Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:19-21

19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?

20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

Joseph firmly reassures his brothers, doubling down on the forgiveness he gave to them before. He has let go of all their trespasses, he has no ill will towards them, and he is not going to destroy them. Let us consider a few points of his reassurances.

First of all, in verse nineteen he asks the question “am I in the place of God?” as if to suggest that he doesn’t even have the right to deny them forgiveness. Joseph may have been their direct victim, but even that does not give him the right to demand his pound of flesh. What an interesting idea. This sentiment is expressed elsewhere in scriptural text, such as in Doctrine and Covenants 64:10 where it states “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

Obviously, all of us have the capacity to hold a grudge and condemn each other, but how would our world change if we stopped believing that we had a right to. We may speak for truth, may refute evil, but the damnation or salvation of an individual soul should be left only to the Lord.

But realizing we do not have the right to condemn others does not mean that we cannot be opposed to their evil. Being willing to forgive does not require us to condone all behavior. In verse twenty Joseph states in no uncertain terms “ye thought evil against me.” What his brothers did was wrong, and he does not pretend that it was not, or that he can’t have an opinion of such.

Finally, in verse 21, Joseph reaffirms his tender care. He promises that he will continue to nourish his brothers and their children and speaks comfortingly to them. He shows to us what a kind and sympathetic man he is, taking his brothers unwarranted anxiety and responding with graciousness.

The story of Joseph is an astounding lesson in forgiveness. He takes it to a level that many of us might be uncomfortable with. He shows how we can stand for truth while still loving those who do not. He shows how we can walk the careful life of pardoning unreservedly without being irresponsibly permissive of evil behavior. He sets an ideal that we might struggle to match, but which we all should strive for.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:16-18

16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,

17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.

18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.

Joseph’s brothers still did not believe that he had truly forgiven them, and they were afraid that he would take his vengeance upon them now that Jacob was out of the picture. In this they show a lack of faith, but it is worth noting that they have at least improved from the men that they were before.

Earlier they had felt threatened by Joseph, specifically by their father’s favoritism of him and his visions, and at that time their response was to try and destroy him. Another time they had felt insulted by the people of Shechem and had destroyed the men of that land. Today, though, there is no violence in them whatsoever. Today they are willing to humble themselves, fall before Joseph’s face, and beg for mercy instead. There is faith to believe in the forgiveness that we have been given, but lacking that there is at least the faith to ask for it.

What of their claim that before Jacob died he expressed that Joseph should forgive them? If they mean that Jacob said this only to them, intending for them to convey the message secondhand to Joseph, that seems highly suspect. We know that Jacob met Joseph shortly before his death, to bless him and his sons, so why would he not have just told Joseph his wishes directly then? This claim of theirs seems entirely made up.

Unless, of course, they mean that Jacob did express such a wish at that final gathering, with all the brothers including Joseph hearing it, in which case the brothers are simply reminding Joseph of that request. In either case, the fact that the brothers are invoking these wishes of Jacob, whether real or fabricated, supports my theory that Jacob was at some point made fully aware of how Joseph’s brothers had sold him into Egypt.

As for Joseph, he is moved to tears by their pathetic plea. Those tears are not explained, but they could be tears of pity for his brothers’ fear, or perhaps tears of frustration that they still think they have to fear in the first place.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:14-15

14 And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.

15 And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.

Joseph had already gone to great lengths to assure his brethren that their offenses were behind him, but evidently they are still gripped by a fear that he only restrains himself out of respect to his father. If that fear is true, then now that Jacob is dead and buried, there is nothing to stand in the way of Joseph’s wrath. And given Joseph’s powerful station in Egypt, if he does wish to pursue vengeance, he will be able to do so with impunity.

