A Refusal to Trust God

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:6-12 ESV

The very fact that a remnant of the nation of Israel was still living in the land of Canaan was a sign of God’s covenantal commitment. He remained faithful to keep all the promises He had made to the descendants of Abraham. Despite their centuries-long abuse of His grace and constant refusal to keep their commitments to keep His law, God had not completely wiped them off the face of the earth. He had punished them by sending the Babylonians to conquer and capture them, but He had not abandoned them. In fact, He had been the one to make their unlikely return to the land of Judah a reality. Yet here He was again, having to call His rebellion people to repent and return to Him. God desired to bless them, but could not do so as long as they remained unfaithful and unwilling to confess their sins and repent.

Their stubbornness and self-righteousness are evidenced by the question they posed to God.

“How shall we return?” – Malachi 3:7 ESV

In a sense, they were declaring their innocence. How could they return when they had never really abandoned God? When King Cyrus of Persia had decreed that the Israelites could return to the land of Judah, they had been part of the remnant that had agreed to do so. They had been part of the brave few who had made the difficult journey home and spent years rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. It had been their hard work that had caused the temple to rise from the rubble, and it was their sacrifices and offerings that had helped to reinstitute the sacrificial system. So, how could God demand that they return? What more could they do?

But God knew they were simply going through the motions. Their hearts were not in it. They had proven themselves to be unfaithful, showering their affections on the false gods of the neighboring nations. They had allowed their sons and daughters to intermarry with non-Israelites, in direct violation of a divine prohibition. And these unholy unions had caused the people of Israel to embrace the gods of the Canaanites. The result was syncretism, a toxic blend of religious beliefs that resulted in a watered-down and ineffective spiritual experience. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, treating Yahweh as one more lover among many. And, to make matters worse, God accused them of theft.

“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. – Malachi 3:8 ESV

They boldly denied the accusation by questioning the accuracy of God’s statement. In their minds, they had done nothing to offend God. They had continued to offer the mandatory sacrifices and bring the appropriate offerings as the law required. But God disagreed. When presenting their mandatory tithes and offerings, they had regularly short-changed God by offering far less than He had required. This all goes back to the commands God had given the people of Israel long before they had settled in the land of Canaan. Just prior to their crossing of the Jordan River, Moses had delivered to the people God’s laws concerning the offerings of firstfruits and tithes.

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. – Deuteronomy 26:1-2 ESV

God had assured them that Canaan was fruitful and abundant, a land flowing with milk and honey. But they were not to put their trust in the land or its productivity. They were to trust in the God who had fed them with quail and manna all during the years they had wandered in the wilderness. He would be their source of provision. By offering Him the first of their harvest, they would be displaying their complete dependence upon Him. And God would use these resources to provide for those in need among them.

“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. – Deuteronomy 26:12-13 ESV

Every third year, they were to dedicate the first of all their produce to God. And they were to do it as a form of worship, expressing gratitude for all that God had done for them. As they placed their gifts before the altar, they were to declare the undeniable reality of God’s faithful.

“‘…he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 26:9-10 ESV

And yet, God states that the people of Israel had been robbing Him of their tithes and offerings. They had been keeping back what was rightfully His. And as a result, “the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” were having to do without. God’s ordained system of social welfare had been disrupted by their disobedience and greed. Had they obeyed God’s commands, they would have been a model community that displayed mutual love and care. There was to be no needy or neglected in Israel. Since God was their ultimate provider, no one would do without. And God calls them to put Him to the test and see if His promises will not prove true.

“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10 ESV

All they had to do was obey. If they would simply keep the Lord’s command and do as they were told, they would experience the unprecedented and unparalleled blessings of God.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:11 ESV

The land was fruitful because God made it so. The soil was perfect for raising crops because God had deemed it so. But He could also bring drought, famine, and pestilence upon the land. God could bring enemies against Israel who would their farms and plunder their flocks and herds and empty their grain stores. But God preferred to bless them, and He would as long as they faithfully kept their covenant commitments.

And God reminded the people that their faithfulness would have far-reaching implications. Not only would the needy among them be properly cared for, but the nations would look on in amazement as they witnessed the supernatural blessings that Israel enjoyed.

“Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:12 ESV

Obedience was intended to result in divine blessing, which was to serve as a witness to the nations. God wanted to abundantly prosper His people so that the greatness of His name might be proclaimed throughout the world. As His chosen people, they had been set apart so that they might display His glory. As they faithfully followed His will and lived according to His exacting standards, they would be blessed by God and give indisputable evidence that He was the one and only God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Beginning, Not the End

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV

Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.

Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a  leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.

Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.

But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT

This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT

That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.

A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT

Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! – Exodus 12:36 NLT

The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.

But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT

Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Famine and Fruitfulness

20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” 26 So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s.

27 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.

29 And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” 31 And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed. – Genesis 47:20-31 ESV

With his family comfortably settled in the land of Goshen, Joseph returned to his duties of stewarding the well-being of Pharaoh’s empire. Throughout the year seven years of famine, he used the grain he had stockpiled during the seven years of plenty to feed the starving citizens of the country. But didn’t set up a welfare state. Instead, he sold the grain to the people. And when their money ran out, he traded grain for livestock. When their supply of livestock was exhausted, the people were allowed to trade in their land holdings for grain, amassing an extensive real estate empire for the state. Then, when the people no longer had any money to spend, livestock to sell, or land to trade, they were left with only one option: To become the indentured servants of Pharaoh. And while this may appear as an egregious example of government overreach, Joseph was actually using the government’s administrative capabilities to protect and preserve the people and the nation.

