Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. It is one of the greatest stories in the Bible. Last week, we looked at the first nine verses of the chapter. Joseph is now the Prime Minister of Egypt in charge of the food supply. He is the Food Czar and his brothers come to Egypt to get food.
It is their second trip to Egypt. Simeon was held as a prisoner on their first trip to Egypt until they brought their brother Benjamin to Egypt. Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother. When Benjamin arrives, they have a big party at Joseph’s house. On their way out of the city, they are stopped and searched.
In Benjamin’s sack is one of Joseph’s special cups and Joseph arrests him. That is when Judah steps in and gives a passionate speech. He offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin. He says that he will take his punishment. Benjamin cannot stay in Egypt because it will kill his old father who did not want to send him in the first pace. The first thing we saw in this chapter was a confession.
When Joseph hears that speech, he yells something in Egyptian. Joseph’s brothers do not know what he said but everyone else leaves the room and Joseph is alone with his brothers. He begins weeping and weeping loudly and then he says the words in Hebrew (ah-nee Yo-sef) “I am Joseph”. They are completely stunned. They did not know that the Prime Minister spoke Hebrew. Every other time he spoke to them he used an interpreter. They did not know that their brother was even still alive. They were completely silent.
They were also terrified because they committed a terrible crime over twenty years earlier against Joseph. It was a family secret and Joseph is now the second most powerful man in the world. They have been terrified of this man up to this point and now he knows what they did twenty-two years ago.
Then they find out that Joseph is no longer mad at them. He forgave them. Genesis 45 is a picture of several things. It is a picture of unrestrained emotions. It is a picture of complete transparency. It is a picture of undeserved grace. It is also a picture of total forgiveness.
“Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him” (45:14-15). Here Joseph shows deep affection for each one of his brothers. Joseph forgave his brothers. They tried to kill him and threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery and he is weeping and kissing all of them in love.
Joseph fell on Benjamin’s neck. We see this often in Scripture. When Esau saw Jacob after many years, he ran to meet him, embraced him and fell on his neck (33:4). When the prodigal son came home, his father saw him, ran to him, fell on his neck and kissed him (Luke 15:20). That seems like a strange statement. What does that mean in the Bible to fall on someone’s neck?
It is an idiom, like “crying over spilled milk” or “stealing someone’s thunder”. Idioms do not mean literally what they saw. They mean what they mean. They are figures of speech. If you literally fall on someone’s neck, you would break their neck. To fall on someone’s neck is a biblical idiom that means to throw your arms around someone, hug and embrace them.
After this shocking confession on Joseph’s part, they had some conversation. Genesis 45:15 says, “and after that his brothers talked with him”. What did they talk about? They had a lot to talk about. Joseph has been out of the family for over two decades. They are filling in the gaps and letting him know some of the things that he missed.
It also shows how much these brothers had changed. Over twenty years ago, they hated Joseph. They couldn’t stand him and the text says that they could not speak peaceably to him (37:4) but now things have changed. They have a lot to talk about and want to talk to each other.
In addition to having some conversation, Joseph gave them a commission. He gave them a job to do. They were to go back home and tell they father that he was still alive. He says, “My dad thinks I am dead. Make sure you tell him that I am alive and that I am in Egypt. Tell him to come here”. On Easter Sunday, the angels met the women at the tomb and gave them a commission, tell the disciples that Jesus is alive and to meet him in Galilee. Joseph gave his brothers a commission. They were told to do this quickly.
He said, “Tell my dad that I am alive and to meet me in Egypt”. Notice what Joseph said. He told his brothers to “tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen” (45:13). Parents like to brag about their kids achievements. Joseph wanted Jacob to be proud of him. Joseph told them to do this quickly (45:13). Jacob was old. He wanted to make sure that he got this message before he died. Joseph gave them an incredible message of good news to tell. We also have good news to share with people.
In addition to a commission, Joseph gives them a commitment. He says if you move to Egypt, he will provide for them (45:11) and says that they will have a place to live (45:10). They also get a commitment from Pharaoh himself. He says “Bring your father and your households and come to me; I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you will eat the fat of the land” (45:18). Joseph’s brothers were promised some things from both Joseph and from Pharaoh. They heard this from the two most powerful men in Egypt.
