The End Of The Beginning (Genesis 50:1-26)

Funerals are starting to go away. The Washington Post reported, “Death is a given, but not the time-honored rituals. An increasingly secular, nomadic and casual America is shredding the rules about how to commemorate death…Somber, embalmed-body funerals…are, for many families, a relic.”[1] Between 2009 and 2019, the number of funeral homes in the United States shrunk by 1,500.[2] Researchers at the University of Bath concluded, “A funeral service is sometimes neither wanted nor needed, and families of the deceased should be encouraged to reject the convention if it’s unlikely to ease their grief.”[3]

Something tells me this is not a good trend. Ignoring the passing of members of our community and abandoning one of the fundamental observances of every generation is not going to improve our society or our cultural well-being. The modern mind may not want to face grief and death, but death remains a reality and a constant presence. 

We know why. Genesis explained it to us. God designed a cosmos full of thriving life. Man traded it for thorns and death. The book closes with two funerals, one extravagant, one much more plain. But as the passage adjourns, we are left with the hope that death is not the end. There’s still life ahead because God is not willing to let His creation be claimed by sin. He intends to take it back.

Genesis 50:1 – Then Joseph, leaning over his father’s face, wept and kissed him.

Jacob has just died. God promised that Joseph would be there to close his eyes and it was so. We see Joseph cry a lot – seven separate times in his saga – but he wasn’t defined by sorrow. He is consistently hopeful and trusts that God is present and accomplishing good things. 

Genesis 50:2-3 – He commanded his servants who were physicians to embalm his father. So they embalmed Israel. They took forty days to complete this, for embalming takes that long, and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days. 

This was not the normal process for the family of Abraham. Was Joseph more Egyptian than Hebrew? The truth is, he spent 93 of his 110 years in Egypt. There are some who accuse him of trying to live simultaneously in both worlds.[4]

But that’s not really the portrait that Genesis gives us. 

There’s an interesting hint in verse 2: Joseph commanded his physicians to embalm his father, not the mortuary priests who were normally involved.[5] So, it appears that Joseph was separating the Egyptian religious aspect from the embalming process.

The Egyptians were deep into death ritual. Mummification was a real thing. The embalming process originated in “the belief that the ghostly double of the man might at any time return to take possession of the body.”[6]

Depending on how wealthy you were, you’d get more embalming done. The poor might just be washed and dried in the sun.[7] Pay a little more and you might be packed in salt. Go all the way up to the Cadillac option, and your brain and organs would be removed and replaced with spices, your body soaked in potassium nitrate and wrapped in linen dipped in resin.[8]

Joseph had promised his father that he would take him back to Canaan and bury him in the cave owned by their family. But Joseph also knew that the death of the Prime Minister’s father would be a big deal, politically. Indeed, we’ll see it was – the whole country goes into mourning. Plus, servants of Pharaoh couldn’t just leave the country whenever they wanted. There would be a significant amount of time between Jacob’s death and burial, so the body would need to be preserved. David Livingstone’s body was famously preserved so it could be shipped from Africa to Britain. His body was packed in salt, dried in the sun, then wrapped in calico and bark. They doused his face with brandy to preserve his features. His remains were then sealed with tar before being walked 1,000 miles to an outpost then put on a ship.[9]

All of chapter 50 stands in stark contrast to Genesis 1 and 2. Look at what earth has come to. Look at what sin does. There’s a tragic irony here: Joseph gives Jacob’s body to the physicians, but the word is “healers.” Why did humanity need healers? Now that they had them, what help were they once a man had died? Mankind is so quick to proliferate sin and yet so powerless against it.

Meanwhile, God has been constantly busying Himself with dealing with it for us. He says, “I will become your Great Physician.” We read in Isaiah 19: “Then they will turn to the Lord, and He will be receptive to their prayers and heal them.”[10] He has the plan, He has the power, He has promised to roll back sin, clear away our guilt, defeat death, and restore us to immortality if we will believe in Him and receive the free gift of His salvation. 

Genesis 50:4-5 – When the days of mourning were over, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s household, “If I have found favor with you, please tell Pharaoh that my father made me take an oath, saying, ‘I am about to die. You must bury me there in the tomb that I made for myself in the land of Canaan.’ Now let me go and bury my father. Then I will return.” 

It’s hard to get a feel for Joseph’s relationship with Pharaoh. At one point he says that “he’s like a father to Pharaoh.” On the other hand, he seems very anxious when making requests of him.

Joseph didn’t even ask Pharaoh, personally. He uses members of the household as a go-between. It could be that he was ceremonially unclean since he had come into contact with a dead body. Or it could be that he was unshaven in his grief and therefore couldn’t be in Pharaoh’s presence.[11] But he’s very careful in the way he brings this request. This is a big ask. If Pharaoh was paranoid, he might think his Prime Minister was defecting to Canaan. So, Joseph assures him “I will return.”

Genesis 50:6 – So Pharaoh said, “Go and bury your father in keeping with your oath.” 

For his part, Pharaoh is gracious and understanding. He not only allows Joseph to go, we’ll see that the whole affair becomes a state-sponsored funeral with Pharaoh’s approval. The whole nation was in mourning. The 70 days they observed for Jacob was just 2 days shy of what Egyptians would normally do for a king![12] The presence of God’s people made a big difference in this society. They didn’t come with a strategy to make a difference, but, as they walked by faith, the Lord was able to do what He wanted to do though them, which was make them a blessing to the nations. 

Genesis 50:7-9 – Then Joseph went to bury his father, and all Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt went with him, along with all Joseph’s family, his brothers, and his father’s family. Only their dependents, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. Horses and chariots went up with him; it was a very impressive procession.

This is a huge deal. In fact, it’s safe to say that the Egyptians had totally hijacked this funeral. You’ve got palace officials and cultural leaders, you’ve got the military, and all the who’s-who of the kingdom. As one commentator puts it, there were no no-shows – everybody was there.[13] And, there, tossed in the middle, were Jacob’s sons. It was probably a strange feeling. 

Genesis 50:10-11 – 10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, which is across the Jordan, they lamented and wept loudly, and Joseph mourned seven days for his father. 11 When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a solemn mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” Therefore the place is named Abel-mizraim. It is across the Jordan. 

This whole scene was so Egyptian that the local Canaanites mistook who was being lamented over. According to ancient custom, the Egyptian portion of the entourage probably took leave of the body here “amid an elaborate set of ceremonies that would include divine mourners, incantations of protection for the deceased, female lamenters, ritual dancers, and a full-scale banquet.”[14] Meanwhile, the Hebrews are just waiting for all of that to be done so they can carry out their custom together. 

Genesis 50:12-13 – 12 So Jacob’s sons did for him what he had commanded them. 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave at Machpelah in the field near Mamre, which Abraham had purchased as burial property from Ephron the Hethite.

Generally, scholars believe that the family left the Egyptian crowd behind here.[15] This scene continues the pattern in Genesis of strained or estranged sons coming together for funerals.

America is the land of individuality, but we need to keep unity and community close to heart. We’re not just Americans, we’re members of a Body that is meant to be knit together and growing and mindful of the other parts. We’re meant to work together to strengthen weak knees and tired hands, watching out for each other and celebrating with each other and weeping with each other. Don’t withdraw into individuality. Unify with your spiritual community, even when there’s tension to work through. 

Genesis 50:14 – 14 After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone with him to bury his father. 

Why return when God wanted this family in Canaan? Well, God was also dealing with other people like the Amorites. He was giving them time to repent and turn to Him. As He said in Genesis 15, “the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” His long-suffering was waiting for four more generations. Sadly, they chose sin and judgement instead of repentance and grace.

Genesis 50:15 – 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”

“If he has a grudge.” Did Joseph have a grudge? They had no reason to think so. This was a totally unfair notion. Joseph had not only promised to help them, he had spent seventeen years taking care of them. He set them up in the best part of the land. He extended every once of grace he could to them. He had wept with them and embraced them and provided all they needed to live and thrive in the midst of the worst famine in history. He had already explained to them in chapter 45, “I’m here to save. I’m here to preserve life.” But the brothers’ guilt gnawed on. He couldn’t really forgive them, could he? What they had done was too awful. So they hatch a plan. 

Genesis 50:16-17 – 16 So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: 17 ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin—the suffering they caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him.

In many ways, it feels like we’re back where we started. Genesis has covered thousands of years of history, it has revealed an astounding amount of God’s power and operations and His victories in grace. There has been a great deal of progress in the Lord’s redemptive plan. A clear choice has developed between believing God and following Him or just going the way of the world. But, after all this time, after all these chapters, we’re right back in Genesis 3. Human beings, crushed by guilt, trying desperately to parlay their way into forgiveness they know they don’t deserve. The brothers sew themselves some fig leaves here. They send this message, almost assuredly a lie,[16] hoping to get mercy. They hide in the shadows from their brother because they’re afraid. And it broke Joseph’s heart. He knew Jacob didn’t really say this because he was the one Jacob delivered his last will and testament to.

More importantly, Joseph had already forgiven them. He had already done the work to reconcile them. The only thing that was stopping the brothers from receiving grace and mercy and freedom from guilt was their own unbelief. It wasn’t that Joseph was withholding, it was that they didn’t believe he would forgive them. This is exactly the problem today. God does not have to be convinced or cajoled to forgive your sin. He has already paid the debt! The only barrier is your heart. Will you believe God has forgiven you and then embrace Him and trust Him? 

The brothers, out of fear, tried to obligate Joseph into not taking revenge on them. Meanwhile, Joseph is there saying, “I forgive you because of my hesed love for you. I don’t have to be restrained. I’d rather be embraced.”

Genesis 50:18 – 18 His brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves!” 

Poor Joseph has to be thinking, “What do I have to do to show these guys I love them and will provide for them???” The truth is, they weren’t slaves, they were brothers! Joseph recognized them as family, not foes. As one commentator points out, Joseph could’ve enslaved them back when he was “enslaving” the rest of Egypt for Pharaoh, but he purposefully didn’t![17]

What a sad scene – especially when we remember the dream Joseph had close to a century before, where the brothers came to bow before him. Back then it was such a contentious thing. If you would’ve told Joseph how it would play out here, he would’ve said, “That’s not what I want.” Maybe as a teenager he had been taunting his brothers with the dream, we don’t know. But he certainly wasn’t interested in holding his position over them now. 

It can be so hard for us to believe that God actually loves us and that He actually wants to shower His grace on us. But it’s true. How many times does the Lord have to say it and prove it and repeat it? He loves you! Make Psalm 119:132 your prayer: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your practice toward those who love your name.” Let’s not grieve our Savior by failing to believe in His goodness, His forgiveness, and His grace. 

Genesis 50:19-21 – 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. 21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 

Even though Joseph is the one with the broken heart, he still takes the time to comfort his fearful brothers. It reminds us of Jesus’ tender compassion in the hours before and during His crucifixion. 

Here Joseph delivers one of the most famous lines in Genesis. “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” Some extrapolate from that that God causes all occurrences in history – no rogue molecules. That is not the teaching of Genesis or any other book of the Bible. Instead, what we see is that God is so powerful He is able to accomplish His gracious purposes even though men actively rebel against Him. What Genesis shows us is that God is able to clean the mess of sin, no matter how bad of a stain it is. His providence cannot be overwhelmed by our awfulness. But we cannot jump from there to saying God caused these men to do an evil thing. To do so would mean God is the author of evil – that God generates sin. That is blasphemy. The Bible reveals that God’s will will be done and that man is a being with free will. Despite our wickedness and rebellion, God still accomplishes His will, and we are invited to join Him.

Joseph “spoke kindly to them.” The Hebrew literally means, “He spoke to their heart.”[18] And instead of saying, “Ok, listen, this isn’t working out, You still don’t trust me. You still don’t believe me. I’m not gonna take revenge on you, but let’s just go our separate ways,” Joseph instead doubles down on grace. He says, “I’m going to take care of you and your children.” That’s a taste of God’s grace. 

Genesis 50:22-23 – 22 Joseph and his father’s family remained in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 He saw Ephraim’s sons to the third generation; the sons of Manasseh’s son Machir were recognized by Joseph. 

Joseph never had any face-to-face talks with God the way Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did. But Joseph knew God in a life-changing way. He’s constantly telling people, “This is what God is like, this is what God is doing, this is what I know about the character and nature of God.” We can know God that way, too, and we can trust Him through all circumstances just as Joseph did. 

Genesis 50:24-26 – 24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land he swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.” 26 Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt. 

Verse 24 doesn’t mean that he was the first of the brothers to die, it is speaking generally.[19] Joseph leaves this world full of faith. So much faith that he probably had to pull some strings to not have the Egyptians do what they wanted to do with his body after they died. He was embalmed and put in a sarcophagus,[20] but he said, “Save me for Canaan.” 

Imagine a sitting president dying in office but refusing to have a state funeral! Now, it’s possible there was a state funeral for Joseph, but Genesis doesn’t want us to end with that image. Instead, it ends with God’s people waiting for what’s next. The Lord wasn’t done. He had been coming to man’s aid since Genesis 3 and He was going to keep coming to their aid until the work of redemption was complete. Joesph knew it and wanted to be a part of it. “Don’t leave me in a temple or a pyramid. Get me to the Promised Land.” 

And so the book closes with all of us waiting. When will God finish His mission of coming to our aid? When will things be back the way they started? Genesis opened in Eden. One of the last places mentioned there is the “threshing floor of Atad,” which can be translated, “the threshing floor of the bramble.”[21] Such a wide gulf between what could’ve been and what we settled for. 

Man sure has made a mess of things. From sin came thorns and sweat and sorrow and death and bloodshed and quarreling and famines and floods and hatred and anxiety and every other terrible thing. It was all the opposite of what God wanted and offered. But, even after trading Eden for brambles, the Lord still offers men rescue. He still holds out everlasting life and the hope of glory to anyone who will go His way – anyone who will believe Him and trust His Word and His leading. Because of sin, there’s a life-long wait for us, with sorrows along the way, but, in the end, there will be life the way it was meant to be. In the end God’s children will be fully restored, fully free, in full communion with the Lord our Maker and Father and Savior and Friend. When the chapters of our mortal lives close, the next book is opened, the Lamb’s Book of Life, and we will experience a new beginning of the life God has always wanted for us, one that will never end. 


4 Joshua Berman   Identity Politics And The Burial Of Jacob Genesis 50:1-14
5 Kenneth A Mathews   Genesis 11:27-50:26
6 John Skinner   Genesis The International Critical Commentary
7 R. Kent Hughes   Genesis: Beginning And Blessing
8 Gordon Wenham   Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2: Genesis 16-50
10 Isaiah 19:22
11 See Hughes,   Robert Davidson   Genesis 12-50
12 Skinner
13, 20 Hughes
14 Berman
15 See Wenham, Skinner, though Waltke proposes the Egyptians followed to Macpelah
16 Derek Kidner   Genesis
17 Mathews
18 Waltke
19 John Goldingay   Genesis
21 Rober Alter   The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary

Genesis 49:1-33 – I’ve Got Twelve More Things To Say

Fantasy tales often have a scene where the heroes receive specific items that come into play later. Tolkien fans remember the gifts Galadriel gave to the Fellowship of the Ring. In the land of Narnia, Father Christmas bestows each of the Pevensie siblings a weapon and a piece of equipment. 

As a youngster, I would think about which items I’d want to receive if I was in the story. I mean, Aragorn gets the Elfstone. Sam gets a wooden box. Of course, you learn that box was full of earth from Galadriel’s orchard and a seed with a silver shell which would grow into the “only Mallorn [tree] west of the mountains and east of the sea.”[1]

In Jacob’s final moments, he gives each of his sons a parting word. His messages apply not just to their immediate families, but far into the future when the people of Israel would grow into a great nation of tribes. Jacob’s last speech is the first long-form poem in the Bible.[2] Let’s take a look. 

Genesis 49:1-2 – Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the days to come. Come together and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel: 

Both of Jacob’s names are used in this poem. These men were more than just sons of Jacob, they were part of Israel – the special, consecrated family through whom God was going to send the Deliverer of all mankind – the peculiar people through whom all nations would be blessed. Each of these men would have to decide if they believed what God said and live accordingly. 

Jacob used the phrase “in the days to come.” This term is used over a dozen times in the Old Testament, always in a prophetic context.[3] It looks all the way forward to the Messianic Kingdom, but it can also speak of things that were future to the speaker but past to us. Jacob’s vision intermingles elements from the conquest of Canaan all the way into the Millennium.[4] That is a common feature of Biblical prophecy – where there will be a more immediate, partial fulfillment, but also an ultimate fulfillment at the end of the age. 

Did the sons want to hear this prophecy? Do we? God gives prophecy because He loves to reveal Himself and because He does all He can so people might know Him and believe Him and go His way. We are invited to listen in to God’s forecast of the future just as Jacob’s sons were. 

Genesis 49:3-4 – Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength and the firstfruits of my virility, excelling in prominence, excelling in power. Turbulent as water, you will not excel, because you got into your father’s bed and you defiled it—he got into my bed. 

Reuben joins the sad list of firstborns ruined by sin alongside Cain, Ishmael, Esau, and Er. He had a lot of potential. He excelled in prominence and power, but he lacked character. He sinned with Bilhah and we remember how he put the lives of his own boys as collateral in Genesis 42.

God cares about character, not capability. He doesn’t need your prominence or your power or your talent. He’s looking for humility. He’s looking for Godliness. It is men and women of character that He lifts up and causes to excel. 

