The testing is over and Joseph can no longer keep his identity a secret. In a rush of emotion he finally makes himself known to his brothers. As a result, Jacob and his entire family move to Egypt so Joseph can take care of them through five more years of famine. God’s reason for placing Joseph in Egypt and superintending events to put him in a position of power becomes clear. The newborn nation of Israel is now safe and prosperous even as Canaan suffers. Even more, God has just laid the groundwork for the next four centuries of Israel’s history that will culminate in the greatest event of the Old Testament.
After hearing Judah’s offer to sacrifice himself for the sake of Jacob, Joseph’s emotions get the better of him. He no longer wants to keep up the charade. He wants his family back. He orders all of his attendants out of the room – presumably so they don’t witness his emotional breakdown – and begins to address his brothers.
As opposed to the prior two instances where his emotions overwhelmed him, Joseph does not hide himself from his brothers. He openly weeps in front of them, to the extent that his attendants now outside of the room clearly hear him. They apparently go to Pharaoh’s house and let the people there know about his weeping too, no doubt causing much wonder over what’s happened.
Joseph cries out to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” It’s not entirely clear why he asks again about Jacob since he already asked them if he’s still alive (43:27). Perhaps he worries that they simply told him what they thought he wanted to hear before. Now that he asks as their brother the answer may be different. His immediate question about his father shows how much he loves and misses Jacob.
Not surprisingly, the brothers are so stunned they can’t reply. They likely look at Joseph with a mix of disbelief, confusion, and terror. Not only were his words unbelievable, but – since he probably just spoke to them in their own language for the first time – they just realized that he’s understood everything they’ve said in his presence. This is so out of left field that they can’t process it.
Seeing their shock, Joseph tells them to come closer so they can really see him. Remember that Joseph intentionally disguised himself in front of them (42:7) and probably only allowed them to see him at a distance up to now. As they come close enough to see his features he tells them again that he is Joseph, “…whom you sold into Egypt.”
This last sentence probably strikes fear into every man in the group other than Benjamin (and he’s probably wondering what in the world Joseph is referring to). This ruler – one of the most powerful men in the world – is their brother who they sold into slavery. And he’s clearly not forgotten about it. The implications of his method of proving his identity are terrifying.
Joseph sees his brothers’ fear. He immediately reassures them by making an amazing statement about his understanding of God’s sovereignty. He tells them not to be angry with themselves because it was God who sent him to Egypt to preserve life. He’s not bitter at them, because God sent him to Egypt – not them. It was God’s plan that he go to Egypt to preserve the lives of his family (what he doesn’t know is that God also has a much larger reason for him going to Egypt that transcends the famine). If God hadn’t sent him to Egypt, the family would perish in the famine. Because God intervened, the nation is now saved.
This is another clear sign of how Joseph walks with God. He’s in a position that allows him to exact any vengeance he wants on his brothers. But he instead tells them he’s not bitter or vengeful at all. He sees clearly what actually happened. Yes, they sinned against him and treated him horribly. But ultimately it was God’s plan. They were used by God to accomplish His ends. And since he is where God wants him, there’s no reason to be angry at them.
Notice how free Joseph is. This is what an understanding of God’s sovereignty does. If we see God’s hand instead of others’ unjust or unrighteous actions, then we can live without bitterness or anger. Bitterness enslaves its host. A perspective that sees God first and foremost offers freedom from that enslavement. This again speaks to the advantage Joseph has over his brothers. They’ve spent over two decades regretting their actions and carrying guilt. He’s faithfully served God and ascribed to Him all his circumstances. He’s free. They’re guilty and terrified.
Joseph tells his brothers to go back to Canaan and bring Jacob and their families to Egypt. He says there is another five years of famine (which means he’s roughly 39 years old – he was 30 when Pharaoh elevated him to ruler – 41:46 – and there have been seven years of plenty and now two years of famine) so they must move to Egypt where Joseph can provide for them. He then confirms for them again that he’s really Joseph and weeps on and kisses all of them.
The text says they all talk as a group. It would be interesting to witness this scene. Benjamin’s head must be swimming as he’s likely never known the true story of what happened to Joseph. And talking to Joseph – something they couldn’t do 20+ years ago because they hated him so much (37:4) – must be surreal for the other brothers. They likely catch up on all that’s happened to both sides, and the brothers probably marvel at how Joseph ended up where he is. The brothers may also be on pins and needles trying not to anger Joseph or do anything that might change his mind about getting even (seventeen years from now they’ll still fear his vengeance – 50:15).
Pharaoh hears about Joseph’s family and is extremely pleased (another sign of how much he loves and respects Joseph). He orders that wagons go back with the brothers so they can bring their father and their families to Egypt. He even tells them to not worry about packing everything up in Canaan since the best of Egypt will be at their disposal.
Joseph prepares to send the brothers back to his father. He sends a huge gift to Jacob and gives each brother a change of garments. To Benjamin – continuing the practice of singling him out as special – he gives 300 pieces of silver (fifteen times the amount Joseph was sold for) and five changes of garments.