Joseph allowed the people to continue living on the land, raising crops as they had done before. But he imposed a 20 percent tax on all agricultural production. This levy, while high, would allow Pharaoh’s administration to continue their food assistance program throughout the remaining years of the famine. The people were allowed to keep four-fifths of whatever they harvested, but the remaining one-fifth went into the royal granaries. And the people did not see any of this as a land grab or a form of government-led extortion. They were grateful to be alive.

“You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” – Genesis 47:25 ESV

Yet, it should not be overlooked that, while the people of Egypt were slowly handing over their resources, lands, and freedoms to the state, the people of Israel were enjoying the blessings of God in Goshen.

Meanwhile, the people of Israel settled in the region of Goshen in Egypt. There they acquired property, and they were fruitful, and their population grew rapidly. – Genesis 47:27 NLT

It seems that the Israelites were able to take advantage of the dire situation in Egypt by buying up land that their Egyptian neighbors were being forced to sell. All during the famine, Joseph provided Jacob and the rest of his family with food. Jacob had entered Egypt a very wealthy man, and he used his formidable resources to accumulate a growing real estate portfolio in Egypt. As his family grew, so did his land holdings. God was fulfilling the promise He had made to Jacob years earlier.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

At that time, Jacob had no idea that the fruitfulness and multiplication of his family would take place in Egypt and not Canaan. But that had been God’s plan all along. Even Joseph understood that reality. Everything that had happened in his life had been according to the preordained, sovereign will of God Almighty. He would later emphasize that fact to his brothers.

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” – Genesis 50:19-21 ESV

So, Jacob’s migration to Egypt had been God’s will. He had planned it, orchestrated it, and was now fulfilling it in real-time. But Jacob would not live long enough to see Canaan again. In fact, none of his sons, including Joseph would ever set foot in the promised land again. Jacob would live an additional 17 years, dying at the ripe old age of 147. But as he looked around him, he could see the signs of God’s blessings everywhere. He had lived to see his long-lost son restored to his side. He was the proud patriarch of a rapidly growing clan living in a fruitful land that God had miraculously provided. And while he had never owned an acre of land in Canaan, he had been able to take title to a large portion of the land in Egypt’s rich Nile delta.

But Jacob never saw Egypt as his home. To the end of his life, he still retained his love and longing for the land of Canaan. He had not forgotten God’s promise to provide the land of Canaan as his inheritance. And, while he knew he would never make it back there alive, he made Joseph swear that his body would be returned to Canaan for burial, in the very same plot of land that Abraham had bought to bury Sarah. Even in death, he wanted to be associated with the land of promise. And Joseph swore an oath to fulfill his father’s dying wish.

For Jacob, Egypt was simply a temporary, but necessary diversion in the journey toward God’s fulfillment of the promise. Whether or not he knew the details that God had shared with his grandfather, Abraham, is unclear. In Genesis 15:13, Moses records God’s announcement to Abraham that his descendants would spend 400 years in a foreign land. But at the end of that end lengthy period of time, they would return to the land of Canaan. And whether Jacob had a four-century delay in mind, he knew that the day would come when God returned His people to their land.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Land of “Evil” and Blessing

Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. 

13 Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. 15 And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” 16 And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. 18 And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” – Genesis 47:7-19 ESV

Joseph settled his family in the land of Goshen, which was located in the northern-most region of Egypt. As the text reveals, it was also known as  “the land of Rameses.” It seems likely that Moses used this name because his readers would have been more familiar with that designation. Rameses was the name of a modern city in the region and it means, “Ra [the sun god] has created it.” Moses wanted his readers to understand exactly where their ancestors had settled with they first entered Egypt. The mention of Rameses gave them a much clearer idea of where Jacob and his family began what would become a four-century long stay for the people of Israel.

Moses provides a brief description of what was probably Jacob’s only encounter with Pharaoh. Due to his son’s position of high rank in Pharaoh’s court, Jacob was given an audience before this powerful world leader and Pharaoh treated Jacob with dignity and respect. When he inquired as to Jacob’s age, the patriarch stated, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years” (Genesis 47:9 ESV).

It’s fascinating to consider why Moses included this verbal exchange between the all-powerful Pharaoh and the weak and elderly father of Joseph. One man was the epitome of power and influence, while the other was in the latter stages of his life and completely dependent upon his son’s kindness and Pharaoh’s mercies. And when Jacob answered Pharaoh’s question, it’s interesting to note the specific words he used. Jacob stated that, while he had lived to be 130-years old, “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9 ESV). In comparison to his father and grandfather, Jacob considered himself to be a youngster. Abraham had died at the ripe old age of 175, and Isaac had died at 180. 

But Jacob referred to his relatively short life as having been “evil.” The Hebrew word he used is רַע (raʿ), which, in the Scriptures, is most often translated as “evil,” but can also mean painful and full of sorrow. But it seems ironic that Jacob used this particular Hebrew word to describe his life on earth because it was very similar to the name of the Egyptian god for whom the region known as Rameses was named.

“Ra is the Egyptian word for ‘sun’. As a solar deity, Ra embodied the power of the sun but was also thought to be the sun itself, envisioned as the great god riding in his barge across the heavens throughout the day and descending into the underworld at sunset.

“According to scholar Richard H. Wilkinson, Ra is “arguably Egypt’s most important deity” not only because of his association with the life-giving sun but also through his influence on the development of later gods

“He was known as the Self-Created-One who appears in creation myths as the deity (interchangeably known as Atum) who stands on the primordial mound amidst the swirling waters of chaos and establishes order, gives birth to the other gods, and creates the world.” – Mark, Joshua J.. “Ra (Egyptian God).” World History Encyclopedia

It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that Jacob described his life on earth as having been raʿ or evil, and the name for the land in which he was about to relocate was named for an Egyptian god named Ra. And each word is pronounced “rah,” in either Hebrew or Egyptian. Was Jacob using this word on purpose, or did Moses choose to use it in order to express an opinion to his readers.