Jacob describes Reuben as “turbulent.” The term can mean reckless behavior,[5] instability, and wildness as much as weakness.[6] Reuben was spiritually unstable and his life spiraled out of control. Spiritual stability is important. The New Testament talks to us about this – about the importance of not being blown about in our spiritual lives – about being rooted and anchored in the truth. 

This prophecy came true. Reuben’s tribe would produce no prophets, no priests, no judges, no kings.[7]The only famous Reubenites were Dathan and Abiram, who rebelled against Moses.

Genesis 49:5-7 – Simeon and Levi are brothers; their knives are vicious weapons. May I never enter their council; may I never join their assembly. For in their anger they kill men, and on a whim they hamstring oxen. Their anger is cursed, for it is strong, and their fury, for it is cruel! I will disperse them throughout Jacob and scatter them throughout Israel. 

In Genesis 34, Simeon and Levi butchered the men of Shechem. It was a shocking event, unsanctioned by the Lord. According to Jacob, there seemed to be an element of pleasure in it. They delighted in violence. It was a whim and fancy for them.

Jacob was right when he said they would be scattered throughout Israel. The Levites, of course, would live in cities throughout the other tribes. Simeon’s portion was within the territory of Judah and was slowly absorbed. At the end of the wilderness wandering Simeon was the smallest and weakest of the tribes. They’re not included Moses’ blessing of the tribes in Deuteronomy 33. 

But then, why does the tribe of Levi seem to fare so much better? These brothers give us a great object lesson: Two sinners, both deserving of their father’s curse. But even though they were both guilty, there was a chance for redemption. 

In Exodus 32, there is a moment where Moses calls out, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.[8] They stood for the Lord despite what their brothers were doing. So, God redeemed that tribe. He changed their future from cursing to blessing. Simeon did not make that stand, and so went their way without that tribal redemption. 

Now remember, all the sons of Jacob heard these words. Jacob is laying all this sin and judgment out on the table. “I thought this was a blessing ceremony?” It’s rough for the first three sons. Now Jacob turns to Judah – the one who had the idea to sell Joseph into slavery. The one who had all that unpleasantness in chapter 38 with Tamar. What would Jacob say to him?

Genesis 49:8-9 – Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. Judah is a young lion—my son, you return from the kill. He crouches; he lies down like a lion or a lioness—who dares to rouse him? 

Jacob’s words for Judah are full of blessing and praise and greatness. Jacob identifies him as the kingly ruler not only of Israel, but all the peoples of the world. 

Why did he get blessing when his older brothers got cursing? The difference between them was repentance. We’ve seen how Judah was transformed in heart and life because he repented and decided to go God’s way. 

Biblical Hebrew has five different terms for lion.[9] Jacob uses one here that means the king of the beasts. Much of what he has to say about Judah is, in fact, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the King of Kings, the One Whose reign will never end. 

Genesis 49:10-12 – 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until he whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him. 11 He ties his donkey to a vine, and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine and his robes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk.

Is it a prophetic problem that after starting to reign as kings, the sons of Judah were deposed and exiled into Babylon? Ezekiel references the lion being captured and “put in a Babylonian zoo.”[10]

The answer is that the right to rule has still not departed, and the greatest Son of Judah is going to return one day to take what belongs to Him and to establish His forever Kingdom on the earth. 

When He does, there will be so much abundance that you could park your donkey next to the vine and not even worry if he ate a ton of the grapes.[11] There will be a worldwide overflow of bounty, specifically pictured here by wine and vineyards. 

This gives us a powerful perspective on that first miracle Jesus worked in Cana when He turned water into wine. It wasn’t just kindness to the people at a wedding. He was demonstrating that, not only was He the Lamb of God, He was also the Lion of Judah – the One Who fulfills Jacob’s prophecy. And He was giving us a tiny glimpse of what His Kingdom will be like. 

Derek Kidner says this about verses 11 and 12: “Every line of these verses speaks of exuberant, intoxicating abundance: it is the Golden Age of the Coming One.” There is a deliberate excess in the Lord’s Kingdom, where we say goodbye to sweat and thorns and are met with extravagant feasting with the greatest King.[12]

Genesis 49:13 – 13 Zebulun will live by the seashore and will be a harbor for ships, and his territory will be next to Sidon. 

Zebulun’s land was 10 miles from the shore. Coastal trade routes flowed through it.[13] It’s also possible that Jacob is referring to the tribal land in the Millennial Kingdom, described in Ezekiel 48. 

Genesis 49:14-15 – 14 Issachar is a strong donkey lying down between the saddlebags. 15 He saw that his resting place was good and that the land was pleasant, so he leaned his shoulder to bear a load and became a forced laborer.

It’s unclear whether this is positive or negative. We hear “forced laborer” and that seems bad, but there’s no reference to sin. 1 Chronicles speaks positively of Issachar.[14] Jacob may mean they became very hard workers. The Organization for Economic Co-operation And Development ranks the USA as 7th hardest working among their 38 member countries. Mexico is ranked as number 1, with the average worker clocking in 337 more hours each year than the average American.[15]

Genesis 49:16-18 – 16 Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan will be a snake by the road, a viper beside the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider falls backward. 18 I wait for your salvation, Lord. 

Jacob sees a lot of trouble on the horizon for some of his sons. He pauses to pray for the Lord’s salvation, reminding himself and his boys that no matter how strong they were, they needed the Lord’s protection and provision and intervention if there were going to survive. 

Interestingly, verse 18 is the first and only use of the word “salvation” in Genesis, and it is the last use of the name Yahweh.[16] There is one place and only place only to find salvation.

Genesis 49:19 – 19 Gad will be attacked by raiders, but he will attack their heels.

One reason Gad would have so much trouble is because they decided to settle outside of Canaan in what scholars call the Transjordan. They would be attacked by the Ammonites, Moabites, Arameans, and Assyrians. As a result, they became skilled guerrilla fighters, but at great cost.[17]

Genesis 49:20 – 20 Asher’s food will be rich, and he will produce royal delicacies.

When Moses gives a list of blessings to the tribes in Deuteronomy 33, he calls Asher the most blessed and most favored among the brothers. And, it’s true, they became super wealthy in the land. But, money can’t fix everything – especially spiritual problems. As a tribe they were unable to drive out the Canaanites and so they simply settled among them.[18] Disaster was the result.

Genesis 49:21 – 21 Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.

Naphtali is described in terms of fruitfulness and growth. Moses would later say, “Naphtali, enjoy[s] approval, full of the Lord’s blessing.”[19]

Finally, we get to Joseph – Jacob’s favorite. We have to imagine that Joseph must have wondered what his dad was going to say. Because, even though he had been given the birthright in the last chapter, he just heard Jacob say that Judah was going to be the ruler of Israel and the world. That would’ve been a strange thing to hear when you, Joseph, are actually one of the world’s most powerful rulers and when you think your tribe is going to be the preeminent one. 

Genesis 49:22-26 – 22 Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine beside a spring; its branches climb over the wall. 23 The archers attacked him, shot at him, and were hostile toward him. 24 Yet his bow remained steady, and his strong arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25 by the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, and blessings of the breasts and the womb. 26 The blessings of your father excel the blessings of my ancestors and the bounty of the ancient hills. May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince of his brothers. 

Joseph would be prince, not king. In fact, the term Jacob used for prince is never used of a king, but for something or someone set aside for special acts.[20] Joseph would have to accept the fact that his line was not chosen to rule. Still, his calling was magnificent. We see him described here as a thriving plant, fed by a vibrant stream.[21] We see that God was on his side giving him strength and victory. We see the word “bless” being used over and over, with Joseph pictured as enduring and on the move and adapting and winning victories. But the throne wasn’t for him. 

You and I are princes and princesses, but the throne belongs to King Jesus. We are blessed, filled, glorified by God, set aside for special acts, but there is One King and it’s not us, it’s the Lord. 

Genesis 49:27 – 27 Benjamin is a wolf; he tears his prey. In the morning he devours the prey, and in the evening he divides the plunder.”

The tribe of Benjamin was known for their bravery and skill in war. In Judges 20 we see them fighting as a pack and able to hold off the other 11 tribes for a while. They would supply the first king of Israel, but of course, it wasn’t their place and so his line would not endure. 

Genesis 49:28 – 28 These are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father said to them. He blessed them, and he blessed each one with a suitable blessing. 

One commentator asked whether the first three sons agreed with verse 28. The truth is, it’s a blessing to be told the truth, even if it stings. The truth will set us free. 

Now that the poem was over, was everything locked in stone? Were these tribes “destined” to do only these things? Joel Heck writes, “Jacob predicted how things would turn out for each of his sons and their descendants, should they continue to display the character they had displayed thus far.”[22] While some elements were certain, there was still chance for success or for failure, depending on how the families developed in their walk with the Lord. Judah and Levi are our examples. 

Genesis 49:29-33 – 29 Then he commanded them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hethite. 30 The cave is in the field of Machpelah near Mamre, in the land of Canaan. This is the field Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hethite as burial property. 31 Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried there, Isaac and his wife Rebekah are buried there, and I buried Leah there. 32 The field and the cave in it were purchased from the Hethites.” 33 When Jacob had finished giving charges to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed, took his last breath, and was gathered to his people. 

There’s a lovely reminder that we have people gathered in love around us here and we have people waiting for us in eternity. As Christians, we are part of an amazing family of God that is being built day by day, where those who have gone before are ready to welcome us home.

After so many years of heartbreak, Leah is finally elevated. But, even here, Jacob couldn’t bring himself to call her his wife.[23]

This passage is not a prophecy for the Church or for Gentiles except in very limited aspects. But there are a few devotional applications we can make from the broad strokes. 

First, we notice that, at the end of his life, Jacob was a blessing machine. He blessed Pharaoh. He blessed Joseph. He blessed Ephraim and Manasseh. He blessed his sons. But, being a blessing did not mean that he overlooked or accepted or celebrated their sin. Much the contrary. He delivered the truth in love, and we should too. 

Second, when we consider the first three sons and how they received cursing instead of blessing, we have to remind ourselves that it wasn’t because Jacob was mad, it was because they had embraced sin. Going back to the analogy at the beginning – in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, when the gifts are handed out by Father Christmas, Edmund receives nothing because he had given into greed and jealousy. He joined the White Witch and then became her prisoner as a result. In the end he is redeemed, but the cost was high and he forfeited some of those gifts. 

Repent of your sin and be set free. Walk with God and receive the overflow of His gifts and power. If you made a mistake in your past, turn from it and be washed by God’s life-changing redemption. Move forward with Him toward a glorious future. 

The story of Jacob’s life ends in Genesis 49. The story of Israel continues to this day. We look forward to many of these prophecies being fulfilled by our Lord in His Millennial Kingdom, where we will rule with Him, feast with Him, and glory in Him forever. 


1 J.R.R. Tolkien   The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, “The Grey Havens
2 Gordon Wenham   Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2: Genesis 16-50
3 Andrew Steinmann   Genesis: An Introduction And Commentary
4 Carl Armerding   The Last Words Of Jacob: Genesis 49
5 Kenneth A Mathews   Genesis 11:27-50:26
6 Derek Kidner   Genesis
7 Bruce Waltke   Genesis: A Commentary
8 Exodus 32:26
9 Rober Alter   The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
10 Wenham
11, 21 Mathews
12 Kidner
13 ESV Study Bible Notes
14 1 Chronicles 12:32
16 Steinmann
17, 20 Waltke
18 Judges 1:31-32
19 Deuteronomy 33:23
22 Joel Heck   A History of Interpretation of Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33
23 Meir Sternberg   The Poetics Of Biblical Narrative

State Of The Famine (Genesis 47:13-27)

In 1790, George Washington gave the first State of the Union address. In it, he explained some of the challenges facing the fledgling nation and spoke of how Americans would have to cooperate together to secure their future.[1] His closing paragraph began, “The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed.”[2]

In our text tonight we find the State of the Famine. Egypt was facing a life-and-death crisis. Joseph was a man with a plan. But reading it makes us scratch our heads. Of all the things Genesis records for us, why devote space to the economic and agrarian reforms made in an ancient kingdom that no longer exists? On top of that, Joseph’s actions come off as harsh, even heartless, toward a nation of starving people. Then, as we consider the longer-term ramifications of the system he established, we realize that this consolidation of power eventually led to the enslavement of God’s people for four hundred years.

So, what’s going on here? We know Joseph was administratively brilliant. We know he was anointed by God. But his plan doesn’t sit very well with us from most of the angles we approach it. Was he wrong to solve the problem of famine in this way? Was it simply a mistake of judgment? Should he have been more charitable? And what benefit is this record for us since we’re concerned with Israeli, redemption history, not Egyptian economic history?

Joseph’s plan speaks to us three ways: First, it serves as a cautionary tale of how human systems degenerate. Even those that start off well will, in the end, be corrupted because people are corrupt and therefore every human system can only have a limited benefit to a limited group.

Second, the sad state of Egypt here at the end of Genesis is presented in stark contrast to what God designed at the beginning of the Book. In Eden, everywhere you look there is life and growth and peace and limitless potential for a glorious future. In Egypt, we see waste, starvation, near societal collapse. And Egypt was the greatest kingdom on earth at the time. The contrast between what God offered and what mankind ultimately settled for is shocking.

Third, our text closes with a direct comparison between the lost unbelievers of Egypt and God’s family of faith. One is trying to dodge death, the other is thriving in spite of the ravages of sin.

Genesis 47:13 – 13 But there was no food in the entire region, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan were exhausted by the famine.

The word for “exhausted” can mean “wasting away.”[3] This was a catastrophic emergency.

We sometimes refer to things like famines or earthquakes as “acts of God.” In reality, they are acts of sin. We’re in the back of Genesis. Turn to the front and you’ll see what God designed, what God wanted for humanity. When Adam and Eve picked the fruit, famines came off the branch with it. Genesis 47 is what happens when people choose sin.

In grace, God provided Joseph and through him a way for people to be saved. Not just the chosen family, but anyone could go to Egypt and be saved from starvation, thanks to God’s generosity.

Genesis 47:14 – 14 Joseph collected all the silver to be found in the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan in exchange for the grain they were purchasing, and he brought the silver to Pharaoh’s palace.

Joseph exerts enormous control over the economy and governmental policy of Egypt in this text, but we see he does not do so to enrich himself.[4] He’s careful to deposit all the silver (and everything else) into Pharaoh’s accounts. No insider deals for himself.

Modern readers might tend to think, “He should’ve just given the grain away for free.” That’s what we expect from our governments, right? When a disaster happens, the government shows up and says, “We’re gonna spend $10 billion to alleviate the damage done by this hurricane or this fire or this tornado.” Of course, regular people never seem to actually see any of that money, do they?

In July of 2022 Bloomberg published an article titled, “How Much Covid Relief Was Stolen? No One Really Knows.”[5] In it they write, “Hundreds of billions of dollars were likely siphoned off of aid programs,” and called it, “Wasted money on a historic scale.”

This wasn’t happening under Joseph’s watch, because Joseph was a man with Godly integrity. But, why not give it away? Well, there are a few reasons. First, that’s simply not how things were done at that time. Derek Kidner writes, “It was [unquestionable][6] in the ancient world that one paid one’s way so long as one had anything to part with – including, in the last resort, one’s liberty.”[7]

Another reason why it would’ve been unwise to simply give away all the grain is that a black market would’ve likely sprung up – where profiteers would overcharge other refugees.[8]

Joseph also had to plan past the famine. Egypt would need to survive longer than the 7 years of lack. Kenneth Mathews writes, “What Joseph established not only saved the people from starvation but also provided a system whereby they could live securely once the famine abated.”[9]

Genesis 47:15 – 15 When the silver from the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan was gone, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die here in front of you? The silver is gone!”

Silver, so valuable in one moment, can be worthless the next. You can’t eat it. You can’t plant it. Like our own society, Egypt was probably full of people who dedicated their lives to piling up wealth for themselves. Silver they worked so many years for was gone. It’s a good reminder for us not to put our trust in silver or gold or what some sacrilegiously call “The Almighty Dollar.”

“Why should we die here in front of you?” They shouldn’t! God didn’t want them to die, He wanted them to live. He wants you to live, too. There’s no need for anyone to die eternally when He has thrown open the gates to His throne and beckoned all to come and receive from His storehouse.

In their hour of need, there was only one place they could go: To the person God had provided. Whether you were an Egyptian, a Canaanite, a Hebrew, just one man could save you. And he was ready to save anyone who sought salvation. The parallels to Christ Jesus are beautiful.

Genesis 47:16 – 16 But Joseph said, “Give me your livestock. Since the silver is gone, I will give you food in exchange for your livestock.”

It’s hard to say whether the people actually brought their animals and dropped them off at Pharaoh’s palace – that seems pretty impractical.[10] On the other hand, they had no food to feed their livestock. So, whether they were actually giving the animals away or simply mortgaging them to the crown, that means that Pharaoh would be responsible to feed them and maintain them. Joseph is not just taking these animals, he’s relieving the penniless Egyptians from the responsibility of caring for livestock that was essential for the nation and international economy.

Genesis 47:17 – 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks of sheep, the herds of cattle, and the donkeys. That year he provided them with food in exchange for all their livestock.

Scholars tell us that where it says “he provided them with food” can be understood as, “He escorted them through distress to safety.”[11] Joseph used his power not to oppress but to assist and guide. He walked with these needy people through the valley of the shadow of death. But it was a long walk – year after year, the famine dragged on and Joseph had to shoulder more and more.