When he sends the brothers away, he tells them, “Do not quarrel on the journey.” They may be changed men from the group that sold him to the slave traders, but he still knows them enough to know they’ll be tempted to argue over the implications of finding Joseph and who’s to blame and how to face their father. Their whole world is now upside down; he doesn’t want them turning on each other once they’re away from his presence.
The brothers reach Canaan and tell their father that Joseph is alive and is a ruler in Egypt. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t believe them. He reacts just as they did when Joseph first told them. He’s too stunned to believe it. When he sees the wagons and the provisions and the gifts, however, he comes around as there isn’t any other explanation.
Once again, the text is spare with its description of this scene. Do the brothers come completely clean with Jacob at this point? Do they tell him how it’s possible that Joseph is alive in Egypt after it looked so clearly like he was torn apart by animals so many years ago? There isn’t any way to know, but several facts suggest that they probably tell Jacob everything (if not now, at some point). First, they know that Jacob and Joseph will obviously catch up once everyone is in Egypt. What are the odds that Joseph won’t tell his father all that happened? Second, Benjamin now knows the truth and is obviously very close to his father. Third, they will claim – after Jacob dies – that Jacob instructed Joseph to forgive his brothers (50:17). The claim obviously presupposes that Jacob knew the truth and that Joseph knew he did.
The text says that when Jacob finally believes that Joseph is alive, his spirit revives. What this means isn’t entirely clear, but it could be that he never really recovered from Joseph’s death (which he said would be the case – 37:35) and only now gets back to his old self when he hears that Joseph is alive. It also could simply mean that he’s older and has had less to live for over the years but now has a renewed sense of purpose in wanting to see his son.
Jacob says, “It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” He has everything he wants in life. That Joseph is alive means his life is full and complete. There isn’t anything else he needs to be satisfied. It’s interesting to consider whether or not his enthusiasm is tempered by finding out the truth about what his other sons did. We again don’t know if he knows the full story yet. Perhaps the whole truth will come out on the journey to Egypt.
As He has done every time Jacob has had upheaval in his life or has had to make a big move, God appears to Jacob. He appears to him on the way to Egypt, in Beersheba (where God also appeared to Isaac and reassured him – 26:23-25), and tells him not to be afraid to go to Egypt for that is where Israel will become a great nation. God also tells Jacob that he will die in Egypt with Joseph, but that God will bring him up again. That God says He’ll bring Jacob back to Canaan could have a twofold meaning. We know that Jacob will be buried in Canaan but it also could refer to God bringing his descendants back when they are a mighty nation.
God’s great mercy to Jacob is on display throughout this story. He exalts Jacob’s beloved son to a position that allows him to save the family. He allows Jacob to live to see his son again. And He now appears to Jacob to reassure him just when he’s making the last major move of his life. Mercy is the best word to describe God’s interaction with Jacob all through his life. God has mercifully guided, blessed, and reassured Jacob even during a life that’s been far from perfect. God hasn’t shielded Jacob from the ramifications of his choices – specifically his familial decisions – but He’s nonetheless poured out mercy upon mercy on Jacob as he’s lived through them. Jacob’s life is a testament to the great faithfulness and mercy of God that transcend the unfaithfulness of men.
Jacob and all his family and all their belongings make the trip. They apparently don’t take Pharaoh’s suggestion to leave everything behind and just start anew in Egypt. The text names all the people making the trip. Some names are problematic from a timing standpoint – specifically, the sons of Perez. There is also confusion regarding the number since both 66 and 70 are listed. Reconciling these names and dates is beyond the scope of our study.
Jacob and the family come to Goshen, in Egypt. Joseph goes there and meets them and reunites with Jacob. When Jacob sees Joseph, he says again that he has everything he wants in life. He can die a happy man.
Joseph says that he will tell Pharaoh they have arrived in Goshen. He will also tell Pharaoh that his brothers and father are shepherds. The reason he will make this clear to Pharaoh presumably is so Pharaoh will recognize that they need the pasturelands which exist in Goshen. He also instructs his brothers that when they meet Pharaoh and he asks them what they do, they should explicitly state that they are shepherds. He wants them to make this clear because Egyptians loathe shepherds. The text doesn’t explain why Joseph wants his family to be so clear about this, but perhaps his thinking is that since the Egyptians want nothing to do with shepherds, they will give Goshen to Jacob’s family so they don’t have to associate with them.
So the tiny nation of Israel is now in Egypt. The events of the last days and weeks have stunned everyone. Joseph has been alive this whole time and is now a great ruler in Egypt. The truth of what God’s done is astounding. What they can’t comprehend, however, is that God has brought them here for an even more incredible event. They aren’t here just to weather the famine, although that may be what they think. They’re here so their descendants can grow into a great nation over the next 430 years and finally go back to Canaan as a result of the second greatest act of redemption in world history.