International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Genesis 45:3-15Lesson Title: Preserving a Remnant
Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, and the older son of his mother Rachel, dominates Genesis 37-50. When you hear Joseph’s name your mind almost instantly goes to the story of his coat of many colors. However, once you began to study Joseph’s life in-depth, you quickly realize this is a man of remarkable faith, challenging patience, and amazing trust in God. He believed that God was sovereign in his life and proved that belief by submitting to painful experiences as God fulfilled His purpose.
When Joseph’s brothers sold him to Midianite and Ishmeelite merchantmen (Genesis 37:28) they never expected to see him again. At that point their focus was to convince their father, Jacob, that Joseph had been torn to pieces by wild animals (Genesis 37:29-36). Joseph was very much alive but he was a slave in Egypt. When tempted by Potiphar’s wife to sin by committing adultery with her, Joseph resisted but was later falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and sentenced to prison (Genesis 39:1-23). Of his first 11 years in Egypt, most of that time was spent in prison. But a day came when he was asked to interpret a dream of Pharaoh. Joseph gave God the credit for his ability to interpret dreams and acknowledged God when he stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 40:8; 41:16). Joseph told Pharaoh that his dream meant that seven years of plenty was coming to be followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41:14-36). Pharaoh believed Joseph and confidently placed Joseph in charge of preparing Egypt and the land for what lay ahead. Truly these actions and reactions were nothing short of the providential hand of God.
As a recognition and reward to Joseph for his ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, Pharaoh gave him a wife and soon Joseph and his wife had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 41:45, 51-52). Chapters 42-44 of Genesis focus on Jacob sending his sons to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. God used this famine to bring the sons of Jacob; Joseph’s betraying brothers, face to face with their brother Joseph. When Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt, they were brought into Joseph’s presence but did not know who he was. Joseph was only 17 when they last saw him and now he is nearly 40 (Genesis 42:7).
As a test to see if his brothers had changed, Joseph planted a silver cup in his brother Benjamin's grain sack, then made a false accusation to see what his other brothers would do (Genesis 44:1-17). Had they changed? Yes. Judah told the whole story to try and gain Joseph's sympathy, and he offered to make good on his vow to take Benjamin's place. These were not the same men who had jumped on the chance to sell Joseph into slavery more than twenty years before. All of this was leading up to the time for Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers. It is that dramatic revelation of Joseph to his brothers that we study in Genesis 45:3-15.
Joseph Reveals Himself (Genesis 45:3-4a)
“And Joseph said into his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.” Based on Joseph’s words “…it is my mouth that speaketh unto you” in Genesis 45:12, it can be assumed that Joseph now speaks to them in Hebrew. This is one of the most gripping, emotional scenes in the Bible. His brothers were “troubled” or “terrified” by the unexpectedness, the switch in languages, the sudden presence of their long-lost brother, their powerlessness, and their deep feelings of guilt. On several previous occasions, the urge to reveal himself to his brothers had almost overtaken Joseph. Now, he cannot refrain himself any longer. When his brother Judah offers to stay in Egypt if Joseph will let his younger brother Benjamin return to Jacob (Genesis 44:18-34), it is more than Joseph can handle. After weeping loud enough to be heard by the servants in Pharaoh’s house, Joseph returns and tells his brothers, “I am Joseph.”
Naturally, his brothers were “troubled.” They think Joseph is dead! They were literally stunned and terrified. Can you imagine the questions, thoughts and emotions that must have been flooding their minds? If he was Joseph, how would he treat them? If he was Joseph why had he not told them up until now? What would he do to them?
Joseph’s question was “Doth my father yet live?” Joseph’s brother, Judah, had told Joseph that their father was alive (Genesis 44:19-20). Joseph believed Judah but the thoughts racing through Joseph’s mind were so powerful that he wanted to hear it again. This time up close and personal. This is all so overwhelming to them. They are literally speechless. If they are intimidated it is not Joseph’s desire to make them feel that way and he quickly invites them near hoping to take away their fear.
“And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you…” For an Egyptian to invite a Hebrew to “come near” was unheard of in Egypt (Genesis 43:32). So, Joseph’s brothers would have been a little taken back by that offer on nationality grounds alone. But their main reason for not coming close was fear. Joseph did not want them to be afraid of him so he invited them to “come near.” The last thing Joseph wanted was his brothers to be at a distance from him. If you get pleasure out of holding grudges, intimidating people, making people feel inferior or afraid of you, you know nothing of the love of Christ (1 John 4:18). To “come near” is the heart and essence of Christianity. To be “near” to Christ is a blessed privilege. To be “near” to our brothers and sisters in Christ is our encouragement and strength.
