Please read Gen 42 beforehand
Why the drought?
Before following Joseph’s track any further, let us just ask ourselves why such a terrible drought came over all the known world, including the land of Canaan.
That it was ordained by God Who either brought it about or allowed it, leaves no doubt (41:25, 28, 32) but why did He do so? The answer lies therein that He wanted to create a safe haven (an incubator) in Egypt for His people, Israel, affording them sufficient time to grow in numbers and become a strong nation, before He would lead them back to Canaan, the promised land, to capture it by force. Had He not promised Abraham:
“Know for sure that your offspring will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them. They will afflict them four hundred years. I will also judge that nation, whom they will serve. Afterward they will come out with great wealth, …” (Gen 15:13,14).
That this land would be Egypt, would later become clear to his descendants and the time had now come for the fulfillment of this prophecy. But there were two obstacles to be overcome.
Firstly, the proud Pharaoh would definitely not have willingly opened up the best part of his country to a handful of despised nomadic shepherds. Circumstances would have to be brought about to force him to happily present the region of Goshen to them.
Secondly, it would not have been possible to persuade Jacob to leave the land of Canaan which God had promised to Abraham and his descendants, and to move to the heathen Egypt and settle there with his whole family. He too, had to be compelled by circumstances to take that step.
By means of the seven years of abundance and of drought, God overcame both these obstructions in a masterly way as we will see in this chapter. By His wisdom and power, He can do whatsoever pleases Him.
Why did Joseph not go and see his father?
Another question which crops up in the background, is why Joseph did not visit his parent’s home for he had coaches, horses and regiments of soldiers at his disposal. He was well aware that his father would have been grieving for him for all these years and, with these resources, he could have reached him in a couple of days.
As said before, his behaviour could not have been attributed to a lack of love, although more or less 22 years (45:11, etc) had already expired. No, there must have been a much deeper reason for this.
Joseph as a great-great child of Abraham in marrow and bone, in spirit and in truth, would often have been wondering how and when God’s promises made to Abraham would come true. He had two indicators to go by.
Firstly, there were the two dreams he had had, indicating that his whole family would one day bow down to him. At that stage he was a very junior member of the family, but what then seemed totally impossible, even laughable, now, that he was second in command in Egypt could indeed happen. But, .. then they would have to come to him, in Egypt, where he was the ruler to whom everybody bowed down.
Secondly there was God’s above quoted prophecy to Abraham that his descendants would, for a period of 400 years be living in a foreign land – would that land be the fertile Egypt, and would that prophecy also now become a reality?
Well, well, this was a thrilling turn of events. He would wait and see, but, he would have to wait another 9+ years for the drought to take effect and thrust forth his people from the comfort of their present surroundings.
From God’s point of view
We must continually keep the larger picture in mind. What happened to Joseph, was not only about him, but also about his eleven brothers. We said all along that God was raising up a nation for Himself from which the Messiah could be born. For this purpose, He needed twelve men to be the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of which the nation of Israel would consist. But to serve as God’s patriarchs, they had to be godly men; their hearts and lives had to bring glory to God and at this stage, only Joseph met this requirement: the others still had to be spiritually recreated (possibly with the exception of Benjamin).
Only God knew how to do this but He already had His masterplan laid out. He would take them to Egypt and confront them with Joseph, the object of their carefully covered sin who had, as it were, come alive from the dead. They would then have to deal with their sin of 31 years ago and in so doing, God would cleanse their hearts and clothe them too in robes of honour.
Joseph, of course, knew nothing of these plans of God. He only knew he had to wait on the Lord for the next step. Had he prematurely visited his family, God’s plan would have been thwarted! So, also in this matter, Joseph worked alongside of God to bring about His plans.
Oh, how important it is that we do not trust in our own understanding but look unto the Lord, for His thoughts are much higher than our’s (Isa 55:9; Pro 3:5-9).
The Ten set off for Egypt.
Let us see how it all worked out. Travelers from and to Egypt brought the good news that there was an abundance of grain to be bought there and after considering the matter for some time, ten of Jacob’s sons obeyed his request to travel to Egypt and buy them some food. Jacob, however, kept Benjamin (the youngest) back, for fear that something might happen to him.
A “ghost” from the past? And … dreams come true!
When his brothers appeared before Joseph, he immediately recognized them. They however did not recognize him and bowed down before him. Immediately he recalled his dreams of how his family would bow down to him (37:5-11). God’s words stand firm forever!
Tested; will they come forth as gold?
But were these ten brothers still the same men of old; men with no emotions nor feelings who had sold their younger brother, a boy of 17, as slave? No, the 22 years that had elapsed had prepared their hearts for an in-depth change.
But how would this be brought about? He accused them of espionage. They strongly denied this, telling him of their father and their younger brother, also mentioning another brother, who, they said, was no longer alive – a lie although they were solemnly declaring that they were honest people (42:11). But Joseph applied more pressure by insisting that they were spies and locking them up in jail for three days.
When brought back before him, he insisted that they were men from another nation that had come to Egypt, not to buy food, but to spy out the land. To prove their innocence, one of them was to return home to fetch their younger brother, thereby proving that they were speaking the truth; the others would remain in custody in the meantime.
The Heavenly Chess Player causes deeply buried secrets to surface.
Their smoldering consciences led to self betrayal. Under this pressure, they panicked increasingly. Their consciences accosted them mercilessly so that they spoke among themselves, concluding that they were now being punished for having sold their brother as a slave and not giving heed when he pleaded with them. Twenty-four years had already expired since they had sold Joseph into the hands of the Ishmaelite traders, but the picture of that dreadful day was still vivid in their minds and when matters now got bad for them, they saw it as God’s punishment for their evil deeds. A person can so easily commit a murder, steal, or just speak harsh words in anger, and not consider the eternity that he will be tormented by his conscience.
Balm for old, old wounds
They were under the impression that Joseph was not understanding what they were saying to one another, because they were speaking to him through an interpreter, but he took note of every word. This surely was of God for He alone knew how deeply His dear child had been hurt emotionally by their callous rejection and that getting to know how they now felt, would console him. Their words indeed were music to his ears, so he went aside and cried for bitter-sweet joy.
A clever plan
On returning, he conceded that they all return home, except for Simeon who he kept ransom to ensure that they would bring Benjamin to him.
Why Simeon? By their discussion among themselves it had become clear to Joseph that Reuben who, as first-born had to take the decisions, had wanted to release him, but that he had arrived too late to do so. In his absence, Simeon, the second oldest, had carried the responsibility to take the final decision to sell him as slave. He was also an exceptionally cruel man who, together with his brother Levi, had murdered the inhabitants of Shechem by his sword (34:25). These could have been the reasons why Joseph had picked him.
The other nine brothers, Joseph released and sent back home with their bags filled with wheat, but with the charge to bring back the youngest brother to him as proof that they were telling the truth. He also commanded his servant to put their money back into their bags.
From one dilemma into another
Along the way, at the lodge, they discovered their money back in their bags, were shocked and saw it as further proof that the hand of God was against them. A guilty conscience is in fear of everything. “The wicked flee when no one pursues;…“ (Prov. 28:1).
When catastrophe strikes, God’s blessing is right at its heals
When Jacob heard all of this, he called out, “You have bereaved me of my children! Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin away. All these things are against me.” If only he knew that God was working out everything for his good behind the scenes.
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