9. Recognizing God’s Providence: Fellowship Restored (Gen. 45:1-28)Related Media
In this passage we come to the climax of Joseph’s story. Here we are going to learn some deep theology from Joseph about how God works in the world and in our lives in particular. In the case of Joseph and his brothers, their consciences had been activated and their trust had been earned. All that remains is for fellowship to be restored.
Fellowship is restored when everything is out in the open. That moment has now arrived. The brothers are back in front of Joseph for the third time. Now, Joseph can no longer keep his identity hidden from them. The tests about forgiveness and reconciliation are complete. And trust, that has been earned, can now be established because Joseph now knows that his brothers are changed men. They are trustworthy, honest, and compassionate men. They have been changed from the inside out.
The story doesn’t tell us why or how this change took place, but I think it is fair to assume that the last 23 years of experiences have changed them and, in particular, this experience with the famine and Joseph has changed them, so much so that they have finally confessed their sin and repented before God and Joseph. Now the time has come for “the man who is the Lord of the land” (Gen. 42:30) to reveal his identity.
So, Joseph commands everyone to go out and leave him alone with his brothers (Gen. 45:1). This must surely have struck terror into his brothers’ hearts since they were actually standing before him, waiting for his decision concerning Judah’s plea bargain – namely, that Benjamin be allowed to return with the others to their father and that he (Judah) would remain as “surety” (Gen. 44:32-34). To hear Joseph then command everyone to leave them alone must have made them conclude the worst. Perhaps they would all be thrown into prison or worse yet, sentenced to death. After all, they had been caught with the money and the silver cup. To their utter surprise, Joseph “wept aloud” (45:2a), so loud, in fact, that “the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it” (45:2b). Surely, they must have thought, such emotion must stem from either intense personal grief or deep, built-up anger.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this in your life. Perhaps you have borne such a burden of grief (e.g. through the death of a loved one or rejection by someone you love and respect) that you have wept oceans of tears before the Lord. Perhaps you’ve experienced physical pain or extended illness that has caused tears. Perhaps, resentment has built up in you to the degree that you burst into tears. Or perhaps, sheer joy has produced floods of tears.
The Psalmist certainly experienced tears of anger and grief. Probably Joseph himself had found crying to be a relief for his pent up feelings. Just think about what he had been through - abandoned and sold as a slave by his own family; unjustly imprisoned; and betrayed by the chief butler. But now his crying is not out of a sense of injustice or anger because of how he had been treated, but out of the relief and joy of final reconciliation and restoration of fellowship with his brothers. He probably thought this day would never come. In any event, this flood of tears came from so deep within him, after such a long time and after such painful experiences, that his sobbing was uncontrollable.
Finally, Joseph reveals his identity. “I am Joseph; does my father still live?” (45:3a). Now, no longer is Joseph the seemingly stern, demanding ruler of Egypt, but their brother. No answer was needed to his question about his father. Judah had made it very clear that Jacob was alive. In fact, his father’s well-being had been one of his greatest concerns. But the declaration that “I am Joseph” must have come down on the brothers like a hammer blow. The cycle of fear and hope that they had recently experienced - the money in their sacks, the silver cup, bargaining with their father, and the trips back and forth to Egypt - were nothing compared to this. Suddenly they must have understood the tricks that had been played on them, the cross examinations about their father and Benjamin, and their royal luncheon in the governor’s mansion. And the first thing that must have crossed their minds is that it’s all over – the game is up, retribution is surely coming.
No wonder they were struck dumb without a word to say “for they were dismayed in his presence” (45:3b). They were completely at a loss for words, dumbfounded, terrified. How stupid they must feel after having told Joseph several times that he (Joseph) was dead, only to see the dead man standing before them! No wonder he had been so interested in their younger brother and their father. No wonder he knew their ages when he seated them at the banquet in birth order. And, oh yes, no wonder they had bowed down to him - his dreams had come true, not from wishing upon a star (as in the fantasy world of Disney) but through God’s providence. Now all that’s left is for judgement to fall on them! Their minds must have been a blur of terror-filled thoughts, none of which, of course, were true.
