Elon, North Carolina
Today, we come to one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. This is one of the most incredible stories in all literature and this story is true. It is a chapter full of nothing but good news. It is the Hallmark chapter of the Bible. You need a lot of tissues for this chapter. There is a lot of crying in this chapter and the ones crying are men, not women. It is a chapter full of emotions and incredible drama.
Every story has a climax. Every movie that is made has a climax. The climax is the high point in the action of a story. It is the point of highest tension or drama in the story. It is the most intense part of the story. The climax of the Joseph story is in Genesis 45.
It is also a chapter full of applications. There are some important lessons in this chapter. What Joseph does in this chapter is important for us today. This chapter is all about forgiveness and reconciliation. Joseph is finally reconciled to his brothers after twenty-two years of separation and estrangement. Reconciliation is God’s will. God wants people to be reconciled.
God wants us to be reconciled to one another and He wants us to be reconciled to himself. Reconciliation is part of the gospel message (II Corinthians 5:18). Reconciliation is not always possible because it takes two people but God does not want broken relationships. He does not want them in the family. He does not want them in the church. This is a very practical chapter.
There is some deep theology in this chapter that I am going to share with you. There are some incredible lessons about God in this chapter. Joseph was not only the world’s first economist, he was the world’s first theologian. There is also a great type of Christ in this chapter and it is Joseph. There are many ways in which he is a picture of Jesus. He foreshadowed Jesus in a number of ways.
Joseph: A Type of Jesus
There are two major revelations in this chapter. Two shocking revelations take place in this chapter that I want to look at. One takes place in Egypt and one takes place in Canaan. The first was a revelation by Joseph to his brothers. The second was a revelation by Joseph’s brothers to their father. We will only have time to look at the first one today.
Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers in these verses. Up to this point, he has concealed his identity. He recognized them but they did not recognize him and he acted different to hide his identity. In this chapter, he tells them who he really is. Why does he do it now?
When he first saw them, he gave them a series of tests. He wanted to find the answer to some questions. Were they jealous of Benjamin, Joseph’s other brother? Were they sorry for what they did to him over twenty years earlier? Had they really changed or were they the same? They passed every test. Joseph even gave them the opportunity to commit the same crime and they turned it down.
Then Judah gave a speech. It was a passionate speech and that speech cut Joseph to the heart. Joseph planted some evidence on Benjamin. He put a silver cup in his sack and accused him of stealing. He was going to keep him as a slave in Egypt but Judah said “You can’t do that, because if you do it will kill his father.” Judah offered himself up as a substitute for his brother. He said that he would take his place and bear his suffering.
After Judah’s passionate speech, we are told that Joseph “could not control himself” (45:1). He has been hiding his true feelings but now they are going to come out. Notice what happens when they come out. We see three things here: a strange command, a sobbing czar and a shocking confession.
A Strange Command
What was the command? “Everyone leave the room” (45:1). Apparently, the room was full of people and he wanted to get them out and so he yells in Egyptian, “Everyone get out”. They do not know why he is asking them to leave. It seemed like a strange command. Why did he want them out of the room?
There were probably several reasons. This was a family matter. This was something between Joseph and his brothers. They were the only ones who needed to be there. Only those who needed to hear Joseph’s message, heard it. In addition, Joseph did not want to broadcast the evil deeds of his brothers to the world. The Bible says that “love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). Joseph doesn’t want to air their dirty laundry before the all of the Egyptians.
A Sobbing Czar
Joseph begins weeping (45:2). Joseph is not only crying, he is crying loud. People can hear him in other rooms and the one who is crying is not just anyone, he is the second most powerful man in Egypt. He was the Food Czar. It seemed a little undignified for a top government official to do in public. That seemed a little strange.
Many in America think that real men don’t cry. Real men do cry. Jesus cried. The Apostle Paul also cried (cf. Acts 20:31). Joseph cried. Joseph lets his true feelings out in this chapter. He has been holding them in up to this point. This is the third time in Genesis that he has cried. He cries again when he sees his father (46:29). He cries when his dad dies (50:1) and after he dies (50:17). He actually cries six times in Genesis.