There may be a bit of foreshadowing taking place. Moses knew the rest of the story and, in choosing to use this word, he may have been hinting that the coming days the Israelites would spend in Rameses (Ra [the sun god] has created it) would also be filled with evil. While Goshen would prove to be a hospitable sight in the early days of Jacob’s sojourn, Moses appears to be telegraphing that the good graces of Pharaoh would soon turn evil. The land that Ra had created would eventually become inhospitable and unwelcoming.

But this rather short aside by Moses is followed by his description of Jacob’s settlement in the land.

Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded – Genesis 47:11 ESV

And having successfully relocated his family to Goshen, Joseph ensured that they had plenty of food to eat because the famine was far from over.

In the following verses, Moses shifts his attention on the leadership skills of Joseph, outlining his ongoing plan to provide for the ongoing needs of the people of Egypt while successfully enhancing the power and wealth of Pharaoh.

It is essential to remember that the famine was widespread. Egypt was no better off than Canaan, but because of Joseph had been blessed by God and equipped with divinely inspired leadership, he had been able to set up a strategy that took advantage of the seven years of fruitfulness that had preceded the seven years of famine. He had overseen the creation of a vast supply network of storehouses filled with grain. So, when the famine came and no one was able to grow crops, the people could come and buy grain from Pharaoh’s well-stocked granaries.

Moses goes out of his way to describe the gravity of the situation.

…there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe… – Genesis 47:13 ESV

But because of Joseph’s ingenuity and planning, the people were able to purchase all the grain they needed, with the profits going directly into Pharaoh’s royal treasury. God was blessing the nations just as He had promised to Abraham, and He was doing it through Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was blessing Pharaoh, who worshiped the false god, Ra.

According to the World History Encyclopedia, “Ra’s presence on earth was recognized by sunlight and the growth of crops as well as the changing seasons.” And yet, the survival of the Egyptians was based on the good graces of the Joseph’s God, the true creator of heaven and earth. Ra had proved incapable of sustaining the food supply of the very people who worshiped and offered sacrifices to him. But the God of Joseph had managed to provide more than enough food to feed the people of Egypt, with plenty left over to meet the needs of Jacob’s family.

As the years passed and the famine continued, the people eventually ran out of money, so they were forced to exchange their livestock for grain. When the famine failed to end, they were left with nothing to trade except their land and their own bodies. Desperate for food, they essentially sold themselves into servitude to Pharaoh.

What’s fascinating to consider is that, all the while the Egyptians were exhausting their savings, selling of all their livestock, and sacrificing their land and their freedom in order to survive, Joseph was caring for the needs of Jacob and his family. Their livestock and land remained their own. They were never required to pay for a single ounce of grain. So, they prospered and their flocks flourished while everyone else around them was forced into penury and servitude.

The people of Egypt, in a desperate attempt to survive the relentless effects of the famine, relinquished all rights to their property,  possessions, and personal rights.

Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” – Genesis 47:19 ESV

And one can only imagine how they felt about the Israelites who were prospering in the land of Goshen, which had been created by their god, Ra.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Little Is Much When God Is In It

1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. 11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. 14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three.

16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons.

19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 20 And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. 21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all.

23 The son of Dan: Hushim. 24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all.

26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. – Genesis 46:1-27 ESV

As Jacob and his family began their journey from Canaan to Egypt, it must have been a bitter-sweet moment for this aging patriarch. While he must have been ecstatic at the thought of seeing his long-lost son, Joseph, it could not have been easy for him to leave behind the land that had been promised by God to his father and grandfather. The land of Canaan was supposed to be his inheritance and that of his children. But it had been devastated by a famine and was no longer capable of sustaining Jacob’s growing family. He really had no other choice but to leave Canaan behind and accept Pharaoh’s generous, yet unexpected, offer. So, motivated by the promise of good land and the prospect of being reunited with Joseph, Jacob and his family set out.

But Jacob made one last stop before crossing the southern border of Canaan and entering the wilderness of the Negev. He instructed his son to lead the caravan to Beersheba, a region that held special significance to Jacob and his family. It was there that Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, had purchased a well from Abimelech, for the prices of seven yew lambs. The name Beersheba means “well of seven,” and it was there that “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree…and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33 ESV).

Years later, Isaac, Jacob’s father, would return to Beersheba and receive a vision from God, telling him, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Genesis 26:24 ESV). And Isaac “built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 26:25 ESV).

Jacob returned to this familiar spot, likely in the hopes of receiving a word from God that might confirm his relocation to Egypt. Jacob was understandably reluctant to leave the land that God had promised to give him as an inheritance. What would happen in his absence? Would they ever return? Would the promise every be fulfilled? This was a watershed moment for Jacob and he sought assurances from God. And God did not disappoint.

After offering sacrifices to God on one of the altars that his grandfather or father had constructed, Jacob went to sleep. And during his sleep, God visited him in a dream and delivered a much-needed word of assurance.

“I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:3-4 ESV

Jacob had the permission he had been seeking. God had sensed Jacob’s reticence and provided him with divine permission to relocated his family to Egypt. And not only did Jacob have permission to go, he was given the assurance of God’s presence as he did so. Then God upped the ante by reconfirming his promise to turn the clan of Jacob into a mighty nation. This was familiar refrain that had been heard for three generations but had yet to happen. God had told Abraham:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2 ESV

And God had informed Abraham how this transformation would take place.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Even when Abraham was 99-years-old and still fatherless, God had reconfirmed his promise to make of him a great nation.

