Genesis 45 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.
If we read one of the most moving lines in Genesis in the last chapter (“Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord” [44:33]), we read one of the more moving scenes in this one (where Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers). The testing was done, the final exam over, and the brothers passed. God’s grace had made them faithful and so they were welcomed back into fellowship with Joseph and God. All of that is dramatically portrayed in our passage for this morning.
In order to help us get as much out of this passage as possible, I’m going to work through it in three parts. In the first part, I’ll briefly recap the story. And in the second and third parts I’ll highlight the two main themes, 1) reconciliation and 2) the mysterious union between God’s sovereignty and the real choices we make as humans.
In the end, the main point of all of this is that God is sovereignly working out the reconciliation of His people, first with Himself and then with His people. And, as one commentator put it, “Reconciliation comes through forgiveness, and forgiveness through the recognition of God’s sovereignty” (Ross, CB, 657). Let’s pray for God’s help to see, savor, and be transformed by all of this.
Throughout my life, and especially in my capacity as a pastor, I’ve witnessed some pretty remarkable examples of forgiveness and reconciliation between people. None, however, compares to the one we find between Joseph and his brothers.
Having just heard the moving, humble and sacrificial words of his once-diabolical brother (Judah), Joseph knew for sure that God had changed him; that He had changed all of them. With that, Joseph was overcome with emotion. The text doesn’t say exactly why he “could not control himself” (1), only that he couldn’t. Like all people, his response was certainly a complex array of feelings. Can there be any doubt that there was a bit of exhaustion, a bit of relief, a bit of apprehension, a bit of thankfulness, a bit of amazement, and a bit of a bunch of other things as well? It seems clear, however, that above all, Joseph felt love for his brothers. Outwardly, “he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it” (2).
In the midst of all of this, Joseph commanded the Egyptians leave the room and he “made himself known to his brothers” (1). Through tears, he said to them, “I am Joseph,” even as he wondered, “Is my father still alive?” (2).
Not yet sure what to make of all of this, the brothers were stunned and dismayed into silence (3). Everything about their time in Egypt had been crazy. Nothing had made sense. They’d been inexplicably falsely accused of being spies, they had their grain-money mysteriously returned to them, they had been held hostage, and there was even a feast in their honor. Again, they must have felt like they had whiplash, without really understanding why. They couldn’t possibly have made sense of their experiences…until now. It’s easy to picture their brains frantically seeking to reinterpret everything with the new revelation that their brother was the governor of Egypt.
Ultimately, however, the question was, “What did all of this mean?” Was this the beginning of the end for them? Would Joseph use his power to crush them, even as they’d used theirs to crush him? Was there anything they could say or do to avoid getting what they’d given?
With that emotion-filled backdrop, Joseph called his brothers to come near to him (4). He again told them who he was and went about trying to set their minds at ease. I am the brother “whom you sold into Egypt” (4), but you need not be “distressed or angry” (5), because through your really sinful actions, God has been doing really, really good things—life-saving, promise-keeping, relationship-reconciling things (5).
Joseph went on to explain that they were only two years into a seven-year famine, but that God had a plan for all of it (6). The brothers had intended to end Joseph’s life, but God had intended to save many lives through their evil intentions—along with preserving the promise and promised line.
In the most significant line of the passage, Joseph clearly and unapologetically stated, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (8). And from there, Joseph spoke to his brothers concerning God’s handiwork and purposes. God had made Joseph as a “father to Pharaoh, the lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
Joseph even went so far as to console his brothers, and he did so by acknowledging that God had made him ruler over all of Egypt. Where Joseph’s brothers had hated him earlier for dreaming that he would rule over them, God made Joseph ruler over much, much more. What was their great lament became their greater salvation.
What were the brothers to do? Joseph insisted that they return quickly to Canaan and their father, they were to relay all of these things to him, and they were to quickly bring him to Egypt where he might spend his last days under the protection and provision, and in the preservation and presence of Jacob. By God’s design, through Joseph’s position of power, they would all be together in prosperity and joy (9-13).
