Despite the seventeen years of their sojourn in Egypt, the relationship between Joseph and his brothers remains precarious at best. With Jacob dead, the brothers fear that Joseph will now exact from them some terrible retribution. They fear that it has only been out of reverence for Jacob that Joseph has treated them satisfactorily. So they decide to approach Joseph and seek his full and final forgiveness.
It is sad to see that the brothers had evidently been living in Joseph’s presence for seventeen years without any assurance that he had forgiven them. They don't even approach him directly. They send him a message and think it necessary to put their defense in Jacob’s mouth. It's heartbreaking when they relate their father’s wish to their brother calling Jacob "Your father" and not "our father." This plea seems loaded with all the baggage of Jacob’s favoritism towards Joseph, and it brings him to tears. His brothers come into his presence, and they bow (another fulfillment of Joseph’s youthful dream) and offer themselves as his slaves. Both this offer and Joseph’s tears echo the day that Joseph first revealed himself to his brothers. However, their offer prompts Joseph to make one of the most mature, moving, and godly speeches in the whole drama. Joseph refuses to judge his brothers or to exact vengeance, and he affirms the providence of God concerning the past and the present. He confronts the fact that they may have done what they did to harm him but underlines that beyond their malicious purpose was the benevolent purpose of God. Joseph even guarantees his support for them in the future. This is the very moment his youthful dream is realized he shows how much he has changed. Joseph comes across as magnanimous, compassionate and tender. Joseph’s trust in God’s good purpose for his life is not a naïve, unrealistic, romantic assumption of ease and prosperity. It is a claim that the enmity of others was turned by God, not just into a blessing for Joseph, but so that Joseph might be a blessing to others and his people would be saved. God worked good, not just through the evil that was done to Joseph, but also through Joseph’s weaknesses and failings. It is a great reassurance to know that God is able to turn to blessing even the least worthy thoughts and deeds of his servants.
The final words of the Joseph story are poignant. Joseph is embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. The story continues to address how God’s promise can be fulfilled. Abraham and Isaac at least lived as sojourners in Canaan, even if they never possessed it. Jacob lived in Canaan but had to leave it, driven by famine to join Joseph in Egypt. He had lived most of his days in the land promised by God to his family, and his bones were returned to his family burial place. Joseph’s remains were not returned to the family burial place. Unlike his father, Joseph lived most of his days in Egypt, not Canaan, and he was buried in a coffin in Egypt.
Joseph dies with the hope that God will come to his people. It is for this reason that he pleads with his brothers and the Israelites for his bones to be taken up out of Egypt at the time of God’s coming. Later, Moses will ensure that the bones of his ancestor were not left in Egypt.
Thing To Consider:
- How difficult is it to get past family dysfunction?
- What do we learn from the way Joseph handles the encounter with his brothers?
- How can God use evil?
- How can we comfort those who have failed us?
- Why is hope so important?