God Preserves His People
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Summarize Joseph’s speech to his brothers when he revealed his identity.
2. Articulate the importance of seeing the “bigger picture” when viewing the events of life.
3. Write a prayer that asks for God’s strength in resisting temptation to seek revenge when wronged.
How to Say It
Pharaoh. FAIR-o or FAY-roe.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Nov. 12—Restoration of God’s Favor (Psalm 85)
Tuesday, Nov. 13—Food in Egypt (Genesis 42:1–20)
Wednesday, Nov. 14—Jacob’s Difficult Decision (Genesis 43:1–15)
Thursday, Nov. 15—Dining Together (Genesis 43:16–34)
Friday, Nov. 16—Joseph Tests His Brothers (Genesis 44:1–13)
Saturday, Nov. 17—Judah’s Plea (Genesis 44:14–34)
Sunday, Nov. 18—Brothers Reconciled (Genesis 45:1–15)
God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
Why Teach This Lesson?
After gritting one’s teeth through a movie or a novel where the leading character suffers injustice after injustice, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the turning point arrive. That is the moment when the hero or heroine gets the upper hand. It’s all a person can do, whether in a crowded theater or at home, not to yell out, “Yes!” Today’s Scripture brings us to that moment of truth.
But it will be easy to learn the wrong lesson from the story of Joseph. That wrong lesson is something like, “If you’re faithful to God for long enough, he will vindicate you before your earthly enemies in this life.” The accounts of godly martyrs within the pages of the Bible say otherwise (examples: Jeremiah 26:20–23; Acts 7:54–60).
The correct “bigger picture,” rather, is that God is in control. He is working out his plan. This can be difficult to believe when life seems to be out of control. Yet the God who guided Joseph’s destiny is the one who is guiding ours. This is worth relearning as many times as it takes!
A. A Struggling Young Minister
A young minister found a church about 200 miles from the seminary he planned to attend. The church at first was very glad to have him. But they had one restriction: he could not attend board meetings.
The young minister was not upset by this restriction because he didn’t enjoy board meetings anyway. The agreement stipulated that the employment could be terminated by either party by giving a notice of 30 days to the other.
About a year after the young minister was hired, the church held a special board meeting. The major topic of discussion was this new minister. It was concluded at that meeting that they would fire him, but would wait 30 days before telling him he had been fired. Then he would have to leave immediately.
One conscientious elder came to the young man and told him what had happened. Immediately the young man began to look for another church, and he found one. He would be going back to school in just two weeks, and the new church provided a rent-free parsonage, all the utilities, and a raise in salary. The elder who warned the young minister even gave him the money needed for his next semester’s tuition. God still can bring good out of bad situations!
B. Lesson Background
When we last saw Joseph, he had become the second most powerful man in Egypt, an unimaginable height of power. Joseph then had two sons—Manasseh and Ephraim—by his Egyptian wife Asenath (Genesis 41:50–52).
The predicted years of plenty passed, and the famine arrived. The Egyptians survived by buying the grain that was stored up from the years of plenty (Genesis 41:53–56). Canaan experienced famine as well (42:5). Word came to Jacob that grain was available in Egypt (42:1-2). So 10 of Joseph’s 11 brothers came to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph quickly recognized them, but he did not reveal his own true identity (42:6–8). The brothers knew only that they were dealing with an Egyptian official through a translator (42:23).
The brothers revealed that their father was still alive. Joseph had them arrested as spies and thrown in jail for a time. Reuben concluded that this was their punishment for having sold Joseph into slavery (Genesis 42:22). The brothers were released, given their grain, and sent back home. But Simeon had to stay behind as a hostage (42:24–26). Joseph told them they could buy no more grain if they did not bring back the youngest brother with them (42:33-34; 43:3–5).
Joseph was age 17 when his brothers sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:1). He was age 30 when he entered Pharaoh’s service (41:46). By the time Joseph saw his brothers on their return trip to Egypt, there had been 7 years of plenty and 2 years of famine (45:6). This means that Joseph was about age 39 when the brothers saw him in Genesis 42:6. Thus it was some 21 or 22 years since Joseph had seen any of his family members.
