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“God Preserves A Remnant”
Lesson Text: Genesis 45:3-15
Background Scripture: Genesis 42:1-38; 45:1-28
Devotional Reading: Psalm 81:1-10
3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not:
10 And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children’s children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast:
11 And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty.
12 And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you.
13 And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.
14 And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
15 Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.
To show that God's sovereign work in Joseph's life enabled him to preserve his family in keeping with God's covenant promises.
To teach that sometimes it is necessary for God to bring adversity into the lives of His servants in order to bring to pass His greater plans.
To make a plan to forgive someone in the week ahead.
Two brothers lived about 300 miles from each other. Ordinarily they saw each other only on holidays, and those were good times.
Almost exactly midway between them was a large city with a major league baseball team. On one occasion, both brothers and their families attended the same baseball game. Neither knew that the other family had planned to be there. The chances of their selecting the same day were quite remote, of course, but what about the chances of their acquiring seats in the same section of the stadium? Yet that is what happened.
The game was not very far along when one brother noticed the back of the head of the other brother—just a few rows in front of him. He called to him, and a joyful reunion took place that was much more rewarding than the outcome of the game.
Many have had similar experiences—the unexpected thrill that comes from finding a neighbor or friend when both are many miles from home. It brings a surge of surprise and joy that is difficult to put into words. “Virtual reunions” are becoming common today given the existence of social networking sites. This lesson is about a startling reunion in the ancient world: that of Joseph and his brothers.
Time: 1875 B.C.
The previous lesson ended with Joseph being blessed with two sons. The seven years of plenty were in progress, and the interpretations of Pharaoh’s dreams were being fulfilled.
Nothing was said about the reactions of the Egyptians at that time. Some probably questioned Joseph’s administrative decisions, and there undoubtedly were skeptics who ridiculed his dire prediction of seven years of famine. After all, everyone knew of the agricultural prosperity brought by the Nile River as it flooded each year. Egypt was the breadbasket of the world! Nothing was stated about anyone’s taking personal responsibility for storing the abundance of grain. After all, that was a government program (Genesis 41:48,49).
But the years of famine began as predicted, and the people went to Pharaoh with their problem. Pharaoh told them to do whatever Joseph said. In the first year, Joseph sold grain to the Egyptians (Genesis 41:53-57).
The region affected by the famine extended beyond Egypt—to areas that were not dependent on the flooding of the Nile. The famine reached to Canaan to Joseph’s father and brothers, who were over 200 miles away. Jacob (Joseph’s father) heard that there was grain in Egypt, and he sent 10 sons to Egypt to buy grain. He did not send Benjamin, his youngest son. In Jacob’s mind Joseph was dead, and Benjamin was the only surviving son of his favorite wife, Rachel (Genesis 42:1-5; 44:20).
Joseph recognized his brothers, but he spoke to them through an interpreter (Genesis 42:7,23) to throw them off no doubt. Joseph spoke harshly to them and imprisoned them for three days. He mandated that they bring Benjamin on a return trip. Joseph also arranged things so his brothers looked like thieves (42:25-35). Some see Joseph’s actions as a type of revenge. Others say that he was simply testing them.
At first Jacob did not want to permit Benjamin to go to Egypt, but he eventually surrendered to the inevitable (Genesis 42:36-43:14). The brothers then went back to Egypt to buy more grain. The arrival in Egypt was marked by a banquet, more questioning by Joseph, and another “set up” to make the brothers appear dishonest (43:26-44:34).
Jacob’s fourth son, Judah, became the spokesman for the brothers in their defense. He gave a thrilling, emotional speech that some regard as one of the finest speeches of all time. The brothers still assumed that Joseph was dead (Genesis 44:20). They explained how Jacob would be greatly grieved if Benjamin did not return.
1. What position did Joseph hold in Egypt at the time of the famine?
As we learned from last week's lesson, Joseph had distinguished himself as an interpreter of dreams. As a result of satisfactorily interpreting Pharaoh's dream, he was exalted to a very high position —overseeing the storing of grain during the years of plenty and supervising food distribution during the years of famine (41:53-57).
