22 November 2017

Genesis 45:1-5

“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.’” (vv. 4-5)

Psalm: Psalm 122


Phew! After three whole chapters, the scales finally fall from the brothers' eyes as the governor of Egypt is revealed to be the irritating sibling they sold into slavery 20 years ago. The period in which they failed to recognise Joseph created space for the brothers to confront their actions, to confess their guilt, and to undergo transformation (see yesterday's Word in Time). Having witnessed their transformation, Joseph cannot keep his secret any longer and reveals his true identity in floods of tears.

But the brothers are dismayed. Judah has only just confessed their guilt, and now they are confronted with a living, breathing reminder of their misdeeds. What's more, the brother they treated so cruelly is now Pharaoh's second-in-command and the one who controls the food supplies in a time of famine.

But Joseph goes to great lengths to reassure them. In his speech, Joseph repeats the sentiment that 'it was not you that sent me here, but God' three times (verses 5, 7, 8). Joseph attempts to comfort his brothers by reassuring them that he does not blame them for their actions because they were instruments of God's purposes - it was God who sent Joseph to Egypt, to interpret Pharaoh's dreams and to make plans for the famine so that many lives would be saved.

But this speech is about more than Joseph attempting to calm his anxious brothers. One of the key themes of Joseph's story is the power of God to transform human plans. And one of the key questions throughout the Old Testament is that of 'theodicy' - how we understand and explain evil. Some might struggle with Joseph's interpretation - surely an all-powerful God can find a way to ensure that Egypt has sufficient grain during a famine without requiring Joseph to be sold into slavery? Some might prefer to understand his words to mean that God can draw light out of the darkest situations, and that although his brothers treated Joseph terribly, God found a way to draw good from evil in order to bring about blessing.

To Ponder

  • What do you understand by Joseph's claim that it was God who sent him to Egypt?
  • How do you think the brothers felt as Joseph was speaking?
  • How do you feel when people say that 'everything happens for a reason'?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.