Their fears are assuaged when Joseph initiates intimacy. It wasn’t sufficient to merely reveal who he was, they must know how he feels. Seeing their response to who he was, Joseph says: “‘Come near to me, please.’ So they came near. Then he said, ‘I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt’” (45:4). “OK, OK. Don’t remind us,” they must have thought. “This is bad enough without you rubbing it in. We know what we did! That was bad enough, but this is incomprehensible.” You see, the brothers could not grasp God’s purposes in all of this, except their condemnation perhaps. Their sin had found them out for sure. That’s the only purpose they could see in all of this. But Joseph is about to teach them something about the theology of God’s providential ways that they and we need to get hold of.
Before continuing we must ask the question: “What is providence?” This is a term we don’t hear much today. The root word is made up of two parts: “pro” (which, in Latin, means either “on behalf of” or “in advance”) and “vide” (which, in Latin, means “to see to / to take care of ”). Thus, when used of God, “providence” means to take care of something in advance, to make provision for something beforehand. God’s providence, then, refers to his preserving and sustaining care and control of all things with the view of achieving his divine purposes.
So, our subject in this study is: “The truth about providence.” The primary theological principle that we learn from this episode in Joseph’s life is that God works providentially in our lives to accomplish his purposes.
Notice this first theological principle...
I. God Providentially Preserves Our Lives (Gen. 45:5-8)
The restoration of fellowship is taking place here under the sensitive and wise direction of Joseph. He has learned that fellowship is restored when divine providence is recognized and acknowledged. This is key to understanding the unfolding scene and truths that we learn from Joseph. Joseph points out two key reasons for which God had preserved his life and for which He preserves ours…
1. God Preserves Our Lives To Accomplish His Purposes (45:5-6)
“Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you” (45:5). God was at work in Joseph’s life long before the brothers had sold him to the slave traders. Though what they did was cruel (and they were fully responsible for what they did), nonetheless God was at work, using their wicked treatment of Joseph to accomplish his sovereign purposes. This is an enormously important theological truth that we need to grasp for ourselves as well: God providentially orders the sequence and circumstances of our lives to prepare us for what he wants us to do in the future.
Seeing the obvious look of terror and shame on their faces, and knowing the self-condemning thoughts that must have been going through their heads, Joseph reassures them: “When you sold me to slave traders, God overruled to send me ahead of you. Now you’re here yourself as well. In the providence of God, I just went ahead to get things ready. So, you didn’t send me here, God did!”
God was in control of his life, not the brothers. Just as Joseph recognizes that God had caused the events of his life to take place in the sequence, at the time, and in the way that they did, so we need to recognize that God sovereignly overrules the course of our lives. That’s the right perspective, something the brothers knew nothing about. They were about to get a theology lesson like none they had ever had before about how God works in the world, that God is in control of all our circumstances as he fulfills his purposes for our lives. Indeed, in Joseph’s life, God overruled the brothers bad actions to achieve his good purposes. That’s what Joseph wants his brothers to understand, that what had happened was all according to the providential ways of God. If they can grasp this truth, it would bring some relief for their troubled consciences.
Do you see how an understanding of this truth helps us to cope with bad circumstances, how it soothes the troubled heart, how it helps to answer the questions that flood our minds? Why did this happen to me? How can this turn out for good? Remember our thesis: “God works providentially in our lives to accomplish his purposes.” It’s true that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God sovereignly overrules the course of our lives. Our part is to submit to His providential ways. Joseph had submitted to the providential control of God in his life. The implication is that his brothers needed to submit to the ways of God in their lives too, even though they didn’t understand it.
Isn’t it true, that many things occur in our lives that we don’t understand, but which are part of God’s providential care and control of all things? God is sovereign in our lives and we need to submit to his ways with us. Of course we need to distinguish between, on the one hand, our own sin and folly that causes certain consequences in our lives and, on then other hand, what the will of God is for us. But this story is telling us that even those things that result from our bad decisions and circumstances God can use for good. That should encourage us, shouldn’t it?
