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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 45

 

 

Introduction

JOSEPH

The Life of Joseph (Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 50:26)

In this section we have the life of Joseph from beginning to end. It quite clearly bears within it the stamp of a deep knowledge of Egypt, its customs and its background, and could not have been written by anyone who did not have that deep knowledge, and who was not familiar with things at court. The correct technical terms are used for court officials. And the whole of Joseph’s stay in Egypt is clearly written against an Egyptian background without the artificiality which would appear if it was written by an outsider.


Verses 1-8

Joseph Reveals His Identity To His Brothers and Sends for Jacob (Genesis 45:1-28)

Genesis 45:1

‘Then Joseph could not restrain himself in front of all those who stood by him and he cried, “Cause every man to leave me.” And no man stood with him while he made himself known to his brothers.’

Joseph is overcome with emotion. The double mention of his own ‘decease’, clearly something that Judah now ever carries on his conscience, the thought of how his father suffered at his loss and would suffer at the loss of Benjamin, the hopeless look on the faces of his brothers, the sad picture of his young brother Benjamin standing miserably there not knowing what is to happen to him, all tear at his heart. He cannot bear it any longer. He instantly commands all his retainers and guards to leave. He is the Vizier, and he does not want them to witness what will follow when he makes himself known to his brothers, for he realises that there will be quite a scene which would not enhance his authority in their eyes. They must have been quite amazed, for they nothing of what is going on. Will he not need them in case these terrified criminals suddenly turn? But they were trained to obedience, and to disobey could mean death, so they obeyed.

“Those who stood by him.” His various attendants and bodyguard. They must indeed have been puzzled but in obedience to his command they all leave.

Genesis 45:2

‘And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Does my father yet live?” And his brothers could not answer him for they were troubled at his presence.’

Joseph is so moved that he breaks down in loud weeping (literally ‘he gave forth his voice in weeping’), so loud indeed that his attendants waiting outside, and possibly on the ready for any violence inside, hear it. And ever conscious of their duty and obedient to their training a message is sent to Pharaoh to tell him of these strange events (compare Genesis 45:16).

To Joseph his revelation is something he has been waiting for. He expects his brothers to be overjoyed. But they are not. They are ‘troubled at his presence’. And no wonder. They look on this great man, now broken down in weeping, and it is difficult to believe what is happening. Can he really be their brother? And their minds go back into the past. How can they face this man if he really is their own brother, whom they so callously sold into slavery? How can they look him in the face? What does he intend to do with them now the truth is out? Strange things have happened to them, and they have faced many ups and downs, but they could be as nothing compared with what will happen to them now. It is not surprising that they are troubled and unable to speak.

Genesis 45:4

‘And Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me I beg you.” And they came near. And he said, “I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt.” ’

Joseph recognises the situation immediately, so as he looks at his brothers, cowering back and afraid, not sure what to think, he repeats his revelation. ‘Please come closer’, he says. Then when they automatically obey he says essentially, ‘I really am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt’.

Genesis 45:5-6

“And now do not be concerned, nor angry with yourselves that you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. The famine has been in the land for these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest.”

He calms their fears. Quite understandably they think that he may now intend to take his revenge. But he is not thinking like that. He is now aware that all that has happened to him has been in the plan and purpose of God. He is no longer bitter or angry against them. Rather he is filled with wonder at what God has done.

“God sent me before you to preserve life.” His first awareness is of all who have been saved because of his activities. Egyptians throughout the land are debtors to him, and peoples from many countries round about. Without him their case would have been hopeless and indeed in the future would be even more hopeless. But they have hope because of what has happened to him.

“There are yet five years.” The two years that have passed have been dreadful, but they are as nothing compared with what is to come. There will be five more years in which the Nile will not rise, five more years in which there will be no rain in all the surrounding lands. And if it had not been for Joseph there would be nothing to prevent a catastrophe.

Genesis 45:7

“And God sent me before you to preserve you a remnant in the earth and to save you by a great deliverance.”

