Good morning! In today’s reading of Genesis 44-45, we at last see Joseph’s identity revealed to his brothers, and the consequences this has for Jacob and all his descendants in Canaan.
First, chapter 44 continues the “cat and mouse” game that Joseph has been playing with his brothers. He entraps them again, this time hiding a prized silver cup in the grain sack of beloved Benjamin and accusing them of theft. The brothers see no other alternative but to confess: “God has found out the guilt of your servants” (44:16). Ironically, the guilt that God has brought to light is not in the theft of the silver cup, but the earlier guilt of selling their brother into slavery out of jealousy. When Joseph threatens to enslave Benjamin in retribution, Judah steps up and offers himself instead, taking responsibility in order to protect the health of his father Jacob (who would presumably not survive the grief of losing dear Rachel’s other son). We don’t see this in the text, but I wonder if Judah’s taking responsibility stems from the earlier confrontation with Tamar, who showed Judah that shirking responsibility is worse in the end.
Joseph can conceal his identity no longer at the beginning of chapter 45. (One notable thing about this story is how much it describes the inner life of its characters.) It takes time for Joseph’s shocked brothers to absorb this incredible news: the youth they sold into slavery many years ago is the same man who now has power over their very lives. In the conversation among Joseph and his brothers after the revelation, does Joseph reveal that he’s been playing games with the brothers, or does he leave them to think the miraculous return of their silver was divine intervention, a way to get them to reconcile?
One aspect of Joseph’s disposition deserves further comment. Joseph credits God will the turn of events that led him through slavery and imprisonment to near-ultimate power. He is able to look back and see, from the vantage point of history and experience, where God has been at work in his life even in terrible circumstances. In 45:5 he says to his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve life”, and similarly in vs. 8: “it was not you who sent me here, but God”. This is a lovely act of faith—tracing the fingerprints of God through even the bad parts of one’s life. At the same time, it would risk minimizing the suffering if the brothers had tried to do the same on Joseph’s behalf. Can you imagine them saying to him: “Sending you into slavery, we were just doing our part to fulfill God’s plan”, or what’s more commonly said today: “God has a plan for your pain”? This would let the brothers evade responsibility for their own actions, distance them from the reality of Joseph’s suffering, and effectively accuse God of desiring Joseph’s imprisonment. I believe God works to transform evil or suffering, and doesn’t send people there in the first place. Therefore, I want to highlight this nuance: It’s cold comfort to suggest a “divine plan” when someone suffering doesn’t do so for themselves, yet we can faithfully join in affirmation when one who suffers nevertheless sees good/God in the midst of the bad.
Once Joseph “comes out”, the continued famine will pull the entire family from Jacob’s cluster of households in Canaan to join Joseph in Egypt. Their refugee migration is aided by none less than Pharaoh himself, who sends wagons to ease the transit as a sign of mercy. Before the brothers return to get their families, Joseph gives each of them garments (a reversal and reminder of the special coat he once got), yet still gives Benjamin preferential treatment.
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Genesis 46-47. Thanks for reading!