I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.” – Genesis 17:6 ESV

And as Abraham anxiously waited for a son, God continued to reiterate His promise.

“Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” – Genesis 18:18 ESV

Now, years later, Jacob and his family were on their way to the very land where God had said the offspring of Abraham would “sojourn.” This trip had been God-ordained and had been part of the divine plan all along, just as Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers and the famine had been.

Having received confirmation from God, Jacob and his family continued their journey. And Moses uses verses 8-25 to give a detailed description of all the “sons” of Jacob. This list contains all the male descendants who had been born to Jacob while he lived in the land of Canaan. And while the list seems lengthy, it all adds up to a far-from-impressive number.

All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. – Genesis 46:26 ESV

Riding in the wagons that Pharaoh had provided and eating the provisions he had sent, this little ragtag band of Israelites made their way to Egypt. They were small in number and facing an uncertain future in a foreign land where they would be in the minority and little more than aliens. But that had always been their lot. At no time in Canaan had Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob enjoyed the benefit of overwhelming numbers or superior strength. They had always been outsiders, living in a land that was occupied by others. They owned little land, occupied no cities, and garnered little respect. And now they were moving to a country where nothing was familiar and there hopes of inheriting the land of Canaan was a quickly fading memory.

Even if you add in Joseph, his wife, and two sons, the total number of Jacob’s family was a mere 70 individuals. But God was not phased by this seemingly insignificant and insufficient head count. As the creation account revealed, God is fully capable of creating something from nothing. And the entrance of 70 people into the land of Canaan was about to prove true the words of the old hymn, “Little Is Much When God Is In It.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

God-Sent

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. – Genesis 45:1-15 ESV

This chapter contains one of the most powerful illustrations of God’s sovereignty of God to be found in all the Scriptures. The story of Joseph’s life, when viewed from a human perspective, is one of tragedy and betrayal, coupled with moments of good fortune followed by bad luck. Joseph is portrayed as a young man who becomes the innocent victim of his brothers’ jealousy and hatred. The youngest of 12 sons, Joseph had been the apple of his father’s eye and was elevated to a position of honor among his brothers. But his favored status and penchant for sharing dreams that appeared to further enhance his superior status made him a social pariah among his older siblings. Their anger for him grew so intense, that they began to plot his death. But rather than simply snuffing Joseph out, they decided to cash in by selling him as a slave to Ishmaelite traders.

These callous and hate-filled men took their brother’s multicolored robe, ripped it in pieces, and then led their father to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. They showed no remorse or regret for their actions. And, in time, they went on with their lives, erasing any memory of Joseph from their minds.

But while Joseph had been abandoned by his brothers, he was not forsaken by God. His entire life is an ongoing illustration of God’s sovereign and providential care. Though he ended up being sold as a slave to a wealthy and influential Egyptian, Joseph’s fate was God-ordained, a point Moses makes quite clear.

The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. – Genesis 39:2-3 NLT

Yet, it didn’t take long before Joseph’s good fortune took a dramatically dark turn. Having spurned the sexual advances of his master’s wife, Joseph was wrongly accused of rape and thrown into prison. But even in that grim and unexpected environment, God protected and prospered Joseph.

But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. 23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. – Genesis 39:21-23 NLT

From the pit to the palace to the prison, Joseph enjoyed the providential protection of God. And along the way, God revealed Himself to Joseph by giving him the ability to interpret dreams. This special skill proved quite useful, allowing Joseph to make connections with two fellow prisoners, one of whom would play an important role in Joseph’s release from prison.

But two years would pass before Joseph received an order to appear in Pharaoh’s court. He was ushered into the royal palace and into the throne room where he was asked to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. This was yet another divinely-ordained moment in which the sovereign will of God was clearly at play. Pharaoh’s dreams had not been arbitrary or coincidental. They had been a part of God’s carefully orchestrated plan.

Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do.” – Genesis 41:25 NLT

And Joseph had recognized that the dreams and their meanings had been the handiwork of God.

“As for having two similar dreams, it means that these events have been decreed by God, and he will soon make them happen. – Genesis 41:32 NLT

And they did happen. But not before Joseph was installed as the second-most-powerful man in all of Egypt. He was given authority to prepare the nation for the seven years of famine that God had ordained. And Joseph’s new position allowed him to implement a strategy to gather enough grain during the seven years of plenty so that the nation of Egypt could successfully survive the coming famine. And when the famine came, its impact was felt far beyond the borders of Egypt, all the way into Canaan, where Jacob and his sons still lived.

It had been the famine that forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt in search of food. And it was in Egypt that his sons encountered their long-lost but unrecognizable brother. And the last few chapters have revealed the story of their dramatic and often tension-filled reunion.

But as Joseph stood looking down on his brothers and heard Judah share his heartfelt desire to serve as Benjamin’s substitute, he couldn’t hold back his emotions any longer. He fled from the room and, having regained his composure, returned to reveal his true identity. But, more than that, Joseph was ready to let his brothers know the true nature of all the events surrounding his life. And what he had to share left them staring back in shock and awe. The Egyptian governor was actually their brother.

This news must have stunned the brothers and increased the level of their anxiety and fear. Now, not only were they accused of stealing the governor’s silver goblet, the governor was actually the boy they had sold into slavery. Things were going from bad to worse. Their minds were racing as they considered the full import of this shocking news. If the governor truly was their long-lost brother, he might use his royal power to pay his brothers back for their crime against him. But Joseph’s unexpected announcement left them staring back in silence.

