The difficulties of Joseph's history begin with his elevation. At the time of the famine there is much to wonder at in Joseph's conduct to his brethren. Why did he so long and by such strange artifices delay the disclosure which an affectionate heart must have been yearning to make? Why had he never made inquiries about his family, though there was free communication between Egypt and Canaan?
I. We can only believe that Joseph acted thus strangely in obedience to a direct intimation from God, who had wise purposes to answer by deferring for a time his restoration to his family. How are we to explain his conduct when his brethren were actually brought before him: his harsh language; his binding Simeon; his putting the cup in Benjamin's sack? Joseph was an injured man, and he could not trust his brothers. By calling them spies, and thus throwing them off their guard and making it their interest to tell the truth, he diminished the likelihood of falsehood. He wanted information which he could not procure by ordinary means, therefore he took extraordinary means, for if the brethren never returned he knew too well that Benjamin had perished.
II. How can we explain Joseph's conduct when his brethren returned and brought Benjamin with them? Strange that he should still have used deceit. The probable explanation is: (1) That Joseph sought to ascertain the disposition of the ten brethren towards Benjamin. He was planning the bringing of the whole family to Egypt, and it was needful to find out first if they were well agreed. (2) He also wished to assure himself that the children of Rachel were as dear to Jacob now as they were in their youth. There was as much affection as wisdom in these multiplied delays, which at first sight appear to have unnecessarily, if not unfeelingly, deferred the moment of reunion.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1488.
Joseph recognised his brethren at once, though they failed, as they bowed before the mighty vicegerent of Egypt, to recognise in him the child by them so pitilessly sold into bondage; and Joseph, we are told, "remembered the dreams which he had dreamed of them": how their sheaves should stand round about and make obeisance to his sheaf; how sun and moon and eleven stars should all do homage to him. All at length was coming true.
I. Now, of course it would have been very easy for him at once to have made himself known to his brethren, to have fallen on their necks and assured them of his forgiveness. But he has counsels of love at once wiser and deeper than would have lain in such a ready and off-hand declaration of forgiveness. His purpose is to prove whether they are different men, or, if not, to make them different men from what they were when they practised that deed of cruelty against himself. He feels that he is carrying out, not his own purpose, but God's, and this gives him confidence in hazarding all, as he does hazard it, in bringing this matter to a close.
II. Two things were necessary here: the first that he should have the opportunity of observing their conduct to their younger brother, who had now stepped into his place, and was the same favourite with his father as Joseph once had been; the second, that by some severe treatment, which should bear a more or less remote resemblance to their treatment of himself, he should prove whether he could call from them a lively remembrance and a penitent confession of their past guilt.
III. The dealings of Joseph with his brethren are, to a great extent, the very pattern of God's dealings with men. God sees us careless, in easily forgiving ourselves our old sins; and then, by trial and adversity and pain, He brings these sins to our remembrance, causes them to find us out, and at length extracts from us a confession, "We are verily guilty." And then, when tribulation has done its work, He is as ready to confirm His love to us as ever was Joseph to confirm his love to his brethren.
R. C. Trench, Sermons Preached in Ireland, p. 65; also Sermons New and Old, p. 37.
References: Genesis 45:3.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 370. Genesis 45:3-5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 449.
It was by a strange and seemingly circuitous route that these brethren of Joseph were brought near to him. Between Joseph and his brethren there was an immeasurable distance—all the difference between a nature given over to God and one abandoned to the force of evil passion. We may see in this narrative a type of the ways and means God still employs for bringing the wandering brothers of Joseph's great Antitype near to Him.
I. In order that the brothers may be really drawn near to Joseph, they have first to be separated from him by their own sin.
II. The next step towards bringing them near is their own want.
III. When they get into Joseph's presence they are suddenly subjected to the most unlooked-for and crushing trials.
IV. They are smitten to the heart with the recollection of bygone sins; these are brought to their remembrance as sins against their brother.
V. They were alone with Joseph when he made himself known to them.
W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, 1st series, p. 290.
This was the address of Joseph to his brethren—to the brethren who had despised and hated him. There is no anger in the address; it is the expression of love. Joseph seeks not to punish, but to forgive and console them.