There is a second greater purpose, the deliverance of the chosen line of God. The language is reminiscent of the Flood when ‘the remnant’ were preserved alive in the ark and wonderfully delivered. This is the story of Genesis, how God has again and again preserved his chosen line, delivering them from everything that comes against them. And now he is doing it again. These words are important in demonstrating that Joseph has retained his faith in the God of the covenant.

Joseph is well aware of what seven years of devastating famine would have on the family tribe. All the cattle, sheep and goats would die, all the silver and gold would be spent on preserving life, most of the retainers would be dismissed or let go because they would be unable to provide for them, those who were within the covenant of Yahweh would be scattered and then in the end they too might also die. But God has stepped in to save them from all this with ‘a great deliverance’.

Genesis 45:8

“So now it is not you who sent me here but God. And he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Joseph again emphasises the hand of God in his past. This is the third repetition of ‘God sent me’ (Genesis 45:5; Genesis 45:7 and here). It is intended to be seen as sure and certain.

“Father to Pharaoh.” The expression "father" is a reproduction of the Egyptian ity or ites - "father". It was a very common priestly title which was borne by humble as well as by very high officers, including viziers. Their title was ‘father to the gods’. Thus we find, e.g., that Ptah-hotep, a vizier in 3rd millennium BC, referred to himself as ites neter mery neter, "father of god, the beloved of god" referring to Pharaoh. In a hierarchic state where Pharaoh was regarded as a god (neter) his vizier had to occupy a priestly rank. It was precisely this which was conferred on Joseph by the title "Father". But Joseph could not use this specific title of himself to his brothers. Instead he changes it to ‘father to Pharaoh’ which to an Egyptian means the same thing, for Pharaoh was seen in Egypt as a god. We can compare the usage with Isaiah 22:21 where the king’s steward in Judah was known as ‘father to the house of Judah’.

“Lord of all his house.” This corresponds to Egyptian ‘merper’, ‘lord of the house’. As such he was set over all the high officials in the house of Pharaoh. He was the court chamberlain.

“Ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Thus over both upper and lower Egypt. So Joseph was pre-eminent in three spheres, as adviser to Pharaoh, as lord over the highest officials in the land, and as ruler over all Egypt.

One title common in Egypt was that of the ‘Superintendent of the Granaries’. It was one of the highest offices in the land. It would seem quite clear that this office was also bestowed on Joseph in view of his activities.


Verses 9-11

“Be quick 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 linger. And you shall dwell in the land of Goshen and you shall be near to me, you and your children, and your children’s children, and your flocks and your herds and all that you have. And there I will nourish you, for there are yet five years of famine, lest you come to poverty, you and your household and all that you have.’ ”

Now that all is in the open Joseph can no longer bear to wait to see his father. He sends them to bring his father immediately along with everything they have.

“You shall dwell in the land of Goshen.” Its exact location is unknown but it was undoubtedly in the Nile delta. It was clearly a very suitable location for shepherds (Genesis 47:6). The Nile delta regularly saw influxes of Asian refugees as they came over the border seeking help and relief which was regularly given. Thus Joseph is quite confident of their welcome there on his own authority. He does not feel he has to consult on the matter.

“You shall be near to me.” This need not necessarily mean that Joseph lives in the Nile delta. ‘Near’ is possibly relative, and Memphis, the pre-Hyksos capital, could well be seen as ‘near’. The point was that he will not have to visit Canaan to see them.

The whole family tribe is welcome, ‘all that you have’. This would be quite numerous. In Goshen they will be specifically provided for and later, after the famine, will enjoy the prosperity of the land.

An Egyptian source interestingly mentions a similar thing some centuries later, when, in c1220 BC, Pharaoh Merenptah gave permission to some Edomite bedouins to settle in the land Goshen ‘to keep themselves and their flocks alive in the territory of the king’.


Verse 12-13

“And behold your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. And you will tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen, and you will be quick to bring my father down here.”