2. Why did Joseph's brothers not recognize him when they came before him?
Joseph was in charge of the grain sales; so foreigners had to come before him to make their request. Since it had been more than twenty years since they had seen Joseph (who was now dressed as an Egyptian), his brothers did not recognize him. Of course, he recognized them (Gen. 42:6-17). Since Benjamin had not come with his brothers, Joseph demanded that he come with them the next time if they wanted to buy more grain. Jacob reluctantly sent Benjamin on the next trip (43:1-10). When his brothers left Egypt that second time, Joseph had his silver cup planted in Benjamin's sack of grain (44:1-5). Benjaminwas apprehended, brought back to Egypt, and accused of being a thief.
Since Joseph spoke to his brothers through an interpreter, they did not know that he understood their conversations with each other. But as he tested them and listened to them, he was attempting to discover signs of remorse concerning their previous actions toward him.
JOSEPH’S REVELATION (Genesis 45:3-7)
3. How did Joseph's brothers react when they learned that he was alive and speaking to them? What was accomplished by putting the brothers through testing? (vs. 3,4)
Finally, Joseph decided that it was time to reveal himself to his brothers. Can you imagine the shock that filled their hearts when this Egyptian official cried out, "I am Joseph" (Gen. 45:3)? They were, in fact, "troubled," which might seem an understatement in this situation.
Joseph immediately inquired about his father, wanting to make sure that his brothers had actually told him the truth concerning Jacob. As his brothers stood stunned and speechless at this startling revelation, Joseph invited them to approach him. Because of Egyptian cultural practices (Gen. 43:32), his brothers had not been in close physical proximity to himthroughout their interactions.
Incredulous concerning what they were hearing, Joseph's brothers were no doubt having difficulty trying to process what this high-ranking Egyptian was saying to them. While all of us have seen and heard things that we found difficult to believe, it is doubtful that any of us have had an experience that parallels that of Joseph's brothers on this occasion. However, we canimagine the terror that must have filled these men's hearts when they realized that the brother they had sold into slavery now held their lives in his hands.
Joseph was not really toying with his brothers during these interchanges; rather, he was trying to determine whether these men had had a change of heart over the years. What he might have done had he discovered them to be just as heartless and cruel as they had previously been can only be a matter of conjecture on our part.
4. How did Joseph view the events in his past? (v. 5)
Joseph implored his brothers to be neither "grieved, nor angry" with themselves over their past actions. As far as Joseph was concerned, God was behind all of these events. If Joseph had not been in the position he was now in, Jacob's family would have come to ruin during this time of severe famine.
"In his words of explanation and comfort to his brothers, Joseph returned once again to the central theme of the narrative: though the brothers were responsible for Joseph's being sold into Egypt, and though they intended 'harm,' God was ultimately behind it all and had worked it out for the 'good'" (Barker and Kohlenberger, eds., The Expositor's Bible Commentary, abr. ed., Zondervan).
As Joseph thought about the events that had transpired in the past two decades of his life, he could easily have been embittered by them. In fact, most people in similar circumstances would be holding a grudge against those who mistreatedthem and would be thinking about ways of meting out vengeance against them. Joseph, however, saw being sold into slavery as a divinely coordinated mission to Egypt for the purpose of preserving his family's posterity on earth. What happened to him would prove to be the means of deliverance for Jacob's family in Canaan. Had they been delivered from famine in any other manner, they might have concluded that it had simply occurred in the natural course of events. These events, however, clearly revealed the hand of God.
5. Since God was behind the events in Joseph’s life, does this mean that he approved of the actions of Joseph’s brothers?
That God was behind the eventual outcome of these events does not mean He approved of the evil actions of Joseph's brothers. Hence, we must distinguish between the decreed will of God, the desired will of God, and the permissive will of God. Obviously, any event that occurs is permitted by God. This includes both good and evil; yet God should never be seen as the author of evil (James 1:13-15). In other words, what Joseph's brothers did in hating him, plotting his murder, and ultimately selling him into slavery was wrong.
However, in the larger plan and purposes of the Almighty, the Lord was able to take these evil events and turn them into good. It is a striking illustration of Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." The events surrounding the cross of Christ illustrate the same truth.
