So it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:8)
We have a marvelous chapter in this great story before us today. We have been following the story of the transformation of Joseph’s brothers. We have seen how they were awakened and convicted, welcomed and fed, tested and transformed.
The significance of this story is that it shows us how the Holy Spirit brings change in our lives today. He awakens us to an awareness of our own sins, and at the same time he showers us with love and kindness. In these ways he brings about a transformation in which we stop grieving the Father and start loving the Son.
Last week, we ended at the marvelous moment where Joseph makes himself known to his brothers: “I am Joseph” (Gen. 45:3). Today I want to pick up three themes from Genesis 45:
- Joseph’s example of forgiveness and reconciliation,
- The brothers’ commission to go and tell, and
- Jacob’s journey from doubting to faith.
When Reconciliation Happens
Reconciliation happened when there was a convergence of three factors:
- The brothers’ repentance
The first factor is that there was genuine repentance in the hearts of the brothers. They cannot go on grieving the father. They will not give up Benjamin, the dearly loved son.
You don’t get to reconciliation by pretending that evil things never happened. God brings the brothers to face the truth about themselves – who they are and what they had done, and when that happens the door is opened to genuine reconciliation.
Whenever we are seeking reconciliation, it is good to ask ourselves the question: Is there something for which I can repent?
- Judah’s intercession
We looked at this last week, and saw how wonderfully Judah points us to Jesus, who would be born into his line. The second factor that made reconciliation possible was when Judah offers himself as the substitute, and pleads before Joseph as the great intercessor.
This reminds us that forgiveness and reconciliation with God happens, not only when we take ownership of our sins and come to him repentance. It also happens because there is a great intercessor who has offered and given himself as our substitute. It is because of Jesus Christ that forgiveness and reconciliation is possible with God.
- Joseph’s readiness to forgive
The evidence of repentance is clear in the brother’s return to Egypt with Benjamin, which is the first half of chapter 44. Then Judah pours out his intercession, which is the second part of chapter 44. “Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him (Gen. 45:1). When did this happen? When the brothers repented and Judah interceded.
One writer says that Joseph was “vanquished with his own love.” Joseph’s love for his brothers wells up; the forgiveness that has long been in his heart overflows, and cascades over the repentant brothers.
Picture the love of God overflowing in joyful forgiveness and reconciliation. When does it happen? It happens when we come to him in repentance. Why does it happen? Because of Jesus, the great intercessor, who touches the heart of God.
What Reconciliation Looks Like
- Joseph protected his brothers by refusing to advertise their sin
Joseph cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. (Gen. 45:1)
Joseph’s brothers had sinned against him. What happened was between them, and it had nothing to do with the Egyptians. So Joseph would not allow them to be brought into it.
We live in a culture where many people believe that if a sin has been committed, everyone should know about it, “Put it all over the Internet.” When a sin is public, it needs to be dealt with in a public way. If a person is unrepentant, Jesus says there are times when it is appropriate that a sin should be told to the whole church (Matt. 18:17).
Reconciliation is a gift of grace that is given to people who are directly involved in a particular offence. If you are seeking reconciliation, then you will, like Joseph, be eager to not expand that circle.
This is what is meant by “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8), and Joseph gives us a marvelous example of protecting the people he wants to forgive, by sending out the servants who have no need to know about his brothers’ sin.
- Joseph comforted his brothers by affirming his love
Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” (Gen. 45:4)
When Joseph made himself known to the brothers, their first response was not joy. They were terrified! “Joseph said to his brothers ‘I am Joseph!’ …But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence” (Gen. 45:3). It’s not surprising, “We know what we did to him and now he has all this power. What will he do to us?”
You find the same thing on the Day of Pentecost. Peter says, “This Jesus whom you crucified… God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The response was not one of joy, but of terror. It was not, “Praise the Lord! Now we are all going to be forgiven and reconciled.” It was, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Peter says, “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). “There is forgiveness of sins! There is the gift of the Holy Spirit! It is for all who will call upon his name.” All of this is foreshadowed when Joseph says to his terrified brothers, “Come near to me.”
Christ says to you today, whatever you have done, “Come near to me.” The exalted one, against whom you have sinned, loves you and wants you near him. This same love that says, “Come near” is lavished over each of the brothers, “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him” (Gen. 45:15).
This is an amazing contrast to the beginning of the story, where we are told that Joseph’s brothers “could not speak peacefully to him” (Gen. 37:4). They had no interest in speaking with him, but then when they see that he is lord over Egypt, they are silent because they are overwhelmed by their own guilt and fear and shame.
