After Joseph brought his father and his brothers to Egypt, Joseph introduced his family to Pharaoh. Joseph brought his fathers and five of his brothers to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh met with Joseph’s brothers, he told Joseph that his family could live in the land of Goshen (Genesis 47:6). Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh.
The Death of Jacob
As Jacob stood before Pharaoh, Pharaoh politely asked Jacob how old he was. Jacob’s answer reflects the hard life he had lived. He told Pharaoh, “the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob blessed Pharaoh twice. Jacob’s blessing may reflect the fact that the elderly man was blessing the younger Pharaoh, but in doing so, Jacob was fulfilling the promise God made to Abraham that in him and his descendants all the peoples on earth would be blessed. (Genesis 12:3).
Jacob came to Egypt when he was one hundred and thirty years old. After Jacob came to Joseph, he lived seventeen years in Egypt; “so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were one hundred forty-seven years” (Genesis 47:28). Jacob lived seventeen years with Joseph in Canaan (Genesis 37:2) and he lived seventeen years with Joseph in Egypt.
After Jacob died, at the request of Joseph, the Egyptian physicians embalmed Jacob (Genesis 50:2). The process of mummification was long and complex. The embalming was finished in forty days. The total period of mourning for Jacob was seventy days. After the embalming was finished and the time of mourning was completed, Joseph, his family, and a group of Egyptian officials traveled to Canaan to bury Jacob in the cave of the field at Machpelah as Jacob had requested. Jacob was buried with his wife Leah in the cave at Machpelah (Genesis 49:31).
The Brothers Fear Joseph
After they returned from Canaan, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that Joseph would punish them for all the evil things they had done to him. They were confused about Joseph. They knew what they had done to him. They hated him; they had sold him to become a slave, and yet Joseph had been nice to them since they came to Egypt with their father.
The brothers believed that as long as their father was alive Joseph would not act against them. They believed Joseph would not want to cause anguish to his father. But now that their father was dead, they believed that Joseph would act and take revenge against them. The guilt they felt and the fear of Joseph show that the brothers had never repented of what they had done to Joseph.
The brothers sent a message to Joseph. Whether the message was sent by a “messenger” (KJV) or by writing, the text does not say. It is clear, however, that the brothers were afraid to talk to Joseph face to face. This was the message they sent to Joseph, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father” (Genesis 50:16–17).
There are several problems with the brother’s message to Joseph. Did the brothers tell Jacob what they had done to Joseph? Did Jacob know that his sons had lied to him? If Jacob had known what the brothers had done, he probably would have told Joseph in person, rather than through a messenger. There is no indication that Jacob was aware of the treachery of his sons against Joseph. Thus, it is clear that out of fear, the brothers fabricated Jacob’s instructions to Joseph. They had lied to their father before (Genesis 37:32); now they are lying to Joseph.
In these fabricated instructions, the brothers acknowledge what they had done to Joseph. They acknowledge that what they had done was a crime (twice), that it was evil, and that it was a sin. Twice the fabricated instructions ask Joseph to forgive the brothers. The brothers were so apprehensive about what Joseph would do to them that they asked to be forgiven by “the God of your father.”
When Joseph received their message, Joseph’s eyes were filled with tears, “Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:17). The text does not give a reason why Joseph wept. It is possible that after more than ten years the brother still did not believe that Joseph intended full reconciliation with them. Joseph was also a servant of God. Joseph worshiped a God who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin (Exodus 34:7) and as a worshiper of this God, Joseph was ready to forgive his brothers, “the servants of the God” of Joseph’s father.
Joseph Forgives His Brothers
Sometime later, Joseph’s brothers came to him (Genesis 50:18). When they came before Joseph, they wept and prostrated themselves before him. This was the fourth time the brothers had bowed before Joseph. The brothers had rejected the dream which revealed that they would bow before Joseph (Genesis 37:7); this was the fourth times the dream was being fulfilled. Afraid of what Joseph would do to them, the brothers offered to serve Joseph as his slaves, “We are here as your slaves.”
Joseph reassured his brothers that they did not have to be afraid. Joseph was not going to take revenge for the evil they had done to him. He was not going to treat them in the same way they had treated him. Joseph told his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). Joseph’s answer implies that only God can bring retribution for what they had done.