"This story of Joseph and his brothers encourages us to recognize the sovereignty of God in the affairs of life and to trust His promises no matter how dark the day may be" (Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Cook).
6. At this point, how much longer was the famine going to last? (v. 6)
Since the famine was only in its second year at this point (Gen. 45:6), there were five more years of privation for Jacob's family. What happened to other families during this time is unknown. Even in the modern world, where famine relief is often available, people still suffer to the point of death from drought and other natural catastrophes.
Had divine providence not been operating in Joseph's life, his family in Canaan might have starved to death. Had that occurred, it would have aborted God's plan to bring salvation through Abraham's seed; but God was not going to allow that to happen.
Joseph explains why and how the various events of the past are being used by God (v. 7). They have two purposes, and they are stated in reverse chronological order. The ultimate purpose (stated first) is to guarantee that there will be future generations in this family that are descended from Abraham. The words indicate that there will be difficult times ahead, but not a total destruction.
HEAVENLY DECREE (Genesis 45:8-11)
7. In Joseph’s position of authority, how was he "a father to Pharaoh?" How does his position demonstrate the providence of God? (v. 8)
God is able to work through wrong attitudes and actions, and this is one example of that. The brothers are not absolved from guilt, but good has resulted (as Joseph stated in verse 8a). One outstanding thing that has happened is that Joseph is the primary advisor to Pharaoh. That Joseph referred to himself as a "father to Pharaoh" (Gen. 45:8b) means that his position in Egypt was such that he was able to give advice to the Egyptian monarch as a father might do for his son. That a foreign slave could rise to such prominence overnight was yet more evidence of God's providential hand.
“Joseph’s intent was not to deny his brothers’ guilty responsibility (his whole strategy had aimed at stirring their consciences). But now that a godly sorrow gripped them, Joseph would turn them from remorseful backward looks to thankful appropriation of the future God’s mercy had provided (vs. 8ff.)” (Kline, p. 110).
All By Myself?
Claiming credit is a common thing to do. Think of the strutting “look at me” end-zone display of a football player who has just scored a touchdown. He acts as if he did it without anyone else’s help! When a business prospers, a savvy CEO may get the credit, but what about all the help from dedicated employees throughout the organization? Even in the realm of individual sports, the record-setting athlete owes much of the success to coaches, trainers, and the gift of athletic prowess that God has granted.
Even at a human level, Joseph’s rise to success in Egypt owed much to the servant who had testified to Pharaoh about Joseph’s divine gift of interpreting dreams (Genesis 41:9-13). However, Joseph wisely recognized the primary source of his success was God’s providential direction of his life (contrast Daniel 4:28-32). Joseph is unwavering in this regard. Are we? —C. R. B.
8. What did Joseph ask his brethren to do quickly? (vs. 9-11)
Joseph immediately commissioned his brothers to return to Canaan and bring the entire family to Egypt (v. 9). They were to reassure Jacob that a reunion of father and son was not just possible but imminent. Since Joseph had been made "lord of all Egypt," ample food was available for all of Jacob's family, numbering about seventy people at this time (Gen. 46:27; Deut. 10:22; Acts 7:14).
Verse 10 is the first mention of Goshen in the Bible. This fertile area was located in the northeastern part of Egypt's Nile River delta. It would provide good grazing for Jacob's flocks and be close enough for Joseph to look after his family.
Since there were five more years of famine to be endured, Joseph's message to his father encouraged him not to delay in making this move to Egypt. Otherwise, they might quickly find themselves in destitution (verse 11 of today’s lesson).
HOPEFUL DECISION (Genesis 45:12,13)
9. What message did Joseph urge his brothers to give to his father? (vs. 12,13)
Joseph's brothers were probably still wondering whether what they were hearing was real. Yet his younger brother, Benjamin, and all his older brothers could see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears that this was, in fact, theirlong-lost brother, Joseph.
Not only was Joseph alive—which was good news enough—but he also occupied the highest position in the Egyptian government that one who was not part of the royal family could attain. Joseph urged his brothers to waste no time in returning to Canaan and informing their father of these astounding events. The trip probably will take at least two weeks. Even so, Joseph wanted to see his father as soon as possible.
