Commentary on Genesis 45

Last updated: December 12, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

4So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry 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. 10You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

16When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. 17And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ 19And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.'”

21The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. 22To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. 23To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

25So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26And 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. 27But 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. 28And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

Notes

3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.

Joseph is not merely asking whether Jacob is physically alive, he is asking how his father is doing. Before revealing his identity he was speaking as someone outside the family but now he can speak as one inside the family.

4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.

By stating he was the brother they sold into Egypt, Joseph proves his identity, for only Joseph and his brothers know about that event.

7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.

It becomes clear here that the lives Joseph will save are the lives of his own flesh and blood. The two Hebrew words here translated remnant and survivors occur elsewhere in the OT in combination (see 2 K. 19:31 par. Isa. 37:32; 1 Chr. 4:43; Ezra 9:14). Others in Canaan may perish because of the famine, but the family of Jacob will not be among them. Unlike the earlier patriarchal stories in which the greatest threat to the promises of God was the bearers of those promises, here it is a famine that looms as the enemy. May a natural catastrophe do to the promises of God what a lying Abraham and a conniving Jacob could not do – thwart them? The answer is decidedly negative. In using terms like remnant and survivors, Joseph is employing words that elsewhere in the OT are freighted with theological significance. It may well be that in the deliverance of his brothers and his father Joseph perceives that far more is at stake than the mere physical survival of twelve human beings. What really survives is the plan of redemption announced first to his great grandfather. At least the reader is cognizant of that fact.

Westermann questions what possible significance the use of seerit, “remnant,” could have here. “A remnant of what?” he asks. He opines that v. 7b is a later expansion, arising in the late prophetic period when the anticipation of salvation and deliverance ran high. Now, to be sure, the argument advanced by some of the older commentators, such as Driver and Skinner, that seerit should here be translated “descendants” because in 45:7 all members of his family have been kept alive, is unconvincing, and is thus not a powerful objection to the point raised by Westermann and others. One may argue, however, that “remnant” is a legitimate and accurate translation of seerit even in Gen. 45:7 in that the family of Jacob, “in narrowly escaping destruction is like a remnant which is the bearer of hopes for the future existence.”1

15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.

In 37:4 the brothers could not speak peaceably to Joseph. The dialogue here is a sign that reconciliation is taking place.

16-20 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.'”

The previous seven verses (9-15) detailed Joseph’s invitation to his father to come down and join him in Egypt, particularly in the region of Goshen, where Jacob will be taken care of by Joseph. This invitation is followed by Pharaoh’s own speech (really two speeches, vv. 17-18, 19-20) to Jacob to come down and settle in Egypt. He does not mention Goshen, as did Joseph. Because of the duplicate account of invitations extended to Jacob, and because 46:31 has Joseph informing Pharaoh about the arrival of his brothers and father in Egypt (i.e., 46:31 is unaware of Pharaoh’s invitation), many commentators see vv. 9-15 and 16-20 in conflict with each other. Their solution to this enigma is to propose two accounts of the invitation to Jacob: vv. 9-15 (J), vv. 16-20 (E), or vv. 9-15 (E), vv. 16-20 (J).

But why is recourse to sources even necessary here? It is logical to read Pharaoh’s invitation as a royal confirmation of Joseph’s previously issued invitation. Joseph takes the initiative in the extension of courtesy, and Pharaoh ratifies it. It is unlikely that Joseph, even if he is Pharaoh’s majordomo, has sufficient authorization to invite Asiatic immigrants to the Delta area of Egypt.

Joseph’s superior is then delighted to provide official royal authorization for the relocation of Joseph’s kin. Why not? Is this not a small favor to repay to a man who saved one’s empire from catastrophe?2

24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

The final directive concerns their behavior on their journey home: “Don’t quarrel [ragaz] on the way!” (v. 24). What precisely is meant by this admonition is uncertain, although most commentators and EVs understand the idea as fraternal strife. The verbal root ragaz appears in Genesis only this once. The essential idea behind its varied meanings in the Old Testament (verb, 41x) is “shaking, trembling,” as when the ground trembles during an earthquake (e.g., 1 Sam 14:15; Amos 8:8). It describes shaking that manifests in fear (e.g., Exod 15:14) or angry rage (e.g., Prov 29:9). Gunkel adopted the former idea, translating “Have no fear,” by which Joseph means to alleviate their anxiety of retaliation. This understanding finds some support from the reaction of the brothers at the death of their father, who fear Joseph’s revenge (50:15-19). A popular rabbinic interpretation believed Joseph warns them not to take undue risks on their journey or abandon the journey out of fear of hazards (e.g., Gen. Rab. 94.2; Rashbam, Ramban). Alternatively, the common rabbinic and Christian interpretation believed Joseph cautioned them against sibling rankling brought on by recriminations among the brothers (e.g., LXX [orgizesthe]; targums, esp. Tg. Ps-J.; Rashi, Ibn Janah.; Ephrem the Syrian; Chrysostom). This interpretation makes sense in light of the brothers’ former behavior (cf. 42:21-22). Joseph realizes that “stirring up anger produces strife” (Prov 30:33). Joseph avoids laying blame on them for his tribulation, choosing to focus on the good that will emerge. He urges them to do the same (cf. Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). Joseph’s desire is that the brothers make haste to retrieve his father (vv 9, 13), not impeded by any distraction. Additionally, he may have worried that the brothers in the midst of strife would choose to back out. In delivering the news of Joseph’s survival, it will be necessary for them to confess their part in the “death” of their brother. By eliminating Benjamin, the brothers could continue their cover-up.3

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament 1B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary Volume 1B. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

1Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 576-577.

2Ibid., 583-584.

3Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 819.

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