Genesis 47:18-19 – 18 When that year was over, they came the next year and said to him, “We cannot hide from our lord that the silver is gone and that all our livestock belongs to our lord. There is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die here in front of you—both us and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food. Then we with our land will become Pharaoh’s slaves. Give us seed so that we can live and not die, and so that the land won’t become desolate.”

Cynics will sometimes say the Old Testament is pro-slavery. We read this or sections in the Law of Moses that talk about owning or becoming slaves and it feels a little sketchy. The reality is the “slavery” being discussed here is not what we think of when we think about slavery in America. That was known as chattel slavery, where a person is treated as property and they have zero freedom.

This is referring to indentured servitude. When a person had a debt but no money to pay, they could freely choose to become a servant to their creditor until the debt was settled. We see this depicted in old sitcoms where the person eats at the restaurant but has no money to pay, so they have to wash dishes all night to settle the bill.

The Egyptians were not becoming chattel slaves. They would still retain their personal freedom. But now they would become employees of the Pharaoh, with the legal requirements that come along with that. And we notice that it was their idea, not Joseph’s.

This was a widespread practice throughout Mesopotamia, especially during famines.[12] As Henry Morris points out, the alternative was death or social anarchy.[13] So we see the word “slaves” and it bothers us, but we need to understand, first, that this is not American slavery. And second, this plan would cost Pharaoh quite a bit. Because now the crown is responsible to not only protect the kingdom, but also to feed and clothe and support all the people and their animals, not just for a couple of years, but continually.

If Joseph rejected their proposal, the result would’ve been that the people would die and the land would revert to desert.[14] So, again we have this contrast between God’s Eden and man’s Egypt. Egypt is the best, the strongest, the place to be. And it was just a year or two from being swallowed up by the desert. Meanwhile, God wanted Eden for us, but we failed. Remember, in Genesis 2, the Lord had asked Adam to work in the Garden and watch over it. We get to the back of the Book and what has man accomplished? We can barely keep the world from being completely ruined.

Notice, they not only ask for food, but they also ask for seed. They believe Joseph was right that the famine would end. They only had that hope because of God’s revelation. But they did believe, so they hung the weight of their lives on Joseph and, by extension, God’s grace.

Genesis 47:20-21 – 20 In this way, Joseph acquired all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh, because every Egyptian sold his field since the famine was so severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph made the people servants from one end of Egypt to the other.

Your version may say that Joseph “moved [the people all] into cities from one end of Egypt to another.” The Hebrew words are very similar. Linguists show that the differences between those two phrases are only different by a couple small characters. It’s possible that Joseph brought them temporarily into distribution centers, or it’s possible that he removed people from their hereditary land and relocated them so as to ease the transition of ownership to Pharaoh.[15] Some think that he moved workers into cities and they commuted to the farms.[16] What’s clear is that farming was still happening, but now it was a tenet-farming arrangement.

Genesis 47:22 – 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy; for the priests had rations allotted to them by Pharaoh, and they ate their rations which Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their lands.

It seems that Pharaoh stepped in to exempt the priestly class. When verse 17 listed horses being exchanged, it indicates that Joseph treated rich and poor alike – no carve outs for billionaires.

So Pharaoh says, “The priests are exempt. They get free food and they get to keep their land.” This is attested widely in historical discoveries.[17] But again, this is a cautionary tale. You see, the priests of Egypt became richer and stronger. Over time, tension would build between the Pharaohs and the priests because, ultimately, the priests had more power and wealth than the king did. One source writes, “In time the priests began to serve themselves more than [the people or even the gods]. One of the contributing factors to the collapse of the central government at the end of the Old Kingdom was that the king had exempted the priesthood from paying taxes.”[18]

This human system – well-meaning and generous at first – became corrupted by corrupt men, and inevitably brought destruction instead of construction.

Meanwhile, these priests, who Pharaoh insulated from the pain of the famine, should’ve had to answer to the people. Where was Neper, the god of grain? Where was Osiris, the god of agriculture and vegetation? Where was Min or Renenutet or Dedun? All gods of wealth or prosperity or harvest? All were silent because all were nonexistent. The priests were their supposed representatives. But they did nothing to help, nothing to save, in fact they were a liability.

Meanwhile, the God of Abraham made it His business to help and to save and to provide and to reveal and to put His people into position so that pagan unbelievers could hear the truth and be saved. Oh, what God has done to pour out grace on an unbelieving and undeserving world!

Genesis 47:23-24 – 23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Indeed I have bought you and your land this day for Pharaoh. Look, here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And it shall come to pass in the harvest that you shall give one-fifth to Pharaoh. Four-fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and for your food, for those of your households and as food for your little ones.”

This 20% flat tax in Egypt was much less than the norm at the time. At other points in Egyptian history, the tax was more like 33% or even 40%.[19] Under Hammurabi in Babylon, tax on produce was as high as 66%.[20] It was 50% in Sparta, 75% in ancient Iran.[21]

The truth is, now that sin dominated creation, governments were needed to control human behavior. Some central planning was necessary because more famines would come. Hostile armies would invade. Floods would decimate crops. Taxes, like famines, are a result of sin.

Genesis 47:25-26 – 25 So they said, “You have saved our lives; let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants.” 26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have one-fifth, except for the land of the priests only, which did not become Pharaoh’s.

There’s research that shows their words were more than grateful sentiment, they were also a legally binding agreement.[22] At the same time, Joseph was a national hero.[23] They saw his actions as full of grace. Their response to his grace was a desire to serve and to remain under the protection of the king. Still, this is a far cry from what God established in the Garden. And what was a welcome relief at the time became an oppressive regime later. That’s what sin does.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:

Genesis 47:27 – 27 So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and grew and multiplied exceedingly.

What a dramatic statement after the verses we just read! Egypt is dying, people are starving, their only option is indentured servitude. Then you pan over to God’s people and it’s totally different. They have all they need. They have food. They have their animals. They have their own land. They have a future not guaranteed by a corruptible government, but guaranteed by an incorruptible God. God wanted Adam and Eve and Noah and Ishmael and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob all to be fruitful and to multiply – He said it many times, and here it is happening! Because fruitfulness isn’t connected to whether the winds blow or the rains fall or the crops come in. Fruitfulness comes from God. He can bring manna to any wilderness. That’s what He delights to do.

At the same time, as Eugene Roop points out, when we compare Israel to Egypt in this scene, God’s people just don’t quite fit in, do they? Abraham didn’t quite fit in in Canaan. Noah didn’t quite fit in in Mesopotamia. The Christians didn’t quite fit in in Rome. We can’t quite fit in because the Christian life is a completely different world than the Egypt everyone else lives in. We need to understand the differences and conduct ourselves accordingly. We don’t want to fit in with the famine. We want to enjoy the fullness of God by being in the place He’s placed us, following His leading, abiding by His boundaries, trusting in His provision day-by-day.


3 Dictionary Of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew Old Testament
4 Andrew Steinmann Genesis: An Introduction & Commentary
6 “Axiomatic” in original
7 Derek Kidner Genesis
8, 20 Steinmann
9 Kenneth A Mathews Genesis 11:27-50:26
10 Gordon Wenham Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2: Genesis 16-50
11 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
12 Victor Avigdor Hurowitz Joseph’s Enslavement Of The Egyptians In Light Of Famine Texts From Mesopotamia
13 Henry Morris The Genesis Record
14 Wenham
15 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
16 Goldingay
17 Eugene Roop Genesis: Believers Church Bible Commentary
19 Donald Redford A Study Of The Biblical Story Of Joseph
21 August Dillmann Genesis Critically And Exegetically Expounded Volume 2
22 Hurowitz
23 R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing

Pilgrims Progress (Genesis 46:28-47:12)

In November of 1620, forty-one travelers signed the Mayflower Compact. After a long journey and a few near-mutinies, the colonists agreed to work together, “for our better ordering, and preservation…as shall be thought most…convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”[1] John Carver helped write the compact and was the first to sign. He became the first governor of Plymouth colony, but only lived another 5 months before his death. 403 years later, the effects of their pilgrimage still ripple through human history.

After decades of failure and strife, our text shows God’s chosen family united. Circumstances and Providence have led them back into a life of pilgrimage. But what kind of pilgrims would they be? Would they act the way they did in Genesis 34 when they sojourned to Shechem, leaving a ghost town, soaked in blood? Or would they follow in the steps of faithful Abraham, the friend of God?

The Joseph saga is a great story of redemption. These sons of Jacob, who were some of the worst men, are transformed by God’s grace. As they once again take up the pilgrim’s progress, we see that instead of violence there is service. Instead of rivalry, there is humility. Instead of schemes there is honesty. Instead of greed, there is grace. And now – finally – even though they are outside the Land of Promise, they are able to be the blessing that God has always wanted this family to be.

Genesis 46:28a – Now Jacob had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to prepare for his arrival at Goshen.

Goshen is in the North Eastern part of the Egypt.[2] The name is Hebrew, not Egyptian. And it refers to a place with rich soil.[3] It would be an ideal spot to graze their flocks and herds.

At this point, Joseph has lived in Egypt longer than he did in Canaan.[4] He was taken at age 17, it’s now about 22 years later. While he retains aspects of his Hebrew heritage, like his worship of the One True God, in many other ways he’s assimilated into Egyptian culture.

Judah continues to occupy a position of servant-leadership. Abraham had one son. Isaac had two. Now the family is much larger. As Jacob’s life comes to a close, the question is: Who is going to lead this group? Jacob would’ve chosen his favorite son, but he was thought dead for the last two decades. Even though they’re together again, it’s doubtful that Joseph would be allowed to leave his service to Pharaoh. Jacob’s firstborn of the family was disqualified. Plus, we’ve seen again and again that, in Genesis, God often has a different idea than simply going with the oldest. It was Abel, not Cain. It was Isaac, not Ishmael. It was Jacob, not Esau.

Judah has become to Jacob what Joseph became to Pharaoh. He’s the Prime Minister of the family at this point. And, eventually, his line would not only be established as the royal line, but more importantly the Messianic line.

Genesis 46:28b-29 – When they came to the land of Goshen, Joseph hitched the horses to his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel. Joseph presented himself to him, threw his arms around him, and wept for a long time.

Hearing that his father had arrived, Joseph, the most important man in the most powerful kingdom, didn’t wait for a servant to prep his chariot – he hitched the horses himself.

This would have been like a presidential motorcade. He probably had quite a few servants and runners surrounding him as he went.[5] In fact, the language suggests how overwhelming his arrival was. Where it says there, “Joseph presented himself,” the text is using a term that is always used elsewhere in Genesis for a Theophany – an appearance of God to man.[6] Such was Jospeh’s power and grandeur and grace,[7] riding in a vehicle that didn’t exist in Canaan.[8]

As we move through the world, we’re appointed as heavenly ambassadors. We’re meant to operate on a whole different level when it comes to circumstances and worldview and decision-making. When we arrive on scene, hopefully we give an impression of God’s grace and His provision and His power and His grandeur.

Genesis 46:30 – Then Israel said to Joseph, “I’m ready to die now because I have seen your face and you are still alive!”

Commentators point out that nearly all of Jacob’s words after Genesis 37 have been about death. Often he said he was going to go down to the grave in sorrow. From 37 to 46, he wasn’t particularly faith-filled or following after the Lord. Now he’s back on his pilgrimage and we see that his attitude toward death has changed. Now he has peace he didn’t have before. He’s ready to die. Derek Kidner writes, “[Jacob’s] bitterness is largely replaced by a sense of fulfillment and hope.”[9]

Unless we are taken in the rapture, we are all headed to heaven through the tunnel of death. As pilgrims, we don’t have to be excited about dying, but we trust our Lord. So, we can be ready for death. It’s not a looming enemy, but a passageway from where we are to where we want to be.

After their long and emotional reunion, Joseph starts coaching his brothers on how to proceed.

Genesis 46:31-34 – Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s family, “I will go up and inform Pharaoh, telling him, ‘My brothers and my father’s family, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they also raise livestock. They have brought their flocks and herds and all that they have.’ When Pharaoh addresses you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you are to say, ‘Your servants, both we and our ancestors, have raised livestock from our youth until now.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the land of Goshen, since all shepherds are detestable to Egyptians.”

So that’s how it’s going to be? We’re detestable to the people here? The answer is: Yes. This Hebrew family would never be accepted into Egyptian society unless they abandoned their God and their heritage and their calling and their special place in this world.

The truth is, they needed to be separate, and Joseph knew that. In Egypt, it was an abomination to sacrifice lambs or rams. To do so showed contempt for Amun, the king of the gods.[10] Moses references this danger in Exodus 8:26. Egypt was the kind of place where they might impale you on a stick for not getting on board with their gods.[11] If you trespassed into an Egyptian funerary district and you weren’t a priest, you could be burned alive.[12] Egyptians did a lot of strange things. Did you know that when the family cat died, the Egyptians would shave off their eyebrows in mourning?[13] They also saw feces as a sign of immortality and used it their medicines.[14]

The family of faith was going to continue to worship God in the way He asked them to. Staying separate was not only good for their spiritual health, but also for their physical safety. Joseph’s plan to settle them in Goshen would mean they were on the outskirts of the kingdom and would be able to thrive away from the dangerous influence of Egyptian culture.

Joseph explains that the Egyptians wouldn’t think very highly of them. They’d be viewed as other – nomadic hayseeds who don’t do things right and have different priorities. And you know what, that’s ok! Believers are different. We do have a different way of doing things. We have much different priorities. We don’t want to assimilate into the dung-loving culture of this world.

At the same time, the family was happy to live at peace in Goshen. They weren’t trying to start trouble. They also weren’t hiding who they were. As Joseph instructs them what to say, he doesn’t tell them to lie. He encourages them to be honest, even if that makes Pharaoh wrinkle his nose at you.[15] “Oh…you’re shepherds? You are monotheists? You don’t rub poop all over yourself? Gross!”

There’s a beautiful picture of Christ here. If Joseph wasn’t with them, if they were just one of the thousands of refugees coming in for help and they appeared before Pharaoh, would he have received them? He would’ve sent these country-mice packing. But they were hidden in Joseph, the savior, just as we are hidden in Christ, and are given a place at the table, a place in the kingdom.

Genesis 47:1 – So Joseph went and informed Pharaoh: “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in the land of Goshen.”

By referencing the flocks and herds, Joseph islaying the groundwork for his family to be able to live in a good grazing area and he’s showing that they’re not going to be an economic burden on Egypt.[16] They’re not going to leech off the palace, they’re hardworking and industrious people.

We are pilgrims living in a foreign land. This world is not our home. As we navigate, we should endeavor to make ourselves a benefit, not a burden, to the society around us. We want to be peaches, not leeches – bearing fruit and making the place God has scattered us better.

Genesis 47:2 – He took five of his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh.

Joseph decided they didn’t need all 11 brothers there. Historically, they haven’t been the strongest group when it comes to meetings. I wonder how that schoolyard pick went!

Throughout this passage, Joseph is demonstrating what Jesus taught in Matthew 10: “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

Genesis 47:3-4 – And Pharaoh asked his brothers, “What is your occupation?” They said to Pharaoh, “Your servants, both we and our ancestors, are shepherds.” And they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to stay in the land for a while because there is no grazing land for your servants’ sheep, since the famine in the land of Canaan has been severe. So now, please let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.”

They didn’t exactly say what Joseph had coached them to say.[17] They mentioned Goshen themselves instead of letting Pharaoh offer it to them. And they used a word for “shepherds” that Joseph seemed to want them to avoid. But it worked out. Pharaoh didn’t need much convincing.

We’re not always going to say the exact right thing as spiritual pilgrims, but the Lord is with us and His grace is operating even when we don’t execute perfectly. That’s a great relief.

When they said “we have come to stay in the land” the brothers used a term for a temporary stay, but when they said “settle in the land” they used one that means a long-term settlement.[18]

As pilgrims, we are here for a long-term, temporary visit. God encourages us to settle down where He’s called us, but to keep in mind that this is not our forever home. The brothers do a great job in their speech, revealing that they had no intention of becoming Egyptian, but they also weren’t a threat to Pharaoh or his people. In fact, three times they identify themselves as servants. Essentially, they’re telling Pharaoh that they can look after themselves, but they intend to be a blessing to the people around them too. And while they speak, they gave Pharaoh appropriate respect and honor, even though he was who he was. He wasn’t their enemy, he was their neighbor.

Genesis 47:5-6 – Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Now that your father and brothers have come to you, the land of Egypt is open before you; settle your father and brothers in the best part of the land. They can live in the land of Goshen. If you know of any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

We have another foreshadow of Christ here. The son bridges the gap for those he loves. Because of his willingness, because of his sacrifice, strangers are able to be brought in and given the best of the kingdom. Then they are given positions in the king’s court. Being in charge of the livestock would mean they were officers of the crown, enjoying protections not usually accorded to aliens.[19]

Genesis 47:7 – Joseph then brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.

Joseph pictures Christ again as he presents his weak father before the king. In Jude 24 we read, “Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy.” This is what our Lord will do for you one day.

Jacob the pilgrim takes initiative here.[20] He doesn’t wait to bless Pharaoh. He is living out God’s original call to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Jacob understood that God’s calling on his life put him on a completely different plane than the rest of humanity. This was the great king who controlled the greatest empire on earth, but Jacob approached him as if Pharaoh was the inferior party who needed blessing – because he was! Yes, Pharaoh had a palace, but Jacob had a promise.