As we pick up today’s story, the brothers have returned to Egypt, this time with brother Benjamin, who hadn’t made the first trip. It is the second year of the famine (Genesis 45:6). The brothers’ second trip to Egypt is recorded in Genesis 43. Our text today follows the test that Joseph devised in Genesis 44. Their return home was cut short as they were forced to return to Joseph’s presence (Genesis 44:3–5, 14).
I. Joseph’s Announcement (Genesis 45:1–4)
A. Joseph Unrestrained (vv. 1, 2)
1a. Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!”
Joseph wants to be alone with his brothers for the very personal moment to come. It is not the type of moment that Joseph wants to share with his Egyptian associates. Thus he cries, Have everyone leave my presence!
Perhaps the Egyptians will consider it a bit strange for Joseph to be associating so intimately with this rag-tag band of foreigners. The Egyptians may also worry that Joseph, their boss, will be more vulnerable. He will have no guards around to protect him if the visitors decide to attack. But privacy will help the brothers respond to Joseph with less fear.
1b. So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers.
The first shock comes when Joseph begins to speak to his brothers in their native tongue (exactly what he says is in v. 3, below). Up to this time a translator has stood between them (Genesis 42:23). Joseph has understood what they have been saying all along, and they have not realized it. To them, Joseph has been no more than a powerful Egyptian authority with whom they have to deal.
The second shock will be when he reveals to them who he is. The translator may have referred to Joseph by his Egyptian name, Zaphenath-Paneah. That means something like, “the one who furnishes the sustenance of the land” (Genesis 41:45).
2. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
Joseph had wept when he first saw his brothers. He also had wept upon seeing his brother Benjamin. But those weepings were done out of sight (Genesis 42:24; 43:30). Joseph is known as a man who is able to exercise great self-control (compare 39:8–10). But now the dam of his emotions bursts. He can suppress his emotions no longer.
Has Joseph waited and prayed for this moment of reconciliation? At this point he has seen his brother Benjamin personally, and he knows his father is still alive. It is a time for tears of joy, a time for great rejoicing.
The weeping is so great that the sound of it penetrates the stone walls; everyone can hear it. This is a moment of raw emotion. This is the third time Joseph weeps for his brothers. He will do so two more times (Genesis 45:14-15; 50:17).
We have no information of any adverse effect this incident has on Joseph’s relationship with Pharaoh. Quite the opposite seems to be the case (Genesis 45:16–20).
What Do You Think?
What do you think was the main thing that prompted Joseph’s weeping? What conclusions about our own character can we draw by noting what draws our own emotions? Explain.
[Ecclesiastes 3:4 and 7:6 can enrich your discussion.]
B. Joseph Reveals (vv. 3, 4)
3a. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?”
The first thing the brothers hear this Egyptian official speak in their native Hebrew is the startling declaration I am Joseph. It makes sense for Joseph to reveal his true name first.
But why does Joseph ask if his father is still living? Just moments earlier the brothers were expressing their great concern for their father if Benjamin were not to return with them (Genesis 44:29–32). Isn’t the issue of the father’s being alive already settled? Note that Joseph does not ask about “your father,” but my father. Joseph is concerned about more than the mere fact that his father is still breathing. He wants more detail.
3b, 4. But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!”
When Joseph reveals who he is, the brothers cannot speak because they are terrified. The Hebrew word can also mean “disturbed” or “panicked.” (This same Hebrew word is used to describe high degrees of alarm in Judges 20:41; 1 Samuel 28:21; and 2 Samuel 4:1.) In their imaginations they may visualize torture, imprisonment, exile, and death. At one time they had power over Joseph’s life to do as they pleased. Now the tables are turned. Joseph’s further statement the one you sold into Egypt is not necessarily said in anger or rebuke. It primarily serves as a reminder of how this whole state of affairs got its start.
What Is Least Expected
Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts came upon a hole in the ground in the Arizona desert in 1974. What they really found was a lot more: it was a seven-acre wet, or “living,” cavern right there under the arid Arizona surface. Eventually Tufts and Tenen would discover rooms the size of football fields, smaller chambers, and an underground lake. One of the cave’s notable features is the second longest stalactite ever found: one-quarter inch wide and 21 feet long! As Tufts said, “We never expected to find anything like this in our wildest dreams.”
The two kept their find secret for as long as possible. Eventually they contacted the owners of the land. The owners in turn sold the land to the Arizona State Park system for the cavern’s preservation. Today, Kartchner Caverns is a jewel in the state’s park system, bringing delight to thousands of visitors each year.
Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt only to buy grain. While there, they discovered what they least expected: their long-lost brother. “I am Joseph,” he said. The added words, “the one you sold into Egypt,” left no doubt. Joseph would prove to be an unexpected treasure to them: he would save their lives! God sometimes brings into our lives a treasure (something or someone) we least expect and creates a wonderful blessing. When that happens, will you be able to recognize God to be the true source? —C. R. B.
Visual for Lesson 12
Ask your learners, “How do God’s past provisions for you lead you to trust in him for the year to come?”
II. God’s Purpose (Genesis 45:5–8)
A. What the Brothers Should Not Do (v. 5a)
5a. “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here,
Joseph sees no need for self-blame. Nor does he want a feud to erupt in which each brother blames the others for what they had done more than 20 years previously. The reason for Joseph’s challenge is given next.
B. What God Is Doing (vv. 5b–8)
5b. “… because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
Joseph comforts the brothers with what is the central issue of the whole drama: God has been directing the sequence of events all along. It is God who has now brought them all to this place and point in time.
We do not know when Joseph realizes this bigger picture of preserving life. It may have been when he saw his brothers arrive for food the first time. If they are out of food early in the famine, what will happen to them as the famine drags on?
The bigger picture that Joseph sees is not necessarily a revelation from God. It is more likely the insight of a wise, godly man who is able to put the various pieces of the puzzle together.
6. “For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping.
Here we learn how long the famine has lasted thus far. Joseph’s information that the famine will last for another five years is news to the brothers! Who is this man who knows how long a famine will last? This only adds to the brothers’ shock. It is important for the brothers to know that this famine is a long-term hardship, not one that will end shortly. That will influence their decision to return to Egypt with their families.
7. “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
We do not know how much Joseph understands regarding the significance that his extended family will have in the greater plan of God. Joseph certainly knows of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Genesis 50:24, where Joseph recites the promise on his deathbed). But it is doubtful that Joseph understands how sweeping and far-reaching God’s plans really are!
Abraham’s concern was to have a son; Joseph is concerned about placing what family members there are in a place where they will be safe and secure. Security, abundance of food, good living conditions, and a sense of peace may help his extended family to flourish. What is happening to them is all part of a great plan of God. Joseph is simply an instrument in carrying out the plan.
What Do You Think?
How do we see in Joseph the meeting of the spiritual and the practical? Can this be a model for us? Why, or why not?
8. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
Joseph is a man with status—so much so that he is considered to be a father to Pharaoh. That status came to him by the power of God. Joseph does not claim any great achievements as his own.
Even so, it is important for the brothers to know how great his position is. This is not to frighten or threaten them, but to let them know that he has come a long way. He has the power to save them from the famine. When we consider all three descriptors of Joseph’s position (father … lord … ruler), we see a powerful person indeed!
This is not merely bluster on Joseph’s part, because Pharaoh said much the same things when Joseph was first appointed to his position (Genesis 41:40–43). The brothers are dealing with the man who, more than 20 years earlier, had told them dreams of how he would rule over them. The dreams have come to pass. The brothers end up bowing before Joseph numerous times (Genesis 42:6; 43:26, 28; 50:18).
What Do You Think?
How did the concepts of faith and luck differ for Joseph? How do they differ for us?
Good News from Bad?
The continent of Africa has long been a cauldron brewing with bad news. In recent years, Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe (among others) have seen millions of people suffer malnutrition and starvation. Chronic drought destroys hope of growing sufficient food. Sometimes one faction will use hunger as a weapon against another. HIV/AIDS has taken so many adults in some countries that few are left to work the farms. Political corruption destroys morale.
Can good come out of such evil? If Joseph’s situation is an example, the answer is yes. His brothers sought to do evil to him, but God turned it into good—to the saving of many lives. Even today, God may step in and turn evil events into an opportunity for good. The leadership of two people has begun to offer hope to Africa. Bono, lead musician of the band U2, is challenging Western society to help the world’s neediest people. And Rick Warren, minister of Saddleback Church in California, has started three foundations to provide aid.
But from God’s eternal perspective, saving lives won’t mean much unless we save souls as well. If the misery of Africa results in taking the gospel for the spirit along with food and medicine for the body, what good news that will be! —C. R. B.
