Genesis 44–47: Repentance & Restoration

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 12: Monday

“So now, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a slave to my lord, and let the boy go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the boy is not with me, lest I see the evil that would overtake my father?”
Genesis 44:33–34 LSB

In Monday’s Bible reading of Genesis 44–47, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, bringing to a close the testing he devised for them when they came to Egypt to buy grain, and Joseph recognized them, but realized they did not recognize him.

The testing of the brothers began in Genesis 42. Famine comes, and Jacob, his sons, and their families begin to suffer. The ten oldest brothers travel to Egypt to buy grain. They don’t realize Joseph is their brother, but Joseph recognizes them. As events unfold, their actions will reveal the extent to which they have changed since the time, decades earlier, when they were ready to murder their brother.

Meredith Kline writes:

“In the common emergency the whole family acted under Jacob’s authority. Benjamin now occupied the favourite’s position, a circumstance on which Joseph’s imminent testing of the ten would pivot.”1

The interactions between Joseph and his brothers from chapter 42–45 are tense with emotion from the relationships and consequences of the past. When his brothers come to him for food, Joseph remembers his dreams (Genesis 37:5–11), and then begins his testing of his brothers when he accuses them of being spies, demanding that one of them remain as hostage, and that they return with their youngest brother, Benjamin, to prove they are not.

And Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, bring grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be proven true, and you will not die.” And they did so.
Then they said to one another, “Surely we are guilty concerning our brother because we saw the distress of his soul when he begged us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.”
And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not tell you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; yet you would not listen? So also his blood, behold, it is required of us.”
Now they did not know that Joseph was listening, for there was an interpreter between them.
And he turned away from them and wept. Then he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.
Genesis 42:18–24 LSB

Joseph’s wisdom and character in dealing with his brothers is writ large in Genesis 42–45. Derek Kidner explains:

“At first sight the rough handling which now dominates the scene to the end of [Genesis] 44 has the look of vengefulness. Nothing could be more natural, but nothing could be further from the truth. Behind the harsh pose there was warm affection (42:24, etc.), and after the ordeal overwhelming kindness. Even the threats were tempered with mercy (cf. 42:16-19; 44:9,10), and the shocks that were administered took the form of embarrassments rather than blows. A vindictive Joseph could have dismayed his brothers with worthless sackloads, or tantalized them at his feast as they had tantalized him (37:24,25); his enigmatic gifts were a kinder and more searching test. Just how well judged was his policy can be seen in the growth of quite new attitudes in the brothers, as the alternating sun and frost broke them open to God.”2

Simeon is left behind, but they are next dismayed to find the money of one brother in his grain, and at home they find that all have their money in their sacks. Unbeknown to them, this had been done by Joseph’s orders.

The famine continues, but at first Jacob refuses to let them return to Egypt with Benjamin,  even though Reuben offers the lives of his own two sons if he doesn’t bring Benjamin back. Jacob finally yields to Judah’s pleading to put him in charge of Benjamin as he pledges that Jacob can blame Judah forever if he doesn’t return with Benjamin.

The brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin, gifts, and double their money—their original funds with an additional amount for a second purchase of grain. When they arrive Joseph serves them a banquet, and the brothers are astounded to find themselves seated in order of their birth.

Their final test comes when they prepare to return to Canaan. Joseph again has his house steward return their money to their sacks, and Joseph also instructs that his own silver cup be placed in the sack of Benjamin. After the brothers leave, Joseph sends his steward after them to accuse them of theft. The brothers protest their innocence and say that if this has happened let the guilty one die and the rest be slaves. Upon seeing the cup found in Benjamin’s sack the brothers are so distraught they tear their clothes, and when they return they fall on the ground before Joseph.

Kidner writes:

“Joseph’s strategy, already brilliantly successful in creating the situations and tensions he required, now produces its masterstroke. Like the judgment of Solomon, the sudden threat to Benjamin was a thrust to the heart: in a moment the brothers stood revealed. When the steward converted their challenge of verse 9 into a chance of freedom at Benjamin’s expense, all the conditions were present for another betrayal, at a far more compelling price — their liberty — than the twenty pieces of silver they had once shared out. The response, by its unanimity (13), frankness (16) and constancy (for the offer was repeated, 17), showed how well the chastening had done its work.”3

Judah, the brother who had suggested years ago that Joseph be sold as a slave (cf. Genesis 37:26–27), passionately pleads for Benjamin for their father’s sake, and offers himself as a slave if Joseph will only let Benjamin return to their father.