Pharaoh keeps talking economically, but Jacob brings the Lord into the situation. Here’s a lovely insight from one commentator: “Members of the chosen family ‘include within the circle of blessing even those who seem least in need of it’ and who are going to be problems in the future.”[21] That’s grace! Jacob has not demonstrated a lot of grace in his story, but it’s flowing through him here.

Eugene Roop reminds us that, “Blessing is a royal, priestly responsibility.”[22] Wouldn’t you know it, God has made us a royal priesthood, sent out to proclaim praises and conduct ourselves honorably in an unbelieving world, fearing God, loving others, and doing good works.

Genesis 47:8-9 – Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years have you lived?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “My pilgrimage has lasted 130 years. My years have been few and hard, and they have not reached the years of my ancestors during their pilgrimages.”

In Egypt, the perfect age was 110 years.[23] Here’s a man who had attained a life that was, from one perspective, more than they could ever hope for.[24] They saw Jacob and said, “You’ve got to tell me about your life.” Jacob’s response was honest. He said, “It’s not just about years, it’s about a pilgrimage. The years of this pilgrimage have been difficult.” Your version might use the word ‘evil,’ but that’s not what Jacob means to say. It refers to pain and difficulty and sorrow.[25] The truth is, Jacob had made things hard for himself when he failed to follow God or when he stumbled into greed or bitterness or scheming. He didn’t boast in Pharaoh’s presence, “Oh ALL Canaan belongs to me.” No, his answer revealed that human life isn’t about the treasures we hoard or the comforts we enjoy or the size of our pyramids. It is about a sojourn we take with the living God.

Genesis 47:10 – So Jacob blessed Pharaoh and departed from Pharaoh’s presence.

Gordon Wenham points out that Jacob, who previously had been the one to cheat and steal to get blessings was now more than willing to dole them out.

We may be outsiders, we may be weak, limping our way through life, but we are in a position to bless a lost and dying world. We bless by being full of grace. We bless by serving others. We bless with our testimonies of God’s faithfulness and by our prayers. We bless others by demonstrating that there’s more to life than this world. That it’s Spirit, not status. Faith, not fame.

Genesis 47:11-12 – Then Joseph settled his father and brothers in the land of Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s family with food for their dependents.

Joseph secured property and provision for them. This is an amazing testament to God’s grace toward us when we walk with Him. While all the world was hungry, they were full. While all Egypt was forfeiting their land to Pharaoh, Joseph’s family was receiving a permanent land holding from him.[26] While the world shriveled under famine, God’s people thrived and became a nation.

Pilgrimage with God leads to strength, provision, protection, and a permanent place in His Kingdom. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the world is doing or worshipping or what sorts of droughts or wars are raging. We’re God’s people. What kind of pilgrims will we be?


2 Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew Old Testament
3 Faithlife Study Bible Notes
4 Amy Chase Selling Sojourn: Jacob In Egypt As Diaspora Discussion
5 R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing
6 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
7 Gordon Wenham Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2: Genesis 16-50
8 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
9 Derek Kidner Genesis
11 Anthony Leahy Death By Fire In Ancient Egypt
12 Kerry Muhlestein Sacred Violence: When Ancient Egyptian Punishment was Dressed in Ritual Trappings
14 ibid.
15 Waltke
16 Andrew Steinmann Genesis: An Introduction And Commentary
17 See Hughes, Eugene Roop, Susan Brayford
18 Alter
19 Nahum Sarna Genesis
20 Brian Alexander McKenzie Jacob’s Blessing on Pharaoh: An Interpretation of Genesis 46:31-47:26
21 John Goldingay Genesis
22 Eugene Roop Genesis: Believers Church Bible Commentary
23 Jozef Vergote Joseph en Egypte
24 McKenzie
25 The NET Bible First Edition Notes
26 Goldingay

Have Sons, Will Travel (Genesis 46:1-27)

According to the World Migration Report, in 2022, one in every thirty people on planet earth can be described as international migrants – living in a country where they weren’t born.[1] Since 1970 the United States has been the main country of destination for international migrants. National Geographic writes, “People…choose to immigrate for a variety of reasons, such as employment opportunities, to escape a violent conflict, environmental factors…or to reunite with family.”[2]

The descendants of Abraham were nomads but this time they weren’t just moving to a new grazing area – they were going international. The famine that threatened their survival would wear on for five more years and, after more than two decades, Jacob was going to reunite with his son, Joseph.

In this last great move of Genesis, God appears once more to speak, to make promises, to give encouragement, and to accomplish His good purposes in the lives of His people. He shows that He is just as involved with them as He was when He was hanging the planets on their axis in Genesis 1.

Genesis 46:1 – Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

Jacob would never again see the Promised Land. He pauses in Beer-sheba to worship God and offer sacrifices. It seems he had hesitation, even fear, about leaving the Canaan. We remember how he had only left before when he had to run for his life. On his way out he was worried about when he’d be able to come back to this land of theirs. So many years later, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Get back to your native land.”

It makes sense that they would stop in Beer-sheba. It was not only the southern border of Canaan,[3] it was also where Isaac had settled. Before crossing out of the land Jacob looks around. There is the altar his father built. There is the tamarisk tree Abraham planted and the well he dug. For generations, God had connected the future of this family with this land. Now they are making a major, long-term move. Was this the right thing to do? Jacob must have been thinking about that prophecy God gave so many decades before.

Genesis 15:13 – “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed.”

Was this all a mistake? This move could be a terrible mistake if it’s not ordained by God. As they wait and listen, the Lord arrives to reveal and comfort and instruct.

Genesis 46:2-4 – That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: “Jacob, Jacob!” he said. And Jacob replied, “Here I am.” God said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.”

I wonder if when the Lord called his name, Jacob thought, “Are we fighting again? Is this gonna be a rematch of that all-night wrestling session we had thirty years ago?” But in Jacob’s hour of apprehension and uncertainty, the Lord spoke words of kindness and direction. He said, “I’m still with you, this is part of the plan, you don’t have to be afraid.”

In fact, God makes it clear to Jacob that He has taken responsibility for their future. He makes three “I will” statements. Kenneth Mathews writes, “The patriarchs’ God is an ‘I will’ God.”[4]

The Lord said, “I will make you into a great nation.” It would’ve been hard to see how this could happen. How could this family become a nation when they were houseguests in another kingdom? Yes, they several dozen, but what is that compared to the empire Esau had built for himself or the clans of Ishmael? How could they become a nation when they could barely even cooperate a short time ago? But with God it was possible. Turn the pages to Exodus 13 and the people of Israel came out of Egypt millions strong.

The Lord said, “I will go down with you.” Jacob knew God was with him wherever he went,[5] but he needed this reminder. God is always with us. He has attached Himself to you. That reality is so different than the gods of Egypt or Canaan that people around Jacob worshiped. Those gods were ‘territorial.’ They were confined to the hills or to the lowlands or to national boundaries. Think of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. You want to go on land? You’re going to have to talk to someone else. But the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible, He is not bound to a location. He binds Himself to His people. He comes to us with a covenant of love and peace. And even when we make mistakes, He remains faithful. His love does not abate. The covenant is still on.

God said, “I will bring you back.” That was true, but Jacob would come back as a dead man. That reminds us that many of the promises God has made will not be fulfilled in this life, they wait for us after we step through death into eternity. And second, God’s work doesn’t end with us, it continues through our families and through His family all over the earth. So, the question is: Is my life helping to spiritually benefit those that will come after me? Am I part of the ongoing work of the Gospel?

What a great thing that Jacob stopped to worship and inquire of the Lord. Of course Jacob wanted to go see Joseph, but did God want him to go? He was making a major life decision here, and it’s a very good thing that he waited on the Lord for God’s opinion and direction. He was able to receive encouragement and certainty and better promises, along with the peace of God.

Genesis 46:5-7 – Jacob left Beer-sheba. The sons of Israel took their father Jacob in the wagons Pharaoh had sent to carry him, along with their dependents and their wives. They also took their cattle and possessions they had acquired in the land of Canaan. Then Jacob and all his offspring with him came to Egypt. His sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters, indeed all his offspring, he brought with him to Egypt.

The family didn’t exactly do what Pharaoh suggested. In chapter 45, Pharaoh said, “Don’t worry about your belongings.” But could they really show up to Egypt with no stuff? “Hey, we’re here. We need a place to stay. Also clothes. Also tools. Also furniture. Also toothbrushes.”

We’re told in verse 5 that the sons took Jacob and the wives and kids. Jacob is 130 years old, hobbled by his wrestling match with the Lord. In those earlier scenes it was Jacob who “took” his family and moved them across rivers and over the hills and through the woods. But he’s not as strong as he had been. He was the decider, but the sons are the operatives. As they move together, we see a beautiful picture of gracious cooperation. We see young and old, weak and strong all moving together. No one is complaining about the pace or the seating arrangements. It’s a good reminder of how a spiritual family can work together, sharing responsibility, being mindful of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has a spot and a role as we all journey onward.

The rest of our passage tonight is a list of Jacob’s family members. Let’s take it all at once and then pull out a few thoughts.

Genesis 46:8-27 – These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt—Jacob and his sons: Jacob’s firstborn: Reuben.
Reuben’s sons: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
Simeon’s sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman.
Levi’s sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
Judah’s sons: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.
Issachar’s sons: Tola, Puvah, Jashub, and Shimron.
Zebulun’s sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.
These were Leah’s sons born to Jacob in Paddan-aram, as well as his daughter Dinah. The total number of persons: thirty-three.
Gad’s sons: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.
Asher’s sons: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah. Beriah’s sons were Heber and Malchiel.
These were the sons of Zilpah—whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah—that she bore to Jacob: sixteen persons.
The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.
Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph in the land of Egypt. They were born to him by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, a priest at On.
Benjamin’s sons: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.
These were Rachel’s sons who were born to Jacob: fourteen persons.
Dan’s son: Hushim.
Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.
These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel. She bore to Jacob: seven persons.
The total number of persons belonging to Jacob—his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons—who came to Egypt: sixty-six. 27 And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt: two persons. All those of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt: seventy persons.

The number of the group is controversial for a few reasons. First of all, it’s clear that the names listed do not include all of Jacob’s descendants. For example: verse 7 we’re told that Jacob brought daughters, plural, to Egypt but only one daughter is named. We’re told that Leah’s group was 33 people, but count it as many times as you want, there are only 32 names of living people. Some count Leah herself as part of the group, but we’ll be told in chapter 49 that she’s dead and buried. Plus, Bilhah, Rachel, and Zilpah aren’t included in their counts. It gets more complicated when you get to Acts chapter 7 and Stephen says that 75 people were in the group, not 70.

So what’s going on here? Does the Bible play fast and loose with numbers? If this isn’t a literal number, why should we believe the 7 days of creation, or the 1,260 days of the Great Tribulation discussed in Revelation 11 and 12 are literal?

There are times when the Bible uses numbers figuratively and there are times when it uses numbers literally. If we have no indication or contextual reason to see a number as figurative, we should interpret it as literal. But, if the text is giving us clear signals that a number might be understood as approximate or figurative, that’s ok. It’s not a trick or a failure of Scripture.

Here’s an example: How many tribes of Israel are there? Twelve, right? In Numbers 17, God tells Moses, “Take one staff from them for each ancestral tribe, twelve staffs from all the leaders of their tribes.” But there aren’t 12 tribes, there are 13 tribes. In Numbers 2 and 3 God tells the people how they are to camp in their tribes around the Tabernacle. Four on the north, four on the south, four on the east, four on the west, one in the middle. That’s 13.

This text gives us many clues that the number 70 can be understood in an approximate or typological sense. Not only are the daughters not all accounted for, but we’re specifically told the daughters-in-law who were part of the group weren’t counted in this 70.

Eric Burrows writes, “The number 70 is used principally to denote natural groups of individuals in a family, human or divine…the number 70, signifying the ideal totality of an earthly or divine family, is found in several different cultures.”[6]

Nahum Sarna writes, “There is no way of satisfactorily solving the problem and reconciling the differences unless 70 is understood here to be a typological rather than a literal number. It is here used, as elsewhere in Biblical literature, to express the idea of totality.”[7] The idea is that no one from the family of faith was left behind – they all made the trip.

When we come to a number like the seven days of creation or the seven years of Tribulation, those are meticulously given with the rending of hours, weeks, months, and years so that we understand the precision of that timing. So, if someone tries to throw this 70 number at you as a contradiction in Scripture, you can know it’s not a contradiction, there’s a context to understand and the Bible is very up-front about it. And when someone says, “The numbers in the Bible are all figurative, so there’s no literal seven-year Great Tribulation,” you can know why that is different than this.

Going through these names it’s interesting to see what an assorted group it was. All of them were connected to God through Abraham, but some came from an Aramean background, some came from an Egyptian background, some came from a Canaanite background. Some grew up in favored status, some grew up unappreciated. Jamin was named “lucky,” Hushim was named “hasty.” Elon means “Oak,” Gershon means “Outcast.” Becher means “Young camel,” Tola means “Little worm.” Eri means “Worshipper of Jehovah,” Ashbel means, “Worshipper of Baal.” Muppim means “Anxieties,” Jahleel means “Hope of God.”[8] There was great variety, just like you’d expect in a real group of 70 or so people.

The list shows that God takes all kinds. He wanted them all to be a part of His drama of redemption. But not all of them would follow Him in that plan. By the time of Numbers, some of these lines don’t exist anymore.[9] From others would come servants in the Lord’s house and judges and kings and craftsmen and poets and prophets. One commentator remarked that these verses are a kind of inventory for the trip.[10] But you know what’s so great? The inventory isn’t stuff, it’s people. It was the people that mattered to God, not the cargo. Not the gold or the jewels or the herds they had accumulated. It was these people. And they each counted, just like you count to the Lord. You may not come from the favored family, you may have a background of questionable circumstances, but to the Lord, you’re a son or a daughter that counts. He can bring power and praise and testimony and glory from your life just like He could bring David from Hezron, Ehud from Gera, or Samuel from Ephraim.

As you migrate through life, seek the Lord for His direction. He has a definite opinion on where He wants you to be and when He wants you to be there. He’s going to be with you every step of the way, making great spiritual fruit in your life that can have a lasting impact long after you’ve stepped into eternity. Wait on Him, listen to Him, follow after Him.


3 Gordon Wenham Genesis 16-50 Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2
4 Kenneth A. Mathews Genesis 11:27-50:26
5 Genesis 35:3
6 Eric Burrows The Number Seventy In Semitic Nova Series, Vol. 5 1936
7 Nahum Sarna JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis
8 See Wenham & The Exhaustive Dictionary Of Bible Names
9 Specifically the line of Becher. See Andrew Steinmann Genesis: An Introduction And Commentary
10 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary

Saint Your Wagon (Genesis 45:16-28)

Scale models can be helpful in preparing people for the mission ahead. In Apollo 13, we watch the crew train on docking with the lunar module again and again. They needed to be ready for trouble.

In the 1970’s, the Swiss army decided they wanted to build tank simulators in order to train new drivers. After all, real tanks are really expensive to build, fuel, and maintain. But, it was the 70’s, so you couldn’t just generate a virtual world in Unreal Engine and let people game their way through. Instead, they built an extensive, miniature landscape that would be connected via camera to real-world controls in a model that thousands of tankers trained on, without having to burn countless gallons of fuel or accidentally crunching over real buildings.[1]

As the Joseph saga comes to a crescendo, we are able to look at, essentially, a scale model of our own spiritual lives. We have been called before a throne, offered forgiveness, commanded to do certain things and stay in close relationship with this all-powerful Sovereign, and to spread the word of His invitation to others. It’s not always easy. God’s providential work in our lives requires that we walk by faith, that we live in humility, and, sometimes, that we face the consequences of our mistakes. But, no matter the difficulties or our missteps, the destination is worth the pilgrimage.

Let’s take a look at this scale model of God’s generosity and guidance, beginning in verse 16.

Genesis 45:16 – When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased.

In Mark 7, Jesus is traveling through the Gentile towns of Tyre and Sidon. After healing a man who was deaf and mute the people declared, “He does everything well.”[2] Joseph had that kind of effect on the Egyptians. Through Joseph, God saved their nation. People at every level had affectionate appreciation for him. Joseph wasn’t only on the good side of the elites while ignoring the servant class. They all were pleased to hear that his brothers had come to town. He lived as a blessing.

Kenneth Mathews points out that the Egyptians used Joseph’s Hebrew name, not the Egyptian name he had been given.[3] In this regard, Joseph was like Daniel in that he remained set apart in his Godly culture, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have successful relationships with unbelievers.

Christ does not conform to pagan culture – He always remains apart and calls us to be set-apart and Godly. But separation isn’t the same as segregation. We can be both holy and winsome to a dying world. In fact, we must be both of those things. Daniel and Joseph are great examples of that tension. They offered help to the pagans around them, while remaining holy and unconformed.

Genesis 45:17-18 – Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and go on back to the land of Canaan. Get your father and your families, and come back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you can eat from the richness of the land.’

The king spoke through Joseph. Bruce Waltke notes the brothers needed someone to interpret the words of the king and act as an intermediary for them.[4] This is what Christ does. He is the Word Who became flesh, dwelt among us, became our Substitute, and now makes intercession for us.

