarch, head of the covenant people, set out for Egypt with his entire household. It must have been an impressive procession wagons carrying people and possessions, and the family’s flocks and herds moving alongside the long line of wagons. After traveling about a day, the caravan reached Beersheba, at the southern border of Canaan, the place where Abraham had spent almost a century of his life. Here the caravan stopped. Jacob realized that once again he was at a significant juncture in his life. Once his household moved beyond Beersheba, they were outside the land God had promised them. Did he, the bearer of the promise, have any business leaving the Land of Promise?
Jacob had clearly seen God’s hand in what had happened to Joseph, and Joseph’s invitation to come to Egypt surely seemed like a God-given solution to the problem caused by the famine. But Jacob knew what trouble his grandfather Abraham had gotten into when he went down to Egypt to escape a famine (Chapter 12, verses 10-20). Perhaps Jacob remembered also when his father, Isaac, had contemplated traveling to Egypt to escape a famine and had been specifically forbidden by God to do so (Chapter 26, verses 1 and 2).
Jacob, therefore, stopped at the border. He offered sacrifices, perhaps on the same altar his father had built there (Chapter 26, verse 25), and took the matter to the Lord in prayer. He was unwilling to leave the land of promise without a specific directive from God.
God, the all-powerful, the one who controls nature and who guides the history of people and nations, responded to the patriarch’s prayer by speaking to him in a vision at night. God not only gave him permission to go to Egypt, but he even promised blessing to Jacob’s family in Egypt.
• “I will make you into a great nation.” In Egypt what was now a family would grow into a nation.
• “I will accompany you,” to protect you. Jacob’s God was not a local deity whose power ended at his country’s borders.
• “I will surely bring you back” to the Land of Promise.
Jacob would not live to see the fulfillment of this last promise. He would die in Egypt, and his beloved son Joseph would be with him at death to perform one last labor of love. Jacob would be brought back to the Promised Land in a casket. But four hundred years later his descendants would leave Egypt and occupy the land of Canaan as their homeland.
Reassured by God in the vision, Jacob could with a good conscience order the caravan to start moving again. After what must have been a journey of several weeks, they arrived in Egypt.
Genesis Chapter 46, verses 8-25
These are the names of the sons of Israel ( Jacob and his descendants) who went to Egypt:
Reuben the firstborn of Jacob.
The sons of Reuben:
Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron and Carmi.
The sons of Simeon:
Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman.
The sons of Levi:
Gershon, Kohath and Merari.
The sons of Judah:
Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan had died in the land
The sons of Perez:
Hezron and Hamul.
The sons of Issachar:
Tola, Puah, Jashub and Shimron.
The sons of Zebulun:
Sered, Elon and Jahleel.
These were the sons Leah bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram, besides his daughter Dinah. These sons and daughters of his were thirty-three in all.
The sons of Gad:
Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi and Areli.
The sons of Asher:
Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah.
Their sister was Serah.
The sons of Beriah:
Heber and Malkiel.
These were the children born to Jacob by Zilpah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Leah—sixteen in all.
The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel:
Joseph and Benjamin. In Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim were born to
Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.
The sons of Benjamin:
Bela, Beker, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim and
These were the sons of Rachel who were born to Jacob fourteen in all.
The son of Dan:
The sons of Naphtali:
Jahziel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem.
These were the sons born to Jacob by Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his
daughter Rachel—seven in all.
At this point, when the family of Jacob was about to become a nation, Moses gives us a listing of the families making up the larger household of Jacob. He lists first the six sons of Leah and their children (verses 9-15), then the two sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, and her children (verses 16-18). Then follows the list of Rachel’s two sons and their children (verses 19-22), and finally the two sons of her maid Bilhah and their children (verses 23-25).
What we have in these verses is clearly not a passenger list of all those who traveled to Egypt with Jacob’s caravan. Some of the people named here were already in Egypt (verse 19); some had not yet been born (compare 42:32 with 46:9); some were already dead (compare 38:7-10 with 46:12).
