IV. Joseph (Genesis 37:1–50:26)
IV. Joseph (37:1–50:26)
A. Joseph the Dreamer and Judah the Hypocrite (37:1–38:30)
37:1-4 Jacob’s family dysfunction continued into the next generation. This should not surprise any discerning reader. The cause of the problem in chapter 37 is a familiar one—favoritism. Israel (that is, Jacob) loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was the son of his favorite wife, Rachel (37:3). Joseph was the eleventh of twelve boys, which made the favoritism sting his older brothers who surely felt passed up. So when Jacob made a robe of many colors for Joseph (37:3), which was a garment symbolizing the privilege of the firstborn, the sibling rivalry erupted. Joseph’s brothers hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him (37:4).
37:5-9 To make matters worse, Joseph had a chip on his own shoulder because he had received some notable dreams. In the first, Joseph’s sheaf of grain stood up, while his brothers’ sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to it (37:7). In the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars—that is, Joseph’s father, mother, and eleven brothers—were bowing down to him (37:9). Joseph, being an immature seventeen-year-old, was foolish enough to brag about these dreams to his brothers, who hated him even more because of his dream (37:8).
37:10-11 The interesting fact about Joseph’s dreams, which we aren’t told at this point in the story, is that they were prophetic. Jacob asked, Am I . . . and your brothers really going to come and bow down to the ground before you (37:10)? Actually, yes, Jacob, you will. God had given Joseph these dreams, and he wanted to lead Joseph to a grand destiny. But Joseph would have a lot of unexpected detours in his life before he got to that point. Without the detours, however, Joseph would never have been prepared to walk in his God-given destiny. (Keep that in mind the next time God brings an unexpected detour into your life.)
37:12-20 Joseph’s first detour came courtesy of his own family. One day, when Jacob had sent Joseph to check on his brothers (37:13-14), they saw him in the distance and plotted to kill him (37:18). (You may think you have family drama; but it doesn’t get much worse than your brothers literally plotting to end your life.) Joseph’s brothers couldn’t stand his dreams, so they wanted to ensure that they would never come true. Let’s kill him, they decided, and then we can say that a vicious animal ate him (37:20).
37:19-24 Fortunately for Joseph, eldest brother Reuben stepped in to save his life. He reasoned with them, Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, thinking that he could return later to rescue [Joseph] from them (37:22). When Joseph arrived, they stripped off [his] robe and threw him into the pit, which was empty and without water (37:23-24). This is a reminder that God sometimes allows us to be stripped of what we love most, because he knows that things have to get worse for us before we can walk into our true destiny.
37:25-28 Joseph’s fortunes had changed in a moment. He was living large, like royalty, until his brothers sold him for twenty pieces of silver to traveling Ishmaelites (37:27-28). Just like that, he became a slave. Little did he know that God was orchestrating something much bigger than he could imagine.
37:29 Reuben, it seems, wasn’t with the brothers when they sold Joseph into slavery. So when he returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes in despair. He had managed to save Joseph’s life, but couldn’t protect him completely.
37:30-32 Together Joseph’s older brothers decide to cover up their evil actions with deceit. They took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a male goat, and dipped the robe in its blood (37:31). They then presented the robe to their father Jacob (37:32). There is a certain level of irony here, since Jacob had used goat skins to deceive his brother years before; now Jacob is deceived by animal evidence. Jacob’s deceptive character had been transferred to his sons.
37:33-35 Recognizing Joseph’s robe, Jacob assumed that Joseph had been killed, and he mourned for his son many days (37:33-34). He even refused to be comforted by his other children when they tried to cheer him (37:35), showing that Jacob’s depression affected the entire family.
37:36 Just when God surely seemed absent from the perspective of Joseph and Jacob, we get a hint that he was up to something in the middle of this family disaster. God, we will soon discover, intended to bring Jacob and his sons to Egypt in order to protect them from a coming famine, and Joseph’s recent departure placed him in Egypt, in the house of Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in preparation for that time. God was setting the stage to bring about Joseph’s destiny, even when no human was aware of it.
38:1-2 Much of the rest of Genesis focuses on Joseph. But to remind us of the line of succession, the author briefly steps away from his story to focus on one of Joseph’s brothers. Judah would eventually become the son to inherit the promise and blessing of Abraham, but at this point in the story he was just another conniving member of a dysfunctional family. For instance, it was Judah who came up with the idea of selling Joseph as a slave (37:26-27). The following narrative further reveals Judah’s deeply flawed character.
Judah married the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua (37:2), which was an inauspicious start. Not only had Judah married one of the pagan Canaanites, but he also appeared to have given the marriage no thought at all. He saw a woman he wanted; he went for her. Such impulsive lust would soon get Judah into trouble.
38:3-10 Judah’s wife had three sons—Er, Onan, and Shelah. The eldest son, Er, married a woman named Tamar (38:6). Unfortunately, Er was evil in the Lord’s sight, and the Lord put him to death (38:7), leaving Tamar with no husband and no children. The custom of the day in situations such as this was for the next living brother of the deceased to marry the widow. The first son from this marriage, then, would legally belong to the deceased older brother, providing him an heir and preserving his name (see Deut 25:5-10). Onan, the brother in line for this task, was fine with taking Tamar as his wife, but because he knew that the offspring would not be his, he intentionally avoided getting her pregnant (38:9). In other words, he was using Tamar for sexual gratification while refusing his responsibility to her and his brother. God was neither pleased nor deceived by this, so he put him to death also (38:10).
38:11-15 Tamar, now a widow twice over and still childless, was in a tough position. Legally she could expect to marry Shelah, the third son. But Judah seemed to blame Tamar for the death of his other two sons, and he refused to arrange the marriage (38:11, 14). Knowing that the only way to secure inheritance rights for herself was to produce offspring, Tamar took matters into her own hands. She took off her widow’s clothes, veiled her face, and posed as a prostitute (38:14-15). Apparently Tamar knew Judah’s lustful ways, and so she planned to lure him.