…his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. – Genesis 45:3 NLT

But sensing their fear and trepidation, Joseph invited them to draw closer, then attempted to assuage their growing anxiety.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” – Genesis 45:4-5 NLT

Joseph reveals a strong understanding of the concept of divine sovereignty. He had fully grasped the significance of all the events surrounding his life and determined them to be the work of God. Yes, they had made the decision to sell him as a slave, but it had been preordained by God. Joseph was fully convinced that it had been God who sent him to Egypt, not his brothers. They had simply been tools in the sovereign hands of God. This does not dissolve them of guilt or responsibility. Each of them had participated in the crime against their brother willfully and deliberately. God had not forced them to do so. But He had used their envy-fueled actions to accomplish His divine will. And the most ironic part of it all is that God would use their act of selfishness to bring about their ultimate preservation. Joseph repeatedly stressed this point.

“It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” – Genesis 45:5 NLT

“God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. – Genesis 45: NLT

The famine was only into its second year and Joseph knew that things were going to get far worse. So, he begged his brothers to return to Canaan with an invitation for Jacob to join him in the land of Egypt. They were to tell their father all that had happened and deliver the good news that his favorite son was alive and well. The son whom Jacob had given up as dead, God had elevated to a place of power and prominence.

“God has made me master over all the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 45:9 NLT

Joseph had gone from wearing a multicolored robe to the garments of a king. He had been elevated from the status of the favorite son of Jacob to the favored officer in Pharaoh’s court. All according to the sovereign will of God. And Joseph was convinced that he was the key to the survival of the house of Jacob, which is why he ordered his brothers to return home and bring the entire clan of Jacob back to Egypt.

“Go tell my father of my honored position here in Egypt. Describe for him everything you have seen, and then bring my father here quickly.” – Genesis 45:13 NLT

God had sent Joseph ahead to prepare the way. Now, Joseph sent for Jacob in order to preserve a nation – all according to God’s plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Test of a Lifetime

1 Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”

When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” 10 He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” 11 Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.

14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.” – Genesis 44:1-17 ESV

After a wonderful evening of feasting on fine food in the governor’s palace, the 11 brothers of Joseph prepared to return home to Canaan. Their trip had gone far better than they could have ever imagined. They had rescued Simeon from captivity, settled the matter of the missing grain payment, received a large financial gift from the governor, feasted in his home, and were now returning with full sacks of grain. On top of that, Judah was able to keep his promise to their father that he would bring back Benjamin unharmed.

But as they were busy making preparations to leave, Joseph was devising a scheme that would dramatically alter their plans. He was still testing his brothers’ hearts to see if they had really changed or if they were the same self-serving siblings who had sold him into slavery all those years ago.

Joseph’s strategy was aimed at exposing their loyalty to Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. Joseph must have assumed that, in his absence, Benjamin would have become the natural heir to the coveted position of the favored son. And Joseph appears anxious to discover whether his brothers still suffered from the same jealousy and resentment that had driven them to consider taking his life.

As he had done before, Joseph instructed his steward to put money in the bag of each of the brothers. Then he took an expensive silver drinking goblet and told the steward to place it in the bag of the youngest son, Benjamin. The faithful steward did as he was instructed and the brothers loaded their donkeys and set off on their journey home. Their spirits must have been high as they set off, but the upbeat mood would quickly change when they saw a contingent of men rapidly approaching. Panic must have set in when the brothers saw that it was the governor’s steward accompanied by what was likely a group of armed men from Joseph’s private security force. This carefully designed ruse was meant to scare and intimidate the brothers, and the words spoken by the steward must have struck fear into the hearts of Reuben and his siblings. Joseph had given his steward very specific instructions.

“Chase after them and stop them. When you catch up with them, ask them, ‘Why have you repaid my kindness with such evil? Why have you stolen my master’s silver cup, which he uses to predict the future? What a wicked thing you have done!’” – Genesis 44:4-5 NLT

The brothers were indignant that the governor would accuse them of stealing. They professed their innocence and, in a moment of rashness, made an unwise vow to demonstrate their sincerity.

“If you find his cup with any one of us, let that man die. And all the rest of us, my lord, will be your slaves.” – Genesis 44:9 NLT

Moses doesn’t reveal which brother made this costly guarantee, but it was likely either Reuben or Judah. They appear to have been the two who acted as spokesmen for the group. But whoever made the statement would quickly live to regret it because when the steward ordered a search of their belongings, the silver cup was discovered in Benjamin’s grain sack. According to Joseph’s detailed instructions, the steward began the search with the oldest brother. Reuben’s stomach must have dropped when he saw the money sitting in the mouth of his sack. It was all happening again. And as the steward worked his way down the line, the same scene took place. Each brother’s sack was found to contain the money they had paid for the grain.

But it was Benjamin’s sack that held the most shocking revelation: The very silver cup the brothers had vehemently denied having taken. This was when the real test began. The brothers had been so confident of their innocence that they had pledged to put to death the one among them who had stolen the cup. In addition, they vowed to offer themselves as slaves to the governor. But the governor’s steward had wisely countered, stating, “only the one who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go free” (Genesis 44:10 NLT).

This condition put the brothers in a very awkward position. Now that the cup had been found in Benjamin’s possession, would they abandon him in order to save their own lives? The steward had clearly stated that only the guilty party would be held accountable. They would be free to leave and return to their father in Canaan, with their grain and the money that was found in their bags. That would have been quite a tempting offer.

But rather than abandon Benjamin, the brothers demonstrated their anguish over Benjamin’s fate by tearing their robes and weeping. There was no way they were going to return home without their brother. They dreaded the thought of having to tell their father, yet again, that he had lost another son. So, they packed up their donkeys and returned with the steward to the governor’s house.