The statement in verse 8, “These are the names of the sons of Israel . . . who went to Egypt” must therefore be understood as describing a genealogical table. Moses first lists the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel and then those of their descendants, who founded the separate families in each of the tribes. This may very well be the reason why, with only two exceptions, none of the daughters’ names are included. Here, then, was the basic structure of the family from which the 12 tribes of Israel sprang and which in Egypt grew into the nation of Israel.
Genesis Chapter 46, verses 26 and 27
All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons. With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.
Two different totals are given here. The figure of 66 (verse 26) includes only Jacob’s descendants; his sons’ wives are not counted.
The figure of 70 (verse 27) apparently includes the patriarch himself, plus Joseph and his two sons, who were already in Egypt. In Acts Chapter 7, verse 14 Stephen lists the total as 75. He may have used a round number, or he may have included Joseph’s five grandsons born in Egypt (Numbers Chapter 26, verse 28-37).
Some have taken the number 70 (verse 27) to be symbolic. If 7 is often the symbolic number for the covenant between the Lord and Jacob’s family, and 10 symbolizes completeness (Chapter 31, verses 7 and 41), then 7 times 10 might symbolize the fact that the family of Jacob, which stood in covenant relationship with God, was now complete.
Genesis Chapter 46, verses 28-34
Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.
Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”
Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ When Pharaoh calls you in and asks,
‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”
In just a few words, Moses sketches a touching scene: the patriarch and his favorite son, meeting for the first time after 22 years of enforced separation. Joseph had been a young man of 17 when Jacob had sent him to check up on his brothers. Now he was a mature man of 39, second-incommand in the government of Egypt.
As the aged father looked into the eyes of his beloved son, he saw evidence of God’s kindness to him, and he declared himself ready to die. Without the assurance of God’s forgiveness, death was for sinners in the time of the Old Testament, as it is for sinners today, something to fear. But having the assurance of being at peace with God, the Old Testament saints could declare they were ready to die. And having that assurance, Jacob could also truly appreciate the other blessings God was showering upon him, such as his reunion with his long-lost son.
Now the matter of finding a place for his family to live had to be settled. Before introducing his brothers to Pharaoh, Joseph briefed them. When Pharaoh asked them their occupation, they should answer, “We’ve never done anything but shepherding,” implying that in Egypt they would like to continue that occupation. This fact alone would be enough for Pharaoh to select a place for them to live that was away from the densely populated areas of the Nile Valley. Since shepherds were “detestable to the Egyptians,” Pharaoh would not have wanted the Israelites’ presence to be a constant irritant to the feelings of his own people.
Ancient Egyptian inscriptions express contempt for cattle raisers. It seems this country, with its advanced culture, considered shepherds to be the lowest class. Joseph did not want Egypt to be a melting pot for the people of Israel. They were to remain separate and not become Egyptianized. Joseph therefore wanted them to live in Goshen, an area removed from the mainstream of Egyptian national life. Maintaining their occupation as shepherds would help to serve that purpose.
God may also have had his eye on the future when he selected Goshen as his people’s temporary home. Four centuries later, Goshen, in the region of what is today Suez, would be a more convenient point of departure when the Israelites escaped from Egyptian tyranny.
And so the family with whom God had established his covenant came to Egypt. The immediate occasion that brought them was the famine. But, as has been mentioned earlier, the God who controls history had these larger reasons:
• During the critical four hundred-year period while Israel was growing into nationhood, God wanted his people removed from the influence of Canaanite religion and morals. God chose Egypt, not Canaan, to be the cradle for his chosen nation.
• In this temporary home, sharp religious and cultural differences would discourage intermarriage between Israelites and Egyptians and would make it easier for Israel to maintain its faith in the true God.
• Egypt’s advanced culture (law, arts, sciences) would give Israel much it could later use in setting up its own nation and government (Acts Chapter 7, verse 22).
With Israel’s arrival in Egypt, a major phase in God’s program to save a world of sinners was completed.