I. Christ, the true Joseph, is ever making the same appeal to the hungry and the sinner. There was famine in the land, and the brethren of Joseph were in want of food. Joseph alone has the key of the storehouses that overflow with food. He will not send the empty away, but will fill the hungry with good things. It is so with Christ. If we acknowledge our hunger and turn to Him, He will feed us with the bread of heaven.
II. To the sinner. The appeal of our Lord to those who have sinned against Him is, "Come near to me, I pray you." The appeal is to man's free-will. Christ is ready, but man must make a step towards Him.
III. I pray you. How earnest is the entreaty! I—who am God, your Creator; I, whom you have forgotten, wronged, pierced with your sins, and crucified again—"I pray you!"
S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii., p. 78.
Joseph looks away from and thrusts aside the wickedness of his brothers, and refers all to the over-ruling providence of God, bringing good out of evil, and making all things work together for good, to the family of His chosen servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In time of bereavement and sorrow we may put these words into the mouth of him whom we have lost. After a death we are apt to reproach ourselves bitterly for things done or left undone. "Now, therefore," says the one we have lost, whom we trust reposes in Paradise, "be not grieved or angry with yourselves; the faults were not intentional, there was no lack of love. I reproach you not, for God did send me before you, a spy into the promised land. I am at rest, and tarry for you to come to me. I have gone 'to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.'"
S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii., p. 81.
The words of Joseph in the text contrast somewhat strangely with the words spoken by his brethren of themselves. It is clear that the view he took of their conduct was the one most likely to give them ease. He assured them that after all they were but instruments in God's hands, that God had sent him, that God's providence was at work for good when they sold him as a slave. Both views are true, and both important. The brethren had done what they did as wickedly and maliciously as possible; nevertheless it was true that it was not they, but God, who had sent Joseph into Egypt.
I. That God governs the world, we do not—we dare not—doubt; but it is equally true that He governs in a way which we should not have expected, and that much of His handiwork appears strange. So strange, indeed, that we know that it has been in all times, and is in our time, easy to say, God cares not, God sees not, or even to adopt the bolder language of the fool, and say, "There is no God." Scriptural illustrations of the same kind of contradiction as we have in the text are to be found: (1) in the case of Esau and Jacob; (2) in the manner in which the hardheartedness and folly of Pharaoh were made to contribute to the carrying out of God's designs concerning the Israelites; (3) in the circumstances of our Lord's sorrowful life on earth, and especially the circumstances connected with His shameful and yet life-giving death.
II. Our own lives supply us with illustrations of the same truth. Who cannot call to mind cases in which God's providence has brought about results in the strangest way, educing good from evil, turning that which seemed to be ruin into blessing, making even the sins and follies of men to declare His glory and to forward the spiritual interests of their brethren. We see human causes producing effects, but we may also see God's hand everywhere; all things living and moving in Him; no sparrow falling without His leave; no hair of one of His saints perishing.
Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 5th series, p. 63.
I. "God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth." Joseph referred the whole order and purpose of his existence, all that had been adverse to it, all that had been prosperous in it, to God. He knew that violence and disorder had been at work in his life. What temptation had he to think of them as God's? Imputing to Him a distinct purpose of good and blessedness, what a strange perverseness it would have been to think that anything which had marred the goodness and blessedness, anything which had striven to defeat the purpose, was His! It was the great eternal distinction which a heart cultivated, purged, made simple by God's discipline, confessed—nay, found it impossible to deny.
II. Joseph starts with assuring his brethren that God had been the orderer and director of his history, and that He had a purpose in it. He thinks that the special work to which he has been appointed is to preserve for them a posterity on the earth. Joseph had no notion that his preservation meant anything, except so far as it served for the establishment and propagation of the covenant family. For the sake of his family he was sent there; he must act for it, whether he puts his brothers to torture or himself.
III. And so he was indeed "saving their lives by a great deliverance." He was providing against the immediate destruction which the famine was threatening them with; he was providing against the more thorough and permanent destruction which their own selfishness and crimes were working out.
IV. "He hath made me a father to Pharaoh," etc. Joseph was maintaining, as he believed, a seed in which all families of the earth were to be blessed. But though this obligation was first, it did not exclude the other. God, who had sent him to save his own family, had surely just as much proposed that he should be a father to Pharaoh and a lord of his land. So Joseph judged; on that faith he acted.