They did not just give them a commitment; they gave them a contribution. They gave them some gifts. They were given wagons (45:19) and provisions for the journey (45:20). What provisions? They were given changes of clothes (45:22). Romans 12:17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone” (NIV). I Peter 3:9 says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (NIV)
Joseph is here returning good for evil. They did him evil. He is doing them good. They tore his clothes when he was seventeen, his coat of many colors but he gives them new clothes. Benjamin gets five times as many, along with some silver. In addition to provisions, they bring back gifts for Jacob, twenty donkeys loaded with food.
One preacher came up with five great lessons on conflict resolution from this chapter. The outline does not come from me but from Steven Dow. The first lesson is not to make a spectacle of the other person. Joseph does that when he sends everyone out of the room.
This was a private family matter. The second lesson is not to bottle up your feelings. Joseph lets them all out. The third lesson is not to push the other person away. Joseph does that. He says “come near to me”. He could have said, “Get out of here. I don’t want to see your face again”.
The fourth lesson is to comfort the other person. Joseph did that when he said, “You sold me into slavery but God sent me here and he sent me here to save lives”. They needed to be comforted because they were full of guilt for what they had done and had repented of their actions. Joseph comforts them with the comfort he received from God (cf. II Corinthians 1:3-4).
They do not comfort Joseph. Joseph comforts them. The fifth lesson is to minister to the other person. Joseph does that by giving them gifts, providing food and a place for them to stay.
Before the brothers leave Egypt, Joseph gives them some counsel. He told them not to quarrel on the way (45:24). Here we see Joseph in a new role. He is a peacemaker. Earlier in Genesis, we saw how Joseph’s grandfather Isaac was a peacemaker. Now we see how Joseph is one as well.
Why does he tell them not to fight on the way home? He knew that this was a temptation for them. They had already done this. “And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.” (42:22 NKJV).
About five hundred years ago, John Calvin said “what Joseph taught his brethren here is the command of the Spirit of God to us all.” Like Joseph’s brothers, we are all part of the same spiritual family. Like Joseph’s brothers, we are all guilty. We are sinners. Like his brothers, we have all been forgiven. Like his brothers, we have all been given a message and, like them, we have all been told not to fight along the way.
The NT exhorts us to be at peace with one another. It tells us to love one another. We are all part of the same spiritual family. We are all forgiven and yet as Christians we fight with one another. In the NT, Paul talks about Christians who bite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15). We are to resolve our differences quickly.
“Then they went up out of Egypt, and came to the land of Canaan to Jacob their father. And they told him, saying, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them” (45:25-26).
This is the second great shock in this chapter. The first shocker was when Joseph’s brothers heard the words “I am Joseph”. Their reaction was fear and shock. Joseph’s brothers tell their dad that he is still alive and they get a different reaction. It is not shock or fear but disbelief. He did not believe them.
Literally, the text reads “his heart fainted’. His heart stopped and he didn’t believe them. This is an oxymoron. Jacob was a believer. He was saved. Unfortunately, there is a lot of unbelief among believers. Churches are full of them. There are many Christians that will tell you that God does not do miracles anymore. He did them in the first century but He does not do them anymore. They are believers but do not believe that God does great things today like He did in Scripture.
There are many examples of this in Scripture. Abraham and Sarah did not believe God. God told them that Sarah was going to have a baby. Sarah was old and twenty years went by so they gave up on that promise. They were believers but they didn’t believe God in this case. Why did Israel wander in the wilderness for forty years? It was because of their unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). Another example is the resurrection.
The women learned about the resurrection on Easter Sunday. They went home and told the men “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11). “Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 NIV)
Jesus appeared not only to the women but to most of the Apostles but Thomas was not among them when he appeared and when they told him about it, he didn’t believe them. Not only did not believe them, he was a skeptic. He said “I will not believe unless I can put my finger in his hand and in his side. Then, I will believe” (John 20:25). One of the members of our class said Thomas must have been from Missouri, because it is known as the “Show Me” state.
