Joseph and His Brethren

 •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 8
"And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended. And the seven years of dearth began to come,... and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread." Gen. 41:53, 5453And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended. 54And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. (Genesis 41:53‑54). Why was it there was bread in Egypt? Joseph was there! The bountiful fruit of Jehovah's hand during those seven years of plenty might have been wasted had not Joseph been resorted to, and his counsel followed. But presently the land of Egypt grew "famished," and the people "cried to Pharaoh."
May the Lord press home, dear reader, on your heart and mine, three words in Pharaoh's reply to those Egyptians. May they ring in our ears in each hour of need, and as a word from the Lord find a ready response, and prove our only resource. Pharaoh said to all who in trouble came, "Go unto Joseph." There was only one in all the land of Egypt who could satisfy those hungry souls with bread—that one was Joseph! The man, as in resurrection, had resources at his command capable of meeting the demands of all; and Pharaoh gave them title to make these demands. The Lord encourage our hearts in this. Is there a thing your soul has need of? "Go unto Joseph." Visit your neighbor in his time of sickness, poverty, perplexity, and trial, and whisper in his ear to "Go unto Joseph." Nothing is too hard for Christ, no demand too great for Him to meet, no desire (if according to His will) too trivial for Him to take all pains to gratify. It is God's delight, as He is also "able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." 2 Cor. 9:88And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (2 Corinthians 9:8).
How foolish, with such authority and. encouragement as these Egyptians had, would they have been had they not gone to Joseph for the bread they needed! Then why such sadness, over carefulness, perplexity, and misgivings, in those who have far more than equal title, more numerous and varying claims, and a vastly superior Benefactor who loves, not merely pities, the objects of His care, and has said, "If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it"?
What Egyptian would have thought of going to anyone save Joseph, when Pharaoh's word was, "Go unto Joseph"? We have often proved far more foolish, and fallen back on self, where only disappointment has always met us; or on some arm of flesh, the language of which, in effect, has ever been, though still we trusted it, the language of the king of Samaria to that poor dejected woman, "Whence shall I help thee?" implying that to seek it of him was altogether futile. "If the Lord do not help thee whence shall I help thee?" where is the arm of flesh that can? The Lord help us to "Go unto Joseph." Let us make it our daily practice from early morn, before our busy brains begin to plan the occupations for the day, to the latest minute of our conscious hours, preceding every new arrangement, or the putting in practice some already worked out project, to go to Christ. It is the only way for His servants to do His will and serve effectually. It takes not necessarily long to do; yea, our Joseph can be resorted to, as in Nehemiah's case, in so short a time as the interval that elapses between the asking of a question and the giving of an answer; "The king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said unto the king." Neh. 2:4, 54Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favor in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers' sepulchres, that I may build it. (Nehemiah 2:4‑5). What pleasure too does it afford to go to our ever so accessible Friend and Master, leaving our failures and our successes with Him, and returning with all the cheer, help, and refreshing, His presence yields. Oh! there is nothing like it; may the Lord help us more continually to "Go unto Joseph."
But then there was to be obedience; "What he saith to you, do." How often we want to obtain the blessings Christ has for us, and adopt our own way about them. How desponding too we often are because we do not get the answer to our wish, just our way and at our time. Pharaoh implied that Joseph might have something to say to them before they got the bread, and that they would have to "do" what he said, as well as receive the blessing. So the Lord often has to say to us, and often bid us "do," before His grace is free in righteousness to flow; cleansing and obedience in Isa. 1:18, 1918Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: (Isaiah 1:18‑19) precede eating the good of the land. It often happens that we have to part with something that we most cherish in our poverty, like the Egyptians in chapter 47, before He is free to minister
and make us really rich.
We are told to "buy the truth"; in Paul's case he suffered the loss of all for the sake and furtherance of it. Truth that we really get is pretty sure to have cost us something in the getting of it; we have suffered loss—the loss perhaps of something that we prized—for the obtaining of that which, when acquired, gave us to pour contempt on what we prized, yet forfeited. The Egyptians bought and of course retained no longer that with which they bought—they soon spent all! The purchase of a loaf costs us its value; we cannot retain the money, and obtain the loaf. The Lord teach us what it means to "buy the truth," and also help us keep it. We are exhorted not to "sell it"—sad possibility—woeful calamity—thus to part with what is real and of inestimable value for what is vanity, and yields vexation. This is often done.