Now his brothers have recognised that he is indeed Joseph, but it is very difficult to believe. But he refers separately to Benjamin because his previous words had been to those who had betrayed him. So he wants them to let his father know as well, as quickly as possible, and to urge him to come down to Egypt.


Verse 14-15

‘And he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin fell on his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and after that his brothers talked with him.’

The story being told the reunion is sealed. First as a brother he greets his own blood brother, and then all his brothers, and finally, the tensions removed, they talk together as brothers.


Verses 16-20

‘And their fame was heard in Pharaoh’s house saying, “Joseph’s brothers have come.” And Pharaoh was well pleased, and his servants. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this. Load up your beasts and go, get yourselves into the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households and come to me, and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt and you will eat the fat of the land. Now that you are commanded, do this. Take for yourselves wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father and come. Also do not bother with your stuff. For the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.’

The news about Joseph’s brothers follows quickly, and reaches Pharaoh’s house a little while after the news that he has been heard weeping with some ‘foreigners’ (Genesis 45:2). And it is a tribute to Joseph that Pharaoh is himself pleased at the news, and his high officials also.

Then Pharaoh takes a hand with all the munificence of a Pharaoh. Joseph had intended to bring his family over quietly but now it comes into the public domain. The brothers are to load their asses with a superabundance of provisions, and they are to take wagons to fetch all the members of the family tribe (their households). (Pharaoh could not conceive of travelling without wagons). Then they are all to come to Egypt where they will be given the very best. Indeed, they do not need to bring any extraneous stuff with them for Pharaoh will provide them with all they need and more.

“Wagons”. These were probably large, two-wheeled, covered ox-carts (compare Numbers 7:3).


Verse 21

‘And the sons of Israel did so, and Joseph gave them wagons just as Pharaoh had commanded, and gave them provision for the way.’

Now that Pharaoh has taken charge everything has to be done as he said. Joseph had intended to bring them in without any fuss but now he has no choice.


Verse 22-23

‘To all of them he gave each man changes of clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing. And to his father he sent the following, ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she-asses laden with corn and bread and victuals for his father by the way.’

Joseph piles gifts on his family. Each brother receives a full outfit of clothing, but Benjamin his full brother gets five outfits and three hundred pieces of silver. As we have seen ‘five’ is the Egyptian number of completeness. We can compare how, in the account of Wen-Amon's mission to the King of Biblos, among the presents sent to the king by the Egyptian ruler Smendes were five suits of garments of excellent upper Egyptian linen, and five pieces of the same linen.

But for his father he sends ten ass-loads of gifts as well as ten she-ass loads of provisions. These will help to convince his father of the truth of what he hears.


Verse 24

‘So he sent his brothers away and they departed. And he said to them, “See that you do not fall out with each other on the way.” ’

Alternatively it could be translated ‘do not be agitated on the way’. It is difficult to see why he should warn them against falling out, unless of course he has been aware of some disagreement between them about how they will broach the matter to Jacob. It is equally likely that he is comforting them in view of the task of telling their father that he is alive.


Verses 25-28

‘And they went up out of the land of Egypt and came into the land of Canaan to Jacob their father. And they told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And he felt weak (‘his heart fainted’) because he did not believe them. And they told him all the words of Joseph which he had spoken to 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 still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” ’

Great discussions must have taken place, first with Joseph and then on the journey, about exactly what they should tell Jacob. It would seem that they decided to say nothing, but to leave him to think that Joseph had escaped death in some way unexplained. The news of Joseph being still alive was enough shock for the old man without adding to it. He just could not believe it. But when he saw the wagons and the provisions he had to accept that maybe it was true. And gradually he accepted the good news with clear satisfaction. His words are poignant. ‘I will be able to see him before I die.’

However ‘all the words of Joseph’ may suggest that they admitted everything, in which case we must recognise that the writer does not want to spoil the joy and response at the news of Joseph’s survival with recriminations about the past. But in our view it is more likely from the narrative that the facts were kept from him, at least for the present.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 45:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/genesis-45.html. 2013.

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