38:16-23 Wages, whether for prostitution or any other transaction, were often given in pledges in those days. Judah agreed to pay the supposed prostitute with a young goat (38:17), and as a guarantee that he would follow through with this, he left his signet ring and his staff (38:18). Both would have had markings uniquely identifying Judah as their owner. So when Judah was unable to retrieve his belongings, he knew he was liable to become a laughingstock (38:23). His lack of impulse control had given someone the power to blackmail him.
38:24-26 When it became obvious that Ta-mar was pregnant, Judah responded with self-righteous hypocrisy, Bring her out . . . and let her be burned to death! (38:24). Yet with excellent timing and a thick sense of irony, Tamar responded by sending his missing pledge to him, and asking, Whose signet ring, cord, and staff are these (38:25)? The question she posed to Judah bears a resemblance to the question Judah and his brothers posed to their father Jacob after faking Joseph’s death: Do you recognize these? (See Gen 37:32.) Thus, Judah the deceiver was deceived in kind. He immediately recognized his guilt, knowing that Tamar had acted desperately because he refused to give her as a wife to his son Shelah (38:26).
38:27-30 Tamar gave birth to twins, and just as with Jacob and Esau, the older of these two (Zerah, 38:30), would serve the younger (Perez, 38:29). Thus the line of Judah, which was the covenant line, was preserved and continued, even in the midst of sinful circumstances. God’s program will not be thwarted. He never accepts or condones sin, but he can still use sin to sovereignly accomplish his kingdom plan.
B. From Rags to Riches in Egypt (39:1–41:57)
39:1-2 At the same time that Judah was proving his own immorality, younger brother Joseph was showing the opposite characteristic of purity. Joseph’s circumstances, though, started off much more grim than Judah’s. He had been taken to Egypt as a slave. But because the Lord was with Joseph . . . he became a successful man in the house of Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards (39:1-2). He may have been a slave, but God was with him. Joseph’s life proves the lesson taught by the sponge: when you fill a sponge with water and then add pressure, water comes out. Joseph was so full of God’s presence that when life squeezed him, evidence of his dedication to God oozed out. And he became a successful man (39:2).
39:3 Notice that Potiphar didn’t just see Joseph’s good work ethic. He saw that the Lord was with him. That suggests Joseph didn’t mind telling Potiphar about the Lord because how else would Potiphar have known about him?
39:4-5 Because Joseph knew that God was with him, he became the best employee in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar placed all that he owned under his authority, and the Lord’s blessing was on all that he owned, in his house and in his fields (39:4-5). Joseph thus shows us how we should all conduct ourselves when working with and for non-Christians. We should be the most punctual, most productive, most trustworthy, most honest employees in our companies. Knowing God is with us should make us stand out dramatically.
39:6-7 Joseph grew so central to Potiphar’s enterprise that Potiphar essentially gave him the keys to his estate (39:6). Things were beginning to look up for Joseph. But then Potiphar’s wife started to meddle. Seeing that Joseph was well-built and handsome (39:6), she wanted to seduce him. Her advances weren’t subtle, either. Sleep with me (39:7), she said, cutting straight to the point.
39:8-9 Joseph responded to Potiphar’s wife’s solicitation wisely. His reaction is a sort of template for how we should resist temptation, sexual or otherwise. First, he saw that the consequences of sin would be damaging. Potiphar had placed all of his possessions under Joseph’s authority (39:8). To sleep with his master’s wife would ruin that trust and surely lead to harsh consequences. More importantly, he recognized that what makes sin sinful is that it is an immense evil committed against God (39:9). People who love God don’t need to be told to avoid sin; they instinctively hate sin because they don’t want to pierce the heart of the One who chose them and set his affection on them.
39:10-20 Unfortunately, Potiphar’s wife was relentless. She spoke to Joseph day after day, even though he kept rejecting her advances (39:10). Then one day, when no one was around, she grabbed him by his garment and gave her trademark line, Sleep with me (39:12). Joseph bolted, which was the right move. But, in doing so, he left his garment with her (39:13). So Potiphar’s wife flipped the script and spun a story about Joseph trying to rape her (39:14-18). This created a no-win situation for Joseph: no one else witnessed the event; his garment in her possession served as evidence; he was a foreigner; and most importantly, she was the boss’s wife. The resulting fallout was as predictable as it was unjust: Potiphar heard the story his wife told him (39:19), grew furious, and had [Joseph] thrown into prison (39:20).
39:21-23 Joseph’s situation seemed even worse than when he’d showed up in Egypt. Back then he was a slave, but at least he had a job. Now he was in prison. Nevertheless, in the midst of a horrid situation, the Lord was with Joseph (39:21). God wasn’t surprised by anything that happened to him. And before long, Joseph had gained such a good reputation that the warden put all the prisoners . . . under Joseph’s authority (39:22), making the prisoner the warden! This is just the kind of thing God can do when we trust him in our detours. He may not take us out of jail at our request, but he will come and join us in it. And living with God’s presence in the middle of jail offers a truer freedom than living without God anywhere else ever could.
40:1-2 In prison, Joseph came into contact with two other prisoners—the chief cupbearer and the chief baker (40:2). Since both the cupbearer and the baker handled Pharaoh’s food and drink, perhaps Pharaoh was concerned about an assassination attempt, since capital punishment was on the table (40:18-19, 22).