But now Joseph says, “Come near.” He shows his love as he kisses them and weeps over them and then “after that” his brothers talked with him. From this we learn that freedom in prayer arises from an assurance of forgiveness.
My prayer for today is that through the Word, reinforced by the communion table (both speak of reconciliation and forgiveness), you may hear Jesus Christ saying to you, “Come near to me,” and that after that you may be able to talk with him.
- Joseph strengthened his brothers by helping them to forgive themselves
Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. (Gen. 45:5)
I wonder if you have ever said, “I know that God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.”
You need to know that whenever you say this the root problem is always pride. You are putting yourself above God. You are saying, “The blood of Christ may be good enough for God, but it is not good enough for me.” Once you see this, you will not say it again.
So here’s how you forgive yourself for the things that bring you guilt and shame today. Say to yourself, “If the blood of Christ is good enough to satisfy Almighty God, then it is surely good enough to satisfy me.”
If you are in a situation where a brother or sister wants to reconcile with you, show them your love as Joseph did to his brothers, and help them to be at peace with themselves.
How Reconciliation Is Possible
“It was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8)
How was Joseph able to forgive like this? And how can I forgive like this when I have been wounded and hurt? How did Joseph get to a place where he could put all that had happened behind him and reconcile with his brothers? He was able to do this because he saw the hand of God at work in his life.
Joseph speaks one time about what the brothers did, and four times about what God did:
(1) “I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt” (45:4).
He says it, as he must, because reconciliation does not avoid the reality of what has happened. But that’s not the focus. He says it one time. Then four times, he speaks about what God has done:
(1) “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5).
(2) “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (45:7).
(3) “So it was not you who sent me here but God” (45:8).
(4) “God has made me lord of all Egypt” (45:9).
When Jesus suffered, he did not focus on what Judas or Pilate had done. That’s why he was able to say, “Father, forgive them.” And Thomas Watson makes this point: That’s why he was able to see his suffering as the cup the father had given him to drink (John 18:11). Christ looked beyond the secondary causes and discerned how God was at work. He looked beyond the soldiers and beyond Pilate. That is how he was able to forgive.
There’s something very important and wonderful here. How do you get to a place where you are ready and able to forgive? You have look beyond the secondary causes. You look beyond what another person has done. You focus on how the gracious and loving hand of God has been at work in your life. That’s how you get to forgiveness.
The Brothers’ Commission to Go and Tell
“Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry… You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” (Gen 45:9, 13)
As soon as the brothers are reconciled and forgiven, there is work for them to do. They do not settle down and have a reconciliation party in Egypt. There are other people who need to know that Joseph is alive! There is the old man, Jacob, and there is an extended family of sixty-six people including many children. Go and tell! Take the message that the dearly loved son is exalted and that he wants you to come and be with him!
There is a beautiful picture here of the rhythm of the Christian life. There is worship and there is witness. The church gathers and the church scatters. We come and we go. There is intimacy with God, and there is activity for God. There is sitting at the feet of Jesus, and there is going out into all the world.
“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Song 2:4). But then he sends me out into a famished world to tell them, “There is a banqueting house where you can find food!” When we are forgiven and reconciled to God, he sends us out with this great commission to go and tell.
Think about this: 11 brothers have been reconciled to the dearly loved son, but there are 66 people in the extended family. So for every brother who has been reconciled there are another five in the family circle who need to hear the good news that Joseph is alive and that he invites them to come to him.
There is a whole extended community of people around us who are loved by Christ. They are dying, just as Jacob and the family were in the famine, and there is a word of Christ for them. We are to take this word of Christ to people who need to hear that the dearly loved Son of God is highly exalted and that he is calling them to come to him!
A good application of this story would be to ask: Who are 5 people in my circle who need to be brought to the dearly loved Son? Go and tell!
Then [Joseph] sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.” (Gen. 45:24)
Joseph has forgiven his brothers, now they must forgive each other. They must not argue about who was more to blame. They must not divide over their past sins that have been forgiven. They must unite around their future calling on which the lives of many dearly loved people will depend. If the brothers arrive home quarreling, they will undermine the credibility of their message. Divided brothers will not be effective in communicating the good news to Jacob.
Quarreling between brothers and sisters in Christ is always a distraction from the work that Jesus Christ has given us to do. Those who are forgiven and reconciled, are also commissioned and sent: Go and tell and do not quarrel on the way.
