JOSEPH stood in his garden as dusk fell. Perhaps his gaze took in date palms and other fruit trees, pools with water plants, and just beyond the wall, a glimpse of Pharaoh’s palace. Imagine that stray snatches of sound drifted to Joseph from his own house; his son Manasseh was making his baby brother, Ephraim, giggle. Joseph could picture the scene inside, his wife laughing gently at the boys’ antics. He smiled. He knew that he was a blessed man.
Joseph had given his firstborn the name Manasseh because it referred to forgetfulness. (Genesis 41:51) God’s blessings in recent years had surely soothed the pain of Joseph’s memories of his home, his brothers, and his father. His older brothers’ hatred for him had changed his life. They had assaulted him, contemplated killing him, and then sold him as a slave to traveling merchants. Since then, his life had taken one tumultuous turn after another. For about a dozen years, he had endured slavery and then imprisonment
For several years, Joseph had seen events unfolding just as Jehovah had foretold. Egypt was well into the prophesied seven years of plentiful harvests, and Joseph had overseen the storing of the nation’s surplus grain. During that time, he had fathered two boys by his wife, Asenath. Still, his mind often turned to his family hundreds of miles away
If the peace of your family has ever been disrupted by jealousy, betrayal, or hatred, you may have something in common with Joseph. What can we learn from Joseph’s faith as he took care of his family?
“GO TO JOSEPH”
The days were busy for Joseph, and the years fled by. Just as Jehovah foretold in the dream he sent to Pharaoh, the seventh year of bumper crops was followed by a drastic change. The crops failed! Soon famine loomed over all the neighboring lands. As the Bible notes, though, “in all the land of Egypt there was bread.” (Genesis 41:54) No doubt, Joseph’s inspired prediction and his example of good organization were benefiting the Egyptian people.
The Egyptians may have felt indebted to Joseph and praised his skill as an organizer. Still, Joseph would not have wanted credit to go anywhere but to his God, Jehovah. If we use any gifts we may have in humble service to our God, he may put them to use in ways that exceed anything we could ever imagine.
In time, though, the Egyptians too felt the bite of the famine. When they cried out to Pharaoh for aid, he simply directed them: “Go to Joseph, and do whatever he tells you.” So Joseph began to open up the granaries where the surplus grain was stored, and the people could buy what they needed.
In the surrounding lands, however, people were not so fortunate. Hundreds of miles away in Canaan, Joseph’s family was suffering. Aged Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, so he told his sons to go down there to buy foodstuffs.
Jacob sent ten sons but not the youngest, Benjamin. Jacob remembered only too well the time when he sent his beloved Joseph alone to visit his older brothers. That was the last Jacob had seen of the boy. The older sons had brought home Joseph’s elegant coat
“JOSEPH IMMEDIATELY REMEMBERED”
After a long journey, the sons of Jacob reached Egypt. When they inquired about purchasing grain, they were directed to a high government official named Zaphenath-paneah. (Genesis 41:45) Did they know when they saw him that he was Joseph? Not at all. They saw only a high-ranking Egyptian ruler, one whose help they needed. To show deference, they did what was natural: They “bowed low to him with their faces to the ground.”
What about Joseph? He recognized his brothers right away! What is more, when he saw them there bowing before him, his thoughts flew back to his boyhood. The account tells us that “Joseph immediately remembered the dreams” that Jehovah had given him when he was but a boy, dreams foretelling a time when his brothers would be bowing low before him
Joseph knew that he must not act on his impulses, whatever they might be. Jehovah was clearly guiding this remarkable turn of events. His purpose was involved. He had promised to turn Jacob’s offspring into a mighty nation. (Genesis 35:11, 12) If Joseph’s brothers were still violent, selfish, unscrupulous men, the long-term effects could be disastrous! Besides, were Joseph to act impulsively, he might upset some delicate balance back at home, perhaps even endangering his father and Benjamin. Were they even alive? Joseph decided to keep his identity concealed so that he could test out his brothers and see what kind of men they had become. Then he might know what Jehovah wanted him to do.
You are not likely ever to find yourself in that unusual position. However, strife and division within the family are common in today’s world. When we face such challenges, we may tend simply to follow our heart and act on our imperfect impulses. It is much wiser to imitate Joseph and try to discern how God wants us to handle matters. (Proverbs 14:12) Remember, as important as it is to make peace with family members, peace with Jehovah and his Son is even more vital.