Then Judah came near to him and said, “O my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh.
“My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me that I may set my eyes on him.’ And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ You said to your servants, however, ‘If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you will not see my face again.’
“Thus it happened that when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’
“But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face if our youngest brother is not with us.’
“And your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces,” and I have not seen him since. If you take this one also from me and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in evil.’
“So now, when I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us⁠—and his life is bound up in the boy’s life⁠—so it will be that when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. For your servant became a guarantee for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the sin before my father all my days.’
“So now, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a slave to my lord, and let the boy go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the boy is not with me, lest I see the evil that would overtake my father?”
Genesis 44:18–34 LSB

Kidner states that, “Judah’s plea to be imprisoned for Benjamin is among the finest and most moving of all petitions.”4

The brothers have passed their tests. The reality of their repentance over the evil they did Joseph is demonstrated by their conduct on behalf of Benjamin.

Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he called out, “Have everyone go out from me.”
So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. Then he wept loudly. And the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near to me.” And they came near. And he said, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. So now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
Genesis 45:1–5 LSB

Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.
Genesis 45:14 LSB

This is simply the most incredible scene. All those years of separation and loss, and now, in the very truest sense, through the brothers’ repentance, and Joseph’s forgiveness, Joseph is restored to his brothers, and his brothers are restored to Joseph.

Derek Kidner writes:

“The certainty that God’s will, not man’s, was the controlling reality in every event, shines out as Joseph’s guiding light and the secret of his astonishing lack of rancor…It was applied theology, God’s truth releasing the will for constructive effort and the emotions for healing affection. In this passage strong feeling and sound spiritual argument complete the work of reconciliation which had called for surgical severity throughout the early stages. It had been a task for the whole man, patiently sustained by conviction and not mere impulse…

“The words, you sold me . . . God sent me, are one of the classic statements of providential control. This biblical realism, to see clearly the two aspects of every event — on the one hand human mishandling…on the other the perfect will of God — and to fix attention on the latter alone being of any consequence, was to be supremely exemplified in Gethsemane, where Jesus accepted his betrayal as ‘the cup which the Father has given me’ (Jn. 18:11). Cf. verse 8; 50:20; Psalm 76:10; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 13:27; Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:12.”5

The brothers return to Canaan and bring their families and their father, Jacob, to Egypt where they settle in Goshen. Jacob is finally reunited with his beloved son, Joseph, back to him from the dead as it were.

And Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. Then Israel said to Joseph, “Now I can die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.”
Genesis 46:29–30 LSB

Joseph’s depth of emotion throughout these chapters tell us how deeply he had been harmed by his brothers and the anguish he had felt over his separation from his brother, Benjamin, from his father, Jacob, and even from his other ten brothers. Five times in the narrative he weeps from the depth of his heart (Genesis 42:24; 43:29–31; 45:1–2, 14; 46:29). His generosity and forgiveness is all the more remarkable.

Looking back to the very beginning of these interactions during the famine it’s evident that Joseph has already forgiven his brothers; he could have had them imprisoned or executed immediately and no one would have stopped him. He is a model for forgiving those who have harmed us and leaving them in God’s hands, even when we don’t know if they have repented or even when we know they have not.

Willingness to reconcile is part of forgiveness, but reconciliation is a two-way street. We should live in forgiveness, ready to reconcile, but we cannot reconcile and have a restored relationship with someone who hasn’t repented and has no desire to reconcile with us. Joseph’s wisdom in taking gradual steps with his brothers to reconciliation is also a model for us.

He tested his brothers to find out if they had changed and to discover what kind of men they had become. Joseph’s forbearance and blessing of his brothers, when he had the power to have them all executed in revenge, and his evident desire to be reconciled with them affirms his genuine forgiveness of the ten men.

I find the account of Joseph and his brothers to be one of the most moving in all of the Bible.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Joseph recognized by his brothers, Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois: Public Domain
1Meredith G. Kline, “Genesis,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 109.
2,3,4,5Derek Kidner, Genesis (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1967) 199, 205, 205, 206–207.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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