40:3-4 . It just so happened that the cupbearer and baker were put in custody in the house . . . where Joseph was confined (40:3). But what at first looks like a strange coincidence might have been intentional. It was the captain of the guards who assigned Joseph to these two men (40:4), and this term, “captain of the guards,” is different than the one used for the warden running the prison (see 39:21). That means it could refer to Potiphar. If that is the case, it’s possible Potiphar did not believe the charge his wife had brought against Joseph. Not only would that mean that he refrained from executing Joseph but also that he, knowing well Joseph’s managerial skills, personally placed other prisoners under Joseph’s control.
40:5-7 When we’re suffering, we tend to be self-absorbed. But God intends to use our suffering for the sake of others. Joseph could have been having a pity party while he waited on God to minister to him. Instead, he noticed that the cupbearer and baker looked distraught (40:6). He expressed concern for their emotional well-being, asking, Why do you look so sad today (40:7)? Even in his misery, Joseph was making time to minister to the hurting (see 2 Cor 1:3-7). And unbeknownst to him, by serving during his own suffering, Joseph was putting himself back on the path toward future blessing.
40:8 The problem for these two prisoners was the same—troubling dreams. Joseph immediately recognized that God was at work in arranging his encounter with the pair. He displayed confidence in God by reminding them that only God could interpret dreams. Most striking, however, is his confidence that God would use him to reveal the dreams’ meanings. In our suffering, a common temptation is to stop believing that God will use us. Joseph’s example prompts us not to fall into that wrong thinking.
40:9-13 The cupbearer relayed his dream first. Standing in front of a vine with three branches, he took some of the grapes from the vine, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand (9:10-11). This turned out to be good news for the cupbearer, as Joseph said the dream meant he would be restored to his position in just three days (40:12-13).
40:14-15 Joseph was no fool, so he tried to use the connections he had to get himself out of prison. When all goes well for you, he told the cupbearer, show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison (40:14). Joseph pointed out that he and the cupbearer were both wrongly convicted (40:15), so he must have been hopeful that his favor would soon lead to release.
40:16-19 The baker went next, explaining a dream in which three baskets of white bread were on his head, with birds swooping down to eat the bread (40:16-17). The verdict for the baker wasn’t favorable: in three days Pharaoh would hang the baker and the birds would eat the flesh off of his body (40:19).
40:20-23 Three days later, everything happened just as Joseph had explained (40:22). Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his original position (40:21) and hanged the chief baker (40:22). For a moment, it looked like Joseph was about to get his “get-out-of-jail-free card.” Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph (40:23). Joseph’s detour, then, wasn’t quite finished. This is how our circumstances go at times, too. Victory appears to be right on the horizon, then suddenly life takes a hard left and the joy we thought was coming disappears. Through his experiences, however, Joseph continued to trust God. Though people may leave us and forget us, God never will.
41:1 Between Joseph interpreting the dreams of the prisoners and his next chance to get out of jail, two years had passed. We know that Joseph was “thirty” when Pharaoh let him out of jail (41:46), which means there was a gap of thirteen years between Joseph’s initial dream and him living out his destiny. At the close of chapter 40, Joseph was twenty-eight years old and had been in a detour for eleven years already. Sitting in his dingy dungeon, he waited and waited for the knock on the door that would announce his freedom. But for two years, that knock never came.
Joseph’s life hadn’t panned out as he had intended, but God was still up to something. While Joseph waited for God to act in the prison, God was at work in someplace unexpected: the king’s bedroom. Pharaoh had a dream that he couldn’t figure out.
41:2-8 In the king’s dream, seven sick cows were eating seven healthy cows (41:2-4), and seven ugly heads of grain were eating seven healthy heads of grain (41:5-7). Pharaoh didn’t understand the vision, so he summoned all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Though he called in the professionals, no one could interpret the dreams for him (41:8).
This is a reminder that when God is setting something up for his glory, he won’t let human wisdom come up with an answer. As the apostle Paul would say centuries later, “God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). If we’re wise in the ways of the world, we may climb certain ladders of success; but eventually we’ll come across problems that only godly wisdom can solve. I’d rather be a fool to the world with God’s wisdom in my heart than the other way around.
41:9-14 The wise men couldn’t interpret the dreams, but their discussion was overheard by the cupbearer (41:9). The light bulb finally went off for him, and he realized he had left the interpreter of dreams languishing in prison. So the cupbearer told Pharaoh all about Joseph and his gift for dream interpretation, and Pharaoh sent for Joseph (41:10-14). For two years Joseph had waited, but when God was ready to move, he moved in a hurry. Sometimes when it seems that God isn’t doing anything at all, he will change our circumstances in a heartbeat. Of course, God is active all along. We simply aren’t aware of it, until it’s time for his purpose to be revealed—at a time when our development has been completed (see Ps 105:17-19).
41:15-16 Pharaoh told Joseph his predicament, and Joseph’s reply shows that he had been letting God work on him during his imprisonment. It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer (41:16). Few people would have cried foul if Joseph took sole credit for his dream interpretation gift. In fact, Pharaoh seemed to assume that the power was within Joseph (41:15). But Joseph was keeping God at the center of his life and central to his conversation. God’s presence had been his constant companion, so God’s preeminence was always on his mind.
41:17-31 Pharaoh recounted the two dreams to Joseph (41:17-24), who explained that both dreams mean the same thing (41:25). God was about to send seven years of great abundance (41:29) to Egypt—symbolized by the seven fat cows and seven healthy heads of grain—followed by seven years of famine (41:30)—symbolized by the thin cows and ugly grain. The famine would be so severe, Joseph warned, that the abundance in the land would not be remembered because of the famine (41:31).
41:32 Here Joseph pointed out a principle that is often true throughout Scripture—when God intends to do something, he will confirm his Word with two or three witnesses. In this case, since the dream was given twice to Pharaoh, Joseph knew the matter [had] been determined by God. Similarly, we may often wonder which way God is leading us. But when we feel Scripture speaking to our hearts and our brothers and sisters in Christ start to back up that message in unison, we can be sure that God is confirming his plan by repeating it.