This should remind us that once the will of God becomes clear to us, we should not delay in seeking to carry it out in our own lives.
10. Why was Joseph willing to forgive his brothers?
It is sad that many people who have suffered at the hands of their own families never enjoy a time of reconciliation like the one described here.
Had Joseph been unwilling to forgive his brethren, he could have made them suffer greatly. That they had experienced a change of heart certainly made it easier for Joseph to forgive them, but that was not the primary reason he was willing to extend pardon to them. As already observed, Joseph realized that the Lord was behind all of these events, working to accomplish a greater good.
There are, of course, many trying and tragic events that come to every person and family. Especially as these things are occurring, we cannot easily decipher the divine purposes behind them. We should not, however, confuse the events (which may be evil) with the good that God will ultimately bring about through them.
RECONCILIATION (Genesis 45:14,15)
11. What evidence suggests that true forgiveness had been granted (vs. 14,15)?
Joseph and Benjamin are grown men, but the people of this time and place do not hesitate to show their emotions in ways that many today might not. This is a time for the tears of a joyful reunion to flow freely (v. 14).
The displays of emotion continue for each brother (v. 15). It may be somewhat awkward for the ones who had been the leaders in the effort in selling Joseph, but at this point they are all glad for the happy ending that they are enjoying. They are able to be united with Joseph again.
These exchanges of mutual affection are followed by conversation. The 11 brothers undoubtedly have much to tell Joseph about what has happened in the 22 years since they last saw each other. No one can produce pictures of their children, of course, but vivid word pictures and excited gestures can provide understanding of the changes in their lives.
The Power of Forgiveness
Three cathedrals have been built in Coventry, England. The first dates back to the twelfth century. The current one is built on the ruins of the second, which was destroyed by Nazi firebombs on the night of November 14, 1940. Dick Howard, the cathedral’s provost at the time of its destruction, vowed that its rebuilding would not be an act of defiance.
As one enters the new cathedral through the ruins of the old, one’s eyes are drawn to the words Father Forgive on the wall. The words Never Forget, or something similar, could have been used instead. But that alternative would have served to keep open the wounds of that terrible night. Thus those who designed the rebuilt sanctuary decided to use Jesus’ words from the cross.
Joseph’s family reunion could not have taken place as it did had it not been for the fact that he found the power to forgive his brothers. Recognizing how God has forgiven us is a key to being able to forgive others in turn. —C. R. B.
1. We do not always understand God's ways, but they are always best for us (Genesis 45:3-5).
2. God's sovereign rule allows us the freedom to trust Him and forgive others (vs. 5-7).
3. We need to recognize that our current responsibilities are from God (vs. 8,9).
4. God often provides for others through His provision for you (vs. 10,11).
5. We should not hesitate to help others when we can (vs. 12,13).
6. True forgiveness removes all thoughts of retribution (vs. 14,15).
Lessons from Joseph
The narratives about Joseph and the dramatic reversals in his life can be used to teach abiding lessons about changes, choices, and forgiveness.
Changes. Joseph’s life was full of extraordinary changes. He went from being his father’s favorite to being sold as a slave. His life changed in the household of Potiphar from that of a servant to that of a supervisor. He had a similar experience in the prison where Potiphar placed him. The most outstanding change in his position was going from the prison to becoming the prime minister of Egypt. Joseph knew how to adjust and make the most of changes.
Choices. The regular temptations by Potiphar’s wife did not weaken Joseph, but they seemed to make him stronger and more determined to avoid what he knew to be sin. Joseph chose righteousness rather than suffering the remorse that would surely have followed. He did not rationalize why he should sin against God. Joseph chose God’s way, and thus became an example for us.
Forgiveness. Joseph is an excellent example of forgiving others. His life is in harmony with what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:14), and again when He encouraged extending forgiveness to what seems to be an impossible degree (Matthew 18:21,22). It is never stated, but Joseph also probably forgave Potiphar for imprisoning him.
God in Heaven, it is my resolve this day to be even more faithful, to be fervent in serving, and to find joy in forgiving family, friends, and even enemies. Help me to imitate the forgiveness that You provided for me, in Jesus’ name. Amen.