And so, Joseph’s brothers betray a faithlessness here. They have a hard time accepting that they could truly be forgiven, perhaps because they have a hard time forgiving themselves. Certainly many of us can relate to this failing, it is only natural to feel that if our sins don’t deserve to be forgiven then they won’t be. But the gospel is the “good news” that the natural order can be overturned for one that is entirely unnatural. An “eye for an eye” can be replaced with “turn the other cheek.” Part of us will always have difficulty with such seemingly irresponsible grace, but until we are able to accept it, we will forever remain a prisoner to our sins, even when the door to our cell was unlocked long ago.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:24

24 So he sent his brethren away, and they departed: and he said unto them, See that ye fall not out by the way.

I think Joseph’s final parting words to his brothers could have all manner of different meanings. What is his intention by saying “see that ye fall not out by the way?”

At first glance, this seems like Joseph might be telling them not to fall out of line. They’ve been historically untrustworthy, but now he could be warning them to not cross him again. However, the original Hebrew phrase behind “fall out” is “ragaz,” which means “to tremble,” or “be agitated,” or “to argue.” So perhaps he is actually reiterating that they should not persecute themselves for their past treatment of him, nor blame each other for what happened.

Or maybe he realizes that they are about to have a very difficult conversation with their father. There’s no way for them to tell him that Joseph is still alive in Egypt, without also confessing their involvement in his being there. They will have to admit that they lied to his face about Joseph all these years. So, Joseph might be trying to calm them down before that painful confession.

And maybe what Joseph means by his counsel is a little of all these things. Perhaps he is saying “a lot has happened here, and a lot is still to happen, and a lot of it is going to be painful. But please, hold fast, and do not lose yourselves along the way.” Good advice for all of us, who finally bring to light our secret shame, and begin the long and difficult journey back to our Father.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:21-23

21 And the children of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the commandment of Pharaoh, and gave them provision for the way.

22 To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment.

23 And to his father he sent after this manner; ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way.

Joseph had shown favoritism to Benjamin when he hosted all the brothers for a meal, and at the time I had wondered whether this was only to test whether the other sons of Jacob would feel jealous. But now, with every guise and pretense discarded, he continues to show Benjamin a special preference, giving him a wealth of silver and five times the clothing that he gave to the other brothers. Obviously Joseph’s own life was incredibly deprived for a very long time, and perhaps his indulgence of Benjamin was a form of giving to his past self all the things he never had.

He also sends a great gift to his father, twenty donkeys weighed with the spoil of Egypt, including the life-sustaining grain that is in such short supply. Finally the entourage is ready to return to Canaan and come back with all the brothers’ households and their father.

Or rather, it is ready except for one thing. Joseph has some final parting words to his brothers that I find very intriguing. We will examine them tomorrow.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:12-15

12 And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. 

13 And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.

14 And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.

15 Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.

Joseph’s command to “tell my father of all my glory in Egypt” may not seem the most humble, but we must remember that he has already declared that it was God who sent him to Egypt and raised him to this station. There is a great difference between recognizing the blessings that God has given us and simply being proud of our own accomplishments. If we are able to keep it in our heads that we have prospered and grown only by the grace of God, then it is in fact a good thing to recognize our wonderful bounty and feel pleased for it.

When you consider all the good that you have in your own life, does it cause you to feel thanks, or to feel boastful. That emotional reaction alone can tell you which side of this delicate balance you have fallen on.

Next, Joseph weeps upon and kisses his brothers. The image of weeping upon another’s neck is repeated several times throughout the scriptures. If one thinks about it, this is a very vulnerable position, where one fully lets loose all of their inner emotion, unashamed to be completely seen by the other.

And then, after this moment of cathartic release, all the information that we get is that “his brethren talked with him.” Perhaps the nature of that conversation wasn’t considered important to the scriptural record, but I would have loved to know what that discussion was like!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:5, 7-8

5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

8 So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.

I have to admit, I feel perplexed by how much mercy and forgiveness Joseph is showing. How can he say that his brothers should not be grieved for what they did?!

