Genesis 42:1 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, Why do you just keep looking at each other?
There was no grain in Canaan, due to the famine, so Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy some. It had been over twenty years since Joseph was sold into slavery, and his brothers considered him dead. The last thing they expected in Egypt was to bump into Joseph. When they saw him, in fact, they did not even recognize him.
But Joseph recognized them, and instead of revealing himself, Joseph accused them of being spies, and threw them in prison. There they had time to think, and began to reflect on their sin. Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that is why this distress has come on us (Genesis 42:21), they said.
This is the misery of a guilty conscience. The brothers saw the desperate look in Joseph’s eyes when he pleaded for his life—and they never forgot it. There were probably nights they woke up in a cold sweat, regretting what they had done. Now at last, they were getting what they deserved. Judgment Day had finally come.
Genesis 45:4 Then Joseph said to his brothers . . . I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!
The brothers were overwhelmed. Joseph’s boyhood dream was coming true before their eyes. Could this really be happening? What would happen next? Joseph had suffered because of them; now he could pay them back. But Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept over them (Genesis 45:15). Instead of justice, they received mercy (James 2:13). After so many years apart, they were a family again.
Pharaoh was pleased by this, and promised Joseph’s brothers the best land in Egypt (Genesis 45:18). He gave them carts to bring their families down, along with their father Jacob. He gave them ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for [their] journey (Genesis 45:23). Instead of being punished for their sin, they were being blessed!
This is what Jesus Christ has done for us. Instead of being punished for our sins, we have . . . every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), wrote Paul. And that is just the beginning. Christ will say to his own, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world (Matthew 25:34). Joseph’s brothers were overwhelmed by their good fortune, and our amazement will never end.
Genesis 45:13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt.
Joseph had all the honor of Egypt, but he wanted his his father’s approval. He had done well for himself, and he wanted his dad to be proud. His father would soon rejoice that Joseph was alive, and Joseph would receive the approval that he longed for.
Sadly, there are many who crave their father’s approval but never receive it. I have sat with men in their sixties who were still deeply pained because of their father’s disapproval. You will never amount to a bottle of piss, one recalled his father saying. A day seldom passed when he did not think about that.
But Christ has promised his approval to all who truly believe in him. Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21), he will say.
Given our many failures, this is hard to imagine. How could Christ give his approval to ordinary Christians who fail every day? The answer is found in God’s word. He forgave us all our sins (Colossians 2:13), and will reward each one for whatever good they do (Ephesians 6:8), wrote Paul. If Christ forgives all our sins, and remembers all our good deeds, then we will hear him say, Well done, good and faithful servant! And the joy of those words will ring in our hearts for ever.
Genesis 48:1 Some time later Joseph was told, Your father is ill.
After many years in Egypt, Joseph’s father was dying. But just before he passed, he gave a prophecy that the Messiah would come from Judah. The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his (Genesis 49:10).
We might expect Jesus to be descended from Joseph, since he was the most prominent son of Jacob. But Jesus’ genealogy shows that he was descended from Joseph’s brother, Judah (Matthew 1:2, 16), just as Jacob foretold. Nevertheless, Joseph does foreshadow Jesus in a number of ways.
Joseph was the special son of Jacob, and Jesus is the special Son of God. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, and Jesus was rejected by his brothers (John 7:5). Joseph was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry (Genesis 41:46), and Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry (Luke 3:23).
Joseph ruled Egypt under Pharaoh, and Jesus rules the world under God. Joseph fed the people with grain, and Jesus fed the people with bread (John 6:10-11). Joseph suffered before he was exalted, and Jesus suffered before he was exalted. Joseph’s brothers were saved by coming to him, and we are saved by coming to Christ. These surprising parallels are like fingerprints that reveal the Bible’s author.
Genesis 50:15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?
Joseph’s brothers were still afraid that he would repay them for their sins. Perhaps Joseph had treated them well only because of their father. With this in mind, they came to Joseph and said, we are your slaves (Genesis 50:18). Joseph assured them that their fears were unfounded, and that he did not hold a grudge. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good (Genesis 50:20), he said.
This is the climactic verse of the story, and it makes an important point: God turns evil into good. It did not seem good to Joseph when he was sold into slavery, or when he was sitting in prison. But in hindsight it was clear: if he had not been sold into slavery, he could not have been promoted to such a high position. Nor could he have saved Egypt, or his family.
Paul likely had this in mind when he wrote . . . in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God governs all things for his glory, and for the good of his people. It may not seem that way when your house burns down, or you lose your job, or they repossess your car. But if you love Jesus Christ, nothing bad can happen to you that God has not planned for your good. This is a wonderful comfort in all the trials of life.
Reflection and Review
Why were Joseph’s brothers troubled by their sin?
Why did Joseph want his father’s approval?
How did God use the sin of Joseph’s brothers for good?