NRSV Genesis 45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there– since there are five more years of famine to come– so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
The dramatic story of Joseph and his brothers comes to a climax in these verses. This scene speaks a profound theology of God’s ability to redeem suffering. In response to the clear contrition of his brothers as represented by the words of Judah, Joseph breaks down (v. 1). He clears the area of all persons except for his brothers. Despite being alone, Joseph is so emotional and weeping so loudly that the Egyptians in the area as well as the household of Pharaoh could hear Joseph (v. 2). In verse 3, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Notice Joseph’s first concern–it is his father. Joseph wants to know if Jacob is still living. This is further confirmation of Joseph’s character. He does not focus first on himself or on the culpability of his brothers. In the face of this revelation, Joseph’s brothers are terrified. The NRSV “dismayed” is too qualified. The verb generally suggests a response of fear or alarm. The implication here is that Joseph’s brothers are horrified rather than joy filled in the presence of Joseph. They expect to be punished rather than to experience forgiveness and reconciliation. Throughout the above background, the brothers consistently interpreted their troubles in Egypt as punishment for their earlier actions toward Joseph.
But this encounter with Joseph is not merely about past wrongs; it is about the future of Godâ€™s people. Verses 4-13 contain Joseph does not whitewash the sins of his brothers (v. 4). Joseph identifies himself as â€œI am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.â€ Joseph does not whitewash the past; he calls a spade a spade. He speaks the truth to his brothers by verbalizing the elephant in the room. But Joseph does not leave the brothers in the past. Instead he pronounces a God-centered interpretation of the past that also explains the present and opens up the future for good. In verse 5, he attempts to comfort his brothers. They need not be afraid of him nor should they be angry with themselves. They do not need to live with regret for the rest of their lives because God has been at work to bring salvation to the family. This good news is the basis for the rest of Josephâ€™s speech.
Perhaps for the first time, Joseph is able to look back at the events of his life and see Godâ€™s hand in working Godâ€™s best for Godâ€™s people. Yes, Josephâ€™s brothers acted unjustly, but amazingly God was able to work Godâ€™s salvation despite of and even through the actions of his brothers. This is the recurring theme of Josephâ€™s words (45:5-8). God has had a bigger plan. Josephâ€™s brothers had intended to eliminate Joseph in order to preserve and prosper their own lives, but the result was the creation of a personal hell for themselves and for Jacob of shame, guilt, loss, and mourning. God is able to reshape these tragic events into an opportunity for the preservation and prosperity of the entire family and even for many of the surrounding nations. By selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers unwittingly permitted God to provide safety and salvation for Godâ€™s people during the time of famine. This is the key insight that allows Joseph to move forward through the pain of the past. He is able to discern Godâ€™s work in the midst of the hardships of his life. He is able to testify to the ways in which God was able to transform cruelty, jealousy, and injustice into a means for achieving Godâ€™s purposes. Joseph discerns this so clearly that in verse 8 he remarks stunningly, â€œSo it was not you who sent me here but Godâ€¦.â€
It is crucial to not draw incorrect applications from this passage. This is not an invitation to engage in unjust actions with the hope that Godâ€™s grace will work things out for the offended. It is not a story about passively accepting oneâ€™s fate. This text is not encouraging a naÃ¯ve theology in which every injustice experienced will quickly evidence some greater good that will be obvious to all involved. Instead, the story of Joseph points to the profound power of God to shape Godâ€™s future despite the sinful actions of humanity. Life can be messy, but God is faithful. This is the truth that Paul articulates in Romans 8:28, â€œWe know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.â€
In verses 9-15 Joseph turns to the immediate future for his family. He orders his brothers to return quickly to Jacob to share with him the good news that his son Joseph is alive and to bring the rest of the family to Egypt to live in safety with abundance. His father must know all the good that Joseph has experienced in Egpyt. Last, Joseph physically embraces his brothers in an act of public reconciliation. In verse 14, he embraces and weeps over his brother Benjamin. In verse 15, he kisses and weeps over his ten older brothers who had been living in a prison of guilt and fear over their actions toward him so many years before.