41:33-36 Pharaoh had only asked Joseph for a little dream interpretation. Joseph dutifully gave it, but then he kept right on going, advising Pharaoh on how to handle the impending crisis. Joseph’s plan was to take a fifth of the harvest of the land during the rich years and to stockpile it as a reserve for the land during the seven years of famine (41:34-36). To make this massive undertaking work, though, someone savvy would have to oversee the task (41:33).
41:37-45 Pharaoh immediately recognized that Joseph was the man for the job. Not only did he have wisdom to see things spiritually, but he could also make right conclusions based on that wisdom (41:39). This led Pharaoh to elevate Joseph to become his second-in-command (41:40). With that privilege came enormous benefits: Joseph had an entire team of servants dedicated to helping him (41:43). He was given symbols of his exalted position—a signet ring with which he could sign in Pharaoh’s name as well as beautiful linen garments and gold jewelry (41:42). He was even given a wife (41:45). What a sudden change of circumstances! In a single day, he went from rags to riches, from the pit to the palace.
41:46-49 The seven years of abundance came (41:47), just as Joseph had predicted. So he began storing all the excess food in the land of Egypt to prepare for the coming famine (41:48). Evidently he excelled at this, because he soon had stored up grain in such abundance . . . that he stopped measuring it because it was beyond measure (41:49).
41:50-52 Even though Joseph had been given an Egyptian wife and an Egyptian name (41:45), and even though it had been thirteen years since he had seen his family, he did not forget his heritage. When his wife gave birth to two sons, Joseph gave them Hebrew names. The first, Manasseh, sounds like the Hebrew verb for “forget,” because God made Joseph forget his hardship (41:51). The second, Ephraim, sounds like the word “fruitful,” because God made him fruitful in the land of his affliction (41:52). Pharaoh may have been the hand that pulled Joseph out of prison, but Joseph looked past that hand to the loving arm of God, who was guiding him all along.
41:53-57 After the seven years of plenty, the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said (41:54). In Egypt alone there was food, so Egypt became the breadbasket of the world—and Joseph was in charge of selling food to people from every land (41:57), including the land where his family lived.
C. Family Reunion (42:1–47:31)
42:1-5 The famine extended to the land of Canaan, where Jacob and his sons still lived (42:5). Hearing that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob sent his sons to go down there and buy some so that they would not die (42:2). Jacob, however, did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers (42:4) because he didn’t trust the brothers to protect him. He had already lost Joseph under suspicious circumstances, and he refused to lose the other son of his beloved Rachel.
42:6-17 When Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt and bowed down before him (42:6), he immediately recognized them, but they did not recognize him (42:8). Joseph also saw in their actions the fulfillment of his dreams so many years before (42:9). After twenty years, Joseph had finally been exalted over all of his brothers. To test them and draw out more information, Joseph accused them four times of being spies sent to see the weakness of the land (42:9, 12, 14, 16).
In an ironic twist, Joseph detained his brothers in a prison, just as they had done in throwing him into a cistern (42:16-17). We aren’t sure what all of Joseph’s motives were: was he paying his brothers back? Trying to orchestrate contact with his younger brother? Attempting to drive his brothers to repent? Perhaps it was some combination of these. What we do know is that God was working through Joseph to bring the brothers to a place where he could use them. God was driving them to a place of repentance, which would ultimately lead to restoration.
42:18-24 After letting his brothers languish in prison for three days, Joseph kept Simeon in custody and sent the others home, charging them to return with Benjamin (42:19-20, 24). At this point, the brothers began to realize their guilt. Trouble has come to us, they said to one another. We saw [Joseph’s] deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen (42:21). They had ignored Joseph’s cry for help, and they saw that they were reaping a similar response during their cry for help against unjust accusations. Joseph, who was present while they discussed this, was able to understand their Hebrew language (though they didn’t realize it). Hearing his brothers express remorse overwhelmed him to the point of tears (42:23-24).
42:25-28 Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan with grain, just as they had requested, but he also secretly put each man’s silver back in his sack, and gave them provisions for their journey (42:25). When the brothers noticed that their money had been returned, their hearts sank, because now it really looked like they were spies up to no good (42:28).
42:29-38 Returning home without their brother Simeon, Jacob’s sons relayed all that had happened to them (42:29). When they mentioned the demand of the lord of the country that they must bring back their youngest brother, however, Jacob grew stubborn (42:33-36). He said, Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone (42:36). With two sons lost, Jacob had no desire to see something happen to Benjamin, his youngest. Even with Reuben swearing on the lives of his own two sons (42:37), Jacob dug in his heels: My son will not go down with you, lest you . . . bring my gray hairs down to Sheol in sorrow (42:38). God had begun to mold the hearts of Jacob’s sons, but Jacob was proving to be tougher clay.
43:1-7 As the famine dragged on, Jacob’s family soon used up the grain they had brought back from Egypt (43:2). Jacob instructed his sons to go get more, prompting Judah to remind him of Joseph’s words: You will not see me again unless your brother is with you (43:3). Jacob, greatly upset, began to wonder about the mysterious man with whom they were dealing in Egypt. He asked, Why did you tell the man that you had another brother? (43:6). Jacob was finding himself in a position of helplessness—the exact place where God wanted him. Often it’s when we have nowhere else to turn that we are finally willing to look to God for deliverance.
43:8-9 Judah stepped up to take responsibility for Benjamin: If I do not bring him back . . . I will be guilty before you forever (43:9). Interestingly, Judah was the man who spearheaded the conspiracy to sell Joseph into slavery in the first place. He was the impulsive man who slept with his own daughter-in-law and then hypocritically demanded her death. But clearly this was not the same Judah making so selfless a vow. God had been softening his heart over the last twenty years, shaping him into the sort of vessel that he could use.
