Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Genesis 45

Genesis 45: Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers


We’ve been reading, in the last few chapters, about this strange little play that’s acting out between Joseph and his brothers. He hasn’t told them that it’s him, and they haven’t recognized him, so he’s been messing with their minds a bit. As you might recall, the last chapter ended with Joseph threatening to make Benjamin his slave, and Judah entreating Joseph to take Judah instead, for their father’s sake.

This is too much for Joseph. As this chapter begins, he loses control:
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. (verses 1–2)
He reveals himself to his brothers, and asks if Jacob/Israel is still alive, but the brothers are too terrified even to answer him. So Joseph tries to reassure them:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

(verses 4–11)

So Joseph and his brothers weep and embrace and kiss and do all of the things that brothers normally do when they’re reunited with the siblings who wanted to kill them, and then sold them into slavery.

When the Pharaoh hears that Joseph’s brothers are in town, he’s overjoyed. He tells Joseph to invite his entire family to come and live in Egypt, and the Pharaoh will give them “the best land of Egypt” so that they can “enjoy the fat of the land” (verse 18).

As the brothers are heading out the door, Joseph can’t resist one final dig:
Then [Joseph] sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!” (verse 24)
So the brothers return home to Jacob/Israel, with all of the gifts the Pharaoh has showered on them, and tell Jacob/Israel that Joseph is still alive. At first, Jacob is “stunned” (verse 26), as anyone else would be, but when they finally convince him, “the spirit of… Jacob revived” (verse 27).

So they decide to go and join their brother/son Joseph, and live in Egypt.


People have sometimes wondered how Joseph’s brothers could not recognize him, and most of the time I’ve heard them theorizing that his appearance was so changed—from living in Egypt and dressing as the Egyptians do—that they didn’t recognize him because of that. But when Joseph is revealing himself to his brothers, he says (in verse 4) “come close to me.” I’m wondering if, because of his status, he was always positioned far away from the “foreigners”, and maybe that might have been a contributing factor to the brothers not recognizing him. I’m not sure if this theory actually holds water; in the last chapter, it mentions that Judah “went up to him” (44:18), and I’m not sure if that implies that he was close to Joseph, or just closer than he had been. In any event, it’s not important.

If this were a movie, instead of a written chapter, there would be ominous music playing at the end, when Jacob/Israel and his sons decide to go and live in Egypt with Joseph. They may be living in the “best land of Egypt” right now, but by the time the book of Exodus roles around, the Egyptians will have tired of the Hebrews.

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