Many picture Thomas as someone who is open-minded but just needs a little more evidence. We meet people like that today. They claim that they would believe the Bible if they just had a little more evidence that it was true. The fact is that Thomas was another believer who did not believe. It is not a good thing. It is a bad thing.
Jesus gave them all kinds of evidence. The tomb was empty. He appeared to the women. He appeared to the men. Thomas said “That is not good enough. I need physical proof”. It is like a scientist today saying that he would not believe in God, heaven or hell unless you have physical proof of them. We can laugh at Thomas today but are we like him? Do we have unbelief in our hearts?
On Easter Sunday, two men walked to Emmaus when Jesus appeared and began talking to them. They were troubled by recent events in Jerusalem involving the death of Jesus. They were saddened by his death. Jesus replied, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25).
They were believers. They were sad believers. Jesus called them “fools”. He rebuked them and the Eleven for being unbelievers. What would Jesus say to Christians today? Would he rebuke them as well? Are there Christians today who believe only part of the Bible? They know part of the Bible. They believe part of the Bible and are passionate about it but another part of it is not taken seriously. Unfortunately, this describes a large part of the church today.
Jacob’s sons finally return to Canaan. They said, “We have great news. Not only is Joseph still alive, he is the second most powerful man in the world, because Egypt was the most powerful country in the world at that time.” They said, “We have seen him. We have eaten with him. He is alive” and he did not believe him. He did not believe it even though he heard this, not from one or two witnesses but from eleven. Why didn’t he believe them?
Jacob goes through a revival in this chapter. He went from not believing his sons to believing his sons. I want to look at that briefly. We want to discuss why he did not believe them in the first place and why he changed his mind.
Why didn’t Jacob believe his sons when they come home with the news that Joseph was alive? There were many reasons. They were not always honest people. Jacob did not trust his sons. If you tell a lie long enough people will believe it. Jacob’s sons told him a lie about Joseph being dead and he believed it. He believed it for two decades. He not only believed it, he mourned for Joseph. He gave up all hope. He tore his clothes. He refused to be comforted and said he would mourn for Joseph until he died (cf. 37:34-35).
What Jacob’s sons said seemed too good to be true. We have an old saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” It is still valid today. We have all seen the emails from Nigeria offering to wire us millions of dollars if we just give them our bank account information or phone calls saying that we have won the lottery.
We all need to beware of con artists. There is a certain amount of skepticism that is good and healthy. Proverbs 14:15 says “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (ESV). A person who is naïve and gullible believes everything you tell them. They believe everything they hear from politicians and everything they hear from preachers.
To believe the truth about Joseph, he had to also believe the truth about his brothers. Their sin came out. Jacob not only had to believe that Joseph was alive, he had to believe that his brothers were so wicked and hated their brother so much that they would sell him into slavery and then lie to their father for twenty years. That would not be easy to accept, accepting the ugly truth about your own children.
What caused Jacob to change his mind? Some people never change their mind, no matter how much evidence you give them. Jacob changed his mind and when he changed his mind, his name changed.
“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” (45:25-28).
Notice the two names. Jacob doubted but Israel believed. The name Jacob means deceiver, trickster. It is the name associated with an unbeliever. When he believed the message, he is called Israel. That was the name God gave him when he wrestled with the angel all night. Why did Jacob go from unbelief to belief? He finally said, “I am convinced”. The NLT says “It must be true”. What convinced him?
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 (45:27). Two things convinced him. Something on the inside and something on the outside convinced him.
When they told him what Joseph said, something on the inside came to the conclusion that this sounds like Joseph and then he went outside and saw a bunch of empty wagons and they have ten donkeys loaded with the best of the land of Egypt. He did not have to take their word for it.
There were all these gifts outside and animals and Egyptian vehicles. “When he saw the wagons Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived”. Wagons were rare. The average person did not have access to wagons. The wagons were what really convinced them. Pharaoh sent them to carry Jacob and his family back to Egypt (45:19)
Jacob says “My son Joseph is alive. I must go see him before I die.” He has something that he has to do before he dies. He must go to Egypt to see his son. It made his bucket list. Next week, we will look at the trip to Egypt.