I Am Joseph!


Genesis 42–45

“For I know that the Lord is great, and our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and earth, in the seas and in all deep places. He causes vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings the wind out of his treasuries:” (Psalm 135:5–7)

I. Genesis 42:1–25 records the first visit from the Sons of Jacob.

The famine affected the family of Jacob. News had spread of the abundance that had been maintained in Egypt, so he sent them there to buy so that “We may live and not die” (42:2).

A. Joseph put them through a test.

When they arrived, Joseph recognized them, but quickly devised a test in order to gain some sense of their present character. “Joseph remembered the dreams, etc.” (42:9) for they had bowed before him with their faces to the earth” (42:6) and knew that this earlier revelation was coming to pass.

    1. He accused them of being spies and they responded that they were only there to buy food and were honest men. They gave details that they all were sons of one man, their father was still alive, they had a younger brother, but one was “no longer alive” (42:13).
    2. He pretended not to believe them until they would send one to retrieve the younger brother. While they pondered this proposal, he imprisoned them for three days.
    3. Upon release, he gave them a new plan, including the affirmation, “for I fear God” (42:18). They would leave one brother in custody while the rest returned with the food but could not retrieve the hostage brother unless they returned with their youngest brother. They agreed to the plan (42:18–20). Should his affirmation have made them aware that this man was not like the pagans of Egypt, but had knowledge of the Gd of Abraham, Isaac, and their father, Jacob?

B. Joseph hears their talk.

    1. They discussed their treachery against Joseph and concluded that this was a judgment on them for their actions. They unitedly affirmed “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother.” Not only does the law written on the heart constantly bear witness against us (Romans 2:15), but the first law of universal application given after the flood to Noah and his family was the affirmation of life and vengeance on the murderer: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man” (Genesis 9:6). Was the legitimate function of divine law to bring about conviction and impose on the conscience a sentence of condemnation operating effectually in their minds?
    2. Reuben reminded them that he sought to save the brother, but they would not listen. “His blood is now required of us” hearkens back to Genesis 4:10, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Every murder, including every abortion, is noted by God and fitting vengeance will be required of those complicit, unless they partake in the great work of atoning, propitiating redemption wrought by Christ (Romans 3:24–26).
    3. Joseph heard their talk, knew they were living with a sense of guilt and that they deserved punishment for their actions: “His distress has come upon us. . . .Now comes reckoning for his blood” (42:21, 22). Moved by their distress as well as his desire to reunite in affection with them, Joseph left their presence and wept.
    4. When Joseph returned, he continued his plan of testing and bound Simeon in front of them and took him away. He gave orders to fill their sacks with grain and also to restore each man’s payment to his sack. On their trip home, one of the brothers discovered his payment money still in his sack. They interpreted it as a further judgment on them for their guilt. God is haunting them.

C. Brothers return to Jacob.

Upon their return to Jacob, they related the entire event to Jacob. They discover that all of them have the payment money still with them. Jacob is distraught and immediately blames the sons for his sorrows. Although Reuben gives him the most solemn assurance he can of his intent to go back to Egypt and return with both Simeon and Benjamin, Jacob refuses to let them return with Benjamin. He chooses to let Simeon remain in Egypt and shows his continued attachment to Rachel by saying concerning Benjamin, “He alone is left” (42:38).

II. Chapter 43 records the second visit from the sons of Jacob.

A. Jacob and his sons negotiate on the terms of their return.

In light of the situation, he has to permit Benjamin to go with them. Not only do they take Benjamin, they take products from the land (surely rare and valuable during this time of famine), and a double payment for the grain. This they must do, or they will die. They also took broken spirits now filled with fear and trembling, deep and sincere remorse for their past actions that have brought all this on them, and yet with determination to fulfill what they have promised their father. These are elements of true repentance.

B. The brothers stand before Joseph again.

They arrived with all they had taken and received an audience with Joseph (43:15–34).

    1. Joseph instructed his steward to bring the men into his house and also to prepare a noon meal for them to eat with him. They interpreted their entrance into Joseph’s house as only the first step to even harsher treatment as thieves in light of the incident with the money.
    2. They sought to explain to the steward about their surprise when they found the payment still in their sacks after the first visit. He assured them that the payment had been received, restored Simeon to them, gave them water for washing their feet, fed their animals, and informed them of their lunch appointment with Joseph. They prepared themselves accordingly.
    3. When Joseph arrived, he asked about their father, saw Benjamin, and again dismissed himself to weep. It is quite a feat of personal discipline and determined execution of a plan for Joseph to maintain his detachment from them in order for the full weight of these events to have their maximum effect. Their bowing to him again, enforced the reality of God’s providential dealings in this entire episode and the revelatory nature of Joseph’s earlier dreams.
    4. A meal was served with each of the brothers seated in order of their age. As meals with family should be, food and freedom of conversation were abundant (43:34) . This show of good will and hospitality would serve to compound the apparent thievery of Benjamin.
    5. Again he filled their sacks with grain, restored all their money, and also placed in Benjamin’s sack a silver cup (44:2). When they left, Joseph had his house steward follow them and accuse them of stealing. They protested vigorously and promised retribution on anyone that would do such a thing. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, they gave the ultimate manifestation of repentance in tearing their clothes. They returned to Joseph’s house and “fell to the ground before him” (44:14). Recall, “Your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf” (37:7).
    6. Joseph upbraided them for this apparent foolish and knavish act and made them think that his knowledge of it came from his skill in divination (44:15).