For the evil people do, they may deserve judgment, but God is the one who avenges sin and wrongdoing, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35). God forgives iniquities, transgressions, and sins. However, God’s forgiveness is conditional. God forgives when people repent. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, he prayed to God, “if they repent with all their heart and soul . . . then hear from heaven their prayer and forgive your people who have sinned against you” (2 Chronicles 6:38–39).
Joseph understood that behind all the evil they had done to him, God was working behind the scenes carrying out his plan and purpose for his family. When Joseph first met his brothers, he told them “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:7–8). Now Joseph tells his brothers that although they had planned evil against him, God had planned to make good come out of the evil they had done. The good that God brought out of evil was “the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:20).
The years of suffering and humiliation Joseph had to endure as a slave and as a prisoner were used by God to save his family, the Egyptians, and many other people who came to Egypt to buy food from Joseph. Once the brothers of Joseph tried to kill him. Now they are able to live because of the treachery they did against Joseph. Divine providence is hard to understand, but the invisible hand of God was at work in the life of Joseph for the purpose of preserving lives, “all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world” (Genesis 41:57).
Joseph reassured his brothers that there was no reason to be afraid. He has promised to provide for them (Genesis 45:11); once again he tells them that he would take care of them, “I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:21). Joseph’s purpose was to set their minds at ease and dispel every fear they might have of him. Joseph demonstrated his commitment to his brothers by speaking kindly to them; that is, speaking “to their heart.”
On October 3, 2021, my pastor, Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois preached a sermon on Genesis 50:15-26 titled “Joseph – Extending Forgiveness.” The post above is based on Jeff’s sermon.
Throughout his sermon Jeff spoke about Joseph’s relationship with his brothers. Jeff mentioned two reasons Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. First, Joseph told his brothers that only God could deal with them for what they had done. When the brothers asked Joseph to forgive the wrong they had done to him, Joseph said to them, “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19).
God is a just God and he is the avenger of wrongs. As Paul wrote, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). Joseph forgave his brother because as a believer in God, he was compelled to forgive his brothers.
The second reason Joseph was able to forgive his brothers was because he knew that God was behind the story of his life. In their free will Joseph’s brothers had committed a great evil against him, but God used their evil doing to do a great good, to bring salvation to many.
God has a glorious plan for his creation. God works through the actions of humans to accomplish his divine will. What the brothers had done to Joseph was evil. The suffering and the pain Joseph had to endure was also real.
Joseph was deprived of his freedom and he had to endure pain and humiliation as a servant of Potiphar. But it was through this suffering servant of Potiphar that God was able to save the people of Egypt from starvation. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Jeff also emphasized that Joseph expressed his forgiveness by what he did for his brothers. When Joseph told his brothers, “I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:21), his words were not empty words. Joseph acted on his words. He was good to them, fed their families, and took care of them as long as he lived. Joseph’s forgiveness was proven by what he did, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:20).
Joseph also expressed his forgiveness by how he spoke to his brothers, “he spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:21). In Hebrew, the expression is “he spoke to their hearts.” The way Joseph spoke to his brothers and the tone of his voice convinced his brothers that Joseph meant what he said. Now they were assured that Joseph had forgiven them.
The Sermon: “Joseph – Extending Forgiveness.” A Sermon by Jeff Griffin
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
NOTE: My book Divine Violence and the Character of God deals with God’s violent acts in the Old Testament in light of God’s character as a gracious and merciful God. You can order a copy of the book at a 40% discount. If you want to order the book at 40% discount, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Divine Violence in the subject line and I will send you a promo code for the 40% discount. The 40% discount offer ends on February 28, 2022.
NOTE: Did you like this post? Do you think other people would like to read this post? Be sure to share this post on Facebook and share a link on Twitter or Tumblr so that others may enjoy reading it too!
I would love to hear from you! Let me know what you thought of this post by leaving a comment below. Be sure to like my page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Tumblr, Facebook, and subscribe to my blog to receive each post by email.
If you are looking for other series of studies on the Old Testament, visit the Archive section and you will find many studies that deal with a variety of topics.