When they arrived, they found the indignant governor waiting for them, and he demanded an explanation for their actions.

“What have you done?” Joseph demanded. “Don’t you know that a man like me can predict the future?” – Genesis 44:15 NLT

Joseph and his steward had agreed to bestow on the silver cup a special significance by claiming it was used by the governor to divine the future. It is unlikely that Joseph practiced divination. After all, it was God who had given Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, not a silver goblet. But by deeming the cup to have supernatural qualities, they had increased its value. The brothers were guilty of having stolen something of religious significance, which made the crime all the more scandalous.

But Judah continued to declare their innocence, begging the governor to show them mercy.

“Oh, my lord, what can we say to you? How can we explain this? How can we prove our innocence? God is punishing us for our sins. My lord, we have all returned to be your slaves—all of us, not just our brother who had your cup in his sack.” – Genesis 44:16 NLT

Not only had they returned, but they were willing to offer themselves as slaves. He and his brothers were pledging their lives as payment for Benjamin’s guilt. It had been Judah who had convinced Jacob to let Benjamin return to Egypt with them, even taking full responsibility for his well-being. He had vowed to bring him back safe and sound, and now he was indicating that he and his brothers would rather be slaves in Egypt than abandon their brother.

But the governor refused Judah’s offer, commanding the men to return to their father. Only the brother in whose sack the goblet was found would remain in Egypt as a slave. The rest were free to go. Once again, Joseph was testing the faithfulness and integrity of his brothers. Were they sincere or was their offer to join their brother as slaves a disingenuous ploy to win their brother’s freedom? Joseph was determined to find out. So, he had Benjamin arrested and gave the remaining brothers his final and rather disconcerting instructions: “as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:17 ESV).

Would they do it? Could they do it? Joseph’s reference to “peace” was meant to test his brothers. The Hebrew word is שָׁלוֹם (šālôm), and while it can mean “a state of tranquility and contentment,” it can also refer to “wholeness” or “completeness.” If they left, they would be returning without one of their own. There would be one of them missing. But could they go back to Jacob in “peace” knowing that they were “incomplete?” That was what Joseph aimed to find out.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Like Grandfather, Like Son

1 Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” – Genesis 43:1-18 ESV

Reuben and his brothers were unable to convince their father to allow them to take Benjamin back to Egypt with them. Fearing that he might lose yet another son, Jacob refused to give in to the Egyptian governor’s demands. But eventually, their supply of grain ran out and he was left with no other option but to send his sons back to Egypt to purchase additional grain. But Judah reminded him that the trip would be a waste of time if they failed to take Benjamin with them. The Egyptian governor had made it very clear that their brother Simeon would not be released unless they returned with their younger sibling. Reuben reminded his father of Zaphenath-paneah’s conditions.

“You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.” – Genesis 43:3 NLT

No Benjamin, no grain. It was as simple as that. And Judah informed his father that he and his brothers were unwilling to make the long and arduous trip unless Benjamin accompanied them.

Jacob expressed his frustration that they had ever mentioned Benjamin in the first place. But Judah defended their actions by explaining that they had simply answered the governor’s questions. How were they to have known that Zaphenath-paneah would require physical proof of Benjamin’s existence?  From their viewpoint, they had no other choice but to obey the governor’s demands. If they refused, they would all end up starving to death. So, after a bit of persistent cajoling from Judah, and an assurance that he would guarantee Benjamin’s safety, Jacob finally acquiesced to the plan.

But it’s important to note that two of Jacob’s sons had made solemn pledges to protect and preserve Benjamin’s life. These men had been changed by their disconcerting encounter with Zaphenath-paneah. Reuben vowed to watch over Benjamin, even putting up the lives of his two sons as collateral.

“You may kill my two sons if I don’t bring Benjamin back to you. I’ll be responsible for him, and I promise to bring him back.” – Genesis 42:37 NLT

Even Judah, the one who had suggested that they sell Joseph to the Ephraimite traders, was now willing to put his reputation and his life on the line to guarantee Benjamin’s physical well-being.

“I personally guarantee his safety. You may hold me responsible if I don’t bring him back to you. Then let me bear the blame forever.” – Genesis 43:9 NLT

It should not be overlooked that Jacob, a man who had betrayed and defrauded his own brother, had fathered 10 sons who ended up doing the same thing to one of their own. But now, years later, Jacob watched as two of these same men pledged to protect the life of their younger sibling. While he knew nothing of what they had done to sell Joseph into slavery, he must have been encouraged by the selfless and sacrificial display of love from his two older sons.

Before sending his sons on a potentially dangerous journey into a foreign land where they would face unknown obstacles, Jacob attempted to do what he could to produce a positive outcome.

“Pack your bags with the best products of this land. Take them down to the man as gifts—balm, honey, gum, aromatic resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Also take double the money that was put back in your sacks, as it was probably someone’s mistake. Then take your brother, and go back to the man.” – Genesis 43:11-13 NLT

He reached into his old bag of tricks and came up with the same ploy he had used on his brother Esau (Genesis 32:13-16). If the Egyptian governor was angry that Jacob’s sons had left without paying for the grain, he hoped to assuage that anger with gifts. He doubled the amount of money they should have paid and then threw in some additional agricultural products for good measure.

But Jacob also revealed that he was ready and willing to trust God with the outcome. He was willing to purchase favor with the Egyptian governor but if that didn’t work, he would trust in the sovereignty of God.

