4 And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again. 6 And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.
“If now I have found grace in your eyes,” is a phrase we hear several times throughout the scriptures. It is a statement of ultimate humility, reserved primarily for sovereigns and God. Its communicates that I have something to say, but only if you will allow me to by your grace and favor. That might be a deeper humility than many of us may want to reach, especially in our modern society! It may feel like debasing oneself, but I feel in instances like these, Joseph is merely recognizing a simple truth.
The fact is, if Pharaoh wants to ignore to Joseph, if he wants to deny his request, if he wants to prevent him from leaving, he absolutely can and will. He has the power to do it. And so, yes, “if I have found grace in your eyes…” may be flattering, but it is not vain flattery. It is a way for Joseph to demonstrate that he sees the power distribution as it really is and has respect to it.
It is worth noting that when Moses approaches another Pharaoh to request the release of Israel from captivity there are none of these humble concessions. Moses is recorded as saying “if I have found grace in thy sight,” to the Lord on a number of occasions, but never to Pharaoh. Because at that time Pharaoh did not have the power to give or withhold. Pharaoh thought that he did, but Moses proved the power was in the hands of God instead, and that Pharaoh was the one who would be forced to comply.
Also of note is that Joseph did not speak to Pharaoh directly, he spoke to Pharaoh’s household, depending on a representative carry the petition for him. Some have speculated that this is because he was still in the attire of mourning, which would not have been respectful in the king’s royal court. Regardless, Pharaoh gives his approval to Joseph’s petition, and now will begin the great funeral procession out of Egypt.