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A. JOSEPH’S BROTHERS TRAVEL TO EGYPT TO BUY GRAIN (Please read Gen 42:1-36).
Why the drought?
Before following Joseph’s track, let us just ask ourselves why such a terrible drought came over all the known world, including the land of Canaan. That it was ordained by God Who either brought it about or allowed it, leaves no doubt (41:25, 28, 32) but why did He do it? The answer is therein that He wanted to create a safe haven in Egypt for His people, Israel, affording them sufficient time to grow in numbers and become a strong nation, before He would lead them back to Canaan, the promised land, to capture it by force. Had He not promised Abraham: “Know for sure that your offspring will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them. They will afflict them four hundred years I will also judge that nation, whom they will serve. Afterward they will come out with great wealth, …” (Gen 15:13,14). That this land would be Egypt, would later become clear to his descendants and the time had now come for the fulfillment of this prophecy to be set in motion.
But there were two obstacles blocking God’s plan. Firstly, the proud Pharaoh would definitely not have willingly opened up the best part of his country to a handful of despised nomadic shepherds. Circumstances would have to be brought about to force him to happily present the region of Goshen to them. Secondly, it would not have been possible to persuade Jacob to leave the land of Canaan which God had promised to Abraham and his descendants, and to move to the heathen Egypt and settle there with his whole family. He too, had to be compelled by circumstances to take that step. By means of the seven years of abundance and of drought, God overcame both these obstructions in a masterly way as we will see in this chapter. By His wisdom and power, He can do whatsoever pleases Him.
Why did Joseph not go and see his father?
Another question which crops up in the background, is why Joseph did not visit his parent’s home for he had coaches, horses and regiments of soldiers at his disposal. He was well aware that his father would have been grieving for him for all these years and, with these resources, he could have reached there in a couple of days. As said before, his behaviour could not have been attributed to a lack of love, although more than 24 years (45:11, etc) had already expired. No, there must have been a much deeper reason for this.
Joseph as a great-great child of Abraham in marrow and bone, in spirit and in truth, would often have been wondering how and when the promises made to Abraham would come true. Then, of course, there were the two dreams he had had, indicating that his whole family would one day bow down to him. Now that he was second in command in Egypt; could it be that they would come to him? On top of this, he was a man that was open to hear from God as seen from his interpretations of other people’s dreams. This being so, it would have been a simple matter for the Lord to lead him to wait upon God to bring his family to him in his own way; a way that would bring about a spiritual renewal within them. So, also in this matter, Joseph worked alongside with God to bring about his plans. Had he followed his own mind and emotions , things could have turned out so differently.
The Ten go to Egypt.
But let us see how it all came about. Travelers from and to Egypt brought the good news that there was an abundance of grain to be bought there and after considering the matter for some time, ten of Jacob’s sons obeyed his request to travel to Egypt and buy them some food. Jacob, however, kept Benjamin (the youngest) back, for fear that something might happen to him.
A “ghost” from the past? And … dreams come true!
When his brothers appeared before Joseph, he immediately recognized them. They however did not recognize him and bowed down before him. Immediately he recalled his dreams of how his family would bow down to him (37:5-11). God’s words stand firm forever!
Tested; will they come forth as gold?
But were these ten brothers still the same men of old; men with no emotions nor feelings who had sold their younger brother, a boy of 17, as slave? No, the 24 years that had elapsed had prepared their hearts for an in-depth change for they were the patriots of Israel, the chosen nation of God, and had to portrait Him in their walk among the heathen. In this process of the renewal of their hearts, Joseph continued to work alongside with God by not revealing his identity to them, but by rather exerting pressure on them that would bring them to the point where they would admit their guilt.
He therefore accused them of espionage. They strongly denied this, telling him of their father and their younger brother, also mentioning another brother, who, they said, was no longer alive – a lie although they were solemnly declaring that they were honest people (42:11). But Joseph applied more heat by insisting that they were spies and locking them up in the jail for three days.
