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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Genesis 45

 

 

Introduction

In this chapter, Joseph makes himself known to his brothers (Genesis 45:1-8); Joseph discloses his plans for moving the whole family of Jacob to Egypt until the famine is over (Genesis 45:9-15); the invitation is ratified and confirmed by the king who also offered wagons for transport (Genesis 45:16-20); the brothers depart with rich gifts and provisions for the family (Genesis 45:21-24); Jacob, after a momentary hesitation, decides to accept Joseph's invitation (Genesis 45:25-28).

Regarding the partitionists who have wrought such havoc in their false interpretations, they are again helpless to do any damage to this marvelous narrative. As Peake admitted, "It is not worthwhile to discuss the analysis!"[1] We cannot leave such an admission without observing that the same thing is also true of the entire madness regarding "the sources of Genesis." It should be noted that the usual principles followed in such discussions of the sources could be applied here. There is the use of [~'Elohiym] for God[2] in Genesis 45:8 and Genesis 45:9, but as Speiser admitted, "This is not an automatic indicator of E's authorship."[3] We do not believe that the appearance of various names for God is any valid indication whatever of various sources. If it is not true here, why should it be received as true anywhere else? As is perfectly evident throughout Genesis, the names for God are invariably related to the thought of the passages. Furthermore, there has never been any satisfactory answer to the proposition that various names for God could have been merely for the sake of variety, as in the use of all synonyms.

This chapter, of course, is the continuation of the [~toledowth] of Jacob, for as Noth said, "The theme here is really not Joseph, but Joseph and his brothers."[4] In other words, the theme is the posterity of Jacob. The same declared that, "The Pentateuch is concerned only with Israel as a whole and its common ancestors."[5]

We may entitle this dramatic chapter as:

JOSEPH REVEALS HIMSELF TO HIS BROTHERS


Verses 1-3

"Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. 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."

Many have compared the speechless astonishment of these guilty brothers to the speechless terror that shall confound the wicked on the day of Judgment. Jewish writers have pointed out that Joseph effectively refuted Judah's brilliant appeal in this revelation of himself, his words, "I am Joseph," having the effect of the following:

If it did not occur to you when you sold me into slavery that it would kill my father, why are you so worried about him now? If he managed to survive the terrible grief you caused him then, he certainly will be able to survive even the loss of Benjamin now![6]

No wonder the brothers were speechless!

"Cause every man to go out from me ..." This was not a manifestation on Joseph's part of any shame concerning his family. All evidence points to the fact that Pharaoh was already familiar with Joseph's intentions of moving the family of Jacob into Egypt. Joseph here only wanted the decent privacy that all men desire upon occasions of deep emotion. For the same reason, funeral directors all over the world seclude the family of the deceased for those final intimate moments with the body of the beloved dead.

"Doth my father yet live ..." Nit-picking critics question this interrogation on the basis that Joseph had already asked the question back in Genesis 43:7, but the circumstances are radically different here, Joseph's words having the meaning, "Is my father really alive?" Sure, Joseph had already heard that Jacob was alive twice before; but, "His filial heart impelled to make sure of it once more."[7]

"And the house of Pharaoh heard ..." The meaning of this is that, "The Egyptian officials standing outside heard the weeping and reported it to the house of Pharaoh."[8]


Verses 4-8

"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. And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and there are yet five years, in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a remnant in the earth, and to save you alive by a great deliverance. 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 ruler over all the land of Egypt."

As Skinner noted: "The profoundly religious conviction which recognizes the hand of God, not merely in miraculous interventions, but in the working out of divine ends through human agency and what we call secondary causes, is characteristic of the Joseph narrative."[9]

Yes indeed! And the conviction characterizes, not merely the Joseph narrative, but the entire Bible, especially the Book of Genesis. This we have already mentioned, attributing it to the inspiration of the genuine author, Moses. Only a man of the stature and understanding of Moses could have put together this unspeakably eloquent and convincing narrative.

"There are yet five years ..." This news that the famine was to last five more years had not been available to the brothers until Joseph mentioned it.

"To save you alive by a great deliverance ..." The word for deliverance here carries the meaning that "something supernatural"[10] would occur in their deliverance.

"Hath made me a father to Pharaoh ..." This was a long honored title designating the principal minister of the kingdom. Speiser tells us that, "This title was applied to Viziers as far back as the third millennium B.C.!"[11]


Verses 9-11

"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; 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: there will I nourish thee; for there are yet five years of famine; lest thou come to poverty, thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast."

"Thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen ..." We may not suppose that Joseph had not already conferred with Pharaoh in the matter of the settlement of his father's house in Egypt, thus anticipating the proving of his brothers. Goshen was a district of "some 900 square miles,"[12] about the size of the average county in west Texas, like Callahan or Taylor, each comprising an area 30 miles by 30 miles in size. Willis has information regarding the area:

"Goshen is that region of northeastern Egypt between Port Said and Suez known in modern times as the Wadi Tumilat. It is called `the land of Rameses' (Genesis 47:11), possibly because Rameses was the leading city of the area.[13]

"It is still spoken of as the best pasture land in Egypt."[14]

"Thus saith thy son Joseph ..." We are thankful for Willis' perceptive comment on this expression:

"This was a customary way of sending a message orally. Jacob used it in the message to Esau (Genesis 33:3,4); Ben Hadad, king of Syria (1 Kings 20:2,5), and Sennacherib, king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:19,29), used this formula. In the light of this practice, it was natural for O.T. prophets and other spokesmen for God to introduce their oral messages from the Lord with the words, `Thus saith the Lord.'"[15]


Verses 12-15

"And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and all that ye have seen: and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither. And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him."

Why all the weeping? Here is an example of weeping for joy, an emotion with which many are familiar. We believe that this is the predominant element here, and not, as claimed by some, that, "Both Joseph and his brothers were aware of the tragic consequences of hatred without a just cause."[16]


Verses 16-20

"And the report thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house, saying, Joseph's brethren are come: and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Say unto thy brethren, This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan; and take your father and your households and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye: take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Also regard not your stuff; for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours."

"The report thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house ..." This is a clarification of what is stated in Genesis 45:2. The fact that Pharaoh did not require any elaboration as to who were "the brethren" of Joseph shows that Joseph had already informed him fully of all that had been happening.

Pharaoh not only ratified and confirmed Joseph's words, but he put the invitation in the form of a command, and added an offer of wagons to aid the transport of the women and children.

"Wagons ..." These were two-wheeled carts "suitable for a flat country like Egypt, and for traversing deserts and other areas where roads would not be available. Herodotus mentions a four-wheeled cart which was used for transporting a shrine or the image of a deity."[17] "This is the first mention of `wagons' in the Bible."[18]


Verses 21-24

"And the sons of Jacob did so; and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the commandment of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the way. To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment. And to his father he sent after this manner: ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she-asses laden with grain and bread and provision for his father by the way. So he sent his brethren away, and they departed; and he said unto them, See that ye fall not out by the way."

"Three hundred pieces of silver ..." This was a very substantial gift. The price of a slave was thirty shekels of silver (Exodus 21:32); and thus this gift was the equivalent of a gift of ten slaves.

"See that ye fall not out by the way ..." Evidently Joseph here was guarding against the brothers falling into recriminations against each other, some evidence of which had already outcropped in Genesis 42:22. It was actually too late to lay the blame on this one or that one, all were totally guilty, and now the whole ugly episode would have to be poured out in their father's ears.


Verses 25-28

"And they went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father. And they told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt. And his heart fainted, for he believed them not. And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived: and Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go see him before I die."

It is notable that Jacob did not seem to be impressed with the fact of Joseph's being a ruler of Egypt, but only with the fact that he was still alive. His unbelief of the brothers at the outset of their glorying report is understandable enough. Apparently, the sight of the wagons proved to be the factor that convinced him of the truth of their messages.

Right here, the die is cast. Jacob and all the children of Israel would go down into Egypt, where the long sojourn God had foretold to Abraham would begin. Note also, that Jacob is pointedly referred to here as "Israel." It is the covenant relationship of God to this whole people that dominates every word of the Book of Genesis.

What a wonder is this record of HOW it happened! God over-ruled the hatreds, jealousies, and envious wickedness of men to place one of Jacob's sons on the throne of the land of Egypt, who, in time, brought the whole posterity of Israel to live there. The Egyptians detested foreigners, especially shepherds; and, thus there would be no easy possibility of Jacob's posterity forming marriages with pagans, as had already begun to happen in the case of Judah. Not only that, in Egypt, they would have the protective arm of a powerful central government which would secure them against hostile attack. The people would be pressured from outside by the culture where they were, by the prejudices of the people, absolutely rejected. Under those divinely appointed conditions, they would indeed grow into a mighty nation! How marvelous are the ways of God.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 45:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/genesis-45.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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