43:10-14 Jacob reluctantly agreed to send his sons, Benjamin in tow, back to Egypt. He suggested that they take valuable local gifts—a little balsam and a little honey, aromatic gum and resin, pistachios and almonds (43:11)—to curry favor with Egypt’s demanding leader. He also sent twice as much silver as before (43:12), thus replacing the returned silver that Joseph could have claimed was stolen and providing money for more grain. But even though he sent them out with a prayer and a blessing, Jacob was patently pessimistic. He assumed that Benjamin would die (43:14).
43:15-23 When Joseph’s brothers returned, they were taken to Joseph’s personal house, a turn of events that hardly inspired any confidence in them (43:16-18). Approaching Joseph’s steward, they attempted to clear up the misunderstanding about the money (43:19-22). But the steward replied, Your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your bags (43:23). This suggests that Joseph’s faith must have spread to his staff, because here was an Egyptian servant invoking the name of the God of the Hebrews! Apparently Joseph had been talking about the Lord from the time he was a slave in Potiphar’s house right up until the present moment of prosperity. This begs the question, Are you speaking up about God in every moment of your life—in the moments of adversity as well as in the moments of prosperity?
43:24-31 Simeon was delivered to his brothers, and together they prepared for the meal (43:24-25). When Joseph saw Benjamin for the first time, he couldn’t contain his emotion for his brother, and he was about to weep (43:30). Knowing that to do so would cause suspicion, though, Joseph rushed away until he could regain composure (43:31).
43:32-34 It must have been a shock to Joseph’s brothers to see that in the seating arrangements, they were seated . . . in order by age, from the firstborn to the youngest (43:33). How could this Egyptian ruler have known their birth order?
44:1-12 As Joseph’s brothers left Egypt, Joseph arranged for one final test. He had his steward put his cup, the silver one, at the top of the youngest one’s bag (44:2). In this move, he was framing Benjamin for theft to see whether his brothers would defend him. The steward, following Joseph’s orders, overtook his brothers and charged them with stealing the cup of his master (44:5). The brothers denied it, but of course, when the bags were searched, the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack (44:12). The penalty for such an act would have been Benjamin becoming Joseph’s slave (44:10).
44:13-16 The immediate response of Benjamin’s brothers indicates that they were no longer the heartless, cruel, deceitful men they had once been. When Benjamin was exposed as the thief, they tore their clothes (44:13), showing intense grief. Not only did they grieve, but they also refused to abandon Benjamin to his plight. The steward would have been content to return with Benjamin, but the brothers each . . . loaded his donkey and returned to the city (44:13), signaling to their youngest sibling that they were in the mess together. Even when Joseph repeated his intentions to imprison only Benjamin, they offered themselves as willing slaves in solidarity (44:16).
44:17-34 Joseph kept up his poker face for a while, insisting that Benjamin must stay as his slave (44:17). At this point, Judah once again moved to the forefront. He had already stepped up to lead his brothers by promising their father to bring Benjamin back alive (44:32). At this point he led them by giving an impassioned plea for Joseph to show mercy, both for Benjamin’s sake and for the sake of his father Jacob (44:34).
The pinnacle of Judah’s appeal—the proof that he had truly experienced a change of heart—was the staggering offer he made to remain here as [his] lord’s slave, in place of the boy (44:33). Once Judah had been so bereft of virtue that he thought nothing of sacrificing his brother’s life for his own convenience; now he was willing to lay down his own life so another brother could be free. The character transformation was complete, and God was ready to carry out the next step in his plan.
45:1-3 Joseph couldn’t take the suspense any longer, so he commanded, Send everyone away from me (45:1). Then, alone with his brothers, he revealed his identity (which may have included revealing his circumcision and, thus, confirming his descent from Abraham). He also asked about their father (45:3). Joseph had been thinking about this moment for weeks, so he was ready to have the reunion. But his brothers weren’t as prepared! They sat in stunned silence, terrified in his presence (45:3). Joseph, the brother they had intended to kill, was now standing before them with all the power in the world. And to their surprise, he was extending not vengeance but mercy. (May we follow his example.)
45:4-8 Joseph displayed varsity-level maturity next. Though he’d been imprisoned by his brothers without cause, he was able to see the hand of God in that evil thing the brothers had done. He said, God sent me ahead of you to preserve life (45:5). The terrible string of events had all led Joseph to his position of privilege just in time to save the lives of tens of thousands, and he had noticed the connection (45:7-8).
Think about it: had Joseph gotten his way at any point along this journey, he might have stopped God’s plan. Had he not been sold into slavery, he wouldn’t have been in Egypt. Had he not been falsely accused in Potiphar’s house, he wouldn’t have been in the jail. Had he not been in the jail, he wouldn’t have met Pharaoh’s servants. Had the cupbearer remembered him and had him released earlier, he wouldn’t have been in a place where he could be easily summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. If any one of the links in this chain were broken, famine would have overtaken the land, killing countless people, including Joseph and the rest of his family. All the promises God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and even Jacob would’ve come to nothing.
Joseph’s entire life demonstrated the truth that Paul declared, “All things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). When God doesn’t intervene in your life the way you want and in the moment you want, it may be that he is working, behind the scenes, to accomplish in his perfect timing something so much bigger and so much better than you could ever imagine.
45:9-13 Joseph told his brothers to return quickly to their father and give him the news (45:9). He invited Jacob to settle in the land of Goshen with all of his children . . . grandchildren, flocks, herds, and everything else (45:10). Thus Jacob and also Joseph’s brothers came under Joseph’s authority and care, just as God had long ago promised Joseph that they would.