When brought back before him, he again insisted that they were spies that had come to Egypt to spy out the land. To prove their innocence, one of them was to return home to fetch their younger brother, thereby proving that they speaking the truth; the others would remain in custody in the meantime.
Smoking consciences stirred to life and leading to self betrayal.
Under this pressure, they panicked increasingly. Their consciences also accosted them mercilessly so that they spoke among themselves, concluding that they were now being punished for having sold their brother as a slave and not giving heed when he pleaded with them. 22 Years had already expired since they had sold Joseph into the hands of the Ishmaelite traders, but that picture was still vivid in their minds and when matters now got bad for them, they saw it as God’s punishment for their evil deeds. A person can so easily commit a murder, steal, or just speak harsh words in anger, and not consider the eternity that he will be tormented by his conscience.
They were under the impression that Joseph was not understanding what they were saying to one another, because they were speaking to him through an interpreter, but he took note of every word. This was as music in his ears because it showed that they had some remorse for what they had done, so he went aside and cried.
The Heavenly Chess Player causes deeply buried secrets to surface.
On returning, he conceded that they all return home, except for Simeon who he kept ransom to ensure that they would bring Benjamin to him. Why Simeon? By their discussion among themselves it had become clear to Joseph that Reuben, who as first born had to take the decisions, had wanted to release him, but that he had arrived too late to do so. In his absence, Simeon the second oldest, carried the responsibility to take the final decision. He was also an exceptionally cruel man who, together with his brother Levi, had murdered the inhabitants of Shechem by his sword (34:25). These could have been the reasons why Joseph had picked him.
The other nine brothers, Joseph released and sent back home with their bags filled with wheat, but with the charge to bring back the youngest brother to him as proof that they were telling the truth. He also commanded his servant to put their money back into their bags.
If God be against us, everything will be against us.
Along the way, at the lodge, they discovered their money, were shocked and saw it as further proof that the hand of God was against them. A guilty conscience is in fear of everything, “The wicked flee when no one pursues;… “ (Prov. 28:1).
When catastrophe strikes, blessing is right on its heals.
When Jacob heard all of this, he called out, “You have bereaved me of my children! Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin away. All these things are against me.” If only he knew that God was working out everything for his good behind the scenes.
B. JOSEPH’S BROTHERS AGAIN TRAVEL TO EGYPT TO BUY GRAIN. HE REVEALS HIS IDENTITY TO THEM AND SENDS FOR JACOB AND HIS FAMILY (Please read Gen 42:37-45:24).
School of God, grade x, subjects: “Self-abasement and self-sacrifice,” compulsory.
As the grain in the bags gradually ran out, the fear in the hearts of the ten brothers escalated because Jacob was adamant and absolutely refused for Benjamin to accompany his other sons to Egypt. The first to offer to guarantee Benjamin’s safety, was Reuben, but Jacob did not trust him, because he was an unstable man who had on occasion slept with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah (35:22). What was more, if he had so little love for his two sons that he offered that they could be killed if he did not return Benjamin safely, how could he be trusted with Benjamin’s life?
Twenty years had lapsed and still the ten brother’s horrible deed remained secret, but as cattle that are gathered from a long distance before forced through the dipping trough to cleanse them from their parasites, the dipping trough which God had secretly built for these men, was now ready. The day of revelation and squaring off was now at hand, but so also their day of deliverance from their guilt and shame. The Lord allowed the noose of drought to pull tighter around their necks and they realized that there was only one way out of their predicament and that was to return to Egypt to buy grain from the ruler who was still keeping Simeon ransom.
It was not just about themselves for they were now grown men and each had a family in whose needs he had to provide. They had, had no heart for their father Jacob’s grief when they sold his beloved son into slavery and now they had to go on their knees to persuade him to be allowed to take his son Benjamin with them. 22 Years before it had been so easy to use violence to get their will done, but now it needed humbling, pleading and faith. God was changing them into worthy patriots for His nation Israel. In this He used His servant Joseph, operating in Godly wisdom to lead them step by step to the dipping trough of spiritual cleansing.