“And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.” Can you imagine the thoughts and emotions in the hearts and minds of Joseph’s brothers as they slowly move closer to him? His face becomes clearer. His eyes intently focused. The last time they got a good look at him it was in a pit! Could they have been thinking about what they had done to him? How many times had they seen his face in their dreams and nightmares? How does he sit where he sits after what they had done? And why does he care about them and let them live after what they had done? Yet, he said, “come near” and “they came near.”
Joseph Reveals God’s Plan (Genesis 45:4b-8)
For the second time Joseph said, “I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” Joseph knew exactly what they had done. And when he said what only he and they could possibly know, they knew it was Joseph. He didn’t speak those words to put them on a guilt trip. He didn’t want them to “feel bad about it.” He didn’t want them to be “angry with each other.” He wanted their love and fellowship and he wanted them free of this nearly 20 years of pain.
Question: Has someone done you wrong? Has someone clearly offended you? Has someone labeled you something you are not? Has someone accused you of being something that you and God know is not true? If so, do you want them to suffer for it? Are you waiting on them to come to you and apologize? Are you refusing to fellowship with them, love them, and treat them as the Bible commands? Do you want them to feel grief and guilt? Do you want them to feel as bad or worse about the situation than you feel? If so, YOU ARE WRONG!
Joseph sees “God” in this whole situation. You may say, “Good for Joseph, but I’m not Joseph.” You can be if you will trust God to take care of you and all the stuff that has made you so bitter and unforgiving. Maybe what happened to you happened with the purpose of teaching you how to forgive like Joseph and like Christ. Maybe God wants to use you to “preserve life.” God used the jealousy, hatred, and evil actions of Joseph’s brothers to “preserve life.” Something good and glorious can result from the worst situations in life when like Joseph; we yield to God’s purposes and plans (Romans 8:28).
“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.” Joseph’s point to them is that things are going to get worse before they get better. There are “five years” of famine yet to endure in which there will be no “earing” [plowing or planting] or “harvest” [reaping of crops]. In other words, “Don’t make all of this worse by blaming each other, carrying guilt, or not reuniting with me. When we fail to respond to life as God desires, things can get worse.
Note: Think about how much Joseph’s brothers needed him to survive the famine and to preserve their family. Why would they want anything less than forgiveness and restoration? Think about what we are facing and according to Scripture are going to face in the last days that are upon us. Do you need your family? Do you need the fellowship and love of God’s family? If your answer is yes, then why are you alienating yourself from those you need most?
“And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth…” is the first part of God’s plan that Joseph revealed to his brothers. God’s ultimate purpose in allowing and even orchestrating all of this to happen was to secure that Abraham’s descendants would survive and future generations would be fruitful. There is more involved here than just Jacob and his boys getting corn during a famine. And there is more involved in your situation than you. If you don’t handle things right and respond right, you might cut off a generation!
The second part of God’s plan is “…to save your lives by a great deliverance. “The transition to Egypt by Jacob and his family is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy made to Abraham that his people are to be enslaved in a foreign land for 400 years (Genesis 15:13). Exodus 12:40-41 states that the total time in Egypt is 430 years; thus the prediction of a 400-year enslavement is a round number (Acts 7:6; Galatians 3:17). But for the 400-year prophecy to happen, the lives of the current generation must by saved ‘by a great deliverance.’ Combining Genesis 41:46 with Genesis 45:6, we calculate Joseph’s age to be about 39 at this point. This means that the year is about 1877 B.C. Their father, Jacob, is now age 130 (Genesis 47:9); grandfather Isaac has been dead for about 10 years (Genesis 35:28); and great-grandfather Abraham has been dead 115 years (Genesis 25:1-7). God made the initial promise to Abraham at age 75 (Genesis 12:1-5) so the promise itself is about 215 years old at this point. The entire family will move to this foreign land shortly, and the slavery will develop later” (Standard Lesson Commentary 2011-2012).
“So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God…” is powerful words! “Not you…But God!” In other words, “Brothers, you didn’t pull this off; it was God.” Those four words changed everything. The few words (and it don’t take many these days) that caused you to break fellowship with someone or the few looks or the few misunderstandings that have caused you to be where you are today can be changed by these same four words, “Not you…But God.” And if those four words don’t help, then try these four words from Galatians 2:20, “not I, but Christ.”
Joseph could not have spoken those four words “Not you…But God” unless he had fully forgiven them. You cannot genuinely embrace a person you’ve not fully forgiven. You may shake their hand at church and eat a meal with them at the family table. But it is not until you have forgiven those who have wronged you that you can say, “Not you…But God.” Joseph was a man who operated his life continually with divine perspective. Do you?
Years later, Joseph would have to reassure his brothers of that he had forgiven them (Genesis 50:18-20). Guilt clings to people but grace just keeps forgiving.