A Shocking Confession
Joseph doesn’t beat around the bush. He has been playing enough games with them and now it is time to tell them the truth and to be direct about it. Up to this point, Joseph spoke to his servants in Egyptian. He spoke to his brothers through an interpreter for the first time. Now Joseph speaks to his brothers directly in their own language and he said “I am Joseph”. It is three words in English. It is three words in Greek (᾿Εγώ εἰμι Ιωσηφ) but only two in Hebrew (ah-nee Yo-sef).
This revelation of Joseph was private. It was emotional. It was direct. It was also shocking. They did not even know that he could speak Hebrew. They thought the governor’s name was Zaphenath Paneah. That is what Pharaoh called him (41:45) but find out his real name was Joseph. They did not even know for sure if their brother was still alive. The last time that they saw Joseph, he was seventeen. Now he is thirty-nine (almost forty years old). How do we know that? Joseph became a ruler in Egypt at thirty years old (41:46).
There were seven good years, so he became thirty seven and his brothers came after two bad years (cf. 45:11), so he is now thirty-nine and when they heard the words ah-nee Yo-sef (45:3). It was so shocking that it left his brothers completely speechless, so he said it a second time ah-nee Yo-sef. This time he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” (45:4). He reminded them what they did to him twenty-two years ago.
The Brother’s Response
What was the brother’s initial response? They had two responses. Shock and Fear. Joseph just dropped a bomb on them. “His brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence” (45:3). They were speechless. They were silent. They were also terrified. Why?
They were about to be exposed. Their sin was coming to the light. They were the ones who betrayed Joseph. They were the ones who threw him in a pit and wanted to kill him. They were the ones who sold him into slavery and then lied to his father about what happened. They were the ones who laughed at him when he was completely helpless and cried out for help.
They know that what they did deserved the worst kind of punishment. Now Joseph is the second most powerful man in the world at this time. He was the one in charge and has the power of life and death in his hands. He has already imprisoned them for things they didn’t do.
He could clearly punish them for things they did do. They were thinking “we are in big trouble now”. This is actually a picture of how people will feel when they stand before God on judgment day as sinners. Paul says in Romans that “every mouth will be stopped and the whole world will be guilty before God” (3:19).
Then his brothers get the surprise of their life. They get another shock. Joseph wasn’t mad at them. He forgave them. Notice what he said to them. “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 be no 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. 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” (45:5-9 NIV)
Lessons on Forgiveness
How do we know that Joseph forgave his brothers? The text doesn’t say it but he did. How do we know? He spoke kindly to them, not roughly. He said “I am Joseph” with tears in his eyes. He kissed them and hugged them. He gave them gifts and promised to provide for them. He even told them not to fight about what they did to him twenty-two years ago.
Let’s think how Joseph could have responded in this situation. Many people in his shoes would have responded very differently. He could have been BITTER. He could have nursed a grudge for twenty years over what happened to him. He could have been ANGRY. He could have been mad at God for letting this happen and mad at his brothers.
He could have been VINDICTIVE and wanted to punish his brothers for what they did to him. He could have said, “You made my life a living hell for the last twenty-two years and now it is your turn to suffer. Now you get to see how it feels to go through all of the things that I went through. I have been waiting a long time for this. I am going to enjoy it.”
He not only could have said that. He had the power to carry it out but he did not say that. He did not threaten them. He could have been CRITICAL of them for what they did to him. He did not rebuke them. He didn’t try to get even with them. He forgave them and that is an important lesson to us. We need to forgive as Joseph did.
Forgiveness is not optional for Christians. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV). Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
In fact, Jesus said “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors….For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
That seems strange. It seems to say that forgiveness is conditional. It is conditional on forgiveness. It seems like it says that you forgive in order to be forgiven. With this logic you could say that salvation could be lost, if you stop forgiving people.