Do you see how this narrative links to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:22-24f.? Jesus’ circumstances were the worst we can imagine – being put to death as an innocent man because of the wicked thoughts and acts of evil men. And yet those circumstances were according to the “the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” Wicked men put Jesus to death but that act was all under God’s control and according to God’s divine foreknowledge. That did not negate or minimize those men’s responsibility in the death of Christ. Rather, they were the conduit through whom God fulfilled his plan of redemption.
When or how Joseph came to understand this deep theological truth about the providence of God, we don’t know. Was it when the brothers bowed down before him? Was that when he realized that his dreams were from God? Anyway, even though we don’t know how or when Joseph came to understand the truth of God’s providence, one thing is clear, he believes it and submits to it completely. Notice that there is no hint of bitterness or resentment or anger in Joseph; everything is submitted to God’s purposes for his life. “God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting (45:5b-6).
Not only did Joseph recognize that God providentially orders the sequence and circumstances of our lives, but he also recognized that God uses us for the benefit of others – specifically, in Joseph’s case, to protect others’ lives from harm and danger. Don’t forget that all this is taking place in the context of a massive famine which has already existed for two years with five more years to go according to God’s revelation to Joseph when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. That dream had come true just like Joseph’s own dreams. Joseph knew with absolute certainty that there would be no plowing or harvesting for five more years. And God had sent him to Egypt for such a time as this to preserve life – the lives of the Egyptians who came to buy food and especially the lives of his own family.
But there’s another reason why God providentially preserves our lives. He preserves our lives to accomplish his purposes, and ...
2. God Preserves Our Lives To Fulfill His Promises (45:7-8)
“God sent me before you to preserve a posterity (a remnant) for you in the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance (45:7). Many years before, God had promised their great grandfather Abraham in a vision that he would make of him a great nation and in his seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 15:1ff.; cf. also 13:3). Later, God re-affirmed his promise to their grandfather, Isaac, and subsequently to their own father, Jacob. Throughout Joseph’s history, God was keeping his promise “to preserve a posterity for you in the earth.” And in so doing, God sent Joseph to Egypt “to save [their] lives by a great deliverance.” This was all part of God’s eternal plan to fulfill his promises.
“So now, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (45:8). And not only that, but God “has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his house and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (45:8). There was no question that God had sent him here and that God had given him great authority, authority that would not only bless Pharaoh and all of Egypt, but specifically, Joseph’s own family.
So, the first theology lesson that Joseph teaches his brothers about God’s providence is that God providentially preserves our lives. The second theology lesson about God’s providence is that...
II. God Providentially Meets Our Needs (Gen. 45:9-24)
In the unfolding process of restoring unhindered fellowship, Joseph evidently understands that fellowship is restored when our needs are met through care and compassion. Now every barrier to reconciliation with his brothers is removed, Joseph can now reveal his plans for them and his father, plans which Pharaoh would wholeheartedly endorse. Joseph now spells out how, in God’s providence, all their needs will be met in Egypt.
God providentially meets our needs in two ways...
1. God Providentially Meets Our Emotional Needs (45:9-10)
That’s a great blessing from God. In their case, the restoration between Joseph and his family was God’s provision for their emotional needs. “You shall dwell in the land of Goshen and you shall be near me” (45:10), Joseph says. Joseph’s heart of goodness and blessing and compassion now poured out toward his brothers. They were to go back and tell Jacob what had happened, who Joseph is, and what’s going to happen next. “Guess what, Dad, we’re all moving to Egypt where we can be near Joseph.” That’s what was uppermost in Joseph’s mind – full reconciliation and life as it should be among a family.
That’s the grace of God in meeting our emotional needs. The nuclear family is God’s creation. The family unit is God’s provision to protect us, encourage us, support us, provide for us, and nurture us.
God providentially meets our emotional needs, and…
2. God Providentially Meets Our Physical Needs (45:11-23)
“There [i.e. in Goshen] I will provide for you lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty; for there are still five years of famine” (45:11). In Goshen, they will have the best agricultural land in Egypt that will guarantee there prosperity and protection from poverty. God has made provision for their physical needs before they ever knew it. “Now go home,” Joseph says, “and tell my father of all my glory in Egypt and of all that you have seen; and you shall hurry and bring my father down here (45:13).