45:14-15 Full of emotion, Joseph and his brothers were reunified. Both Joseph and Benjamin wept (45:14), and Joseph proved his renewed intimacy with his brothers by offering each one a kiss (45:15). It had taken twenty-two years, but Joseph and his brothers were finally reconciled.
45:16-23 The reunion was so exciting that even Pharaoh wanted to get involved. Out of gratitude to Joseph, he offered his entire family the best of the land of Egypt and the richness of the land (45:18). He also arranged for their transportation, so that the large caravan could make the long journey with all of their belongings (45:19-21). Jacob’s family, seemingly on the cusp of starvation, had become fabulously wealthy in a moment.
45:24 Just before the journey, Joseph gave his brothers one command: Don’t argue on the way. The unity they had just achieved had taken decades to accomplish, and Joseph did not want to see it undone by quarrels over who was most responsible for the negative events of the past. He encouraged his brothers to move forward in their newfound unity rather than peering backward into the sinful disputes that had fractured their lives. We too are quick to resurrect old quarrels and remind each other of past sins, but God speaks to us a bold word of encouragement through this story: you are all fellow travelers and fellow sinners; don’t argue on the way through life.
45:25-28 Jacob, the last family member to learn about Joseph, was stunned and did not believe the report at first (45:26). But eventually the testimony of his sons, combined with the phenomenal gifts sent from Egypt, convinced him. And his spirit . . . revived (45:27). God’s plan, when hidden from our eyes, can often lead us to despair. But if we can hold out until God is prepared to reveal what he is doing, our spirits will be revived. Who knows what reunions, reconciliations, and renewals God has in store for those who trust him?
46:1-7 Even though Jacob would have been thrilled to travel to Egypt and see Joseph, there must have been a question in the back of his mind: What about the promised land? Would God bring his people back to Canaan if they left, en masse, for Egypt? Knowing Jacob’s anxieties, God appeared to Jacob in a vision to reassure him. The journey to Egypt would fulfill part of his promise, making Jacob into a great nation there (46:3). At the appointed time, God would bring them back (46:4). And in the meantime, God promised to be with Jacob for the journey (46:4). Armed with God’s presence and a renewal of God’s promise, Jacob was able to make the trek with hope.
46:8-27 What follows here is a list of Jacob’s descendants at the time of his journey to Egypt. Each of Jacob’s sons had a bundle of sons of their own, so that the entire family numbered seventy persons (46:27). God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky was already on its way to fruition. This was an enormous family by any measure. But the specific number seventy would have been significant as well. In Hebrew culture, the number seven indicated completion and fullness. In pointing out that Jacob had a family of seventy, the author hints to us that Jacob’s family was fulfilling the promise that God had made.
46:28-30 After an absence of twenty-two years, Joseph was reunited with his father Jacob. Joseph threw his arms around him, and wept for a long time (46:29). Jacob was overcome with emotion as well, exclaiming that he was ready to die now because he had seen Joseph’s face (46:30). This reunion once again confirmed to Jacob that God’s promises were good and dependable, even when circumstances had seemed to threaten them.
46:31-34 Joseph gave his family a brief lesson in cross-cultural communication, helping them know how to interact with Pharaoh. Specifically, he encouraged them to emphasize not only that they were shepherds—since all shepherds are detestable to Egyptians—but also that they had raised livestock from their youth (46:34). Joseph hoped to acquire for his family the land near Goshen, which was suitable for raising sheep and cattle.
47:1-6 Joseph’s family met Pharaoh; they asked to settle in the land of Goshen; and Pharaoh agreed (47:4-6). God had sent Joseph ahead to save his family and prepare a place for them; here God was fulfilling his promise and settling Jacob’s family in the land.
47:7-12 Jacob’s brief audience with Pharaoh hints at the fulfillment of another aspect of God’s covenant with Abraham. The promise had three parts: (1) multiplying Abraham’s offspring, (2) giving them the promised land, and (3) blessing all the families of the earth through them (see Gen 12:1-3). Jacob’s family had already settled in the land. They had multiplied phenomenally. Here Jacob blessed Pharaoh as a firstfruits fulfillment of God’s intention to bless all the nations of the world (47:7) through this line.
The direction of this blessing is staggering, and it displays Jacob’s deep faith. Pharaoh sat on his throne, thinking that he was ruling over the world. He should have been the one bestowing blessings. But Jacob knew better: Jacob saw that in God’s economy, he had the greater wealth; in God’s kingdom, he had the true position of privilege.
47:13-26 As the famine dragged on, the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan were exhausted (47:13). Under Joseph’s authority, the people were saved from starvation and Pharaoh’s treasury was filled to the brim with silver (47:14). Eventually the people of the region ran out of money, so Joseph began to barter for their livestock. In short order, all of the horses, the flocks of sheep, the herds of cattle, and the donkeys in the entire region belonged to Joseph (47:17). The famine dragged on for years more, so the people then began to offer their very land in exchange for food (47:19). In the end, because of Joseph’s wisdom, he acquired all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh (47:20), asking in return only that the people provide a tax of a fifth of their produce, a practice that held for hundreds of years (47:24, 26).
47:27-31 As Jacob neared death, he charged Joseph, Do not bury me in Egypt (47:29). He remembered the promises of God and wanted his bones to rest where his ancestors’ did—in the promised land (47:30). Joseph, swearing with a solemn oath, agreed to Jacob’s request (47:31).
D. The Blessings of Jacob and the Promises of God (48:1–50:26)
48:1-12 The time came for Jacob’s life to end. Joseph brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (48:1), so that Jacob would give them a final blessing (48:9). Recalling the special place that Rachel, Joseph’s mother, held in his life, Jacob decided to double Joseph’s inheritance accordingly. In saying that Ephraim and Manasseh belong to [him] just as Reuben and Simeon do (48:5), Jacob expressed his desire for each son to receive a portion of the inheritance equal to that of the other true brothers. Thus the twelve portions became thirteen, and Joseph—once again the son of honor—would receive the double portion usually reserved for the firstborn.