Obedience and blessing never part company; there will never be the one without the other. Obedience ensures the presence of God. Christ said, "He that sent Me is with Me: the Father bath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him." John 8:2929And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29). And again, in chapter 14, "As the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do." May we, as a people "elect... unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus," obeying as Christ obeyed—the responsive outflow of what we are—be found thus walking; to "do" whatever He says, that He may freely give, and, as we take the benefit conferred, own that it was grace from first to last that brought it to us. The asking anything, and keeping His commandments, go hand in hand in John 14:14, 1514If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. 15If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:14‑15). The desire of faith, that was accompanied with an obedient heart and an empty hand, was never yet repelled.
"When Jacob saw that there was corn in Egypt, Jacob said unto his sons,... get you down thither, and buy for us from thence;... Joseph's ten brethren went down to buy corn in Egypt." Benjamin was left behind. "Joseph was the governor over the land." The youth that a few years before had been branded with the direst calumny that malice could invent, and the prisoner of Egypt's dungeon, was now seen Egypt's lord and governor. His way to honor, power, and glory, surely lay along a rugged road akin to His, that blessed One, on whom was heaped
all the cruel fruits of envy, hatred, jealousy, and malice, who stood for judgment, God incarnate! but who "because He is the Son of man," is appointed Judge of all the world.
The One who shall presently have the government upon His shoulders, once bore the cross upon them, and stood, gorgeously and impiously arrayed, in mockery, falsely accused and unjustly condemned before governors on earth. But grace was there, abounding over all the sin; it was to save the nation, as Caiaphas the high priest said, "It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." John 11:5050Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. (John 11:50). The full answer to this will come when that which was His accusation once to prove Him false ( John 19:2121Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. (John 19:21)) is manifestly proved the truth, bringing His accusers and murderers, for whom He made intercession, into richest blessing on the earth.
A remnant of that nation who crucified their king will reap rich harvests, like Joseph's brethren, through the grace that so much more abounds over the abounding sin, and which finds in the occasion of their greatest folly, calamity, and guilt, the opportunity for forming divine titles for those who had forfeited their all—not to the fulfillment of some forlorn or even sanguine hopes of theirs, but to the enjoyment of all the thoughts and fruits of love and grace that were in His heart for them, and which alone could be brought to them by His baring His own bosom to the wound inflicted by divine justice, and thus bearing the judgment they deserved.
Oh, it was love—unbounded love—the love of a single eye that left not God out, as Joseph thinks not of his brethren's cruelty, but said, "God meant it unto good." So Christ finds rest in the welfare of others after crossing those boisterous billows; and having shown them His hands and His feet, wounded in the house of His friends, says, "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name." "God meant it unto good."
"Joseph saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them." These men were, be it remembered, guilty men—guilty of the foulest of crimes, and murderers in heart.
But Joseph loved them—they were his brethren—and he yearned to make himself known to them, but could not do it in their present state; their consciences must first be reached. This is indeed a patient work with Joseph. Nature would suggest an immediate shower of invective and threats of vengeance; but this would only frighten and, if executed, leave the heart and conscience still more callous than before. Joseph possessed his soul while he spoke "roughly" with his lips. It was the roughness of love; any other character of love would have been out of place—indeed, not really love at all—and to make himself "strange" was the effect of such a love to those in such a state. Aught else would only have been weak and human kindness, and in its results totally barren of all that Joseph yearned to see produced. They "bowed down themselves before him," because he was the governor. But this partial answer to his dreams was not enough to cause him to commit himself unto them; he knew their state, and what was in them. It is written of Christ, He "did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all." But there was a man in the
next chapter ( John 3) whose conscience had been reached, to whom He unfolded the love of God. So with Joseph—their consciences reached and righted, he could express the love that filled his heart. But it was the same love that "roughly" spoke before, that presently was marked with the most gentle touches of deep affection, and flowed profusely in manifest, richest blessing.