“May God Almighty give you mercy as you go before the man, so that he will release Simeon and let Benjamin return. But if I must lose my children, so be it.” – Genesis 43:14 NLT

Jacob had come a long way. In his statement, he reflects the same sentiments that Job expressed when he learned that he had lost all his children in a freak accident.

Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Genesis 43:20-21 ESV

While Jacob feared losing his sons, he also displays a firm belief that God was going to fulfill His covenant promises. By sending his 11 remaining sons to Egypt, he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Abraham. No doubt, Jacob’s father Isaac had told him the story of when Abraham had taken him to Mount Moriah with the intention of following God’s command to offer his only son as a sacrifice. And now, here was Jacob willingly sending his son to Egypt, not knowing if they would ever return. But his decision was an act of faith. If God was going to fulfill His covenant promise, Jacob would need to have sons. And so, he let them go, trusting that God would find a way to allow them to return. But little did Jacob know that God had greater plans than he could ever imagine. All of his sons would eventually return, but only so they could bring their father and families back to the land of Egypt. All in keeping with God’s sovereign and unshakeable plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

I Fear God

18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. 21 Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” 22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.

26 Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. 27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”

29 When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. 34 Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’”

35 As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid. 36 And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” 37 Then Reuben said to his father, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.” – Genesis 42:18-38 ESV

Zaphenath-paneah (Joseph), the governor of Egypt, ordered the sons of Jacob to return to the land of Canaan, with instructions to bring back their younger brother, Benjamin.  This would provide proof that they truly were innocent foreigners is search of food to survive the famine. But Joseph was seeking to ensure that they had not treated his younger brother with the same hatred and disdain as they had shown to him. He wanted to Benjamin with his own eyes. And to ensure that the men returned, Joseph help Simeon as collateral. This was likely a test of his brothers’ character as well. Would they return as ordered and spare their brother’s life or would they abandon him to his fate in Egypt?

When Reuben and his brothers heard the governor’s instructions, they were filled with guilt and regret. They couldn’t help but conclude that this was all God’s divine judgment for what they had done to their brother years earlier.

“Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.” – Genesis 42:21 NLT

And Reuben made matters worse by reminding them that he had been the one who had tried to talk them out of their ill-fated plan to get rid of Joseph.

“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?…But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!” – Genesis 42:22 NLT

This only added to their sense of guilt and shame. They freely aired their dirty laundry right in front of the royal governor, thinking him incapable of understanding their language. But as they bickered among themselves, Joseph listened in, taking note of every word they spoke. And upon witnessing the bitter acrimony among his siblings, Joseph was moved to tears. All the memories of his past came rushing in and overwhelmed his emotions. When he regained his composure, Joseph took Simeon as a hostage and ordered the nine other brothers to take their allotment of grain and return home. Their brother would be released as soon as they returned with Benjamin.

Joseph ordered Simeon be bound with ropes as his brothers looked on helplessly. This was meant to be a vivid and painful reminder of their callous treatment of Joseph so many years before. Simeon’s fate was in their hands. And, for the second time, the brothers found themselves returning home with devastating news for their father. But this time, rather than fabricating a lie, they would be telling the truth.

Before they left for Canaan, Joseph had the grain they had purchased loaded onto their pack animals, and then provided them with provisions for their journey. He also played a rather cruel trick on them, ordering that the money they had paid for the grain be returned in full, and secretly dispersed among the bags of grain. When the brothers stopped for the night, they each discovered the money had been returned to the sacks in which the grain was contained. This made them look like thieves. And they immediately concluded that this was a punishment from the hand of God.

“What is this that God has done to us?” – Genesis 42:28 ESV

Could things get any worse? Their brother was a prisoner in Egypt. They were returning to Canaan with grain they had not paid for, making them guilty of theft. And, on top of that, they were going to have to somehow convince their father to send his youngest son back with them to Egypt. It was all a never-ending nightmare.

When they finally returned home and told their father all that had happened, Jacob was beside himself with grief and fear.

“You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” – Genesis 42:36 ESV

It was more than he could bear. His sons had returned with much-needed food, but they had left their brother behind. To make matters worse, the Egyptian governor was demanding that Jacob send his youngest son back to Egypt if he ever wanted to see Simeon again. This put Jacob in the unenviable position of risking the life of one son or possibly both. If he refused to send Benjamin, he would never see Simeon again. If he agreed to the governor’s demands and sent Benjamin, he had no guarantee that either would ever return. In fact, he had to face the very real possibility that none of his sons would return if the governor accused them of stealing the grain they brought back from Egypt.

Sensing his father’s dilemma, Reuben promised to bring back Simeon and Benjamin, offering his own two sons as sacrificial substitutes should he fail to do so. He was putting his own family line in jeopardy by doing so, but he was willing to take that risk to guarantee Simeon’s release. Jacob reluctantly agreed to send Benjamin back to Egypt, along with his 10 older brothers. This decision must have been gut-wrenching as he considered the very real possibility that he might never see any of them again.

In reading this emotionally charged story, it’s easy to overlook a statement made by Joseph that establishes the tone for all the takes place. After placing his brothers in confinement for three days, Joseph had them brought before him. Then he said something that must have caught them by surprise. After all, they believed they were standing before a powerful Egyptian dignitary who was speaking to them through an interpreter. But as the translator relayed Joseph’s message, they must have been surprised and encouraged.