Joseph didn’t have to convince Pharaoh to welcome his brothers. There’s no scene where he and Pharaoh had a meeting to talk it over, yet Pharaoh gives the invitation to come and be blessed just as Joseph did in the last passage.[5]

God the Father is not a cosmic grump, ready to smash the petulant humans who annoy Him. He and the Son and the Spirit are One. Together they extend love, mercy, generosity, and welcome to anyone who is willing to receive them. There’s a lovely phrase there that speaks to us of the Father’s heart: Pharaoh said, “Return to me.” That’s the Lord’s desire. Yes, He has plans for our lives but more importantly, He desires communion between us and Him.

Just as all of this rescue happened through Joseph, so too spiritual rescue happens only through Christ. There is no other “brother” that the 11 could turn to. There was no other deliverer who could’ve saved Egypt from the famine. There was only one, provided by God.

Pharaoh’s offer continued:

Genesis 45:19-20 – You are also commanded to tell them, ‘Do this: Take wagons from the land of Egypt for your dependents and your wives and bring your father here. Do not be concerned about your belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’ ”

At the start of this story, the brothers simply hoped to get a few bags of grain so they wouldn’t starve to death. Now what’s the offer? Way more than a sack of oats. We’re talking about all kinds of provision and protection and security and reconciliation and enjoyment and honor and freedom. The best Egypt had to offer, not just for these men but for all their families.

Pharaoh didn’t bother taking a head count. He didn’t say, “I’ve got tickets for 25 people.” He said, “Bring them all. It doesn’t matter how many. I’m writing you a blank check.”

But, notice: behind this generous invitation there was insistence. Pharaoh commanded them to do this, just as the Lord commands us to be saved. “Turn and live.”[6] They would only get the blessing if they obeyed. This would be a very plain teaching that Moses would give the Israelites in Deuteronomy: If you want the blessings God offers, you must follow His commands. Of course, there was no reason not to obey. But it was still a choice they would have to make.

Pharaoh made it possible for all of them to get to Egypt. The wagons meant the very young and the very old, the sick and the weak could make the trip.[7] No one needed to miss out.

At the same time, Pharaoh encouraged them to travel light.[8] He said, “Don’t be concerned about your belongings.” He didn’t want them to get back home, look at all the stuff in their tents (much of it they had shamefully stolen from Shechem) and decide it was too much trouble to pack it all up.[9] Another way of translating the phrase is, “Regret not your belongings.”[10] Don’t regret what you’re leaving behind. What the king was offering far outmatched whatever they had.[11]

In our own lives, God has told us not to be wrapped up in our earthly belongings. We’ll have to choose. We can’t serve both God and material wealth. But the Lord reveals that He has much, much better planned for us. Don’t trade the best of heaven for the odds and ends of Hanford.

Genesis 45:21 – The sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them wagons as Pharaoh had commanded, and he gave them provisions for the journey.

Pharaoh and Joseph are so detail oriented. They’ve thought about the trip there and back again. They considered the old and the weak and the little ones. They have everything picked out, set aside, made ready for this family to come and enjoy rest in the midst of the world’s famine.

And while these men and their families would experience individual salvation, they were also living and moving as a unit. The United Sons Of Israel. They would take the walk together, with a common purpose, sharing the joys and the responsibilities of the journey. There would be a lot of unknowns on the road. Wheels might fall off, donkeys might go lame, storms might brew on the horizon, but they would work together to make progress toward their new home.

Genesis 45:22 – He gave each of the brothers changes of clothes, but he gave Benjamin three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothes.

The brothers had stolen and ruined Joseph’s beautiful coat. Then they beat him, threw him in a pit, and sold him into slavery. Now, Joseph gives them each new robes of their own. Remember: Joseph had been given a royal robe. Now he gives those sort of robes to his brothers.[12]

Not only is this a beautiful depiction of God’s generous grace – how Jesus, Who was stripped naked, beaten, and crucified, now raised in glory offers us His robe of righteousness, we also can see the tender heart of God. You see, when the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, what did all the brothers do? They tore their clothes. There they are, guilty and broken and disheveled. Joseph says, “Let’s take off these ruined robes and instead put on these royal robes.” Scholars tell us that they were probably the kind of clothes used for festive occasions.[13] Joseph is not only providing for their need, he’s telling them, “The time for mourning is over.[14] Your guilt is gone.”

In Zechariah 3, the Angel of the Lord spoke and said, “Take off his filthy clothes! I have removed your iniquity from you and I will clothe you with festive robes.”

What about the extras given to Benjamin? Some commentators say Joseph is showing the kind of favoritism that got Jacob into trouble. Maybe. On the other hand, Benjamin had the largest family of all the brothers. He had 10 sons. The closest behind him had 7. Most of the others had 4 or 5.

Benjamin’s gift reveals something about the brothers and something about the Lord. The brothers, who had been so jealous before, aren’t jealous anymore.[15] It doesn’t bother them at all. And jealousy shouldn’t bother us, either. The truth is, God is not always equal in His distribution of grace when it comes to physical circumstances. That’s just the truth. About 4% of children don’t make it to their 5th birthday.[16] 1 out of every 10 people on planet earth will go to bed hungry tonight.[17]

God’s spiritual grace and eternal promises are equal. But the physical “gifts” are not. Is that fair? Well, what would be fair? What would’ve been fair for the 10 brothers of Joseph? Fair would’ve had them impaled on a pole for their evil deeds. So, they were all way over into the positive side of the equation. Five changes of clothes instead of two changes of clothes really wasn’t something to get upset about, when what you deserved was execution.

God has given us access to heaven. He has given us spiritual gifts. He gives us joy and peace. He brings us into His family. He rewards us for the things He accomplishes in our lives. We have no reason to complain that someone else has it physically better than us, especially when we have it far physically better than almost all the people who have ever lived in any place or generation.

Does that mean we shouldn’t worry about feeding the hungry? Of course not. That’s not what I’m saying. But when we see what looks like lopsided grace in physical circumstances, we can continue to trust God, be thankful, and then use what we have to be generous like He is.

Genesis 45:23 – He sent his father the following: ten donkeys carrying the best products of Egypt and ten female donkeys carrying grain, food, and provisions for his father on the journey.

They brought the best of their land only to have even more of the best given back to them. This speaks to us of God’s generosity toward us. You cannot out-give God.

Luke 6:38 – Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

God does not need you to give to Him or His work. YOU need you to give to Him and His work.

When the brothers came, they brought 10 donkeys. Now they’re coming back with 20 more. Plus wagons. Plus supplies for a round trip. Plus a land grant. Plus silver. Plus, plus, plus!

Genesis 45:24 – So Joseph sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving, he said to them, “Don’t argue on the way.”

Scholars debate about what Joseph meant, because the root word is only used this one time.[18] It can have a variety of meanings, which aren’t mutually exclusive. One is what we read: Don’t argue or quarrel on the way.[19] Don’t get into a fight over who should’ve done what. All has been made new. Or, it can mean, “Don’t be afraid or anxious as you go.”[20] Yes, storms and robbers and potholes and complications still exist, but don’t focus on those things and worry about them. It might mean, “Don’t have second thoughts about following through on this plan.”[21] Stay the course and see it through to the end. It can mean, “Stay calm and peaceful, don’t worry that Joseph might turn against you.”[22] We’ll see they did worry about that after Jacob died. One linguist says that the word for ‘argue’ is the antonym for the word ‘peace.’[23] Don’t be not at peace.

All of these angles speak to us of commands and encouragements we’re given as children of God living the Christian life. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be quarrelsome. Don’t let the cares of the world shake you out of peace or out of pace. Follow through and receive what God wants to give.

Genesis 45:25 – So they went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan.

After more than 20 years, the brothers would finally have to admit what they did to Joseph. And, then they would have to bring Pharaoh’s offer to Jacob. Why would he believe them when they had spent so many years lying?

Their stakes of their return make us wonder why Joseph didn’t go with his brothers. When Jacob dies and it’s time to bury him, Joseph goes to Canaan. Not only Joseph, but all the elders of Egypt go! But not here when it was way more important. Why? Well, the focus is on Jacob now. He, too, must make the choice to walk by faith.

Genesis 45:26 – They said, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them.

You see, it’s all about belief. Jacob hears the message and, at first, he did not believe. We’re told he was “stunned.” Your version may say, his “heart stood still.” Linguists tell us that these modern versions blunt the force of the original.[24] Jacob nearly died of shock on the spot.[25]

Genesis 45:27 – But when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.

What brought revival? It was when these changed men humbly and honestly delivered the words of the rescuer and the invitation of king and showed a demonstration of the reality of His power and grace. “Here’s what the man said. Here are the wagons. Yes, we were lying, thieving killers, but now we are set free by the truth, and we’re here to say the king has invited us all to be with him.”

The wagons were a big deal. You couldn’t just get wagons. They were an innovative and rare vehicle in Egypt.[26] They would be pulled by a team of oxen. One ox cost as much as four month’s salary. They were the luxury vehicles only the elite could afford.

When the brothers shared the message and pointed and said, “Look at what the king has provided to us,” he saw that it was real and it brought revival to Jacob’s heart.

Genesis 45:28 – Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die.”

Jacob didn’t see Joseph yet, but he trusted in the news and in the testimony of his other sons and he said, “I’m convinced. Let’s go.” This is a big move. This isn’t a small trip. He was going to spend the rest of his life going to Egypt and living there with the rescuer.

Did you notice the little change there? It says, “Then Israel said.” Gordon Wenham points out that Jacob turns into Israel when his spiritual strength returns – when Jacob walks in faith, he is Israel.

What a beautiful model of the Christian life. The King and the Prince have invited us to come. They have provided all we need for the journey. They trust us to share the invitation with others. They have enriched our lives beyond what we could ask or imagine or deserve. Now we have the chance to take the trip, to walk by faith, trusting our Lord and being used by Him to demonstrate the power and grace and provision that He makes available to anyone who will believe. And some will believe when they look at our changed lives, when they see in us a true demonstration of the reality of God’s grace and generous mercy. When they see the wagons of heaven that we’ve brought with us to share with them, knowing there is a hope and a home and future waiting for us.


1 Tom Scott This 1970s tank simulator drives through a tiny world
2 Mark 7:37
3 Kenneth A. Mathews Genesis 11:27-50:26 The New American Commentary Volume 1B
4 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
5, 13, 24 ibid.
6 Ezekiel 18:32
7, 20 CSB Study Bible Notes
8, 14, 18 Mathews
9 Gordon Wenham Genesis 16-50 Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2
10 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
11 Faithlife Study Bible Notes
12 John Goldingay Genesis
15, 19 Waltke
21 Wenham
22 Derek Kidner Genesis, Andrew Steinmann Genesis
23 Alter
25 Robert Davidson Genesis 12-50
26 Heidi Köpp-Junk Wagons And Carts And Their Significance In Ancient Egypt

Let Buy-Sons Be Bygones (Genesis 44:1-45:15)

In 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot Pope John Paul II. He was sentenced to life in prison. The Pope, who survived the attack, met with Ağca in 1983. After the meeting, the Pope said that he had forgiven Ağca for what he did. Nevertheless, the man stayed incarcerated for 19 years. Finally, in the year 2000, the Pope urged the Italian President to pardon Ağca. He did, and Ağca was deported back to Turkey…where he began serving a prison sentence for a murder he committed in 1979.[1] It was a very public example of forgiveness, but didn’t have the happiest of endings.

Imagine if the Pope had met his attacker there in his cell and not only said, “I forgive you,” but “come live with me at The Vatican.” That would’ve been a shocking forgiveness.

The forgiveness in our text is amazing. The brothers had the greatest guilt. Joseph had the greatest power. No one could fault him for striking them down for what they had done. The stage was set for one of history’s great revenge stories. Instead we see one of history’s greatest reconciliations.

God has forgiveness ready for every guilty sinner. And, we remember that Jesus spoke about showing mercy and said to we who have been forgiven, “Go and do likewise.”

Genesis 44:1-2 – Joseph commanded his steward, “Fill the men’s bags with as much food as they can carry, and put each one’s silver at the top of his bag. 2 Put my cup, the silver one, at the top of the youngest one’s bag, along with the silver for his grain.” So he did as Joseph told him.

In some ways, Joseph shows us things about how God works. We call this “typology” in the Bible. But, God does not deal with us deceptively. It’s hard to know what Joseph was thinking with this deception. But apart from that, we’ve seen that Joseph is very generous to his brothers. He gives them the grain, he gives them the silver, he throws them a feast. They didn’t just get the grain they paid for, but as much as they could carry.[2] It reminds us that God is tender and generous. He gives us all we need, all can carry for the journey, plus hidden treasure that we don’t even know about.

Ambrose, the fourth century theologian, wrote: “Even though we are unable to see Christ’s gifts, nevertheless He is giving them.”[3] We get to discover those gifts and treasures along the way.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I find it funny that the silver and the chalice are placed specifically at the top of the bags – even after the last trip’s debacle, the brothers don’t bother to check their bags to make sure everything is in order. The last chapter closed with them getting hammered. Gordon Wenham writes, “Hangovers in Scripture and in life are often unpleasant.”

Genesis 44:3-9 – 3 At morning light, the men were sent off with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone very far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Get up. Pursue the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Isn’t this the cup that my master drinks from and uses for divination? What you have done is wrong!’ ” 6 When he overtook them, he said these words to them. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord say these things? Your servants could not possibly do such a thing. 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found at the top of our bags. How could we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If it is found with one of us, your servants, he must die, and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”

What is Joseph doing? As a character, he’s often put in a category with Daniel as men who have no sins recorded on the pages of Scripture. It’s a dumb category because even Daniel spends time confessing his sins in prayer. And we have to admit that Joseph’s maneuvers in these chapters are a little weird. It’s hard to know what his full motivation was since the Bible doesn’t comment on it.

On the one hand, some think he is purely trying to discern the moral character of his brothers and his schemes are like the wisdom of Solomon, revealing their hearts.[4] There are others who are convinced that Joseph’s plan at this point is to isolate Benjamin so that he can keep his brother in Egypt and send the rest of the family away – sustaining them with food from afar.[5] There are some who feel that Joseph is just as much in need of heart transformation as Judah or Reuben – that he’s dealing with favoritism and a hard-heartedness of his own.[6]

For their part, the brothers are quick to declare their innocence. They make what is known in the Bible as a “rash vow.” “We’re so sure you’re wrong that if you find the cup, let the man die!”

The Bible gives us quite a few examples of rash vows. Jephthah in Judges is probably the most famous. Then there’s Saul, whose vow almost killed Jonathan. Herod, whose vow led to John the Baptist’s beheading. Jacob made a rash vow about Laban’s household idols in Genesis 31.

Ecclesiastes, Leviticus, and Proverbs all speak about this issue. Jesus spoke directly about making vows in the Sermon On The Mount. Don’t make rash vows. Be slow to speak and slower to promise.

Genesis 44:10-13 – 10 The steward replied, “What you have said is right, but only the one who is found to have it will be my slave, and the rest of you will be blameless.” 11 So each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 The steward searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and each one loaded his donkey and returned to the city.

Even though we can’t be sure of Joseph’s emotional motivation, we can see that he is recreating a scenario in which the 10 brothers are pitted against the young favorite, as they had been when they abused Joseph 22 years earlier.[7] Already we see a difference. Before they had debated about what to do with Joseph – most wanting to kill him, one wanting to rough him up but then get him home, others wanting to sell him. Now we see they consistently act as a unified group. They act together. They move together. They agree together. As we’ve seen over the last few passages, these men are growing spiritually by leaps and bounds.

Christians are called to unity. We’re not always going to agree on everything, but unity is essential. Jesus said that our love for one another should define us.[8] Paul commanded us to “pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”[9] There will be disagreements, even offenses, but true Christianity bears with one another in forgiveness and love, which is the bond of unity.

The brothers didn’t start yelling at Benjamin, “This is all your fault!” They moved together. It’s remarkable that when the steward said, “Just this guy is in trouble, the rest of you can go,” yet all the brothers packed up and went to face the music together.

Genesis 44:14-15 – 14 When Judah and his brothers reached Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell to the ground before him. 15 “What have you done?” Joseph said to them. “Didn’t you know that a man like me could uncover the truth by divination?”

Pagans would use cups like this to pour oil into water or wine into other liquids and look at the patterns on the surface to try to divine the future.[10] But the absurdity of pagan divination is on full display here: If you use the cup to divine, how did you divine without the cup?

Did Joseph do these divination rituals? Lots of scholars try to excuse him from it. We just don’t know. The truth is, he’s living before the Law – before divination of this sort is prohibited for God’s people. I don’t think Joseph believes he can divine with a cup, but he’s also trapped in this Egyptian system. So we don’t know what he did and didn’t do since there was no Daniel moment where he says to his boss, “Yeah, I’m not doing that.”

The brothers don’t just bow, they fall down in abject, desperate submission.[11] Now, we know that all is going to be forgiven. What they deserve is imprisonment and death for their crimes. But this prince has peace and mercy in store for them. But to receive it, they must return to him. They must come to his throne and fall on his mercy. The same is true spiritually speaking. God is ready to forgive. His desire is to shower sinners with love and mercy and grace and generosity, but we each must come to Him, confessing our guilt, and ask for the mercy that He is so ready to give.

Genesis 44:16-17 – 16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “How can we plead? How can we justify ourselves? God has exposed your servants’ iniquity. We are now my lord’s slaves—both we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.” 17 Then Joseph said, “I swear that I will not do this. The man in whose possession the cup was found will be my slave. The rest of you can go in peace to your father.”