Jacob’s Journey from Doubting to Faith
Picture the scene when the brothers return home to Jacob. Simply seeing them would have been a huge relief for the old man. They brought food, which meant that the family would survive. They brought back Simeon, who had been detained in Egypt. Most of all they brought back Benjamin, the dearly loved son of Jacob and Rachel.
But there was more, and when these brothers tell the old man their news, that Joseph is alive, he can’t believe it. Notice his initial reaction.
So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. (Gen. 45:25-26)
Notice it does not say, “He did not believe them because his heart was numb.” It says, “His heart became numb because he did not believe them.” The reason he had no feeling was that he did not believe that the dearly loved son was alive.
You find exactly the same thing in the Easter story when the women come to the eleven disciples with the news of the empty tomb. Luke tells us that these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).
So what turned Jacob around? He was presented with the most marvelous news and he did not believe it. How did he make the journey from doubt to faith, the journey from a heart that was numb to a heart that was burning within him? Verse 27 tells us very clearly: It was the words and the wagons.
When they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. (Gen. 45:27)
All the words of Joseph
Jacob in all his sorrow needed more than the headline for his numb heart. When the brothers said, “Joseph is alive and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt,” the old man just went numb. He could not believe it.
What he needed was a fuller explanation. He needed ‘all the words of Joseph,’ everything Joseph said from verse 4 to verse 13, the whole amazing story of God’s kindness and grace:
That includes verse 4, “I am… Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” The brothers told that to Jacob, which means that at last they made a full confession to the old man. It must have taken some time to get through all that.
That includes verse 9, “God has made me lord of all Egypt.” The brothers told Jacob the amazing story of how Joseph, the dearly loved son, had gone from the lowest point to the highest place. They had to explain all this.
That includes verse 5, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” The brothers told Jacob how God, in his mercy, had orchestrated all these events so that the line of Jacob, through whom God would bring blessing to the world, would not be snuffed out.
That includes verse 20, “Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.” They were asking him to leave everything behind: “Don’t be afraid to let go of what is familiar and comfortable to you. You are leaving a place of famine and you are going to a place of plenty. You are leaving a place of sorrow and loss and you are going to a place where you will see the dearly loved son.”
That includes the great invitation of verse 9, “Thus says your son Joseph… ‘Come down to me; do not tarry.’ The dearly loved son is alive and he wants you to be with him” (45:9).
Here is the best part of this good news: This exalted person loves you and wants you to be near him! “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me” (John 17:24). It would have taken some time to tell the whole story, but Jacob needed to hear it.
This is like the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. How do they come to believe the good news that the dearly loved Son of God is alive? “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). They need to get the whole story and when they do they say, “Did our hearts not burn within us while he talked to us on the road” (Luke 24:32).
The numb heart becomes the burning heart as the larger picture of God’s amazing grace is unfolded to a person whose initial reaction was not to believe. But there is something else here:
How did Jacob make the journey from doubt to faith?
When he saw the wagons
When he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. (Gen. 45:27)
What is the deal with the wagons? The wagons were sent by Pharaoh for the purpose of bringing Jacob to Egypt, “Take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come” (45:19).
Knowing your son is alive in a distant country is not much comfort if you have no hope of getting there to see him. How can the old man possibly get to Egypt? He can hardly walk!
Besides there is an extended family of 66 people (Gen. 46:26). Joseph is highly exalted, and he wants all of them to come to him, but how are they going to get there?
Jacob looks outside the tent and there are the wagons! Everything that is needed to get you there has been provided! “When he saw the wagons… the spirit of Jacob revived” (45:27).
Wagons are the means God provides to get a person to Jesus.
Think about this in your own life: What were the wagons that God provided to bring you to Jesus? Perhaps God put you in a Christian family. Maybe God brought a friend into your life who shared the gospel with you. Something happened in your life that completely changed your view of yourself and drew you to faith in Jesus Christ.
Thank God for the wagons!
Jacob made the journey from doubt to faith when he heard the words and saw the wagons! People come to faith in the dearly loved and highly exalted Son of God through the Word of Christ and the wagons of the Spirit.
I want to be a wagon to bring people to Jesus, don’t you? That’s a great prayer for all of us today, “Lord, make this church a wagon to bring people to Jesus.”
What a transformation this was in the life of Jacob. The man who once said, “My life will only be sorrow from here to the grave.” But now has a new light, a new hope in his life, and it can be the same for you. Why? Because the dearly loved Son of God is alive, and he is exalted. And in great love he invites every one of us to come to him.