The drought had the last say in the matter. If they were unable to obtain food within a short while, the whole clan’s existence would be at stake. Therefore, when Judah offered to give his life as guarantee for Benjamin, Jacob finally agreed for him to accompany them. They took a double portion of money, as well as presents for the Ruler and set off for Egypt. These strong men, however were quiet along the way for they were concerned because they thought that their previous payments had not reached Joseph. Would they land up in goal as thieves?
Biting their nails.
Arriving in Egypt, a further shock followed when they were brought into Joseph’s house and had to wait there till noon. Did he do this to arrest and take them as slaves? With great care they explained to the officer in charge how they had discovered their money in their bags and that they had now brought it back as well as additional funds to cover their present purchases. But how ridiculous this story sounded; how could they expect the ruler to believe them? The officer however just waved it aside, explaining that it was their God Who had given them a present. They were taken by complete surprise; how would this heathen know about their God and the God of their fathers? To put them at ease, he brought Simeon to them from jail and they saw that he had suffered no ill effects. What a relief! Their spirits lifted and they prepared their presents to be ready when Joseph would turn up.
On entering, he first enquired regarding the well-being of their elderly father and then, on greeting Benjamin, he was so overcome with emotion, that he hurriedly had to go aside to weep. Then, as they sat down at table, they took further courage because they were clearly treated as guests of honour by this ruler. Had he intended evil towards them, he certainly would not have laid a table as for kings. Then, just as they were beginning to relax, a further disturbing incident occurred: the ruler himself pointed each one to where he was to sit at the table, seating them from the eldest to the youngest. Fear clutched at their throats. They furtively glanced at one-another, something supernatural was happening there. Who could this man be? If he knew their ages, what more did he know about them? But then the food and wine was served and as the meal proceeded they all cheered up and so did the ruler. But, there was one more strange occurrence: Benjamin received a portion five times more than the others!
A sigh of relief: all’s well that ends well; but has it ended?
After the meal, Joseph took leave of them jovially, then they were accompanied by his servants to the sleeping quarters allotted to them for the night. While they were relaxing, sleeping, he carried out his master’s instructions to the letter. He filled their bags with as much provisions as they would be able to transport, placed their money inside their bags, on top of the grain, but in Benjamin’s bag he also put Joseph’s personal cup.
On leaving the city early the next morning, with their donkeys heavy laden with bags full of grain, they were deeply relieved and filled with joy. Why had they been so concerned? Just see how well it all went and on top of that, they were now again in full strength because Simeon was with them. They had however not traveled far, when Joseph’s overseer overtook them. He was very upset. Had they no integrity or consciences, returning bad for good, treading under foot the goodwill shown by his master by stealing his cup!
Now the men, in turn, became indignant. Such a thing they would never do! Let the bags be searched, and the one in who’s bag the cup was found, was to be put to death and the rest of them could be taken as slaves. But their self assurance soon abated because in the very first bag, that of Reuben, the money he had to pay, was discovered and likewise in the bags of Simeon and that of the other ten, from the eldest to the youngest, until only Benjamin’s bag remained. Well, at least, the missing cup had not been found hidden in any of their bags. They stood in a circle around Benjamin’s bag as it was opened up. The overseer put in his hand, rummaged around and removed his bag with the money, held it up to see, then allowed it to drop to the ground. Again he stuck his hand into the grain, prying deeper, searching all around, in front, then at the back, then left then to the right. Suddenly he stopped, looked up into the frowning, sweating faces thronged together, staring into the bag, then slowly he pulled out something, shook the grain from it and held up the shining cup from which Joseph had been drinking during the meal.
Checkmate! The game is over; now pay up!
Shouts of despair rose up all around; clothes were torn. Benjamin was arrested and had to return because the cup had been found in his bag. Then a miracle happened: the cold, hardened hearts of the ten brothers melted. These men who had previously sold a younger brother into slavery without batting an eye, were now willing to rather surrender themselves as slaves, than to see another younger brother being taken into slavery. They would rather give themselves in his stead than again causing such terrible grief to their old father. How touching this was; the God of love was pouring His love into their hearts and they were now demonstrating the attitude of Christ. God’s plan of turning these hard men into new beings was bearing fruit.
The bags with grain were closed up and loaded onto the donkeys. Together they all turned around, following the overseer along the dusty road back to Joseph who was awaiting them. In his heart there was a big question as he was watching the road through his window: would the ten brothers hand over Benjamin as slave to the overseer like they had done with him many years before? Had they just shrugged their shoulders and continued on their way back home? He saw only two people entering the gate: his overseer with Benjamin, handcuffed. His heart contracted, but then followed Judah, Simeon and all the others, everyone with his donkey.
Spilling the beans; except – for a few.
They followed the overseer into his home, fell down in front of him, dismayed as he severely reprimanded them for what they had done. What could they say? They had no excuse what-so-ever. Then Juda stepped forward, honouring his promise to his father by offering himself as ransom. It is significant to note that he now clearly realised that that which had happened to them, was planned by God. “What will we tell my lord? What will we speak? Or how will we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants,” he confessed his guilt to Joseph (44:16) and offered all of them as slaves. Joseph would have none of that, no, only Benjamin had to remain. Judah was now desperate and rendered a deeply stirring plea in which he told the sad story of Jacob who had had two sons with a certain wife, of which he lost the eldest in a tragic way and how intimately his soul was tied to the remaining younger son.
Sinners turned saints.
For such a disaster to befall their father for a second time, was to Judah such a terrible thought that he would rather serve as slave for the rest of his life to save his old father the further grief. What a total revolution had come about in Judah’s life; was it not he, yes he, that had recommended that his younger brother be sold as slave? How terribly his father’s grief must have pained him during the past 22 years. How many nights he must have been lying awake, wishing he could undo what he had done. Joseph however, could not be returned to his father; the best he could now do, was to save him further sorrow and to do so, he was willing to offer up his own life. Only one thing he still covered up, namely that the ten of them had indeed been the reason for all the distress.
The final blow to break the hearts of stone; then, sweet reconciliation.
Joseph now realized that his brothers had undergone a total change of heart. This touched him so deeply that he commanded the Egyptians to leave the room, then burst into tears exclaiming: “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt”. Pail with shock and mute with astonishment they stared at him.
Before reconciliation could take effect, all of the guilt had to be revealed and that was what Joseph did under God’s guidance when he filled in the missing portion, that portion of the story which they carefully hid from him. What a terrible moment it was when their ugly sin was exposed before the highest throne of the country, and to be judged by the judge who already knew all it’s grim detail.
So will it also be with everyone whose transgressions are carefully covered up here on earth but then, after death, it will be all be revealed before the all knowing God, the Judge of the universe, when the person appears before Him.
For the ten brothers, the period of shock and fear as regards what punishment they would receive, graciously lasted only a short while, for Joseph immediately put them at ease, saying that they no longer had to be tortured by remorse but had to look deeper into what had happened and see God’s hand in it; to see that it was God Who had sent him ahead of them to keep their whole generation alive during that time of strangulating drought.
After that, followed emotional moments when Joseph hugged, not only Benjamin, but each of his brothers. The festering abscess of their evil deed was now completely uncovered and forgiven, and tears of relief, joy and love were flowing unhindered over their cheeks. Now new bonds of truth and trust could be established on a firm foundation. Now the heavens were also smiling on the Jacob family for the Lord had accomplished His purposes in their lives.
What a beautiful example Joseph also put by freely forgiving them without them even having to ask him for forgiveness. That, a person can only do when he is convinced that God is in control of everything that befalls him.
Jacob, your ship has come!
The Pharaoh and Joseph then sent back the eleven men with an abundance of presents as well as a number of wagons to transport Jacob and everything that belonged to him, to Egypt. For the first time in 22 years, could these men walk with joyful hearts because their burden of sin had been removed.
When Israel saw and heard all this, he was convinced that Joseph was still alive and agreed to go to him. Just recently he had exclaimed, “All is against me,” but in a moment everything turned in his favour and is he able to call out with Paul, the New Testament writer, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).
But there were still unanswered questions; Jacob would have wanted to know how Joseph had landed up in Egypt. Had the ten brothers then, in the end, admitted their guilt to their father, hoping that he would forgive them for that and also for the pain he had to bear for 22 years? Perhaps Joseph had suggested that they tell Jacob that he would explain everything to him once they met. That would have saved them much embarrassment.
C. JACOB AND HIS PEOPLE RELOCATE TO EGYPT (Please read Gen 46:1-47:27).
Jacob and family pulling up their tent pegs.
Having received all these wonderful blessings from the Lord, Jacob’s heart was filled with gratitude, so he brought sacrifices to God. To leave the promised land, Canaan, and relocate to Egypt with all he possessed, was however a major step for Jacob; was this the right thing to do? He might have thought what had happened to Abraham when he sought refuge in Egypt during a similar harsh drought (12:10-20). (We must consider other people’s suggestions, but how tempting they might be, not just act upon them without enquiring of the Lord). The Lord read Jacob’s thoughts and reply to him very clearly in a dream:
- Firstly He called him by his name, ensuring him that He, Who was speaking to him, was God Himself, the God of his father (Isaac) – that means the God Who had lead his father all of his life and supplied in all his needs.
- That he would go with him to Egypt.
- That He would most certainly see to it that his descendants would again move out of Egypt (back to the land of Canaan).
- That Joseph would be with him on the day of his death.
After Jacob had personally heard from God, he traveled down to Joseph in Egypt with a joyful heart.
Treated as royalty.
Abraham’s offspring had now increased to approximately 70 souls. Joseph had gone to Egypt as a slave; his brothers almost as beggars to procure food for their families, but now the whole convoy is transported with royal wagons and the best part of Egypt is allotted to them. All of this happened because Joseph had been willing to pay the price which God required of him for 13 long years.
Father and son re-united.
At last, after 22 years of grief, Jacob and Joseph again hugged one-another, tears of joy coursing down their cheeks. Jacob’s cup was overflowing and in his spirit he felt fulfilled; that the purpose for which God had placed him in this world, and to which he was called, was now accomplished.
An earthly king meets a prince of God.
Then Jacob was brought in to meet with the Pharaoh. He had blessed Joseph by removing him from jail and appointing him over all of Egypt and God had then blessed the Pharaoh and his country with an exceeding great blessing and made them to be a blessing to the whole world. God’s servant, Jacob, also spoke out a greeting of blessing over the Pharaoh, both on meeting with him and on departing. This calls into remembrance God’s promise to Abraham, “You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and … all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:3, WEB).
When last have you updated your daily cash book?
In the course of the conversation, Jacob said to Pharaoh that he was still young in compassion to his forefathers and that his years had been filled with adversity and misfortune. That he had indeed gone through difficult times, is quite true, but much of that he had brought upon himself. Now however, the Lord was wiping out much of that pain of the past, offering to him a breath-taking, ”retirement package.” This calls to mind the well known song, “Count your blessings one by one and you will be amazed at what God had done”. Of Jacob’s descendants, only two grand children had died, namely Er and Onan because they had displeased God, over against the 70 that had been preserved, and on top of that, one of his sons, Joseph, was escalated to the second most important position in the world of that age. At a time when thousands of people of the surrounding countries were perishing of hunger, Jacob and his people were lavishing on the cream of Egypt’s produce without having to pay a single piece of silver for it. It rather seems as if the sum total of the patriot’s blessings vastly exceeded his misfortunes. (Or what am I saying Jacob?)
God’s plans still on course.
Jacob and his families’ stay in Egypt was exceedingly blessed: “Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; and they got themselves possessions therein, and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly.” (47:27). Although they possibly were not aware of it, God was building them into a big nation, a nation that would be able of conquering Canaan.