It is important to remember that Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph while he was in Egypt. Yet Jacob made it clear that both were to be treated as though they were Jacob’s sons; therefore, they were to receive an inheritance in the promised land. The claim to the inheritance of Jacob was not a matter of skin color, but instead a matter of lineage. The critical question was, “Who was your father?” not “What color is your skin?”
48:13-20 Joseph positioned his two sons so that Manasseh, the older, would receive the more prominent blessing from Jacob’s right hand (48:13). Much to Joseph’s shock and disagreement (48:17-18), Jacob switched his hands so that Ephraim, the younger, would receive the firstborn blessing (48:14). It is amusing that Joseph, of all people, would be surprised by this departure from worldly tradition. His father and grandfather were the younger brothers, receiving the blessing and inheritance in place of the firstborn sons in their households. And Joseph himself had ten brothers older than he, yet God raised him to a position of distinction. Jacob was simply continuing the pattern of reversal that God had used all throughout the history of the Jewish patriarchs, proving that God’s ways are not ours.
Jacob was the first person in Scripture to say that God . . . has been my shepherd all my life (48:15). Hundreds of years later, King David would expand on this imagery in writing Psalm 23, but David certainly didn’t invent the idea. Jacob had spent decades tending sheep—feeding them, cleaning them, defending them against predators, binding them up when they were injured, searching for them when they wandered. He knew how much tenderness and devotion it required to care for sheep. And by the end of his life, Jacob had come to see God through that light. He realized that in all of his wanderings, God had been tenderly and devotedly providing for him, defending him, healing him, and searching for him.
Jacob bestowed on Ephraim and Manasseh two blessings, reminding us of the wonderful chance that God offers grandparents today to speak hope and life into their own offspring’s lives. The lesser blessing, that they grow to be numerous within the land (48:16), is the sort of blessing that we all inherently want. It’s a prayer for material prosperity. And God, in his faithfulness, would be quick to answer Jacob’s prayer. But the greater blessing that Jacob gave was that they be called by [his] name and the names of [his] fathers Abraham and Isaac (48:16). Material blessings come and go; in the end, we can’t actually keep any of them. But to be included in the family of God is a blessing that bears fruit for eternity.
48:21-22 Before calling in the rest of the brothers, Jacob reminded Joseph once again of God’s promise. Even though the family would grow numerous in Egypt, God would deliver them back to the land of their fathers (48:21). Israel was supposed to interpret their coming years in Egypt as only a detour, much like Joseph’s. God had not changed their final destination. He would deliver them to Canaan.
49:1-2 Jacob then called his sons to his bedside to tell them about the days to come (49:1). Jacob’s blessing was distinct from that of Isaac and Abraham before him. Isaac and Abraham passed on God’s promise to their children, but Jacob went beyond that. He issued prophetic words about the future of each son, reflecting the destinies that their tribes would live out.
49:3-4 The first three sons were rejected from being able to lead the messianic line. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn (49:3), would have been the most natural candidate for the job, but he disqualified himself by defiling his father’s bed (49:4). Years earlier, Reuben had slept with one of his father’s concubines (35:22). That one adulterous decision came back to haunt him, keeping him from carrying the torch of God’s messianic promise.
49:5-7 Jacob said of the next two brothers, Simeon and Levi (49:5), that they were men of anarchy and violence. In their anger they kill men, and on a whim they hamstring oxen (49:6), Jacob said, remembering their deceitful attack against the inhabitants of Shechem (34:24-29). They may have consoled themselves that they were doing right because they defended the honor of their sister, but Jacob recognized that their motives were mixed. They responded in violence because they cherished violence.
49:8-10 Joseph was Jacob’s favorite, and I think he would have been Jacob’s personal choice to continue the messianic line. But God had chosen Judah—in spite of his failings—to father the line of kings leading to Christ, as the scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes (49:10). He would be the new leader of his brothers, full of power and majesty like a lion (49:8-9). From Judah would come the kingly line of David and Solomon and all of their descendants. More importantly, Jesus would be called the “Lion from the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5). He is the one whose right it is to carry the scepter throughout eternity, and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him (Gen 49:10).
49:11-12 The wine and milk imagery that Jacob chose to express Judah’s reign (and, by extension, Jesus’s reign) was meant to communicate richness and plenty. As the biblical storyline would clarify later, these promises would be fulfilled in part in the promised land, but they would await final fulfillment in the millennial kingdom of Jesus in the age to come.
49:13 Jacob continued going down the line, addressing his two sons by Leah, Zebulun and Issachar. Zebulun will live by the seashore and will be a harbor for ships, indicating the future trade of this son’s descendants. When the people of Israel would return to the promised land and apportion the land, the tribe of Zebulun would be given land near the ocean, and they would make their living on the sea.
49:14-15 Issachar, whose tribal inheritance was not far from Zebulun’s, would not fare well during the return to Canaan. Issachar leaned his shoulder to bear a load and became a forced laborer (49:15), a prophecy about the tribe’s approach to the native inhabitants of the promised land. Even though Issachar had strength enough to drive the people out as God promised (49:14), they grew comfortable living alongside them. And what began as a seemingly harmless partnership between the groups eventually led to Issachar’s slavery.
49:16-17 Jacob, finishing the blessings for the sons of Leah, moved on to the sons from his concubines. Dan, which sounds like the Hebrew word for “has judged,” will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel (49:16). In their best moments, the people of Dan were to provide justice for the rest of the nation. In reality, however, they proved to be treacherous, like a snake by the road, a viper beside the path, that bites the horses’ heels so that its rider falls (49:17). During Israel’s conquest of the promised land, Dan quickly gave up on the land to which God had called them (see Judg 2:3-4), leaving the land to the Philistines. Worse than that, Dan appears to be the first tribe to plummet into full-scale idolatry during that same time (see Judg 18).