Judah’s words are so beautiful. He is a man who has had his heart changed by God. Though they weren’t guilty of this theft, he knew they were guilty men. They had killed and stolen. They had lied. They had dishonored God. And Judah knows that they are facing a reckoning not just before Joseph, but before the Lord. How could they justify themselves? They couldn’t. They were guilty many times over. As so, in this moment, Judah knows they can only appeal for mercy, not for justice.[12] In the Tamar incident, he learned the importance and power of confession. And this humility and honesty has helped the Lord transform him from a murderous, human-trafficking John, to being the spiritual leader of this family.

This opening statement from Judah must’ve been amazing to Joseph. You see, he was recreating this 10 brothers vs. 1 brother situation, but as R. Kent Hughes points out, the temptation was much greater this time around. 22 years earlier, the temptation was, “If we sell Joseph we can each get 2 pieces of silver.” They were already rich men. Now the temptation is: Abandon your brother and you get to walk free instead of being enslaved. But then Judah says, “We’re guilty and we’re at your mercy.” Joseph knew they weren’t guilty of this cup crime. So this would’ve been a huge moment.

Genesis 44:18-23 – 18 But Judah approached him and said, “My lord, please let your servant speak personally to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 and we answered my lord, ‘We have an elderly father and a younger brother, the child of his old age. The boy’s brother is dead. He is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him to me so that I can see him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father. If he were to leave, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘If your younger brother does not come down with you, you will not see me again.’

Judah’s speech is the longest in all Genesis.[13] A lot of it is a re-hash for us, but there is a very interesting piece of information that we hadn’t heard before. He reminds Joseph that they told him, “The boy (Benjamin) cannot leave or his father would die.” And yet, Joseph proceeded with his demand that they bring Benjamin to Egypt. Did Joseph think they were lying or did he simply no longer care about the well-being of Jacob? It seems possible that, as Joseph hatches these plans, he’s not actually considering what it might cost.[14]

Throughout the speech, Benjamin is silent while Judah advocates for him. Christ does the same for us. We have no plea before a holy God. We have no defense. All we can hope for is a Substitute, which is exactly what we get in Jesus – the Son of Judah, Who ever lives to make intercession for us. He is the One Who secures forgiveness for us. It’s not our effort but His.

Genesis 44:24-34 – 24 “This is what happened when we went back to your servant my father: We reported to him the words of my lord. 25 But our father said, ‘Go again, and buy us a little food.’ 26 We told him, ‘We cannot go down unless our younger brother goes with us. If our younger brother isn’t with us, we cannot see the man.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One is gone from me—I said he must have been torn to pieces—and I have never seen him again. 29 If you also take this one from me and anything happens to him, you will bring my gray hairs down to Sheol in sorrow.’ 30 “So if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us—his life is wrapped up with the boy’s life—31 when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die. Then your servants will have brought the gray hairs of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 Your servant became accountable to my father for the boy, saying, ‘If I do not return him to you, I will always bear the guilt for sinning against you, my father.’ 33 Now please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave, in place of the boy. Let him go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm my father.”

Judah’s pleas are all the more tender when we remember that he was the one who made the plan to sell him to the Ishmaelites. Now, Judah is fighting on behalf of the more-loved, favorite son.

He offers himself as the substitute. This is the first time in Scripture that someone has done such a thing.[15] Even Abraham didn’t offer himself in place of his beloved son on Mount Moriah, but hoped that God would provide a substitute. Now Judah, who knows what it feels like to lose two sons, offers himself, even though it would mean he would lose his other sons who were back in Canaan. What a transformation of grace! This is what the Bible means when it says that, in Christ, we are new creations – the old has passed away.[16] This is why our primary answer to problems is getting people converted. Laws don’t change people. Incentives don’t make the difference we want. But, if a person becomes born again? Anything is possible. Look at what faith did in Judah’s life. If we want societal change, the most important goal is for people to be made new in Christ.

Genesis 45:1-2 – Joseph could no longer keep his composure in front of all his attendants, so he called out, “Send everyone away from me!” No one was with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. 2 But he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and also Pharaoh’s household heard it.

Whatever Joseph’s thoughts or plans were, clearly he has become overwhelmed by all that he’s seen. These are not the same men he knew 22 years before. It’s time for the game to end and reconciliation to happen.

Genesis 45:3 – 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence.

Suddenly this angry prince starts speaking to them in Hebrew. Suddenly, his face comes into focus. Suddenly he speaks the name that they hadn’t used in years but thought of so often. Suddenly they “look on him they pierced.” If they thought they were in trouble before, now they’re terrified.

But in this moment of revelation, all their guilt is washed away by mercy and forgiveness. Joseph has no anger. He uses a tender term for father, sort of like abba.[17] It’s all about reconciliation and forgiveness now.

Genesis 45:4-8 – 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. 5 And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. 7 God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Joseph says, “Come near me,” not so he can strike them or frighten them, but so they can embrace. As we approach the Lord and fall into His loving arms, He blots out our sins,[18] because He paid their penalty.

Joseph is emphatic: It wasn’t you, it was God Who did all this to me. Was that right? Did God do all these things? In the saga of providence it is true that God used Joseph as a sort of Ark to save His people from death. But should we then think that God forced the brothers to do what they did?

In the Book of Acts, Stephen comments on Joseph’s life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and he says that, “God was with Joseph and rescued him out of all his troubles.” The Lord was working good out of the evil work of men because He needed to protect the chosen line which would deliver the Messiah.

This is not a story of God making men do evil, but a story proving that sin, hatred, and injustice cannot thwart God’s grace or His plan.[19] It is also a demonstration that, no matter what is happening in a family or a region or around the world, God preserves a remnant for His purposes. And His purpose is always great deliverance. Rescue for the guilty. Redemption for the undeserving. A great deliverance. When all the world is against them, God was for them. And though God is not the cause of your suffering or difficulty or opposition, He is able to work in and through it to accomplish a great deliverance in and through your life. But that work will mean that we have to be agents of grace rather than grievance, reconciliation rather than revenge, forgiveness rather than hostility. Joseph let go of any hard feelings he had toward his brothers and instead makes himself available to help and to save and to give to them all that he has.

Genesis 45:9-13 – 9 “Return quickly 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 without delay. 10 You can settle in the land of Goshen and be near me—you, your children, and your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and all you have. 11 There I will sustain you, for there will be five more years of famine. Otherwise, you, your household, and everything you have will become destitute.” ’ 12 Look! Your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin can see that I’m the one speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all my glory in Egypt and about all you have seen. And bring my father here quickly.”

The choice was very clear: Come and be saved or lose everything. There was no other option and no other hope. This is the forgiveness of God on display. Come and join His Kingdom, come and be fed, come and be enriched, come and be protected, or die. What a shocking heart-break that so many people choose famine over faith.

Joseph told them to hurry. There was no reason to wait and no time to lose. The same is true for the lost today. Hurry into His presence. Rush into His Kingdom. He has only the best in mind for you.

Genesis 45:14-15 – 14 Then Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him.

There was a total reconciliation between Joseph and each of his brothers – not just one or two. Joseph shows real affection, not simply a begrudging willingness to throw some grain their way. God is ready to embrace us with this kind of personal, affectionate forgiveness. But here is the deal:

Proverbs 28:13 – 13 The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.

None of this “forgive yourself” nonsense. No, the way forward is to fall on God’s grace, which He is so ready to give in abundance to overflowing. But we must go to Him. We must bow before Him. We must confess our guilt and acknowledge that He alone can save. And then we can receive the richness of His provision.

As Christians, we’re then called to practice the kind of gracious forgiveness God shows us. We live in a land of hatred, hostility, grudges, and retaliation. That isn’t the way forward. Not in our families, not in our churches, not in our politics, not in our society. Grace is the way forward. Be a servant full of faith and forgiveness from the heart, knowing the Lord is on your side and His rescue plan continues even now.


2 Gordon Wenham Genesis 16-50
3 Saint Ambrose Seven Exegetical Works
4 Derek Kidner Genesis
5 See Robert Candlish, John Goldingay, Eugene Roop
6 Mark A. O’Brien The Contribution Of Judah’s Speech, Genesis 44:18-34, To The Characterization Of Joseph
7 Kenneth A. Mathews Genesis 11:27-50:26
8 John 13:35
9 Romans 14:19
10 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
11 John Goldingay Genesis
12 Wenham
13 Faithlife Study Bible Notes
14 Waltke
15 ibid.
16 R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing
17 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
18 Robert Candlish Studies In Genesis
19 Hughes

The Coup De Grace (Genesis 42:1-38)

Coup de grâce is a term for “a death blow [which] ends the suffering of a severely wounded person.”[1] A literal translation is a “blow of grace.” In eras when wars were fought with spears and swords, the “blow of grace” would often be administered by a thrust to the heart.[2] For those dying on the field of battle, this finishing stroke could be a severe but welcome mercy.

Genesis 42 is a blow of grace that thrusts into the hearts of Jacob’s family. After many years of conflict, self-serving, and faithlessness, they are brought to a reckoning. They are doomed to die unless they will acknowledge God, surrender to Him, and allow self to be put to death.

This text is another magnificent example of God’s generous grace. But it shows that God’s grace is not just about feeling the warm comfort of God’s blessing. His grace makes demands of us. To receive it we must admit our guilt and humbly invite God to trade our sin for His salvation. This is an exchange He is eager to accomplish, but it requires death. Our hearts of flesh must be crucified and replaced with the heart of Christ. From that blow of grace we rise from death to life.

Donald Coggan wrote, “It is a great thing to come under the magnificent tyranny of the Gospel!” We don’t like the word ‘tyranny,’ but our rebellious hearts need the reminder that God is King and if we want to follow Christ, we must lay down our lives and lose them for His sake.

In this story, the hero does some sketchy things. We wonder if he should’ve behaved this way. God set Joseph apart for a major work of providence. His actions are, in some ways, severe. But God’s end purpose was rescue, reconciliation, and redemption for this undeserving family. He was doing the work of plowing up the hard soil of their hearts. So, Joseph is not really a model for us in this text, but a vessel used by God for His providential purposes.

Genesis 42:1-2 – When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at each other? 2 Listen,” he went on, “I have heard there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us so that we will live and not die.”

The sons are looking at each other, Jacob is looking at Egypt. From what we’re told, no one is looking to the Lord. Later, God will appear to Jacob and tell him directly, “Go down to Egypt, don’t be afraid,” but in the mean time, this family is swept along by circumstances. The result is a lot of anxiety and hand-wringing and hurt feelings and confusion. None of that is what God wants for us.

Don’t forget to seek the Lord. David said: “Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”[3] As readers, we know that God had a plan and He had provision, but they were in the dark since they did not seek out the light.

Another thought: Jacob and sons were facing a very serious famine. They assumed the answer to their problem was to throw money at it. Money was no object – they had tons of silver – so Jacob said, “Go buy food.” But, as we track through the story, we’ll see the money was neutralized. It didn’t help them. In fact, it ended up causing more of a problem for them. Money is incredibly useful and can be very helpful in hard circumstances, but it is not the answer to life’s problems.

Genesis 42:3-4 – 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he thought, “Something might happen to him.”

Jacob has another outbreak of favoritism. We saw it with Rachel, then with Joseph, now it’s Benjamin. This family is still extremely dysfunctional.[4] Luckily, God can bring beauty from ashes.

It seems strange that they would send all 10 sons, leaving the families exposed. Why not send a delegation of servants or just one or two sons? It’s possible that Egypt had per-capita rules in the distribution of grain.[5] Packing up their donkeys I’m sure these guys were wondering why their dad didn’t seem to care if they lived or died, just their little brother Benny.

Genesis 42:5-6a – 5 The sons of Israel were among those who came to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 6 Joseph was in charge of the country; he sold grain to all its people.

Refugees were pouring over the borders of Egypt. Thank goodness for Joseph’s compassion. Thanks to God’s grace, Egypt had more than enough to supply them all.

In the long line of hungry travelers, God saw His people. He had more than just a plan to fill their pantry. In a world full of needs, hurts, and difficulty, you can be sure that the Lord knows, He sees, He watches over us. God Almighty thinks of you, and has passionate, tender provision for you.

Genesis 42:6b-8 – His brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground. 7 When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked. “From the land of Canaan to buy food,” they replied. 8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.

At age 17, when Joseph told them about his dreams, they angrily responded, “Oh really? You think you’re going to rule over us?” Like the crowd at the foot of the cross, they unwittingly fulfilled prophecy. They proved God’s Word to be true, even when they didn’t want it to be. God speaks and it is done.[6]

Joseph is harsh with his brothers. Shouldn’t he have just immediately forgiven them and not put on this ruse? We’re left to wonder why exactly he did what he did, but we can see currents of compassion even as he brings down heaven’s blow of grace. He could’ve had them all killed for what they had done and no one would’ve bat an eye. Instead, we’ll see he is concerned for their families and their plight. As for forgiveness, it seems clear that Joseph decided to test his brothers – to see what sort of men they were after more than 20 years of separation. Remember: These men had been killers and thieves. Some of them had committed incest. They sold their own flesh and blood into slavery. The real work was about hearts, not hunger. God was drawing these men to repentance and reconciliation. Their hard hearts would need tenderizing.

How is it possible that they didn’t recognize Joseph? He had been a teenager when they last saw him. Now, his head was totally shaved – no hair, no beard. He’d be wearing ceremonial makeup on his eyes, wearing all Egyptian clothing, and speaking a foreign language.[7]

Genesis 42:9 – 9 Joseph remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies. You have come to see the weakness of the land.”

We love movie scenes where everything suddenly comes together, The Sixth Sense-style. Joseph recalls the dreams – the sheaves, the bowing, his reigning over the stars. It all came together. And, it seems he realized at least in part that God was using him to bring his family altogether down to Egypt. So, he starts working a plan to accomplish that goal.

He challenges them to reveal what their mindset and motives were. He had known them as brutal, hateful men, ready to exploit anyone. They had stripped him naked and thrown him down a well. He knows they aren’t spies, but are they still the cruel killers they had been?

Genesis 42:10-14 – 10 “No, my lord. Your servants have come to buy food,” they said. 11 “We are all sons of one man. We are honest; your servants are not spies.” 12 “No,” he said to them. “You have come to see the weakness of the land.” 13 But they replied, “We, your servants, were twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no longer living.” 14 Then Joseph said to them, “I have spoken: ‘You are spies!’

Some of what they said was true, some not so much. A lot of words could be used to describe these guys. ‘Honest’ wasn’t really high on the list. They were being honest about not being spies, but I find it interesting that at some point, they started to believe their own lie. “Joseph is dead,” they said. They had no evidence of that. But they had told the lie so often, it took hold of their hearts.

Bruce Waltke notes, “The covenant family must be more than honest; it must show loving loyalty to one another.” They had money. They had flocks. They had history. Did they have hesed? Joseph was going to find out.

Genesis 42:15-17 – 15 This is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one from among you to get your brother. The rest of you will be imprisoned so that your words can be tested to see if they are true. If they are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 So Joseph imprisoned them together for three days.

We sense that Joseph is making strategic moves. His dreams are going to be fulfilled, but they’re not all the way fulfilled as long as Benjamin and Jacob stay in Canaan. Joseph focuses his efforts first on bringing his 11th brother to Egypt and, ultimately, the rest of the family.

Joseph recognized that God made him the ark for his family’s survival. The Lord told Noah, “Bring in the animals that they may be saved,” and then God had worked with His servant to accomplish the rescue. Now, Joseph himself is the vessel set apart for the salvation of God’s people. He knows the famine has five more years to go.

Kenneth Mathews points out that, after three days in the clink, the brothers were unable to choose who would go free.[8] Though they have made some progress in unity, they’re still a fractured bunch.

Genesis 42:18-20 – 18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “I fear God—do this and you will live. 19 If you are honest, let one of you be confined to the guardhouse, while the rest of you go and take grain to relieve the hunger of your households. 20 Bring your youngest brother to me so that your words can be confirmed; then you won’t die.” And they consented to this.

There’s a lot going on here. First, Joseph shows compassion and care for their families. He’s not acting out of vengeance. He wants to give short term relief while working toward full-blown rescue.

Second, we see that, even in his compassion, he backs them into a corner where they will have to make a decision. He says, “Prove what you said then you won’t die.” The suggestion is that he might hunt them down if they didn’t return. On the other hand, if they don’t settle accounts with this prince, they and their families would starve to death. They were facing death at the end of every road, unless they submitted and obeyed and came clean.

Third, Joseph invokes Elohim. He said, “I fear God.” This would’ve been quite a moment. He didn’t say, “I fear Ra,” or, “I fear Osiris.” He said, “I fear Elohim.” Now, that is not the Personal name Yahweh – the God of Abraham. Elohim is more generic, more a title than a name – but it would’ve been a signal to these Hebrews. This was the universal term for the highest God who ruled the universe.[9]

The Old Testament reveals that the pagan nations did have a concept of this Elohim God. The Philistines and Abraham discuss Him in Genesis 20. Later, in 2 Chronicles, Pharaoh Neco will tell King Josiah, “Elohim spoke to me so don’t get in my way.” There was a cultural understanding that when a city had the fear of Elohim, people would be safe there.[10] A thousand years after Joseph spoke about fearing God, Homer would write The Odyssey. In it, he said the test of God-fearing men was whether they showed love to strangers.[11] So, there was this cultural understanding and Joseph is signaling to the brothers.

