Post Author: Bill Pratt
In chapter 37, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. When we pick up the story in chapter 44, 22 years have passed, so Joseph is now 39 years old (1876 BC). So what has transpired in the last 22 years?
While serving in Potiphar’s household, Joseph is falsely accused of the attempted rape of Potiphar’s wife, and is thrown into prison. While he is in prison, he meets two members of Pharaoh’s court (chief cupbearer and chief baker) who have also been put into prison. He correctly interprets dreams for both of them.
The chief cupbearer is released from prison and 2 years later, when the Pharaoh has 2 dreams that none of his servants can interpret, the cupbearer suggests that Pharaoh ask Joseph, who is still in prison, to interpret his dreams.
Joseph tells Pharaoh that his 2 dreams mean the same thing: there will be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. Joseph’s advice is for Pharaoh to collect 1/5th of the food in the land during the 7 years of plenty so that it can be used during the following 7 years of famine.
Pharaoh, impressed that Joseph could interpret his dreams and propose a solution to the problem, exalts Joseph to second in command over all of Egypt. This happened when Joseph was 30 years old.
When the famine begins, 7 years later, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to buy grain because of the famine. Obviously, Jacob and his sons have no idea that Joseph is 2nd in command in Egypt. When the brothers arrive in Egypt, Joseph recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Joseph decides to test his brothers to see whether they have repented of their evil ways.
For the final test, Joseph has his steward plant a silver cup in Benjamin’s traveling bag as the 11 brothers are leaving Egypt to go back to their father, Jacob, in Canaan. When the steward stops the brothers as they are leaving Egypt to accuse them of stealing the silver cup, the brothers deny that they stole the cup and say that if the cup is found in anyone’s bag, the thief will become a slave of Joseph. The steward finds the cup in Benjamin’s bag and that is where we pick up the story in chapter 44.
Joseph demands that the brothers leave Benjamin as a slave because of his theft of the silver cup (which belonged to Joseph). In verse 18 of chapter 44, Judah, the fourth son of Leah and Jacob, steps forward to save Benjamin’s life. Recall that Judah was also the brother that suggested they sell Joseph into slavery instead of killing him in the pit.
In verses 19-29, Judah recounts to Joseph the events that have occurred up to now. A couple years before, Joseph had demanded that the brothers bring back Benjamin with them to Egypt when they returned for more grain, as they had not brought him on their first trip to Egypt. Judah explains how painful this was to their father.
According to Judah, Jacob said the following, “You know that my wife bore me two sons. One of them went away from me, and I said, ‘He has surely been torn to pieces.’ And I have not seen him since. If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.” Jacob is, of course, referring to Joseph as the son who went away and was torn to pieces.
Judah tells Joseph that if they don’t bring Benjamin home with them, Jacob “will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow.” Judah then offers to stay in Benjamin’s place.
In verses 1-3 of chapter 45, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. Why? Because they passed the test. Judah had been willing to give up his life for his brother, Benjamin. Rather than allow Benjamin to become a slave, as he had with Joseph, he intervened to save his life.
When Joseph reveals himself, the brothers are terrified, but Joseph reassures them that their sin was used by God to save the family. Verses 4-7 encapsulate the central theme of the Joseph narrative: “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
God providentially turned the brothers’ evil act against Joseph into good. Joseph was now in a position to save their entire family from starvation and relocate them to Egypt where they could survive the famine. Joseph repeats the theme in Gen 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
In verses 8-15, Joseph instructs his brothers to go back to their father, Jacob, and tell him to move the family to Egypt. They will be given a region called Goshen to inhabit.
Jacob does move his family to Egypt, and that is where the Israelites will reside for hundreds of years. Although the Israelites start out well in Egypt and multiply into great numbers, the situation will reverse in time, and that is where we will pick up in the book of Exodus.