F. D. Maurice, The Patriarchs and Lawgivers of the Old Testament, p. 137.
I. The dreams. Joseph's dreams reflected in the quiet of the night the aspirations and ambitious forecasts of the future which haunted his daily life.
II. The discipline. Joseph met with misfortunes, and this experience taught him: (1) independence (e.g., of his father); (2) to serve—that lesson so needful to power; (3) enlarged ideas; (4) the lesson that would be at once the strength of his life and the correction of his vanity—viz., his absolute dependence on God.
III. The fulfilment of his dreams. (1) He met with outward success. (2) Two great changes passed over his character. He learned to ascribe all his success to God, and he perceived the object for which he had been elevated: "God sent me before you to preserve you," etc.
Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 217.
Joseph was in Egypt in 1730 b.c. At that time, according to the inscription on the tomb of Baba, a great scarcity of food prevailed. The occupant of the tomb relates his good deeds, and these were the doling out of bread to the hungry. Doubtless the man was one of Joseph's subordinates. The exact meaning of Joseph's Egyptian name is difficult to determine, but the most plausible explanation is "food of life," or "food of the living," a most appropriate name for the man who did so much in the great famine to rescue Pharaoh's myriads from starvation,
I. The story of Joseph is to all men for ever the best proof of the working of the hand of Providence.
II. As through the life of Joseph, so through our life, there are threads which connect the different scenes and bind together the destinies of the different actors.
III. This history and the inspired commentary on it in Psalm cv. teach us the wonderful continuity of God's plan and the oneness of the thread that binds together the histories of Israel and of Egypt.
C. H. Butcher, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 208.
References: Genesis 45:8.—E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons, 2nd series, p. 179; W. M. Taylor, Joseph the Prime Minister, p. 222. Genesis 45:9-11.—Parker, vol. i., p. 352.
This incident is the most unquestionable instance in the Bible of tears of love. No other feeling but love made Joseph weep. Sorrow there could not have been, for at that moment, on his side at least, it was all joy. Job says, as the great purpose of all that God did with him, "God maketh my heart soft." And it is David's constant experience, of which he speaks with pleasure, "My soul is even as a weaned child."
I. Tears of love are true evidences—and evidences which can scarcely speak falsely.
II. Tears have much of the nature of sacrifice in them.
III. Though there are no tears in heaven, yet loving tears on earth come nearer than anything else in the world to the alleluias of the saints, for they are the outbursts of an irrepressible emotion.
IV. Tears of kindness act back again, and make the kindness from which they sprang. In order to have the heart soft enough for tears (1) you must lead a pure life; (2) you must feel that you are loved; (3) you must be subdued; (4) you must help yourself by action; (5) you must have pity.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 9th series, p. 77.
Reference: S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 211.
I. We cannot read the history of Joseph without feeling that a greater than Joseph is here; a Son, the well-beloved of His Father, against whom His own flesh and blood conspired to take away His life, but who from His prison came forth to reign, who is exalted at the right hand of God to be a Prince and a Saviour.
II. This marvellous history teaches more than this. We also are guilty concerning our Brother. As for us and for our salvation He came down from heaven to save us by His death, so now that He has gone up to heaven He lives to save us by His life. He makes us feel our need of Him and stand before Him self-accusing, self-condemned.
III. He who has done all this will never leave us, never forsake us, for He dieth no more.
W. W. Champneys, Penny Pulpit, No. 641.
Reference: Genesis 45:16.—W. M. Taylor, Joseph the Prime Minister, p. 137.
We see here how probabilities are the handmaids and the helpers of faith. Slight tokens become the aliment, the very food, on which action feeds, strengthens, nurtures itself, and goes forth to fulfil the work marked out by Providence for the life.
I. Jacob's heart fainted; but old men, dying persons, often feel that some unrealised object detains them here. Jacob was like watchers who have gone to the point and taken lodgings, to be the first to hail the ship; and as pennon after pennon flutters in sight they hail it, but it is not the expected vessel, and the heart faints, until at last the well-known signal waves in the wind. Sense sees it, and faith revives.