D. JACOB BLESSES HIS SONS AND DIES (Please read Gen 47:28 – 49:33).
A time to come and a time to go.
At the age of 147, after 17 years of peace and quiet, Jacob realized that his hour glass was running out, so he called in Joseph and made him to swear that he would not bury him in Egypt. Egypt, with it’s ever-flowing Nile river and it’s green fields, was wonderful, but in faith he already saw how his offspring would be lead forth by God to take into possession the promised land, Canaan, and his heart yearned to be part of it. That of course could not be, because another 417 years first had to be ticked off one-by-one on God’s calendar. The Canaanites’ cup of judgement still had to fill up, and for Israel, tens of thousands of young soldiers still were to be born. But Jacob’s faith crossed this period in one great leap. He himself would never experience that glorious day, but if only his bones could, in the meantime, rest in that country, he would be contented.
What have I laid up for the final day?
Jacob now escalated Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to equal status with his own sons, gave them in advance, by faith, a piece of land which he had conquered from the Ammorites, and declared prophetically that the first born, Manasseh would be subject to the younger Ephraim. God promotes who-ever pleases Him. In that we must rest, knowing that He dearly loves each one of us; so much so, that He gave His Son to lay down His life for us on the cross.
Then he also blessed his other sons, prophesying over them as regards their future. Reuben was denounced as first born because he had given into his physical desires and slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Over Simeon and Levi, God’s judgement was pronounced because of their deeds of violence.
Judah was uplifted above his brothers: “Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies. Your father’s sons will bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub. From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he crouched as a lion, as a lioness. Who will rouse him up? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs. To him will the obedience of the peoples be. Binding his foal to the vine, his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; he has washed his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be red with wine, his teeth white with milk.” This prophecy refers to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Who would be born from Judah’s offspring (49:8-12). Joseph and his descendants also received special blessings of prosperity. That, perhaps could be linked to his sacrificial life that had lead to the preserving of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. That which man sows, he will also reap.
Then when Joseph was still present with him, Jacob’s spirit departed to where those of his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac, were already gathered before the throne of God.
E. JACOB’S BURIAL AND JOSEPH’S DEATH (Please read Gen 50).
God’s royalty honoured.
Joseph organised for Jacob’s body to be embalmed so that they would be able to transport it. Then, accompanied by his brothers and a multitude of Egyptian dignitaries, he traveled to the cave of Machpelah where they laid Jacob’s body to rest according to his request. It is remarkable how much honour this man of God received even after his death.
Digging up old cows.
After Jacob’s burial, Joseph’s brothers once more pleaded with him to be forgiven for what they had done to him, because their consciences just would not come to rest and now that their father Jacob, for whom Joseph had so much respect, had passed away, they feared for their lives all over again. Their inability to accept his forgiveness, deeply upset him, causing his tears to flow and again he reassured them of his total forgiveness and goodwill. How much is our Lord Jesus not also grieved when we repeatedly plead with Him for forgiveness and are just unable to accept that He freely forgave us on the basis of the forgiveness of sins which He worked for us by His death on the cross (Ps 103:12).
A father had followed his son to a land of plenty, now that son follows his father to a Kingdom of everlasting abundance.
At the age of 110, Joseph’s role was also completed and the time arrived for him to go Home. So certain was he of the fact that his descendants would go up to Canaan from Egypt, that he made his brothers to swear that they would take his body with them. Then he died and was his body embalmed so that they would, in due course, when going up to Canaan, be able to take it with them – and this literally happened hundreds of years from then (Ex 13:19).
Let us follow in the footsteps of Joseph as he followed in the footsteps of the Greater Joseph.
What a blessed ending for this man of God from who’s life we could learn so much and what a beautiful closing chapter to the book of Genesis, a unique portion of Scripture which God gave to teach and guide us on the way to the House of the Father, the House of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and the thousands of other men, women and children who walked before the face of God and completed the race up to the very end.