III. Joseph’s Instructions (Genesis 45:9–12)
A. Come to Egypt (v. 9)
9. “Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay.
What we see here is a departure from the patriarchal policy of the Old Testament. No longer is Jacob (Joseph’s father) making the major decisions for his family. Instead that responsibility has shifted to Joseph. This is not Joseph’s plan, but God’s. Joseph is not making recommendations; he is giving orders.
Joseph is now occupying the position Jacob had envisioned for him except that Joseph is now in charge of even his own father. Jacob will need to be convinced that this move is the will of God—after all, God had given him and his forefathers the land of Canaan. That “divine convincing” will come in Genesis 46:1–4. The words hurry and don’t delay make it clear that this move must be made immediately if the family is to continue to flourish.
What Do You Think?
How can we benefit from times of waiting? Why doesn’t God “speed things up” in ways that we may prefer?
B. Dwell in Goshen (v. 10)
10a. “ ‘You shall live in the region of Goshen
All of this information is directed at Jacob, Joseph’s father. Jacob needs to know that Joseph has the power to give him and his extended family land in Egypt.
It is important that this land be somewhat separated from where most of the Egyptians live. The children of Israel need to flourish on their own and maintain their own way of life. They should not be seen as a threat to their neighbors (compare 1 Chronicles 7:21). They need land that will be useful for their herds (Genesis 47:1–4).
Goshen is unknown outside of the Bible. It is also called the “land of Ramses,” but that does not help us to know exactly where it is. We believe that it is in the Nile Delta, in the northeast part of Egypt. This gift is from God for his people. Do the travelers know that they and their descendants will be in Egypt for some 400 years (Genesis 15:13)?
10b. “ ‘… and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have.
Joseph wants his father and his family to be nearby. He has his own wife, children, and Egyptian associates. But that is not the same as having his extended family around. Joseph has strong feelings for his father. Joseph knows his father feels the same about him. It will be important for them to be close to one another.
There is no evidence that Joseph “takes over” the family after Jacob dies. The children of Israel will exist within Egypt as a subsociety without rulers in the traditional sense. That will change when a new king arises in Egypt, a king who will exert authority over the Israelites in a most forceful way (Exodus 1).
C. Avoid Becoming Destitute (v. 11)
11. ‘I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
Joseph wants his father to know about the five years of famine that remain. If they fail to respond to Joseph’s request, they could lose everything. Perhaps the veiled warning here is that they could die if they stay in Canaan.
IV. Joseph’s Verification (Genesis 45:12)
12. “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you.”
Joseph has been telling his brothers what he wants them to say to their father Jacob. Now Joseph shifts back to addressing the brothers themselves. Do they really need any more evidence to convince them that it really is Joseph who is in their presence?
What Do You Think?
Some character qualities of Joseph’s servanthood were godliness, responsibility, wisdom, and forgiveness. Why are these four so necessary in the lives of Christians today? What would life be like if we lacked one particular quality, but still had the other three? Or can they really be separated?
[Some passages for discussion are Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 1:28; 2:3, 23; 3:13; 1 Timothy 2:2, 10; 5:8; 6:6; Titus 1:1; James 1:5; 3:17; and 2 Peter 1:3, 6-7; 3:11.]
The greatest attribute in the character of Joseph is that of servanthood. But the important aspect to this is not Joseph’s service to Potiphar, the prison warden, or even Pharaoh. The important thing is his service to God. Joseph’s faithfulness to God resulted in the saving of many lives. These included not only those of Egypt and Joseph’s own family, but of many in the countries surrounding Egypt.
This is also a special instance of the concept of the suffering servant in the Bible. In the early years of his life, Joseph suffered for maintaining his integrity. Those who should have been closest to Joseph were his betrayers; but God used the experience to bring about physical redemption for Jacob’s family. In that sense he is a “type” of Christ. Centuries later, God used Christ’s obedience to make eternal redemption available to all humanity.
Joseph understood, to some extent, what was happening as part of a larger plan being worked out by God: it was to preserve life. In an even larger sense, God was continuing to fulfill his promises to Abraham that would culminate in the coming of the Messiah.
Thought to Remember
God has a plan that is greater than our current situations.
Our heavenly Father, let us ever be mindful that you can work through all events to accomplish your will. Help us not to be discouraged in the down times. Help us to see them as preparation for greater things ahead. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 103