The dramatic scene comes to a close with Joseph falling “upon his brother Benjamin’s neck” (14) and weeping. “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them” also (15). They talked freely and wondered at what the future might hold in light of this awesome, divine turn of events
Quite a story, isn’t it? Who among us, if they didn’t already know the ending, would have predicted this just a few chapters ago? To read this rightly is to be shocked by the power of God to bring His plan about through such unlikely circumstances. To read this rightly is to ask, “Is there anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14).
As I mentioned in the beginning, all of that, everything Joseph had experienced to this point, was intended by God to do two things: 1) to put on full display His ability to reconcile even the most estranged parties, and 2) to give His people a clear picture of the mysterious relationship between His sovereign reign and our real, responsible choices. Let’s look at each in turn as we move to the final two parts of the sermon.
One of the most important things you can realize (whether you have been a Christian for 50 years or aren’t one at all) is that the entire Bible tells one grand story. It is made up of 66 books, spanning centuries, cultures, genres, conditions, and authors, all combining—by God’s inspiration and design—to tell the greatest story of all.
In short, the Bible tells the story of God’s creation, mankind’s fall, God’s salvation, and our eternal fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. Although the Bible tells this entire story, the vast majority of the biblical text addresses the middle two elements—mankind’s sin and God’s reconciling work. In other words, most of the various stories and commands and songs and prophesies of the Bible are meant to help God’s people understand their own rebellion against God and God’s plan to rescue them from it. Both of those are on full display in Joseph’s life. But here, in Genesis 45, we see most clearly God’s reconciling work. This passage exists, in large measure, to show God’s people what it looks like when God puts broken things back together.
Remember again how Joseph’s brothers’ hatred for him seethed to the point that they sold him into slavery. Remember also that their having done so is what led to Joseph being thrown into prison on account of the lies of his master’s wife. Remember how he languished in prison because the cupbearer forgot about Joseph. And remember that all of this took place over 20+ years. It was no mere blip on the radar. Joseph’s suffering at the hands of his brothers had spanned the majority of his life to this point.
Grace, it’s hard to overstate how deep Joseph’s brothers’ hatred was for Joseph, how prolonged their mistreatment was of him, how far-reaching the effects of their sinful actions went, and how much pain and suffering Joseph ended up enduring on account of them.
It is only once we are have walked with Joseph in the darkest darkness of his life that we’re able to experience the proper awe and wonder at the glorious reconciliation that takes place in this passage. Instead of anger and revenge, Joseph was brought to tears of love. Instead of justice, he comforted his persecutors. Instead of tormenting them as they’d tormented him, Joseph assured his brothers that they no longer needed to be angry with themselves. Instead of unleashing his pain on them, he reminded them of God’s plan. Instead of trying to extract reparations from them for what they’d taken from him, he promised to protect and provide for them. Instead of coldness and bitterness, he hugged and kissed them through tears.
Grace, it’s hard to overstate how justified Joseph would have been in being filled with anger and resentment and a longing for revenge. Indeed, almost everything in our society today—and today more than ever—screams for Joseph to frame himself as a victim (which he was) and seek justice for himself. But as I hope to have helped, and continue to help you see: God frames the story much, much differently than we tend to.
Recognizing that, Joseph gave his brothers, not what they deserved, but what he had received himself from God—mercy. Justice would have demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but Joseph did not give justice, he gave them grace. And through God’s and then Joseph’s abundant mercy and grace the family was reconciled both to God and to one another. Instead of a blood-bath, there was a baptism of tears. Instead of merely refusing to do to them as they’d done to him, Joseph received his brothers back with full pardons and fellowship. Instead of the retribution our society is clamoring for, there was only reconciliation.