49:18 In the midst of his blessings, Jacob interrupted himself to remind his sons of their need to follow the Lord and be dependent on him. Even with so many of God’s promises fulfilled, Jacob knew that he still needed to wait for [God’s] salvation. In this life, Christians never graduate from faith, and faith is seen in those moments when we hope for what is unseen.
49:19-21 Jacob’s other three sons by concubines—Gad, Asher, and Naphtali—were given rapid-fire prophecies. Gad would be attacked by raiders (49:19), indicating the constant conflict that the tribe would experience. Asher, whose name means “blessed,” would live a life worthy of the name, with rich food and royal delicacies (49:20). Naphtali would be a free people, dwelling in the mountains to the north (49:21).
49:22-26 Last of all, Jacob came to the sons of Rachel. Unsurprisingly, Jacob spent a great deal of time blessing his favorite son Joseph. As in his life, so in his tribe’s future, Joseph would be a fruitful vine beside a spring (49:22), not only succeeding for his own sake, but also blessing the lives of others. Joseph’s tribe would continue to be one of the most prosperous of the twelve, victorious in battle and overflowing with blessings (49:25-26).
49:27-28 Jacob concluded his blessing with the youngest son, Benjamin. Though Jacob favored Benjamin personally, it appears that the future of this tribe would be a mixed one. Jacob characterized the Benjaminites like a wolf that tears his prey and divides the plunder (49:27). They would be a tribe with a violent spirit, which was seen perhaps most vividly in their two most famous descendants. King Saul, Israel’s first king, was a Benjaminite; so too was the persecutor-turned-apostle Paul.
49:29-33 Jacob understood that he was about to be gathered to [his] people (49:29)—that is, he was about to die. So he instructed Joseph to bury him, not in Egypt, but in the land of promise, with [his] fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Heth-ite (49:29). Notably, he finally gave honor to his first wife, Leah, asking to be buried with her (49:31) rather than with his beloved Rachel. In death Leah found the honor that so often eluded her in life.
50:1-13 Jacob died and was buried as he had requested. Joseph arranged it all, ensuring that Jacob was embalmed after the style of Egyptian royalty (50:3). The entire nation mourned for Jacob seventy days (50:3), a phenomenal show of respect that proves how dearly beloved Joseph was among the Egyptians. When the days of mourning were over (50:4), Joseph obeyed his father’s dying wishes, bringing his body back to the land of Canaan for burial (50:5). The funeral procession was very impressive (50:9), which is an understatement: with all Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt joining with all Joseph’s family (50:7-8), the scene would have been jaw-dropping. In fact, it was such a spectacular caravan that the Canaanite inhabitants of the land renamed one of their cities because of it (50:11).
50:14-15 Joseph’s brothers had happily received the gifts and the land from their younger brother, but Jacob’s death proved that they were still uneasy with the entire situation. After Joseph buried his father (50:14), his brothers realized that one of the last impediments to Joseph taking any vengeance on them had just disappeared. Perhaps, they thought, Joseph is holding a grudge against us. Maybe he was merely waiting to strike until after their father was gone. If so, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him (50:15).
50:16-18 The brothers were scared, so they did what many of us do in our fear: they lied. They sent a message to Joseph, claiming that their father had said, Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin (50:17). They even reverted to the same posture they assumed when they first came to Egypt, bowing down before Joseph and saying, We are your slaves (50:18).
50:19-20 Joseph held the highest position in the world—other than Pharaoh, and Pharaoh would certainly have looked the other way if he had acted against his treacherous brothers. Now his father was dead, so there was no one else who would have pleaded with him to stop. Yet Joseph responded with one of the most profound statements of faith in the entire Bible. You planned evil against me; God planned it for good (50:20).
We often give people too much credit. Yes, what Joseph’s brothers did was horribly wrong. But even through their sinful actions God was orchestrating something bigger than they were. They had small-scale evil intentions, but God was overriding their evil for eternal good. Joseph recognized that the detours of his life were part of God’s providential plan. How could he possibly respond in anger when God had used their terrible acts to deliver him to such a lofty position? Please note the order: evil, God, good. When we experience unjust evil, we must look for God who is able to bring about incredible good.
50:21 Joseph responded to his brothers with forgiveness, promising to take care of them and their children. The very brothers who threw him in the pit, he comforted . . . and spoke kindly to. Joseph had discovered the secret of forgiving your enemies: you need the right view of God. Throughout his tumultuous journey, Joseph believed that God was with him and guiding him to an intentional destiny. And if God was guiding the process then, Joseph was content to let God guide it now.
Vengeance belongs to God, and the longer we cherish an unforgiving attitude in our hearts, the more we harm ourselves. Unforgiveness acts like a leash that keeps snapping us back, painfully, to the past. Only when we choose to let God be the God of vengeance (and take ourselves off that lofty throne) does the leash disappear, allowing us to march forward toward the destiny God has in store for us. God’s destiny for us will always bring blessing and benefit to others.
50:22-26 Joseph ended his days in peace, living among his brothers (50:22) and watching his family grow (50:23). When the time came for him to die, he remembered the promises made to his forefathers, that God would bring him to the land he swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (50:24). Thus he made his brothers promise to carry [his] bones to the promised land (50:25).
And that’s exactly what they did. Years later, after the Lord rescued the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery, entered a covenant with them, disciplined them in the wilderness for their sins, made them victorious in battle, and delivered the promised land to them, the Israelites buried Joseph (see Exod 13:19; Josh 24:32).