He wasn’t ready to reveal his identity, but he did show a card here, hoping his brothers would make the free-will choice to do what was right and to fear God themselves. This moment of mercy – sending 9 back instead of 1 – finally got the brothers thinking more spiritually.

Genesis 42:21-24 – 21 Then they said to each other, “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.” 22 But Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? But you wouldn’t listen. Now we must account for his blood!” 23 They did not realize that Joseph understood them, since there was an interpreter between them. 24 He turned away from them and wept. When he turned back and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and had him bound before their eyes.

Reuben lashes out. He tries to absolve himself of any guilt regarding Joseph, but it was his idea to throw Joseph into the cistern. He was unwilling to stand up to his brothers and simply stop them. Instead, he tried to con his way through. Poor Reuben never has any ideas that work out.

For the first time the brothers admit what they’ve done. They even echo God’s Word in Genesis 9, talking about requiring life for life and they admit they are guilty. And, we see the blow of grace is plowing up their hard hearts. For the first time, they call Joseph their brother. Earlier they would only refer to him as “Jacob’s son,” with jealousy and disdain. But God is drawing them in.

In this moment, Joseph doesn’t laugh, he weeps. This isn’t about spite or revenge. He isn’t trying to hurt them – God is working to heal them. So, Joseph orchestrates a test. He holds Simeon back. Simeon is not the firstborn and (Joseph knows), he is not particularly well-liked by their father. Simeon was one of the more expendable brothers in one sense.[12] Would they leave him hanging? Would they run away from the grace they were being shown and try to hide from judgment they deserved? Would they sacrifice him to save themselves?

Genesis 42:25-28 – 25 Joseph then gave orders to fill their containers with grain, return each man’s silver to his sack, and give them provisions for their journey. This order was carried out. 26 They loaded the grain on their donkeys and left there. 27 At the place where they lodged for the night, one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver there at the top of his bag. 28 He said to his brothers, “My silver has been returned! It’s here in my bag.” Their hearts sank. Trembling, they turned to one another and said, “What has God done to us?”

Compared to Noah and Abraham, these fellows weren’t very faithful. They believed God was ready to curse them, but didn’t live as if He wanted to help them. George Costanza once said, “God would never let me be successful. He’d kill me first. He’d never let me be happy.” His therapist was puzzled: “I thought you didn’t believe in God?” George responded, “I do for the bad things!”

The sons of Jacob are acting a little like that. Meanwhile, God says, “Give My people this message: The Lord bless you and protect you; may the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord look with favor on you and give you peace.”[13] That’s our God’s heart for us.

God wanted to help these guys and guide them. With that said, this silver situation was serious. This was the kind of thing that gets you impaled on a pole. Joseph’s move accomplishes two purposes: First, it would test their supposed honesty when they inevitably returned for more grain. And second, it was an act of tender generosity he could secretly do for them in their time of need.

The Hebrew says “their hearts went out.”[14] More than ever they were doomed men. They could no longer claim to be “honest” before Joseph. Instead, if they came to him, they would have to throw themselves on his mercy – which Joseph fully intends to give them. But the choice is theirs.

Your goodness, your honesty, your not-as-bad-as-the-guy-next-door life are not enough to save you from death. Only the grace of God through the generous sacrifice of Jesus Christ can save you. He fully intends to extend mercy to you and fill your life with His grace, but it’s your choice.

Genesis 42:29-35 – 29 When they reached their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them: 30 “The man who is the lord of the country spoke harshly to us and accused us of spying on the country. 31 But we told him, ‘We are honest and not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of the same father. One is no longer living, and the youngest is now with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33 The man who is the lord of the country said to us, ‘This is how I will know if you are honest: Leave one brother with me, take food to relieve the hunger of your households, and go. 34 Bring back your youngest brother to me, and I will know that you are not spies but honest men. I will then give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the country.’ ” 35 As they began emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his bag of silver! When they and their father saw their bags of silver, they were afraid.

They still didn’t own up to Jacob about what they did to Joseph, even though they recognize that they are guilty of sin. The coup de grâce hadn’t finished its work. But their fear reveals they were understanding more and more that they would have to face a reckoning. Luckily, the prince who would decide their fate was a price of peace and mercy and love.

Genesis 42:36 – 36 Their father Jacob said to them, “It’s me that you make childless. Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!”

Jacob’s hard heart shows here. Childless? Even if he lost Joseph and Simeon and Benjamin, he still had 9 sons before him and many grandchildren. But he reveals that he really doesn’t care about them very much. Think of poor Simeon! Jacob says, “Well, he’s just as dead as Joseph.” “No, dad, he’s not dead. In fact we can bring him back to you in 2 or 3 weeks if we just…” “Nope. Simeon’s dead!”

Here’s an important principle we learn from Jacob’s attitude: Selfishness kills. This selfishness that he’s allowing to dictate his choices would eventuate in the death of the whole family. His refusal here puts them on a path that ends in broken-hearted starvation.

H.A. Ironside wrote, “Many professing believers are so terribly self-centered. They are always looking inside and always seeking blessing for themselves. That isn’t the ideal Christian at all. The ideal Christian is one who is resting in Christ for his soul’s salvation and his great concern becomes the salvation of others.”[15]

Genesis 42:37-38 – 37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You can kill my two sons if I don’t bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you.” 38 But Jacob answered, “My son will not go down with you, for his brother is dead and he alone is left. If anything happens to him on your journey, you will bring my gray hairs down to Sheol in sorrow.”

R. Kent Hughes sees Jacob’s anguish and is reminded that Paul taught us how to properly gauge sorrow in our lives. In 2 Corinthians we’re told that Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation without regret. Worldly sorrow produces death. Which Jacob is experiencing is clear.

Reuben’s plan is absurd[16] and cowardly.(Waltke)) Judah ultimately takes control and, when he does, he offers himself, not someone else. That’s real leadership.

To go back would risk death or imprisonment, on account of the silver.[17] To stay meant death by famine. Their only hope was the mercy and grace of a powerful ruler. But to receive that grace they would have to die to self, admit their guilt, and obey his commands. God’s grace is ready to be poured out for us. Are we ready to receive heaven’s coup de grâce?


3 1 Chronicles 16:11
4 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
5 Faithlife Study Bible Notes
6 Psalm 33:9
7 CSB Study Bible Notes
8 Kenneth A. Mathews Genesis 11:27-50:26
9 Cyrus H. Gordon The International God “Elohim/Ntr”
10 Genesis 20:11
11 Homer Odyssey 9.172-6
12 Andrew Steinmann Genesis
13 Numbers 6:24-26
14 Alter
15 H.A. Ironside Acts
16 R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing
17 ibid.

Your Huddled Masses, Yearning To Eat Wheat (Genesis 41:46-57)

Despite being the richest country in the world,[1] America is not so great at saving. We rank 15th out of 34 by the OECD on percentage of disposable income saved. We’re surpassed by nations like Norway, Mexico, Estonia, and Chile.[2] More than two-thirds of Americans believe the economic recession is going to get worse before it gets better,[3] yet 56% of Americans would be unable to cover an unexpected $1,000 bill with cash on hand.[4]

For Egypt, it was time to start saving. They were about to experience the best of times followed by the worst of times. Joseph’s prediction was coming true. It wasn’t just a neat parlor trick by a court magician. This was a life and death situation for many multitudes of people.

Joseph not only sounded the alarm, he also accomplished the rescue. His rags-to-riches story proves that God can do whatever He wants and what He wants is to save lives. These verses are full of a lifefullness for Egypt and the surrounding nations and for Joseph himself. God is all about life. He’s all about saving, all about growth.

When we left off, Joseph had been suddenly installed as Prime Minister. Researchers tell us that he would’ve had several titles in the government. One of them was “Chief Steward of the Lord of the Two Lands.” Another would be “Royal Seal-Bearer.”[5] He had total authority and total responsibility for the future of the nation. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” That’s what Joseph did. He started work immediately.

Genesis 41:46 – 46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout the land of Egypt.

Joseph was 17 when he was trafficked by his brothers. By the time the seven years of plenty were over, he would have lived longer in Egypt than he had in Canaan.

He shows a remarkable compassion for the people around him. Remember: They had enslaved him. They had unjustly imprisoned him. They had forgotten him. Now, he had the power to help them or to hurt them. He could’ve been like Galen Erso in Rogue One, who spent years quietly serving the Empire, all the while setting a trap that led to the Death Star’s destruction. Joseph could have let Egypt starve. Instead he dedicated the next 14 years to saving as many lives as he could. Ultimately, the next 80 years of his life were lived as a public servant.

At the same time, he never considers himself fully Egyptian. He remains true to the God of his fathers. When we listen in on his thoughts, they’re about the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness.

As Prime Minister, Joseph didn’t play favorites. He went throughout the entire land. He didn’t care about one city more than another – every city would need the same kind of help once the famine hit, whether it was rich or poor, urban or rural, cosmopolitan or backwoods.

There’s a principle here when it comes to our thoughts about church planting. Often you’ll hear people say, “We need to plant churches in major cities.” Or, “This specific region is the most ‘unchurched.’” There’s also a curious trend where churches happen to get planted in places where there’s a lot of money. There’s never a shortage of church plants in Orange County or San Diego.

The reality is, every place needs the Bread of Life. Every town, city, or hamlet needs Bible-teaching, Gospel-preaching churches. It’s not strategy we need, it’s the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, Who will guide us where to go. Because God doesn’t prefer Orange County to Orange Cove.

Genesis 41:47 – 47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced outstanding harvests.

This simple report is an understatement. Joseph’s plan was to take 20% of each crop’s harvest for the next seven years and save it. That percentage would end up being enough food to feed the entire nation and all the nations around it for seven years. In fact, there was so much saved we’ll see they stop counting after a while.

The land produced because the Lord provided. As always, the Bible highlights the immeasurable grace of God, poured out from heaven on undeserving sinners. These were pagan idolators. These were sinful people. But God loved them and wanted them to live and not die.

God provides so much for humanity out of His grace it’s impossible for us not to take it for granted. He doesn’t have to do any of it. But He loves us and is a God of grace and mercy and compassion and tender kindness.

Consider this: Right now, mankind produces enough food to feed billions more people than are alive on planet earth.[6] There’s not just one grove of fruit trees in one spot on earth.

Or consider how much water the Lord has provided. By one estimate, the average American might use 1.8 million gallons of water in their lifetime.[7] If you take just groundwater – no desalinization, no rivers or lakes or glaciers, just groundwater – 45% of it is fresh. Based off what we know, there’s 119 million gallons of groundwater for every person on earth.[8]

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of hungry people out there. There are a lot of people who don’t have access to clean water. But the reason is not one of supply, it’s one of sin. Human corruption and waste and selfishness are the problems, not that God didn’t supply enough.

God prepared this earth so that mankind could thrive and grow and develop and discover. In His grace He gifts these things, in addition to all the other things He gives. He gives a nearly unlimited supply of ingenuity. Can you imagine talking to Abraham or Joseph about space travel or quantum computing? This week the big news is that there’s been a breakthrough in the field of nuclear fusion. That capacity for understanding and development and discovery is all thanks to the outstanding grace of God. And He gives it because He wants people to live and not die.

Genesis 41:48 – 48 Joseph gathered all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and put it in the cities. He put the food in every city from the fields around it.

There wouldn’t be one central location. Joseph’s plan was more complex, but in the end, more efficient. Of course, each storehouse would have to have a staff of people who would need to be on board with what they were trying to do. They would have to be people of understanding and integrity. Joseph’s plan could not afford leaky buildings. They couldn’t afford to have administrators who could be bribed to let people steal the grain, or workers who would allow infestations in the vaults. It’s not so easy to store food to be eaten 14 years from now.

Ideas are important, but execution is just as important. Sometimes a church gets an idea about something they want to do in their community and they get all excited about it, but no one wants to talk about the execution. We need to have enough Godly wisdom to look at an idea and say, “Ok, how is that going to be done? Let’s look down the road and see what sort of challenges might present themselves or consider how this idea is going to work itself out.”

Genesis 41:49 – 49 So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it because it was beyond measure.

Again we see the grace of God. Joseph gathered what God gave. The grain was in such abundance that it was beyond measure.

We’ll learn that part of God’s motivation was that the family of faith would move to Egypt and survive the famine. But it wasn’t just them God was thinking about. He gave enough grain for the “whole world” to come and be fed. He wanted everyone to have a chance to live.

In verse 49 we read that phrase, “like the sand of the sea,” and are reminded of the Abrahamic covenant. God told Abraham, “I want you to live and to thrive and to become more fruitful than you could possibly imagine, AND I want all the nations of the earth to be blessed through you.”[9] Joseph’s work was one of many ways the Lord was accomplishing what He promised.

1 Timothy 1 says God strengthens His people and appoints us to ministry, and that His grace abundantly overflows to us beyond measure.[10] He does this because His desire is to save lives and He uses us to demonstrate His mercy and His patience and His love so that people will see and believe and live and not die. His grace is beyond measure, stored up for the people of earth!

Genesis 41:50 – 50 Two sons were born to Joseph before the years of famine arrived. Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest at On, bore them to him.

Joseph had a very important job – not just from the human perspective, but also in the plan of providence. He would be incredibly busy for 14 years making sure the global food supply chain didn’t collapse. But God was not only making his professional life thrive, but his personal life, too.

I saw an article on NBC News the other day titled, Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them.[11] This is a question people have sometimes. “Should I bring children into such a terrible world?”

For Christians the answer is this: You should have kids if the Lord leads you to have kids. The world has always been bad. God has always been good! Looking down the barrel of a historic famine, the Lord gave Joseph two sons. And, Biblically speaking, his raising of two sons would have a longer and more significant impact than his professional work as Prime Minister.

Being a faithful dad wouldn’t’ be easy. We’re reminded that Joseph was married into a profoundly pagan family. There would be a lot of very bad influences seeking to syphon off his sons. How would Joseph approach this new phase of life?

Genesis 41:51-52 – 51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh and said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and my whole family.” 52 And the second son he named Ephraim and said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

Joseph leads his family with purpose. We’ve seen in Genesis that usually it’s the mothers who name the kids. But in this case Joseph says, “I’m going to see to it that these boys are Hebrew.” He was making a stand. His whole life was lived among the Egyptian aristocracy.[12] The names Ephraim and Manasseh were quite a statement of devotion and separation to the God of Abraham, not Egypt.

We’re also given the impression that Joseph was a loving and Godly father. Both of these names praise the Lord for His goodness and faithfulness.[13] He looked down at Manasseh and essentially says, “Little man, I love you so much that I don’t even remember my 13 years of slavery and imprisonment.” That’s pretty tender! His words radiate affection toward his boys and his God.

Did God want Joseph to forget his family? We know that God sent Joseph ahead in order to save his father’s family. But his family had been a hardship to him. Even still, God’s desire was that Joseph help them and intercede for them.

It seems that Joseph hasn’t figured that out yet. I mean, he knows that a serious famine is coming, yet (as one scholar notes) he makes no attempt to contact his family.[14] Joseph still had growing to do, but that’s true of all of us! In his story we see growth in heart, in home, in his work, his relationships, and his walk with the Lord. God continues developing us and shaping us, day by day.

Joseph says, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” I love his perspective. He wasn’t defined by his previous suffering. He wasn’t defined by his affliction or adversity or his new, powerful position or any of his circumstances. He was defined by God’s lifefullness.

God wants to make you and me fruitful in whatever land we find ourselves in. Jesus said, “I’ve appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain.” In Jeremiah we’re told that the person who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted by water, unafraid of heat, evergreen, one that always produces fruit even during a drought.[15]

Genesis 41:53-54 – 53 Then the seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every land, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food.

When that first year of shortages came, it hit like a freight train. That word, famine, is used six times in four verses with descriptors like “stricken” and “severe.”

Every land had the same problem, but the only solution was found in Egypt. There wasn’t anywhere else to go. Luckily, God sent salvation through one man, who suffered and served so that even those who wronged him had the chance to be rescued. If the hungry would simply believe and humble themselves and come to Joseph, they would live and not die.

Genesis 41:55 – 55 When the whole land of Egypt was stricken with famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for food. Pharaoh told all Egypt, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.”

Joseph was now effectively ruling over all Egypt and, by extension, the nations of the world. All were at his mercy, but he was willing to receive any who would come. He gave grain to friends and grain to strangers.

There’s a lovely lesson here for us. In your moment of need, in your hurt and lack, go to Jesus and do whatever He tells you. His court is open. His grace and mercy and love have been stored up for you. Don’t miss out on what He wants to do in your life.

Genesis 41:56 – 56 Now the famine had spread across the whole region, so Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt.

At first it seems a little Scroogey that Joseph sold the grain instead of just giving it to these hungry people. But selling it would accomplish several important goals. First, it would keep people from hoarding too much too soon.[16] This was the only supply they had and they couldn’t afford to run out in year 1 or 2. Think about it this way: When the COVID lockdowns happened and there was no toilet paper in stores, it was a problem. If the government said, “Come to this distribution center and take as much as you want for free.” Well, they’d be empty in about an hour I’m guessing. But if they said, “You’re going to have to buy toilet paper at 2 bucks a pack,” it controls the flow.

Joseph would also have to distribute to other nations. By charging a fee, he’d be able to control the price so that profiteers couldn’t step in and take the grain and gouge everyone else.