II. The lesson of the patriarch's history is that faith may not realise all it desires, but it may realise what confirms, revives, and assures. "He saw the wagons": "Faith cometh by hearing"; it is a moral principle created in the mind, not so much by facts as probabilities. Faith is moved and swayed by antecedental considerations. So these wagons were, in all probability, an aid to faith, and his heart revived. Treasure up marks and tokens of another country; you will find they will not be wanting.
III. If you deal faithfully with the tremendous hints and probabilities sacred to your own nature, sacred to the Holy Word, sacred to the infinite manifestation of God in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, they will hold you fast in the power of awful convictions, and in the embrace of infinite consolations. The wagons assured Jacob that Joseph was yet alive, and there are innumerable conveyances of grace which assure us that Jesus is yet alive.
E. Paxton Hood, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 161.
I. But for the provision Joseph sent them for the way, Jacob and his sons' sons and daughters could never have crossed the hot desert. But the impossible had been made possible by the command of Pharaoh and the love of Joseph. The journey was accomplished successfully, the desert was traversed without peril, without excessive fatigue, by means of the wagons sent out of the land of Egypt. When Jacob saw the wagons his heart revived.
II. Let us apply this to our Lord and to ourselves. Jesus Christ, the true Joseph, remembers us in His prosperity, and He sends an invitation to us by the desire of God the Father, who loveth us. He does not bid us come to Him in our own strength, relying only on the poor food which a famine struck land yields—does not bid us toil across a burning desert, prowled over by the lion, without provision and protection. There are sacraments and helps and means of grace, which He has sent to relieve the weariness of the way, to carry us on, to support us when we faint, to encourage us lest we should despair.
III. Let us not despise the means of grace. We may not ourselves want them, but others do. Go in your own wagon, or on your feet if you can and dare, but upbraid not those who take refuge in means of transport you have not tried, or do not require. Those sacraments, those means of grace, those helps, ever new, yet old as Christianity, have borne many and many a blessed one along to the "good land," who is now resting in Goshen and eating the fat of the land.
S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii., p. 153.
Joseph is a type or figure of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. Joseph, in his younger days, was distinguished from his brethren by a purity of life which became the more observable in contrast with their dissolute manners, and caused an evil report to be sent to their father. His brethren saw him afar off, and conspired to kill him. In this we have a true picture of the Jews' treatment of Christ.
II. Joseph was carried down into Egypt, even as was Christ in His earliest days. Joseph was cast into prison, emblematic of the casting of Jesus into the grave, the prison of death; Joseph was imprisoned with two accused persons—the chief butler and the chief baker of Pharaoh; Christ was crucified between two malefactors. It was in the third year that Joseph was liberated, and on the third day that our Saviour rose.
III. It is as a liberated man that Joseph is most signally the type of our Redeemer. Set free from prison, Joseph became the second in the kingdom, even as the Redeemer, rising from the prison of the grave, became possessed in His mediatorial capacity of all power in heaven and earth, and yet so possessed as to be subordinate to the Father. Joseph was raised up of God to be a preserver of life during years of famine. Christ, in His office of mediator, distributes bread to the hungry. All men shall flock to Jesus, eager for the bread that came down from heaven.
IV. Joseph's kinsmen were the last to send into Egypt for corn, just as the Jews have been longest refusing to own Christ as their deliverer. But prophecy is most explicit, that as Joseph was made known to his brethren, so the Jews shall behold in Christ the promised Messiah, and worship Him as their all in all.
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1489
References: Genesis 45:28.—J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 374. Genesis 46:1-6.—W. M. Taylor, Joseph the Prime Minister, p. 137. Genesis 46:1-27.—R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. ii., p. 231. Genesis 46:2.—A. F. Barfield, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 12. Genesis 46:3, Genesis 46:4.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 133. 46:28-47:10.—R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. ii., p. 242. Gen 46-50.—J. Monro Gibson, The Ages before Moses, p. 202. Genesis 47:1-10.—W. M. Taylor, Joseph the Prime Minister, p. 137. Genesis 47:3, Genesis 47:9.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 279. Genesis 47:7-10.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 556.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Genesis 45". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany