“…it was not you...but God…”
Yes, as Believers we can be incredibly silly at times. We say we believe but we harbour fears and anxieties when things appear to be going wrong. Joseph was no different. At first he thought he would die a slave. Then came the remarkable set of events, taking a very hard road, that shot him from prisoner to ruler in a few short hours. He ended up in an incredible position, but had to endure years of hardship along the way.
We can know some of God’s plan for our lives, but not all. That is where trust (faith) comes into the picture. We are to live out what we know already before we come to learn what we previously did not know! There are times when God makes sudden changes to our lives, often with no prior warning or hint. And such changes can be completely different from anything we may have envisaged, if not initially troubling.
The brothers in this text certainly could never have imagined what was to happen to them. If anything, they thought Joseph would kill them or put them into abject slavery. Instead, they were made Egypt’s aristocracy, befriended by Pharaoh himself.
As Christians we are commanded to do what God requires. When we obey we are given many blessings, and even those around us will be blessed, in church, work, home and leisure. So long as we obey, that is what God does.
This chapter, then, reveals what God can do for individual lives, even when they have acted wickedly before. They were blessed because of Joseph, and because of the future of a nation not yet established, Israel.
Praise God for what is to be. Praise Him for our circumstances – if we are obeying Him, the actual circumstance does not matter. It is our task to do what is best and good and to use biblical/Christian principles in our dealings. As we perform these tasks, so God will use them to His advantage, which leads to our own advantage, often with blessings unimaginable and beyond anything we deserve or expect. This is because God showers us with blessings not because of who we are or because of what we do, but because He loves us and wishes to give us gifts. It is all free, of grace.
“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.”
Joseph could not keep up the pretence any longer as his emotions took over. He ordered his servants and Egyptian courtiers to leave the room. Then, he “made himself known unto his brethren.” Can you imagine this scene? Not only was a brother they had betrayed and sold into slavery still alive – but he was the most powerful man in the known world! And here they were before him, profoundly vulnerable.
We can only imagine what must have gone through their minds. Before this moment Joseph spoke to them through an interpreter. Suddenly, he spoke to them directly in their native tongue! It is easy to think what they felt – dread, as their stomachs churned and their legs turned to water at the words “I am Joseph”!
His news exploded into their brains as this powerful pontate stood before them in all his glory. Then, Joseph cried tears of joy, so loudly that those he had banished from the room could hear clearly. “’Is my father still alive?’ he asked his brothers. But, they could not answer – they were in a state of deep shock and speechless! This was Joseph, who could put to death, or keep alive, any man before him. They had beaten him and sold him as a slave. Will he now return the favour and crush them?
Their fear controlled their responses: ”they were troubled at his presence.” They had already been troubled by him on previous occasions, but this was a bombshell; one that could, in theory, end their lives. So, they waited in abject misery to know their fate. Do not think the word ‘troubled’ is mild – it is bahal, meaning to be terrified, nervous, dismayed. Their dismay was not that he was alive, but that their treachery had at last been discovered and Joseph was now in a position to do whatever he wished to them.
“And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”
How would you react to Joseph saying “Come near to me, I pray you”? You would be compelled to walk closer to the great man. There was no option. As you walked forward what would you be thinking as your legs buckled under you? Yes, you would be in a cold sweat, thinking perhaps that the next step might very well be into the thrust of a dagger, or the words of an execution order. It was not Joseph’s words that caused them to be like this, but their awakened consciences.
Even so, he said again: ‘I am your brother, Joseph, who you sold into slavery.’ Seeing their fear, he tried to make them feel more comfortable. But, remember he had done that beforehand, when he threw them a feast! Even so, he told them not to be ‘grieved’, nor to feel angry at their act of evil many years before. He advised them that they were only instruments in God’s plan. God had decided to send Joseph into Egypt to save thousands, if not millions, of lives. We have only had two years famine thus far, he said – there are another five years to come. “God sent me before you to preserve you…”
The revelations just kept coming! They were afraid because they had sold him, but now Joseph was telling them it had nothing to do with them at all – they had to obey God, and God chose their treachery to bring about His will!! God intended to save people physically, by a “great deliverance”, and Joseph was the key. ‘It was not you who sent me into Egypt, but God!’
‘God made me a father to Pharaoh, plus master of all he owns, and ruler of all Egypt!’ At first this news must have rocked the brothers with countless questions and doubts, but Joseph maintained his composure and loving entreaty.
When the worst possible thing happens to us, or we experience circumstances we think are vile, or troublesome, it is our natural response to try and get out of it, and to be rid of the awful things happening to us. But, as believers, we must not react with emotion only – we must respond with positive mind and heart. The thing that causes us pain must not defeat us, but must prompt us to prayer and a way forward. In it we must see God’s providence, or even His special mercy.
Often, what happens to us is clearly of God, but, there are times when we might not know if what has happened is of God or of Satan. At such times we must not just be beaten or accept defeat (I know personally about this!) but must keep still and quiet and await God’s prompting. If we do that, it will come to us. I doubt if Joseph thought God was behind his initial slavery, but the realisation dawned on him at some time, as his words prove.
When we are unsure we must simply ‘go with the flow’ of events and see what happens. When we can do nothing else, this is the most logical action to take…and at all times we must wait to see God’s hand, for whether Satan began it or not, God will end it! We are His children, and even when we do stupid things, God will save us utterly.
And when events catch us unawares and evil abounds, God is still behind everything that happens to us. Joseph possibly thought his end had come when he was sold as a slave. Yet, in a short while, he became the most powerful ruler of his era, saving whole nations! Take heart. A Christian might be attacked and made to feel less than nothing by others, but no Christian knows the extent of God’s plan for his or her life, or when his life will be changed upside down by the Lord’s plan. Go with the flow! No Christian knows if a particular nasty experience is being used by God to propel him or her to a position of prominence or use.