Through his providence, God meets our physical needs in ways that we cannot imagine. Who would have thought that Joseph’s various experiences and disappointments would have brought him to this position and for this purpose? Who would have thought that what had happened to Joseph would ultimately lead to the blessing of his family – healing their emotional needs and supplying their physical needs?
And as if to confirm his sincerity and to release all his love for his brothers that was in his heart, Joseph “fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him” (45:14-15). His most endearing feelings were toward his full blood-brother, but he loved the rest of them as well with unfeigned love. Now, finding their tongues again, his brothers “talked with him.”
After reconciliation is established, then fellowship must be fully restored. Fellowship is restored when we recognize God’s providence in our lives and begin to demonstrate his care and compassion to each other. That means meeting each others’ needs, enjoying one another’s company, talking about all that you have been through, voicing your concerns and joys and feelings. One of the characteristics of a healthy family (and a healthy church family) is fellowship through hospitality, getting together to enjoy one another’s company. This is what takes place here with Joseph and his brothers, something that perhaps they had never experienced before.
All of Joseph’s plans were now confirmed by Pharaoh (45:16-20). Joseph had gained such respect and trust in Pharaoh’s court that Pharaoh not only affirmed Joseph’s generous provision for his family but actually added to it. Pharaoh not only affirmed that the brothers bring their father and their households to Egypt, but adds “I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you will eat the fat of the land” (45:18). Joseph had said, “You shall dwell in the land of Goshen” (45:10), but Pharaoh sweetens the provision in Egypt. He will give them “the best of the land” to live in and they shall have “the fat of the land to eat.”
But there’s even more. Pharaoh provides all the carts to transport their families and their father on the journey (45:19). And there’s even more yet. They don’t even have to bother to bring “[their] goods” (45:20a) – i.e. their personal provisions – “for the best of all the land is yours” (45:20b). This is extravagant and abundant provision for their needs. This is the heart of God, who provides for us “abundantly above all that we could ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). This is the heart of God to those who are repentant, forgiven, and reconciled.
Joseph immediately “gave to all of them, to each man, changes of garments; but to Benjamin (his beloved, younger brother) he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of garments” (45:22). His brothers had sold Joseph to the Midianite traders for 20 pieces of silver but Joseph returns 15 times that amount. His brothers had sold Joseph as a slave for roughly 8 ounces of silver, but Joseph gives Benjamin roughly 8 pounds of silver. Years before the brothers had returned to their father with Joseph’s torn and blood-stained coat, but Joseph gives Benjamin 5 sets of unstained garments. And to his father he “sent ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and food for his father for the journey” (45:23). This was the heart of Joseph pouring out in benevolence toward his repentant brothers and his dear, deceived father. Even while they were still in Canaan, Joseph wanted the household of Jacob to witness and experience the finery, the abundance, and the riches of Egypt that lay ahead of them.
So, God providentially preserves our lives and provides for our needs. And the third theology lesson about God’s providence is that ...
III. God Providentially Pacifies Our Hearts (45:24-28)
In the final step of restoring fellowship with his brothers, Joseph teaches us that fellowship is restored when hearts are healed and at peace with one another. When we encounter troubling circumstances that we often don’t understand, especially those that appear to have severed our relationship with others, God can and does providentially bring to us words of truth that bring healing and peace to our troubles hearts.
1. God Providentially Pacifies Our Hearts Through Words Of Truth That Bring Comfort (45:24-27)
Joseph had given his brothers material gifts to take back with them to Canaan, but there was a gift much greater even than these. The greatest gift of all was his parting words. Just as the brothers set off on this historic journey, Joseph’s parting words were: “See that you do not become troubled along the way” (45:24). Now this word “troubled” is translated in the NIV as “quarrel” and it certainly can be translated that way. But in most cases it seems to refer to the sense of fear, trouble, disquietedness. In any event the two translations are not mutually exclusive; they easily go together here.
Perhaps Joseph was telling them to “not quarrel along the way” because he knew their natural tendency to fight and accuse and bicker and scheme. He knew their background and character better than anyone. So, perhaps, he is challenging them to live according to their new found faith and relationships, not according to their old habits and attitudes.