“…And he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” are words revealing how God had arranged every detail and every event leading up to this moment. Joseph’s words stress the point that God left nothing out. So many times we feel like life has cheated us or people have robbed us of some part of our life. Joseph doesn’t feel that way. He is in the position he is in because God arranged it.
Joseph Reveals His Desire (Genesis 45:9-15)
On top of this emotional scene of forgiveness and revelation, Joseph reveals the desire of his heart which is to have his family all together in Egypt to ride out the remaining five years of famine. He makes his brothers an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“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, tarry not: 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:” “Haste ye” reminds us that Joseph is “lord of Egypt” and this is now the kings business. Time is of the essence for Joseph’s brothers and for us. Since Joseph is “lord of Egypt” why should his family live in destitution in Canaan? The same question could be asked about us as God’s children. Since Jesus Christ is Lord, why do we live like spiritual paupers? Just as Joseph wanted what was best for his family, so Christ wants us to enjoy “…all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
Joseph wants his brothers to waste no time in returning home and bringing Jacob and all his possessions to live “in the land of Goshen.” But first, he wanted them to tell Jacob that “God hath made me lord of all Egypt.” Joseph didn’t want his brothers or his father to think for a moment that he had manipulated people or just got lucky in a famine to be where he was. He wanted God to be glorified for it all. Do you?
“Goshen” was probably located in northern Egypt. This would have been an attractive offer to Jacob and a good place for his flocks and cattle to graze in the coming years. But more than anything, it would put Jacob “near” to his son Joseph.
“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.” In verses 9 and 10 Joseph focused primarily on Jacob. But here, he stressed the importance of “nourishing” or taking care of all his brothers and their families. Joseph is certain that a stay in Canaan will result in “poverty.” He cares about Jacob and his brothers and he wants to help preserve their families.
“And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you.” Joseph’s brothers could “see” with their “eyes” that it was Joseph their brother. They also could hear as he spoke with his “mouth.” The word “mouth” means that Joseph was speaking in the Hebrew tongue, not through an interpreter. If Joseph’s brothers have any question as to whether or not he is truly their brother Joseph, “Benjamin” can vouch for him. Joseph was closer to Benjamin while growing up than any of his other brothers. If anyone would have recognized Joseph it would have been Benjamin.
“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.” Because of Joseph’s responsibilities to oversee the food distribution during the famine he cannot make the trip to Canaan to see his father. However, the words of verse 13 stress the urgency with which Joseph wants to see Jacob. He also tells his brothers to “tell my father of all my glory in Egypt.” That phrase “all my glory” is a reference to Joseph’s responsibilities and position given to him by God. Once again, Joseph mentions God in his conversation and especially in recognition of his life being preserved and that of his family being preserved as well.
“And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.” Grown men showing this type of emotion and affection is viewed by many in our culture as weak. Doctor Warren W. Wiersbe commenting on these verses said, “It wasn’t a time for excuses and explanations but for honest expressions of love and forgiveness.” Psalm 85:10 says, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
Joseph showed a special outpouring of love to Benjamin. In a previous meeting with his brothers before they knew who Joseph was, he gave Benjamin “…five times so much any of theirs” (Genesis 43:34) which showed how much Joseph loved Benjamin. But Joseph did not neglect to show his love to his other brothers. He also “kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them.” This must have been an awkward moment for the brothers who years earlier had thrown Joseph in a pit and sold him into slavery. But the awkwardness of the moment quickly flees away.
“…And after that his brethren talked with him.” What a change! For years they had talked about Joseph. They talked about Joseph before they sold him into slavery. They talked about Joseph during the process of selling him into slavery. And they talked about Joseph after they had sold him into slavery. But now, they “talked with him.”
What is the depth of the meaning in the words “talked with him?” They must have “talked” about things that mattered. That included Pharaoh things, personal things, private things, and public things as well. It had been over 20 years since they had “talked” with Joseph. And I think it safe to say that every time one of the brothers would start to say something about the pit and the plot to sell Joseph, he would stop them and say, “No, that’s settled, we’re not going there. Tell me more about dad and your families.”
Question: Wouldn’t it be good to talk to that friend you used to talk with? Wouldn’t it be good to talk to that child that hasn’t spoken to you in years? Wouldn’t it be good to talk about God’s plan and what God is doing in our lives instead of all the junk and the garbage of gossip that floods our conversations these days?
Note: Our generation can “text” everybody and “talk” to nobody!
Joseph's actions and attitude of forgiveness of his brothers is a type or foreshadowing of Christ, who died on the cross to forgive even far more grievous sins and betrayals. If you are struggling to forgive someone who has hurt you, meditate on this story of Joseph and his brothers. God does not excuse the sinful action of the brothers, but He still redeemed the situation to ensure the survival of His people. And He gave Joseph the ability to see His perspective and to forgive his brothers. Pray that the Holy Spirit will grant you His grace to forgive.
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