On one occasion I was feeling worthless after continued harassment, and I wanted to hide away and just stop my ministry. Then came a flood of letters telling me how articles I had written were being passed on to hundreds and hundreds, or that whole churches were reading the material unknown to me. Other letters came, saying how lives had been changed because I had witnessed. God wanted me to know that all was well, after all!
My ‘feeling’, then, was unfounded. It became very clear that others watch and wait, to see what I will do in any circumstance, whether I know it or not. Other Christians have reported the same influence they have had on others. So, never think God is not using you, or making you a part of a far greater plan, even in your misery!
“Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not:
And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast:
And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty.
And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you.
And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.
And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.”
Excitedly, Joseph told his brothers to return home and tell their father the wonderful news: he who was dead is now alive! Not only was he still alive, but he was “lord of all Egypt”. They were to ask Jacob to come to Egypt to live, quickly.
They were then promised prime land in Goshen to be near Joseph, so that he could feed and keep them, especially since there were five more arduous years of famine to come. He did not want them to be reduced to poverty.
This text gives us a clue as to where Joseph was living, and where his national administrative base was located. Goshen (called ‘Osm’, and abbreviated to ‘Os’, in Egyptian) was at the top of Egypt, near the delta of the River Nile. The cities of Zoan, Pithon, Succoth and Rameses were built in the area. We know, then, that Joseph lived and worked mainly in north-east Egypt. Over the next 400 years the emerging nation that came to be known as the ‘Hebrews’ grew to about 2 to 3 million before they finally left to cross the desert. Well over 600,000 of these were young and fit enough to join the army, as a military census of the time shows. Arithmetically, this growth of a nation from one family is well able to be achieved in 400 years.
Goshen was not inhabited by Egyptians, but was considered to be excellent grazing land by shepherds (an occupation that filled Egyptians with distaste). Indeed, Goshen was thought of as an ‘outpost’ of Egypt, an annexe that existed but had no particular use. However, it was also where Pharaoh’s cattle grazed. Goshen was also known as the ‘land of Rameses’ or ‘Gesem of Arabia’. In Egyptian terms ‘Arabia’ meant land east of the Nile. The name ‘Goshen’ has a semitic origin and this suggests that people of the Middle East had lived there before Joseph’s family were given it as their homeland.
“And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's brethren are come: and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants.
And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye; lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan;
And take your father and your households, and come unto me: and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.
Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come.
Also regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.”
Very soon, Pharaoh came to hear the news of Joseph’s reunion with his family. Pharaoh was delighted! He spoke to Joseph and made him very generous gifts… he commanded Joseph to tell his brothers to load their ‘beasts’ (which could have included camels, asses and oxen) with goods and food and to return to their father. They were then to return to Egypt so that he could personally bless them with the finest food and goods available in Egypt.
He commanded Joseph to do this, much as anyone would ‘command’ his best friend to accept gifts. The returning brothers were also to be given carts, so that their families and father could be transported from Canaan in some degree of comfort and safety. They were not to be worried about leaving anything behind in Canaan, for everything in Egypt was given to them as their own. In anyone’s language this was not just generous – it was overwhelming.
If we remember it was God Who prompted the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, it was also God Who gave Joseph’s family their heart’s desire, in spite of the way the brothers had acted. This is not to say that the acts committed by the brothers were not sinful; it simply means that God will use any circumstances He wishes to use, to effect His plans. In so doing, many others can be blessed in the ‘overspill’, even those who have done wrong. The reason is that within the family was the seed of the coming Hebrew nation, and it was this that God wanted to protect and bless. Needless to say, when God blesses, He does so with abundance.
“And the children of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the commandment of Pharaoh, and gave them provision for the way.
To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment.
And to his father he sent after this manner; ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way.
So he sent his brethren away, and they departed: and he said unto them, See that ye fall not out by the way.”
The “children of Israel (Jacob) did so”. They left Egypt to get their families and father, complete with wagons, carts and plenty of food to use on the journey. They would not want for the rest of their lives! They were also given gifts of fresh clothing, for changes along the dusty route. Benjamin, however, had five times more clothing, plus 300 pieces of silver. (Which might have been chunks of silver or money).
A special gift was also sent to Jacob – ten female asses carrying corn, bread and meat. And the brothers left Egypt with Joseph’s loving warning not to come to harm on the way. So, not only did Joseph reach the highest office in the land, but his whole family enjoyed the patronage of Pharaoh as a result.
“And they went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father,
And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not.
And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived:
And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.”
The retinue finally reached Canaan and Jacob at last received wonderful news – “Joseph is yet alive”! Added to this they told of the remarkable fact that Joseph was ruler of all Egypt. We are told that when he heard this news, his “heart fainted” meaning that he became feeble, or overcome, by the news. Perhaps he actually had a mild heart attack, but it more likely means he naturally was overcome with emotion.
The brothers excitedly told Jacob everything that had transpired and of the many gifts they carried back. Jacob was shown the wagons sent by Pharaoh to take them back to Egypt, and he gained rapidly in strength and joy. “It is enough” cried Jacob – Joseph is alive; I will go to see him before I die!”
It is never too late to put something right; never too late to show love or care; never too late for a family to be reunited; never too late for God to work His wondrous will amongst His people. To us it might seem we wait a long time to see God acting or giving us answers to prayer, but everything He does is already planned in eternity and must be worked out according to His wishes. Sometimes this is done swiftly and sometimes slowly, but His will is always done.
© March 2006 (Revised September 2014)