We all need this exhortation, don’t we? We all need to be reminded of our own predisposition to sin, the sin which does so easily beset us (cf. Heb. 12:1). No one knows what those sins are better than those nearest to us. And no one is as qualified to remind us of our natural tendencies than our own closest family. In fact, I would argue, that we are only qualified to make this kind of exhortation if we have earned a position of trust and love, as Joseph had.
So, this may read, “Do not quarrel along the way,” but I think Joseph is telling them to “not become troubled along the way.” Surely this fits the context better, for they had many reasons to be troubled as they travelled back to Canaan. They would naturally be troubled about what to say to Jacob, for now, for the first time in all these years, they would have to tell him the truth about Joseph. Now they were caught in the lie that they had concealed so long and so well. In addition, they might be troubled about this whole process. After all, they had packed their donkeys and done this return trip twice before, each time with disastrous results (money in their sacks, a silver cup etc.). Might this happen yet once more? Also, they might be troubled about returning to Egypt. How would they live among the Egyptians, people of different language, culture, and religion? How would they be treated when they returned? Would their relationship with Joseph be smooth and happy?
So, in these parting words, we see Joseph’s heart revealed. This was his heart-gift to them, from his heart to theirs. This was his care of their relationships, their personal well-being as a family: “Do not become troubled along the way.” With these words ringing in their ears they head home to bring to Jacob words of comfort and encouragement.
As soon as they got home, they said to Jacob, “Joseph is alive and is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart stood still because he did not believe them” (45:26b). Initially, Jacob’s response was one of shock. This could have caused him to pass out. For the past 23 years or so, Jacob had lived under the delusion that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. And now, right out of the blue, he is told that “Joseph is alive.” And not only is Joseph alive, but he is “governor of the land of Egypt.”
Patiently, the brothers rehearse what Joseph had said and “when Jacob saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived” (45:27). I can just imagine the brothers pouring cold water over Jacob and fanning him to bring him around. Just like the time I cut my thumb badly years ago. I came into the house and called out to my wife what I had done. My daughter, who had recently taken her first aid training with Red Cross, in accordance with what she had been taught came running out of the kitchen shouting, “I’m a first-aider. I’m in charge!” Well, I don’t know who was the first-aider in this group, but Jacob finally came around.
And the words that at first caused shock, now bring comfort. Finally, he believed their report when he saw the evidence with his own eyes – the carts, donkeys, food, new clothing. Most of all, he saw the evidence in Benjamin, his favorite son, loaded down with bags of money and 5 sets of new clothing. Perhaps a couple of Armani suits? Dress shirts made of the finest Egyptian cotton and matching 100% Italian silk ties? Perhaps a couple of Tommy Bahama sports shirts and shorts for when they stop at the beach on the way back to Egypt? You get the idea.
So, God providentially pacifies our hearts through words of truth that bring comfort. And...
2. God Providentially Pacifies Our Hearts Through Words Of Truth That Bring Courage (45:28)
“It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die (45:28). Isn’t this a good news story now? We all like a story to end well and this one is ending well. Jacob is convinced that Joseph is alive and that realization breathes new life into him. Suddenly he has the courage to make the long trek to Egypt. Words of truth, words of good news bring Jacob comfort and courage. It takes courage to trust his formerly untrustworthy sons. But now, he says, “It’s true! I believe you. This is the greatest news I have ever heard. I will go and see him before I die. Let’s go!”
It takes courage to go to a far off country where he had never been; to go to the country that had caused him so much grief; to leave his home in Canaan forever on a one-way ticket.
Do you see how God works providentially in our lives to accomplish his purposes? The story of Joseph is not unique to Joseph. This story is included in God’s word as an example for us to follow, because “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, so that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom. 15:4). And we can have hope in all our circumstances when we know that God is I control of all things and that he works providentially in our lives to accomplish his purposes.
Remember the three theological principles we have learned in this study about the providence of God: God providentially preserves our lives; God providentially provides for our needs; God providentially pacifies our hearts. This is how God works providentially for his people.