Commentary on Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Anyone who wants to understand this part of Joseph’s story must consider his whole story told in Genesis 37 and Genesis 39-50.
Reading these chapters makes it clear that Joseph was someone “to be reckoned with,” someone not to take lightly.
From the outset, Joseph dreams big. So big, in fact, his dreams put him at odds with not only his eleven brothers, but with his father Jacob as well. Visions that his entire family would bow down to him prove too much for the jealous brothers, even for the father whose favorite he is.
As with Cain when he slew Abel, and Jacob when he fled Esau’s wrath, it seems that another fratricide is in the works. The brothers’ murderous jealousy is thwarted when they heed Reuben the elder’s suggestion that they throw Joseph in a pit. That way they could pretend he had been killed by a goat, getting rid of him without shedding his blood. Secretly hoping to save Joseph’s life, Reuben found the pit empty when he returned to retrieve him. Judah, the fourth eldest, proposed they could make some money by sell him to the Ishmaelites. Unknown to the brothers, the Ishmaelites later sold Joseph to the Egyptians.
Fast forward, Joseph’s dream becomes reality. He is now second only to the Pharaoh himself. The path to this unexpected blessing was not an easy one. False accusation in response to his repeated rejection of Potiphar’s wife’s sexual advances put him in prison and favor with the wardens put him in charge of the prisoners. Correctly interpreting the dreams of a baker and a cupbearer moved him from prison to the palace. His wisdom interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and his gift for administration made Egypt the “breadbasket of the world” during a seven-year famine.
How could anyone (Joseph, his brothers, or his father) have known that this twist of events would be a blessing for all of them? How could they know that not only his family, but, in effect, the whole world would one day bow to him in search of food? How could they have known that his family, divided by jealousy and envy, would be united once again?
Each generation of Israel’s founding family, Abraham (Sarah and Hagar), Isaac (Rebekah), Jacob (Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah), found a way to resolve the dysfunction that tore them apart. In Genesis 25:9 Isaac and Ishmael bury Abraham, despite Abraham’s eviction of Ishmael and his mother Hagar at Sarah’s request. In Genesis 35:29 Esau and Jacob bury Isaac, despite Jacob’s stealing both Esau’s birthright and with Rebekah’s help, his blessing from Isaac. In this passage we read of Joseph reconciling with his brothers, despite their malevolent attempt to kill him and their corrupt deal to sell him off to the Ishmaelites.
While we get only a hint of the reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael plus a few more details regarding Esau and Jacob’s reconciliation (Genesis 33:1-11), in Joseph’s story reconciliation is front and center, a major part of the drama. Of the thirteen chapters (Genesis 37, 39-50) that tell his story, four of them (Genesis 42-45 and a portion of Genesis 50) cover his reconciliation with his brothers.
In a world much in need of healing and reconciliation, what lessons might there be about reconciliation, both for our personal and corporate lives?
First, reconciliation is possible in even the worst of circumstances. Although his brothers wronged him, Joseph, after a bit of making their lives miserable, sought reconciliation with them. No matter what happened in the past, Joseph and his brothers know that, ultimately, relationship is primary. They choose not to let the past stand in the way of reconciliation.
Second, reconciliation requires facing and telling the truth, no matter how difficult or painful it may be. Joseph referenced, but did not dwell on how he had been wronged. The text notes: “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.” (Genesis 45:4-5). Realizing the effects of the famine on the future, not only does Joseph tell the truth about what happened in the past, he also tells the truth about how dire the situation is in the present.
In today’s world, this is the part that people often miss. They want reconciliation without the work of facing and dealing with the truth — the truth about the past, the present, and the future. There can be no healing, no moving forward until the wounds of the past and their effect on the present and future are openly, honestly, and truthfully addressed. Jesus put it best, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Why stay stuck in the past when the truth will set you free?
Third, Joseph does his part to make things right. He sends for his father, promising that he will provide for the entire family. Reconciliation involves action, not just words. Joseph did his part taking care of his family. The brothers did their part acknowledging that they had mistreated Joseph and honoring Joseph’s request to bring the family, including their father Jacob, to live in Egypt.
Fourth, Joseph recognized God’s hand in his life. God is not a character in Joseph’s story. yet, Joseph recognizes God’s role in his life. He understands that everything that happened brought him to this moment of reconciliation and made it possible to him to bless many, including his family, Egypt, and nations beyond.
Although the particulars of our stories may be different, the need for reconciliation is as necessary in today’s world as it was in Joseph’s day. In a world filled with so much pain and division, may we never cease to seek and do the work, to do our part, until reconciliation is a very present reality for one and all.