There is only one problem with this. This passage has to be interpreted in light of the rest of the Bible. The Bible teaches that salvation is NOT by works in passage after passage. Forgiveness is not the plan of salvation but the proof of salvation. We do NOT forgive in order to be forgiven but because we are forgiven. We see that in the passage in Colossians and Ephesians. We are to forgive, even as Christ forgave us. We have already been forgiven.
It is God’s will for us to forgive people who sin against us. He forgave us and we are to forgive people who sin against us. We should forgive people who have injured us in ANY way and that forgiveness should be total. It should be immediate and it should be unconditional, as James MacDonald points out. That raises an important question. Are there people in your life that you need to forgive? The homework assignment for us this week is to come up with a list of all of the people we need to forgive, bring them before God and ask God to forgive each one.
How was Joseph able to forgive so easily? Joseph was terribly abused by his own family. He was treated unfairly. He was deeply hurt by his brothers. They traumatized him. It is not easy to forgive sometimes. If someone offends us over something small, we might hold grudges for years. How was he able to forgive his brothers so easily for a big offense?
There was something that Joseph did which helped him to forgive and something that he didn’t do which also helped him to forgive his brothers. What didn’t he do? He did not live every day thinking about what his brothers had done to him and rehearse it over and over again in his head. He did not live in the past, like many do today. All of us have been hurt in the past by somebody. If you focus on the hurt, you become bitter, resentful and have hard feelings. If you live in the past, you will never forgive.
He also did something positive which helped him forgive. He focused on what God was doing, rather than what his brothers were doing. Three times he said “God sent me”. Joseph said, “You sold me into Egypt” (45:4) but “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (45:9).
Joseph focused on God’s sovereignty, rather than on his pain. Joseph found comfort in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God and so should we. He did not look at all of the bad things that happened in his life and blame God. He looked at what happened and praised God.
Lessons on God
We learn five incredible lessons about God from what Joseph says here. These lessons may change your view of who God is.
1) God has a sovereign plan which must take place.
God has a plan and there is nothing that people can do to interfere with his plan. God gave Joseph the dream when he was seventeen about him ruling over his family. That was God’s plan and nothing could stop that plan from taking place. Job understood this. He said to God, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (42:2)
God is in perfect control of everything that happens. We do not always understand his plan. In fact, looking around at the world, it sure does not look like God is in control. It looks like Satan is in control. If you looked at the life of Joseph, you would think God was not in control when his brothers threatened to kill him, threw him into a pit and sold him as a slave. It took Joseph twenty years before he figured out this plan.
2) God sometimes uses sinful people to accomplish his plan
Joseph’s brothers sold him but God sent him to Egypt. If Joseph’s brothers did not sin, Joseph would not be the ruler in Egypt. If they had not thrown him into the pit and sold him into slavery, God’s plan would not have come about. They SOLD him but God SENT him. He used their selling to get him to Egypt.
3) God’s plan does not violate human free will.
God had a plan for Joseph to go to Egypt. God’s plan did not force Joseph’s brothers to do anything. God did not interfere with their free will to get his will accomplished. They did exactly what they wanted to do. God did not force them to do anything. God had a plan that Jesus would die on the cross and yet he did not force anyone to crucify him. They did it of their own will.
4) God’s plan does not excuse human sinfulness
God did not excuse Joseph’s brothers for what they did to him. Their guilt was real (42:41; 44:16). They sinned against Joseph and were responsible for what they did. Peter says in the NT that the men who killed Jesus were wicked (Acts 2:23)
5) God can bring good out of evil
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NJKV). God brings good out of evil. He is an expert at bringing good out of evil. Notice that this passage does NOT say that “all things are good” but that God works together all things FOR GOOD to those who are believers.
This does not mean that God approves of evil or takes pleasure in evil but God can bring good out of evil. He does that because he is a good God. God brought good out of Joseph’s situation. Because of what happened, Jacob was put in a position where he could save lives (45:5, 7).
In fact, because of what happened to him, he was put in a position where he was able to save the whole nation of Israel from extinction. Now, we may not always see what the good is at the time but God works together all things for good. Many of us look at a situation and can only see evil in it. Joseph was able to look at a bad situation and see good in it as well.