I don’t know every answer to every question you might have about real suffering you’ve experienced at the hands of others (and I certainly don’t mean to minimize any of it), but I do know that Joseph’s story and God’s wisdom flips almost everything our world tells you on its head. Instead of putting ourselves at the center of our story (no matter how pleasant or unpleasant it is), we must put God there. Instead of giving ourselves to getting what we deserve, we must first give ourselves to getting glory for God. And instead of giving to others what they deserve, we must give first what we have so freely received—mercy and grace.
Do you see what this means? Do you see how radically different this perspective is than the one being shouted on every corner today? What’s more, do you see how hopeful this passage is for the most broken human relationships? What’s most, do you see this for what it really is…a picture of the gospel itself; wherein sinners like you and me, sinners who have rebelled against God 1,000,000x more than Joseph’s brothers could ever have rebelled against Joseph, are reconciled to God, even as Joseph’s brothers were reconciled to him?!
The question we’re left with is how could God possibly bring this about? How could Joseph possibly have forgiven his brothers for their treachery and the decades of suffering it had caused Joseph? How could he have gotten over his hurt? How could he willingly let them get away with their treachery without proper punishment? How could he set aside justice so easily? And that leads to the final section: The mysterious relationship between God’s sovereign reign over all and mankind’s real, responsible choices.
THE MYSTERIOUS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOD’S SOVEREIGN REIGN OVER ALL AND MANKIND’S REAL, RESPONSIBLE CHOICES
Grace, the Bible is filled with real accounts of a real God and real people, which the world must really consider. In other words, this is not merely a historical record of some distant, irrelevant people—interesting, but not significant for our daily living.
Rightly read, then, we’re meant to consider this story of Joseph and his brothers and imagine the greatest mistreatment we’ve ever endured. We’re meant to test our own perspectives and responses against Joseph’s and learn from it. We’re meant to see the glory God got in all of this and long to glorify Him as Joseph did. We’re meant to ask how Joseph was able to think and feel and act as he did in order that we might think, feel, and act in a similar manner.
Of course, there are several layers of answers to this question. Ultimately, the answer is the grace of God. Indeed, whenever God’s people act as God intends, it’s because God provided the will and strength to do so. Joseph was able to love his brothers, then, in spite of their treacherous acts against him, because God granted him that grace.
More specifically, God used (though certainly did not require) the genuine repentance of the brothers to soften Joseph’s heart to receive them back. God calls us to be patient and kind with our enemies, as He was kind and patient to us in our rebellion, that they might be led to repentance (Romans 2:4). But the fact that God granted true repentance to Joseph’s brothers certainly made it easier for Joseph to love them in spite of their sins against him.
Most specifically, though, the passage tells us that God’s love-empowering grace came to Joseph in one main form: that of the revelation that God was sovereignly working an awesome good through Joseph’s brothers’ mistreatment of Joseph. That is, God helped Joseph love and forgive his brothers in spite of their treacherous acts against him by revealing to Joseph that God was using their treachery to save the lives of many (especially God’s covenant people) through Joseph, through the famine. This is made crystal clear in vs. 7-8.
7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Do not miss the logic of the text. It’s really very simple. Joseph was enabled by God to love and forgive his brothers for their sin, by revealing to Joseph that He was doing something much, much greater through their sin, than the hardship he’d endured because of it.
Let me give a simple, silly, probably familiar example. How many of you would willingly choose to be stung by a group of hornets? Obviously, no one would. It’s definitely one of the more unpleasant experiences in life. However, what if I said, I’d give you $50 to wrestle with a hornet’s nest? You’d probably still say no, but depending on your financial situation, you might at least pause to consider it in a new way. On the other hand, what if I said that if you’d let me throw you and a hornet’s nest in a room, I’d share the cure for cancer with the world. Assuming you believed I had the ability to deliver on my promise, I’d bet all of you would take that deal. The hornet stings would hurt exactly the same amount, but you’d probably gladly endure them for the sake of saving untold millions.
Again, that’s what Joseph came to understand about his suffering. His suffering was unpleasant to say the least, but in the knowledge that it was the means God used to accomplish the preservation of countless lives and the covenant promise, Joseph was eager to endure it and forgive those who’d directly caused it.
Grace, and this is truly staggering, this simple reality is always the case for Christians. Every hardship we endure is always for some greater good, for God is always working in the suffering of His people just as He did through Joseph’s. This is why Peter (1 Peter 1:6-7) and James (1:2-3) command Christians to consider every trial “all joy”. This promise is most clearly seen in Romans 8:28 where God promises that He is causing all things to work together for good for those who love him. Knowing that Joseph is one example of what is always true for the people of God frees us to love and forgive in staggering ways.
This is simple, but rightly understood, it’s also somewhat confusing. “It was not you who sent me here, but God”?! How can that be? We’ve read over the course of several chapters exactly how Joseph’s brothers felt, what they did, and how all of that ended up for Joseph. How, then, could it be that it was not by their hand, but God’s, that Joseph ended up where he did? And what does that say about the choices we make in this life?
Do you feel the tension? Is it clear to you why this is an important issue to settle on? If Joseph’s brothers made real, sinful choices that led to Joseph’s suffering, how could it be said that God brought Joseph to Egypt? Conversely, if it was God who brought all of this about, then how could Joseph’s brothers be held responsible? Something has to give, right?
Before I offer the most basic answer to this set of questions, I want to ratchet up the tension a bit by reading several other verses that speak to the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Acts 2:22-23 Men of Israel, hear these words: … 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Acts 4:27-28 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
Acts 13:27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.
Philippians 1:12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…
Philippians 2:12b-13 …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
So what are we to make of all of this? It makes sense that God’s people find strength to endure trials in the knowledge that God is using them for some great good. It also makes sense that in light of this we’d be happy and eager to forgive those who cause our trails in the knowledge that they are instruments in the Redeemer’s hands. But how do we make sense of the fact that God still holds the sinners responsible for their sins?
Philosophers (understandably) make a really big deal out of this. Most tend to frame it as an either/or proposition. Either God is sovereign and we are left with some form of determinism, or mankind has genuine freedom and God’s sovereignty is limited. In merely human terms, this makes some sense. And yet, that’s just not how the Bible talks. It does not pit one against the other. As we saw a minute ago, in the same passages both God’s sovereignty and human choice and responsibility are taught. In the Bible, we’re given two grand realities that never change:
- By God’s design, all people are made in God’s image and are, therefore, real, moral agents who make real, moral choices for which we are responsible.
- By God’s design, God is continually working in and through our every choice to accomplish is perfect, unstoppable sovereign will.
The Bible reveals over and over that both of these things are true at the same time even if we cannot fully understand how. There is more that can be said on this, but not less.
Armed with this knowledge Joseph was empowered to endure the persecution of his brothers and the resulting, decades-long suffering it produced. He was also empowered to eagerly forgive his brothers instead of responding in kind. Likewise, armed with the same (and even greater) knowledge of this mystery of God, we too are freed to be reconciled to our persecutors, regardless of the amount pain they’ve caused. I say “even greater” because we know something that Joseph didn’t. We know about the cross—the substitute suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, without fully understanding it, God’s grace in Joseph’s forgiveness is a picture of the gospel that was to come.
In the first half of Genesis 45 we find a sweet, sweet story of wrong things being made right, crooked things being straightened, broken things being fixed, and alienated things being reconciled. Wherever we find this (whether big or small) in the Bible or in our own lives, we are catching glimpses of the fullness of the gospel glory that awaits us in heaven. Jesus’ blood guarantees that one day all that sin has stained and broken will be made new. God is so kind to give us glimpses of that awesome reality all over the place—in the bible and in our lives.
Would you look to Jesus today, therefore, and be reconciled to God? And would you look to Him today, therefore, and be reconciled to those who have wronged you in the certain knowledge that God is using their wrongs to get glory for Himself and good for all who love Him? This is the power of the cross. Amen.