But there’s a theological application here as well. Joseph’s work in Egypt whispers to us of Christ’s work of salvation. He has done all the work. But now He says to us, “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without cost!”[17] How do we ‘buy’ without silver and without cost? We pay with our hearts. We pay with our lives. We give ourselves to the One Who saves us. We abandon our way and return to the Lord, embracing His Word and the life He wants to give us, full of joy and provision and growth. We buy what He offers and Instead of the thorn bush, a cypress tree comes up. We trade our starvation for His everlasting covenant.

Genesis 41:57 – 57 Every land came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, for the famine was severe in every land.

The inhabitants of these nations had nowhere else to go. But God had made a way for them to live if they were willing. There was enough for anyone and everyone. And, in a few verses, we’ll find that word got out quick.

God wants to save today just as much as He did in Genesis 41. He cares about hunger and hurts and the people around us who are about to die forever. He also cares about filling your life with His life. In your work, in your family, in your relationship with Him. God is all about lifefullness. Be led by Him, be cultivated by Him. Bear the fruit He has appointed you to by embracing His Word, listening for His Spirit, and dedicating yourself to His purposes. Joseph was a “Steward of the Lord,” a “Seal-bearer.” Those titles are ours, too. As God goes on saving and filling us, we can go through the land be a part of His effort to save everyone else.


1 Based on GDP, not GDP per capita.
5 Nahum Sarna Understanding Genesis
9 Genesis 18:18, 22:17
10 1 Timothy 1:12-14
12 R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing
13 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
14 ibid.
15 Jeremiah 17:7-8
16 Andrew Steinmann Genesis
17 Isaiah 55:1

New Collar Job (Genesis 41:1-45)

In 1896, a young man named Gregorio del Pilar enlisted in the Philippine Revolutionary Army. Two years later, at 23 years old, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general and made governor of a province north of Manila.[1]

He made a name for himself for violent feats during the Revolution. He once single-handedly ambushed a priest and his escort of guards. He led troops in a surprise attack against a group of Spanish soldiers who were attending a late-night mass.[2] But a year after his promotion, Gregorio was killed by US forces during the Philippine-American War.

Gregorio’s leap from poverty to power is dramatic but nothing can compare with what Joseph would experience in Genesis 41. In one day, he went from prisoner to Prime Minister of the most powerful nation on earth. The title prime minister puts Joseph’s aggrandizement into perspective. When I think of a prime minister, I think of power and authority. But Joseph was not being made into a brigadier-general, whose job it is to slay. He was being empowered to minister – to serve.

Joseph was brought out of prison, but he wasn’t set free. He was given a duty and an opportunity to save many lives. He would carry out that duty for 80 years. The job had perks and comforts, to be sure, but the rest of his days would be defined by serving and saving lives.

This text contains beautiful parallels of Jesus’ glorification and future rule. At the same time, we can find application for our own lives as we study Joseph’s example. And that makes sense because even though we are not Christ, we are His Body and we follow after Him, doing the work He started. So, Joseph can stand for us as both a type of our Lord and an example for us.

Genesis 41:1a – At the end of two years Pharaoh had a dream:

In my version, the chapter opens with those three words: “At the end.” Joseph still has a deep and abiding faith in God but I’m sure he was wondering, “When will my suffering end?”

God has explained to us that suffering will be a part of all our lives, but one day it’s going to come to an end. He will deliver us from every sorrow, every pain, every doubt, and every difficulty.

Joseph suffered as a prisoner and slave for thirteen long years. But the dawn of a new day was about to break. He was going to be rescued from pit to palace. Now, consider our coming rescue from earth to heaven, from mortality to immortality, from sinful imperfection to perfect glory.

Genesis 41:1b-7 – [Pharaoh] was standing beside the Nile, 2 when seven healthy-looking, well-fed cows came up from the Nile and began to graze among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, sickly and thin, came up from the Nile and stood beside those cows along the bank of the Nile. 4 The sickly, thin cows ate the healthy, well-fed cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. 5 He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven heads of grain, plump and good, came up on one stalk. 6 After them, seven heads of grain, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven plump, full ones. Then Pharaoh woke up, and it was only a dream.

This was more than a bad dream. These images were full of significance to Pharaoh. The Nile was the source of Egypt’s agriculture, power, and wealth.[3] Cows were the symbol of the god Isis.[4] The number seven was a sacred number, sometimes symbolizing fate.[5] Wheat was “utilized at all levels and in all spheres of ancient Egyptian society.”[6] Bread and beer were served at nearly every meal and they were often used as wages and the basis of the bartering economy.[7]

The “east wind” would’ve been known to Pharaoh. In that era, desert winds would blow in during the spring or autumn and could dry up vegetation overnight.[8] That sort of wind is referenced in Ezekiel, Jonah, and Isaiah. But, thanks to the Nile, Egypt was normally able to weather famines.[9]

Pharaoh jolted awake for a second time that night and, it says, “It was just a dream.” If only that were true. You see, God was revealing that a coming disaster. The nightmare was going to become very real. In fact, the reality was going to be much worse than the dream had been.

God has revealed to our world that a judgment is coming. It will be poured out on the whole world. He tells us not to terrify us, but to warn us so that disaster might be averted for individuals who will believe God and call out to Him. This has always been the Lord’s heart. Through this dream He is reaching down with mercy and grace to an unbelieving king of an unbelieving nation.

Genesis 41:8 – 8 When morning came, he was troubled, so he summoned all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

Remember: dream interpretation was a science in this society. These magicians were celebrated professionals. They had piles of scrolls on how to make sense of dreams at their disposal.[10] They trained in the “Houses of Life.”[11] This was their moment! But they had no help for Pharaoh. What a shockingly embarrassment this would have been.

The humiliation is compounded when we realize that Pharaoh himself was supposed to be the incarnation of the god Horus.[12] The name Horus means, “he who is above.”[13] But there, in the court of the most powerful ruler on earth, full of wizards and divine incarnations everyone comes up empty. Instead of answers, there was only fear. Instead of confidence, there was only the admission that none of them knew what the truth was or what they should do about it.

You see, without truth, power could not save them from what was coming. And so, Pharaoh trembled. Literally the phrase means, “his spirit pounded.”[14] In this moment, the butler speaks up.

Genesis 41:9-13 – 9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I remember my faults. 10 Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and he put me and the chief baker in the custody of the captain of the guards. 11 He and I had dreams on the same night; each dream had its own meaning. 12 Now a young Hebrew, a slave of the captain of the guards, was with us there. We told him our dreams, he interpreted our dreams for us, and each had its own interpretation. 13 It turned out just the way he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”

On the one hand, his forgetfulness almost led to the destruction of an entire nation. On the other hand, even though he wasn’t a certified wise man, he had the only piece of hopeful and helpful information. He could point the way to the one who might make sense of the mess.

Everyone chides the butler for not remembering Joseph. But, think about it – you were sent to prison and almost got your head cut off. Then you are brought back to your job. Are you really going to say, “Hey there’s this other guy you should let out of prison, too!”

The butler encourages me because he shows that you and I can be used in spite of our shortcomings. We may be boneheads from time to time, we may lack certification or worldly qualifications, but we know the One Who has the answers, don’t we? Point people to Him and He will know what to do in their hour of need. He solves problems. He brings clarity. He intervenes.

The question was: Would Pharaoh humble himself to get help? This was the problem Naaman had in 2 Kings. He needed help. But he almost died a leper because of pride. Pharaoh would have to say, “Yes, bring the filthy, foreign slave and let’s hear what he thinks about my dream.”

The butler called out Potiphar in verse 12. Maybe Pharaoh pulled him aside and said, “What’s with this Hebrew kid?” It would’ve been an interesting scene. But, as Bruce Waltke points out, eyewitness testimony paved the way to accept what God was trying to tell them.

God wants to make you an eyewitness of His power, His grace, His goodness, and His truth. That testimony has power as we confidently proclaim, “I know the Person with the answers.”

Genesis 41:14 – 14 Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they quickly brought him from the dungeon., He shaved, changed his clothes, and went to Pharaoh.

They probably shaved his face and his head.[15] Everything about this little montage highlights the speed and urgency of the situation. Joseph received no heads up this was coming. It just happened all of a sudden. It’s a lovely reminder that, in some near moment, we will be caught up from the pit of earth and ushered into the glory of heaven. We’ll be given a new body, a robe of righteousness, and we’ll be presented before the King, to be in His presence forever and ever.

Genesis 41:15-16 – 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said about you that you can hear a dream and interpret it.” 16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

Joseph is under a lot of pressure. The palace is full of magi and scholars and officials and nobility. And the king says, “I just have to tell you my dream and you’ll know exactly what it means, right?”

Amazingly, Joseph is not tongue-tied, he’s not nervous, he doesn’t crumple under the pressure. He responds, “No, you’re wrong about that.” Scholars tell us that his reply, “I am not able to,” is one Hebrew word.[16] So, not only is he not nervous, he has the courage to correct Pharaoh to his face.

Joseph says a lot with few words. He is absolutely confident in the Lord. He believes that God is present and reliable. He says, “God gave you this dream, so I assume He will give an interpretation for you.” Joseph believed God wanted to communicate peace to Pharaoh. We learned a lot about this on Sunday in our study through John 20. Where it says, “God will give a favorable answer” (or your version may say “an answer of peace”), it’s that Hebrew word, Shalom. God’s desire was to speak to them about their welfare, their wholeness, how they could be at peace with Him.

Genesis 41:17-24 – 17 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when seven well-fed, healthy-looking cows came up from the Nile and grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows—weak, very sickly, and thin—came up. I’ve never seen such sickly ones as these in all the land of Egypt. 20 Then the thin, sickly cows ate the first seven well-fed cows. 21 When they had devoured them, you could not tell that they had devoured them; their appearance was as bad as it had been before. Then I woke up. 22 In my dream I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, coming up on one stalk. 23 After them, seven heads of grain—withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind—sprouted up. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed the seven good ones. I told this to the magicians, but no one can tell me what it means.”

The world offers you its wise men, its magicians, and sages. The Bible always presents them as insufficient. Jannes and Jambrees, the wise men of Babylon, Balaam the diviner, Simon the sorcerer. They had power, position, prestige, but when push comes to shove, they cannot deliver the truth. Joseph didn’t mock them, but he didn’t cower before them, either. He knew God, they didn’t. And so, he wasn’t afraid to speak the truth with heavenly authority.

Genesis 41:25 – 25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.

Since God was so concerned that the Egyptians know about this famine, why not just stop it from happening? The Lord obviously wanted to bring deliverance, so why not just cancel the wind? After all, this event is what would bring the family of faith to Egypt leading to their captivity for 400 years.

Bruce Waltke has an interesting speculation that makes sense. You see, Abraham understood the importance of staying separate from the Canaanites. So did Isaac and Jacob. But now, Jacob’s sons had given up on separation. Several of his sons married Canaanite wives. Perhaps the Lord brought His people to Egypt to keep them from assimilating into the pagan cultures around them. The Egyptians kept the Hebrews sequestered – they wouldn’t even eat with them.

This famine also drives home the fact that some judgments will not be called off. When Jonah went to Nineveh he said, “Forty days and then blammo.” But they repented, so God called off the demolition of the city. But when God says, “Christ is coming back to judge the world,” there is no calling it off. The only hope is deliverance and salvation. We need to take God’s warnings seriously.

Genesis 41:26-32 – 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years. The dreams mean the same thing. 27 The seven thin, sickly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind are seven years of famine. 28 “It is just as I told Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt. 30 After them, seven years of famine will take place, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will devastate the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered because of the famine that follows it, for the famine will be very severe. 32 Since the dream was given twice to Pharaoh, it means that the matter has been determined by God, and he will carry it out soon.

There was not a moment to lose. Yes, the problem was still years down the road, but the time for response was now. The same is true as we present the Gospel. The Gospel is the message of warning and mercy from God that we deliver to unbelievers, right? We tell them that judgment is coming for this world and for them, individually – that they will stand before God and face His wrath for sin unless they are born again. That may be 5 years, 15 years, 50 years from now. But now is the time. Today is the day for salvation. God is long-suffering, but there isn’t a moment to lose.

Genesis 41:33-36 – 33 “So now, let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this: Let him appoint overseers over the land and take a fifth of the harvest of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 Let them gather all the excess food during these good years that are coming. Under Pharaoh’s authority, store the grain in the cities, so they may preserve it as food. 36 The food will be a reserve for the land during the seven years of famine that will take place in the land of Egypt. Then the country will not be wiped out by the famine.”

Joseph tells Pharaoh, “This famine is coming, it’s from God, it can’t be stopped.” And then he says, “So now you have the choice whether you’re going to do something about it or not.” Pharaoh was a man with a free will to choose. Would he believe and respond or would he harden his heart, mock God, and be destroyed? A very similar situation plays out between Daniel and King Belshazzar. Daniel says, “Judgment is coming.” Belshazzar laughed. He didn’t believe and was consumed.

R. Kent Hughes writes, “The knowledge of what God is going to do does not produce passive resignation but aggressive action. The fact that God has set the future is a mighty summons to action.”[17]

It was Pharaoh’s job to ensure people didn’t starve during a famine.[18] And there is God, reaching down in Pharaoh’s moment of helplessness, providing a way for people to live and not die. But Pharaoh would have to believe and respond. He would have to humble himself before God.

Joseph, for his part, wasn’t one of these guys who holds a sign that says, “The end is near!” He steps past judgment and says, “…and here’s what you should do since God is trying to save you!” Joseph had a plan for life, not just a warning about death. He offered compassion and hope.

Genesis 41:37-44 – 37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants, 38 and he said to them, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit in him?” 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you are. 40 You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands., Only I, as king, will be greater than you.” 41 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “See, I am placing you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, clothed him with fine linen garments, and placed a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had Joseph ride in his second chariot, and servants called out before him, “Make way!” So he placed him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh and no one will be able to raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt without your permission.”

Christ came to us as an innocent Outsider. He was mistreated, falsely accused, went into the grave, and came out and Lord and King forever. Now we’re called to bow our knees, make the paths straight before Him, and acknowledge His goodness, His power, and His authority.

There are some thoughts for our own lives here as well. When we’re elevated into glory, we will be given treasures and invited to rule alongside the King in His Kingdom.

Joseph was given a gold chain. This is not the typical word for chain. Archaeological discoveries show it was a wide collar that covered part of the shoulders and upper neck.[19] In fact, in the Septuagint, the term is usually rendered as “yoke.”[20] It’s not jewelry, it’s a job collar. But, wouldn’t Joseph be happy to take this yoke after what he had been through?

A fellow soldier who watched Gregorio del Pilar die recounted, “He wore a new khaki uniform with his campaign insignia, his silver spurs, his polished shoulder straps, his silk handkerchiefs, his rings on his fingers. Always handsome and elegant!” But his body would lay unburied for days on the battlefield. He lived by the sword and died by the sword.

God has saved us, set us free, lifted us, so that we might serve Him. Jesus said, “I’m going to put a yoke on you, but it’s a glorious, yoke. Take it and put it on and learn from Me and find rest for your soul.” We are not set free so that we can do whatever we want and live to enrich ourselves while the world burns away. God has set apart our lives so that we can be the witnesses, we can be the helpers, we can give the answers to those who are so desperately in need. It’s a big job, but God will always equip us for it. He equips us with a robe of righteousness and His authority and a yoke.

Genesis 41:45 – 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah and gave him a wife, Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest at On. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.

This is an interesting development. Pharaoh wanted to make Joseph like one of his own. One commentator writes, “His clothing was Egyptian, his name was Egyptian, his language was Egyptian, his wife was Egyptian, [his job was Egyptian], and his father-in-law was the leading Egyptian sun-worshiper. Joseph’s soul was in greater peril than at any other time in his short life.” [21]

Would he remain true to the Lord now that he had wealth and honor and fame and freedom? We’ll see that he names his sons Hebrew names and he makes his family swear they will bury him in the promised land. He traded rags for riches, but he didn’t trade Jehovah for Ra. His faith survived the promotion.

We’re not sure what this new name of his means. There’s a lot of debate. One scholar writes, “Joseph’s [new] name in any language seems associated with life.”[22]

Hopefully our names are associated with life, too. Be about life. Be about saving life. Be about eternal, everlasting life, not the death of this world. Joseph left the dungeon and went right on the job, We’re told he went throughout the land. It wasn’t for sightseeing. He had to get going on his plan to save the world. We want to be ministers of life. If God wants to promote us in an earthly sense, great. If not, we know the ultimate promotion is coming and it’s worth the work, it’s worth the wait, it’s worth whatever we can give as we trust Him and allow Him to use us for His glory.


3 Bruce Waltke Genesis: A Commentary
4 Gordon Wenham Word Biblical Commentary Volume 2: Genesis 16-50
5, 7 ibid.
6 Serena Kleeman Barley And Wheat In Ancient Egypt
8 Wenham
9 The NET Bible First Edition Notes
10 CSB Study Bible Notes
11 Robert Alter The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary
12 Faithlife Study Bible Notes
14, 19 Alter
15 See Wenham, Waltke
16 Kenneth A. Mathews The New American Commentary Volume 1B: Genesis 11:27-50:26
17 R. Kent Hughes Genesis: Beginning And Blessing
18 John Goldingay Genesis
20 Susan Brayford Genesis
21 Hughes
22 Brayford