Joseph’s Brothers In Egypt

"And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth." (Genesis 42:6)

With the arrival of Joseph’s brothers in Egypt, there is a literal fulfillment of the prophecy Joseph gave back in Genesis 37:7. The brethren fall down and bow before their brother, for he is the viceroy over all the land. The prophecy has been fulfilled, Joseph has been elevated to a position of power, and his brothers have been humbled in his sight. But strangely enough, Joseph chooses not to reveal who he truly is to them at this time. Rather than identifying himself to them and seeking a peaceful reconciliation (or else exacting retribution for their treacherous deeds), Joseph conceals the fact that the man who they supposed was long since dead is the same one seated upon the throne before them and speaking through an interpreter.

What follows over the course of the next few chapters might seem to be a very peculiar and capricious way for Joseph to deal with his brothers: the one moment accusing them of espionage, the next lavishing gifts upon them; at once locking them away in prison, only to quickly set most of them at liberty. What exactly was Joseph attempting to accomplish through all of this? First of all, there can be no doubt that God Himself was guiding Joseph’s decisions through this entire ordeal. God had a definite purpose for each and every one of the actions Joseph would take. Secondly, we understand that Joseph’s harsh treatment was the most expedient method for convincing the brothers to bring Benjamin into Egypt. And thirdly, had Joseph revealed himself immediately, it is very likely that the brothers would have never returned at all after this first visit. We learn later that they continued to fear the prospect of Joseph seeking revenge against them, even until the end of their lives (Gen. 45:3, 50:15). Perhaps a fear for their own safety would have prevented them from returning again once they had made it back home to Canaan.

“And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” (Genesis 42:21)

As we begin to consider the specific details surrounding Joseph’s dealings with his brothers, much about it seems very familiar. The locking away in prison, the “sacrifice” of the younger brother, the adoration for one brother (Benjamin) above the others are all staggeringly similar to events which we have already read. Many people today reject the idea of “what goes around comes around”, or “as a man soweth, that shall he also reap”, but the sons of Jacob obviously did not. Their assumption concerning the treatment given to them is that they have fallen under the judgment of God. They believed that what had come upon them was a direct consequence for what they had earlier done to Joseph.

So what was the purpose that God was accomplishing in the lives of these men? We learn later that this was not a judgment upon them, so what was it? It is an often visited theme in Scripture, as well as a reality in the lives of many believers, that the Lord will bring us to a place of testing precisely at a point wherein we have failed before. So many times, to our own horror, circumstances will line up in such a way that we are brought face-to-face with a situation similar to one which previously resulted in sin and failure. We sometimes find ourselves again in a place marked by our own sinfulness and shame. But God does not allow us to re-enter such predicaments that we might fail again, but that we might do what is right. For a second time, the precious life of Jacob’s most beloved son is in the hands of his eldest ten sons; how will they respond?

The testing that the brothers will undergo is so that Joseph might know if these men had changed since the time they dealt so wickedly with him, and so that the brothers themselves would know if they were any different. This time of trial was for the benefit of the sons of Jacob, but not God. God knew what the outcome would be; our testing is never for Him to learn something about our character, but for us to learn something about His. We never truly know the strength and vitality of our faith until it is tested.

4 responses

  1. Thank you so much for going over this, the why’s and how come’s of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers. It really encourages me to know that when we are tested it is not judgment, but a chance to grow. I remember a dear woman telling me about how God does this, and will keep doing it, until we pass the test! He wants us to pass! He isn’t setting us up to fail or trick us with a pop quiz. So thankful for His patience with me when I have to re-take tests! So thankful for you too!

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  2. Thanks, Deb :)

    “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:5-7)

    To be honest with you, I really don’t enjoy the whole “chastening” thing. It gets so frustrating when we have to keep taking the re-tests over and over. But as you said, I am also so thankful for His patience! It’s not any fun finding ourselves facing the same tests again and again, but how awesome it is when we finally pass.

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  3. In chapter 50 Joseph is going to explain that what they did – by selling him into slavery – they meant for evil, but God meant it for good. We must be able to wrap our minds around multiple causation in order to understand how God has ordained the events of history. Man does what he chooses, God gets what he wants. I often use Gen. 50 and Acts 2 together. Peter points the finger at evil men who crucified Jesus, but also says that he was “delivered up by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” God has given us free will, but done so without giving up any of his omnipotence. God is in control; sometimes we are aware, and at other times not so much.

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  4. Thanks, Clark, great observations!

    “Multiple causation” can be a perplexing concept for believers and a point of contention for Bible critics. Does God plan for man to sin and fail in order that His will be accomplished? Interestingly enough, I just read a blog post a couple of days ago that talks about the teaching of the Mormon Church wherein Adam’s fall was a necessary factor in the plan of God (2 Nephi 2:25, Book of Mormon). This assertion is that if original sin had not occurred in the Garden of Eden, then the plan of God would have been frustrated. Not only is this utter nonsense, it is tantamount to blasphemy since it is an implication that God Himself is guilty of enticing man to commit evil (cf. James 1:13).

    The selling of Joseph by his brothers into slavery is a similar situation. Joseph tells his brothers in Genesis 45:7 that “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth…” But was it’s God’s intention that the brothers do what they did? Of course not. God used these circumstances to accomplish His will, but He in no way arranged for the brothers to do what they did. God sent Joseph; but had the brothers refrained from selling Joseph, then God would have found another way to get him into Egypt and into the position He wanted him in. How would God have done this? None of us really knows, but we know that God’s will would have been accomplished one way or another.

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