Do this and you will live, for I fear God.” – Genesis 42:18 ESV

They must have looked at one another in astonishment as, out of the mouth of this Egyptian lord, came the name of ‘ĕlōhîm, the God of Israel. While hiding his true identity from his brothers, Joseph was not disguising his faith in God. He wanted his brothers to know that their fate was in God’s hands, not his own. If they would only obey his orders and return with their younger brother, all would go well. Their brother Simeon would be cared for while they were gone and be released upon their return. And it must have surprised these men to have someone whom they thought to be a pagan to encourage them to trust their own God. This Egyptian was showing more faith than they were. It seems apparent that Joseph could see God’s sovereign handiwork behind all of the events of the last three days. And, somehow, he knew that good was going to come from it all.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

An Awkward Family Reunion

1 When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” 10 They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.”

12 He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” 13 And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” 14 But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. 15 By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” 17 And he put them all together in custody for three days. – Genesis 42:1-17 ESV

Moses now turns the reader’s attention back to Israel (Jacob) and his family, living in the land of Canaan. It has been years since Jacob received the devastating news of his son’s death. He had mourned the loss of Joseph but then had been forced to move on with his life. He was the patriarch of a large and rapidly expanding family. Many of his 11 remaining sons had married and started families of their own, but they remained a close part of the Israelite clan. So, when the famine spread to Canaan, Israel found himself with a crisis on his hands. There was no grain for purchase in the land of Canaan, which made it difficult for Israel to feed his family and livestock.

Upon hearing that grain was for sale in Egypt, Israel assigned his sons the unenviable task of making the long trip to the land of the Pharaohs and returning with as much grain as they could purchase. But Israel and his sons had no idea what awaited them in Egypt. Their objective was to buy temporary relief from their troubles. But God had something far more significant in mind.

Years earlier, God had told Israel’s grandfather, Abraham, that his offspring would end up living in a foreign land for four centuries. But God had also promised that He would deliver them from that land and return them to Canaan.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

So, as Israel’s 10 sons made their way to Egypt, their only aspiration was to return with grain so that their clan could survive the famine back home. But they were about to play important roles in a divine drama that would preface the next chapter in the story of God’s chosen people.

Upon arrival in Egypt, the sons of Israel were ushered into the presence of the royal governor, who was responsible for the sale of all grain in Egypt. It just so happened that this dignitary was their long-lost brother, Joseph, but they failed to recognize him. He was years older and, most likely, dressed in Egyptian garments. And the last thing they expected to find in Egypt was their long-forgotten brother.

But Joseph had not forgotten them. And upon recognizing the faces of the very men who had sold him into slavery, Joseph decided to keep his identity veiled so that he could ascertain the state of affairs back home. He had no reason to trust his brothers and it must have concerned him that they had shown up in Egypt without their father and younger sibling. Had his father died while he was away? Did his jealous brothers do to young Benjamin what they had done to him? Joseph had so many unanswered questions, so he continued to portray himself as Zaphenath-paneah, the governor of Egypt until he could determine the trustworthiness of his brothers.

Moses indicates that Joseph kept up a convincing charade, speaking to his brothers in stern tones and displaying a suspicious attitude toward them.

…he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. – Genesis 42:7 ESV

A wave of emotions must have swept over Joseph as he stood staring into the faces of the men who had treated him with such disdain. Driven by nothing more than jealousy, these so-called brothers had conspired to kill him. And if it had not been for his brother Judah’s intervention, they would have left Joseph to rot in an abandoned cistern. But Judah had come up with the idea of selling Joseph to Ishmaelite traders. That way, they could be rid of him without being guilty of spilling innocent blood. And each of his brothers had been complicit in their betrayal of Joseph. Even Reuben, who had hoped to extricate him from the pit and return him to their father, had eventually caved into his brothers’ demands.

Now they stood before Joseph, like groveling slaves before their master. And the scene brought to Joseph’s mind the vivid images he had seen in his long-forgotten dreams. It was his sharing of these dreams that had turned his brothers against him.

One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. “Listen to this dream,” he said. “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!” – Genesis 37:5-7 NLT

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT

And, while these dreams infuriated his brothers, “his father wondered what the dreams meant” (Genesis 37:11 NLT). Now, years later, they were all about to find out. As Reuben, Judah, and their eight other brothers kneeled before the powerful governor of Egypt, they feared for their lives because he was accusing them of being spies. They vehemently denied the accusation and swore that their sole intention was to purchase grain for their families back in Canaan.

“Your servants have simply come to buy food. We are all brothers—members of the same family. We are honest men, sir! We are not spies!” – Genesis 42:10-11 NLT

Their claim to be honest men must have struck a nerve with Joseph. How could these deceivers and betrayers dare to consider themselves to be honest and trustworthy? Nothing from Joseph’s memory could support such a claim. So, he continued to question the veracity of their story.

Desperate to convince the governor of their innocence, they reveal that they have a young brother who has remained at home with their father. But because Joseph knew his brothers to be liars, he was reticent to trust them. How was he to know if Israel or Benjamin were alive or dead? He knew his brothers were capable of just about anything, so he came up with a test to determine whether they deserved his favor or anger.

“This is how I will test your story. I swear by the life of Pharaoh that you will never leave Egypt unless your youngest brother comes here! One of you must go and get your brother. I’ll keep the rest of you here in prison. Then we’ll find out whether or not your story is true. By the life of Pharaoh, if it turns out that you don’t have a younger brother, then I’ll know you are spies.” – Genesis 42:15-16 NLT

Joseph was anxious to know that Benjamin was alive and well. After all, he and Benjamin shared the same birth mother, Rachel. And since Rachel’s death, Benjamin had become near and dear to Joseph’s heart. Yet, because of his brothers’ actions, Joseph had been denied the joy of watching his younger sibling grow up. So much time had passed and he longed to be reunited with his father and brother. And God was using Joseph’s desires to instigate a plan that would eventually fulfill the very words that God had spoken to Abraham.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. – Genesis 15:13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.