Doubtless Joseph's brethren did not like the roughness any more than Joseph liked to use it, but it was salutary and necessary for them; so he choked the tender emotions of his heart to display that which gratified him less but was for their gain. "God is light" and "God is love." As light, He makes manifest all evil. Known only thus, the world would be left in blank despair, doomed to irrevocable judgment, without a single ray of hope to margin the cloud—the death pall enshrouding everything and everyone. But "God is love!" Oh, wondrous tidings! Relief—deliverance from all fear of judgment, all that the
light reveals fully met and adequately atoned for. But more, far more! The One through whom all this is brought to us, uttered words on that night ere His betrayal that speak volumes to our hearts. Just listen to them: "Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." Here is an account opened up for Him and by Him, in which He lets us men for whom He suffered participate in fullest measure. God has been glorified in Him; and we become, in practical enjoyment, the objects of His eternal love and favor. The incense has filled the holy place (Lev. 16:1313And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not: (Leviticus 16:13))—the fragrance of His Person. God is glorified in Him, and His love flows in exhaustless rivers of unmingled blessing.
Oh, who has not felt the roughness, who needed to be convicted of our sin, when in "a far country" with the husks, and amid swine? But what a welcome! what a home! what a banquet! the love had provided them when the light had revealed our darkness and guilt, and the roughness had made us fear because we were not in a state to love. How gladly now we kiss the rod which we did not like, and bow before the One who appointed it, and own the wisdom, tenderness, and grace of all His ways. Yes, it was love that told us what we were, and that all our religiousness which, because it had not Christ for an object, only inflated us with pride, and was most obnoxious to Him. But we did not like that sort of love till we were thoroughly exposed before Him, and we found, like Joseph's brethren, that we were in the presence of One who knew us through and through, and all our history, and the sin and misery we were in, though it was gilded over with a false pretense of truth and uprightness.
Surely we have here a wonderful and vivid picture of God's dealings with His people, not only when they were strangers to His grace, but when they have known it but through carelessness, neglect, or sin, lost the sense of it. With tenderness, patience, and mercy, He passes them through paths of suffering and hardness, in order to bless them. Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other in the cross. But how we see the counterpart of this in God's dealings with His people. The mercy and peace are there waiting for the appropriation and enjoyment of every ready soul where the answered claims of truth and righteousness have prepared the way for their enjoyment. What patience Joseph displayed too, and what pains he took to reach and exercise their consciences! What a tale it is—the famine, two journeys from Canaan to Egypt, the sacks with the money and the cup, and the retaining of Simeon, and much more.
Joseph spoke roughly to his brethren, yet never did he love them more, if indeed his absence from them had not made his heart grow fonder. Ardent affection was burning in his heart for them, hut the time for its display was not yet come; it must be suppressed till it could flow so that the objects of it could receive it and its benefits untarnished by the bitterness of undiscovered sin, and the pangs of a guilty conscience that would not be quieted.
How did these men come to Joseph—murderers in heart and liars that they were? They styled themselves "true men," and disdained the thought of being "spies," though in the same breath they say, "One is not," meaning Joseph whom they had sold. This then is the secret of Joseph's roughness—not the lack of love, but the wisdom of it—an abounding love that cleared the way for a permanent benefit, and more agreeable expression of it.
Joseph's way is God's way ever; He reaches the heart by the conscience. Heart work without conscience work will never be permanent. It is like the seed on the rock—there is joy, but no root, and presently (and necessarily) a falling away.
I think we find the spring of all these wonderful ways of Joseph with his brethren in three little words in Gen. 42:1818And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: (Genesis 42:18)—"I fear God." It is a holy, blessed fear, answering in character to the fear of Heb. 12 where we are exhorted to "have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:" for our God is a consuming fire." Solomon also tells us that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." Pro. 1:77The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7). Cornelius, the man so richly blessed in Acts 10, "feared God with all his house." Where this proper holy fear is, there is sure to be blessing, and it is such that are invoked to worship in Rev. 19:55And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. (Revelation 19:5): "Praise our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, both small and great." Of Israel it is said, in her day of future blessing, "Thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged." Isa. 6:55Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Isaiah 6:5).