“YOU WILL BE TESTED”
Joseph launched into a series of tests designed to reveal who his brothers were at heart. He started by speaking to them harshly, through an interpreter, accusing them of being foreign spies. To defend themselves, they told him about their family
As the brothers talked matters over, unaware that Joseph could understand them, they reproached themselves for the terrible sin they had committed 20 years earlier. “We are surely being punished on account of our brother,” they said, “because we saw his distress when he begged us to show compassion, but we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” Joseph understood what they were saying, and he had to turn aside so that they could not see his tears. (Genesis 42:21-24) He knew, though, that real repentance involves far more than a mere feeling of regret over the consequences of a wicked deed. So he proceeded with his test.
He sent them home and kept Simeon as a prisoner. He also had money concealed in the bags of food that they took home. The brothers journeyed home and, with difficulty, persuaded Jacob to let them take his beloved Benjamin with them to Egypt. When they arrived in Egypt, they openly told Joseph’s steward of the money they had found in their bags, offering to repay the full amount. That offer was admirable, but Joseph needed to see more of their true nature. He provided them with a feast, barely concealing how moved he was upon seeing Benjamin. Then he sent them on their way homeward, again laden with food, but this time a silver cup was hidden in Benjamin’s bag.
Joseph then sprang his trap. He had his brothers pursued, arrested, and accused of stealing the cup. When it was found in Benjamin’s bag, all of them were brought back to Joseph. Now Joseph had a chance to learn what kind of men his brothers were. Judah acted as their spokesman. He pleaded for mercy, even offering that all 11 of them become slaves in Egypt. Joseph countered that Benjamin alone must remain in Egypt as a slave but that all the rest of them must leave.
Judah was moved to respond with an impassioned speech. “He is the only remaining son of his mother, and his father loves him,” Judah said. Those words must have touched Joseph, for he was the older son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, who had died while giving birth to Benjamin. Joseph, like his father, evidently cherished memories of Rachel. Perhaps that connection made Benjamin even dearer to Joseph.
Judah went on to implore Joseph not to enslave Benjamin. He even offered to become a slave in Benjamin’s place. Then he concluded with this heartrending plea: “How can I return to my father without the boy along with me? I could not bear looking on when this calamity befalls my father!” (Genesis 44:18-34) Here, now, was evidence of a changed man. Not only did he show a repentant spirit but he even showed an admirable degree of empathy, selflessness, and compassion.
Joseph could bear no more. He had to release the emotion that was pent up within him. Dismissing all his servants, he wept so loudly that the sound carried to Pharaoh’s palace. Then he revealed himself at last: “I am Joseph your brother.” He embraced his stunned brothers and kindly extended forgiveness for all that they had done to him. (Genesis 45:1-15) He thus reflected the disposition of Jehovah, who forgives generously. (Psalm 86:5) Do we do likewise?
“YOU ARE STILL ALIVE”!
When Pharaoh heard the whole story behind the commotion in Joseph’s house, he invited Joseph to move his aged father to Egypt, along with the whole family. It was not too long, then, before Joseph was finally reunited with his beloved father. Jacob wept and said: “Now I am ready to die; I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
In fact, Jacob lived on for another 17 years in Egypt. He lived long enough to pronounce prophetic blessings on his 12 sons. To Joseph, his 11th son, he gave the double portion usually due the firstborn. Two of Israel’s tribes would come from him. And what of Judah, the fourth son, who excelled his brothers when he showed such a repentant spirit? He received a great blessing: The Messiah would come from his family line!
When Jacob died at 147 years of age, Joseph’s brothers feared that their powerful sibling might now seek revenge. But Joseph responded with a loving reassurance. He had long maintained that since Jehovah was behind the family’s move to Egypt, his brothers should stop feeling bad about what happened. Now he added this remarkable question: “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 15:13; 45:7, 8; 50:15-21) Joseph saw Jehovah as the perfect Judge. Who was Joseph, then, to punish those whom Jehovah had forgiven?
Do you ever find it a challenge to forgive? It can be especially hard when someone has done us deliberate harm. But if we forgive from the heart those who are truly repentant, we will help to heal many a wound
How can we benefit now from learning about the Bible’s men and women of faith?