Ten men stood dumbstruck before the second ruler of Egypt. He had calmly spoken just three words, "I am Joseph!" Even words spoken quietly can have impact! They were speechless before him and "could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence" (Gen 45:3). What could they say? No words they spoke could ever undo the guilt that now so deeply troubled their conscience.
The speaker was their younger brother. They did not recognize him before he spoke those three words. Jacob's sons instantly remembered twenty years before when they sold their brother into slavery. They had ignored his tearful pleading then not to do their dark deed. Now they were in his power to do with them as he willed. No words could justify what they had done to him. What would Joseph say next? "Come near to me, I pray you" (v 4). Then he repeated his statement, "I am Joseph," adding, "your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt." Instead of words of judgment, he spoke to them words of love and grace.
"We Are Verily Guilty"
As we noted in a previous article, Joseph did not make himself known to his brothers on their first trip to Egypt to buy provisions. He would first remind them of their guilt. He accused them of spying, "Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come" (Gen. 42:9). He had questioned them closely He had learned from them that his father, Jacob, and younger brother, Benjamin, were alive and living in Canaan. He required that one of them should return to Canaan and bring Benjamin to Egypt to prove their words. He put them in prison for three days, but then released all but Simeon to return to Canaan. He kept Simeon as a hostage in prison. He instructed them not to return without Benjamin.
Jacob's sons knew their father would be very reluctant to permit Benjamin to come with them. Before returning to Canaan, they discussed their difficult circumstances between themselves in Joseph's presence. They did not realize Joseph understood them for he spoke to them through an interpreter. They spoke of their sin against Joseph, saying to one another, "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us" (Gen 42:2). Their consciences were working!
They did return with Benjamin. Jacob permitted that only with extreme reluctance. They were apprehensive about meeting again the stem man who was so demanding of them before. They brought along a present for him. Joseph's steward informed them they were to dine with the man. This caused them alarm. Simeon was brought from prison to join them for the meal. This turnabout in Joseph's attitude toward them was most bewildering. He was kind to them and very congenial as he conversed with them with them about their father.
When Joseph sent them back to Jacob the second time, he gave instruction to his servant to restore their money to them in their wheat sacks (as he had also done on the first occasion). He gave instruction that his special cup should be put into Benjamin's sack. Then he told his servant to follow, discover the cup, and bring them back under arrest. When they stood again in Joseph's presence, "they fell before him on the ground" (Gen 44:14). Thus was God's promise to Joseph over twenty years earlier fulfilled (Gen 37:5-11). Judah became their spokesman, saying, "What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord's servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found" (v 16).
Joseph informed them that he would keep only Benjamin as a servant. Judah then requested to remain in Benjamin's place because he had promised his father he would be surety for Benjamin. He described in full detail Jacob's love for Joseph and Benjamin, his sorrow at Joseph's "death", and the impact losing Benjamin would have upon his father. He ended his appeal with the question, "For how shall Igo up to myfather, and the lad be not with me?" (v 34).
Now the time had come for Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers. He commanded all Egyptians to leave his presence so he could be alone with them Then came his stunning declaration, "I am Joseph!" He told them of God's purpose behind all that had taken place. God had sent the famine but He had also used their dark deed to bring Joseph to Egypt to provide for their needs in the famine. "God did send me before you to preserve life" (Gen 45:5). Their consternation turned to gladness as Joseph embraced them, manifesting to them a love "too good to be true". "After that his brethren talked with him" (v 15).
"See That Ye Fall Not Out By The Way"
The news of Joseph's brethren pleased Pharoah (Gen 46:16). fie gave instructions for the men to return to Canaan and bring all of their families and possessions into Egypt where they would be given the best land in the country. Again Joseph sent his brothers away, but not with the anxiety and sadness of the former times. Now their hearts were filled with gladness and gratitude. Now they carried not only the food for their families they came to purchase, but Joseph also gave them wagons with bountiful provisions for their journey He instructed them to bring Jacob and their families without regard for "your stuff; for the good of the land of Egypt is yours" (v 20). Joseph wanted to have them near to him.
Joseph gave them two interesting instructions. He told them to "tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen" (v 13). What a message they had to tell Jacob! He then gave them the further admonition, "See that ye fall not out by the way" (v 24). He knew something of their jealous nature that had been manifested in their treatment of him twenty years before? This instruction would surely temper any tendency to contention between them.
"Think On These Things"
As interesting as the recounting of these events is, we will receive far more benefit by learning lessons from them. On the very surface here, as we review these events, the sovereignty of God is clearly seen. Nothing happens unless God has brought it to pass or allowed it. No matter how great our trial, it will not make us anxious or bitter when we are confident of God's sovereign control of all things.
Joseph's brothers experienced the truth of Num. 32:23, "Be sure your sin willfind you out." Divine principles will always hold even if 20 years pass before the sin becomes known. God had touched the consciences of the brothers, they spoke with one another of their guilt when painful circumstances came upon them, but they suppressed the matter until Joseph made himself known to them. Guilt on the conscience is a great burden to carry for a long time.
Joseph knew his brothers and longed for fellowship with them. So too does God with the saint who is alienated from Him by a defiled conscience. Joseph did not immediately make himself known to them. Instead he dealt with them to make them consider their ways. God also orders events to cause us to consider our ways.
Divine blessing always follows acknowledgment of sin. Joseph acted in grace toward his brothers when they openly confessed their sin. God responds in grace to us instead of the wrath we deserve when we face our sins. Had they known the second ruler of Egypt was Joseph, Jacob's sons would have done everything possible to avoid Joseph's presence. Are we not similarly reluctant to stand exposed before God? Yet this is the way to receive blessing from God!
Restoration to Joseph began with Judah's confession. There needed to be repentance and forgiveness to restore a normal relationship between them. Confession is always involved in true repentance. Judah's repentance was plain in his willingness to take Benjamin's place as a slave. Then Joseph revealed himself, forgiving them and communing with them. So it is with us when we enjoy the blessed truth of our Father's forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
We marvel at the wondrous grace of Joseph. In it we see pictured the time when the "greater Joseph" will show to His brethren His wounded hands, feet and side. Israel shall say, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed".
Judah's touching question, "For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?" (Gen 44:34), has often been spoken by Christian parents. In making this appeal, Judah is an excellent illustration of the truth of suretyship. His willingness to take Benjamin's place reminds us of the Lord Jesus who became Surety for us at Calvary. We read, "He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it" (Prov 11: 15). It was surely true of Him.
As with Joseph's brothers, we are the beneficiaries of provision for the way from our blessed Lord. Like them we have the opportunity when we worship to "tell (the) father of all (His) glory .. that (we) have seen." We too must be careful not to "fall out by the way." May we ponder well and learn some of the beautiful lessons for us in this wonderful portion of God's Word!