But perhaps that is what makes his mercy so exceptional, the fact that it defies the natural, human reaction. Undeserved grace is hard for our fallen hearts to accept, but it is an essential piece of God’s plan for us.

What Jacob’s sons did to Joseph was wrong. Totally wrong. Yes, being sold by them into Egypt ended up working out for the greater good, but that still doesn’t justify them for doing something evil. At the same time, though, it really was a good thing that Joseph was sold into Egypt, as it got him where he needed to be to save his life, his family’s life, and the lives of countless others.

So how does one resolve these two things: an evil action but a good outcome? How does one demand justice for the evil, but also remain grateful of the good? Well, perhaps you don’t resolve them together. Holding gratitude and vengeance in one’s heart at the same time is impossible, so you just have to let go of one in order to hold to the other. And between the two, clearly the better choice for Joseph is to let go of worrying about the injustice so he can fully praise God for the arc of redemption.

Yes, the brothers did something wrong, but that’s between them and God now. As far as Joseph is concerned, all he can see is the beauty.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:4-7

4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.

5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.

7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

Joseph has his brothers come nearer and speaks to them on a more intimate level. He assures them that truly he is their brother, and he proves it by recounting something that only he could now: how they betrayed him and sold him into Egypt. But he does not bring it up to shame them, he immediately follows it up by saying that he has no ill feelings on the matter. God has had a hand in it for good.

I can only imagine that when he was first sold into Egypt Joseph must have had a deluge of negative feelings. But now he sees it only as a blessed opportunity. He has been called to do a great thing, to preserve lives through “a great deliverance,” and he seems positively thrilled to have been a part of this work.

Another interesting note is that we find out how many years of famine had transpired thus far: two. In only two years Jacob and his sons had been brought to death’s door twice, and they weren’t even a third of the way through the ordeal! Truly they would have perished, and who knows how many more, if Joseph hadn’t been there to save the day!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 45:1-3

1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.

2 And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.

3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.

I wonder how Joseph originally intended to reveal himself to his brothers. Perhaps if they had been willing to abandon Benjamin he never would have, except to his younger brother after they had left? Or maybe if they had tried to walk away, he would have revealed himself then and shut all the older brothers in prison?

In either case, whatever plans he did or did not have, it would seem everything was upended when he couldn’t hold his composure together any longer, and he calls for everyone to leave the room except his brothers.

There, alone with the rest of Jacob’s sons he takes off the mask. All this time they have known him only as the Egyptian prince Zaphnath-paaneah, but now he reclaims his true identity. “I am Joseph!” Then, though his brothers have already told him that Jacob still lives, he asks for confirmation of it one more time. This time he does not ask “does your father still live” but “does my father.”

The brothers, for their part, remain in stunned silence. When one holds a secret, it is a relatively small thing to them to uncover the truth of it. But to the one that has the secret revealed, it can be a major paradigm shift, a sense of one’s entire reality spinning to a new alignment. Thus, before any further conversation can continue, Joseph will first need to coax his brothers into accepting that their long-lost brother has returned to them again.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 44:7-10

7 And they said unto him, Wherefore saith my lord these words? God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing:

8 Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan: how then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold?

9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen.

10 And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.

I find it very interesting that Jacob’s sons are so confident in declaring their innocence. Yes, they know that they have done no wrong, but they also didn’t put the money into their sacks the first time they came to Egypt, yet there it was even so. I would think an abundance of caution, and suspicion of treachery would be warranted, but apparently it doesn’t cross their minds that they might be walking into a trap.

For if it did cross their minds, why on earth would they stake their very lives on the matter? Their own suggestion is that if one of them has committed the crime then that brother should be killed, and all the others will be made into slaves!

The steward cools down their fervor somewhat. They won’t all be punished if only one of them has committed the crime, and the thief won’t be killed, but he will have to become Joseph’s slave. Given that they are willing to the higher punishment, the brothers are agreeable to this lesser one as well. And so, they willingly commit themselves to their own ruin.