III. Judah stepped forward to make supplication for mercy and understanding.

Judah had urged his brothers not to kill Joseph but to sell him to the Midianites (37:26, 27). He did not want to be guilty of fratricide. Now he takes the part of pleading for the safety of Benjamin.

A. He acknowledged their guilt, having in mind their initial selling of Joseph because of their hatred of him, now falling upon them in this strange event.

He offered for all of them, including Benjamin, to serve as slaves. Joseph refused the deal for, apparently, Benjamin was the perpetrator of the theft. The others could leave in peace.

B. Judah continued his plea.

He reviewed their previous conversation with Joseph about the necessity of not returning without Benjamin.

C. He recounted his discussion with Jacob, his initial refusal to allow them to return on such a condition.

Jacob felt that such a loss would be more than he could stand and would result in his death.

D. He sets forth the implications of their returning without Benjamin.

Judah expressed his sympathetic belief of his father’s fear, for “his life is bound up in the lad’s life” (44:30). He pleaded with Joseph for the release of Benjamin and offered himself as a substitute to remain as Joseph’s servant. “For how could I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father.”

IV. Joseph’s Response (Chapter 45)

A. Joseph clears the room of all but his brothers.

At his first seeing them (42:7), Joseph was able to maintain an appearance of authority and harshness. The continued narrative shows that he immediately was moved by his sense of natural affection; now, however, that affection is compounded by Judah’s extended self-incriminating and self-sacrificing plea. The news of his father’s more than twenty years of grief brings him to a breaking point.

B. He wept loudly.

Joseph had wept two other times in secret (42:24; 43:30, 31), but now he weeps openly. This is the first evidence of tender sympathy demonstrated by Joseph. Rare would be the parallel that any of us would have to the shock this must have been to the brothers. From pleading before this man of equal authority to Pharaoh (44:18) whose whimsical opinion could mean life or death, freedom or slavery, food or starvation into an observation of deep emotion and uncontrollable weeping so disordered their perception that they could not even speak.

C. Joseph revealed his identity—“I am Joseph!”

To this point the brothers have not called his name but only referred to him in distant terms—”one is no longer alive,” “the boy,” “his brother,” “the one” (42:13, 22; 44:20, 28). When their father called his name it would be like the phrase in 42:36, “Joseph is no more.” Now the one that they fear, the one with whom they have been negotiating with gut-wrenching caution and smitten consciences says, “I am Joseph.” “They were dismayed at his presence.”

    1. Joseph took steps to assure them of his identity, bidding them to come closer and again speaking.
    2. He revealed that he knew precisely why they reported that their brother is dead, or their brother is no more—they had sold him into Egypt. Only Joseph himself could know that. He does not say this to increase their fear but to give them assurance.

D. Joseph looked at these events in the light of God’s sovereignty.

    1. Knowing that both the sense of guilt and the fear of vengeance would immediately assault their consciences, Joseph addressed the issue by saying, “Don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves.” He wanted them to observe that something far beyond their own jealousy and pettiness ruled these events.
    2. He does not deny their sinful involvement, but places the entire event under the sovereign pleasure of God. Although they intended to render his life of no account, to be of no effect at all toward them, God overruled their purpose with his own. Rather than their actions consummating in the destruction of his life, it was for the purpose of preserving theirs and those of their entire families and possessions: “God sent me before you to preserve life.”
    3. Again, Joseph showed his knowledge of these events far beyond theirs when he said that the famine will persist for five more years. They do not need to keep up these return trips but should move all things to Egypt. For five years “There will be neither plowing nor harvesting,” and Egypt alone would be a haven of provisions.
    4. Again, Joseph pointed to the overruling divine purpose in this by stating twice more: “God sent me before you . . . it was not you who sent me here, but God” (7, 8). Later, after the death of Jacob, when the brothers thought Joseph might then take vengeance, Joseph gave complete assurance of his commitment of the entire affair to God with unalloyed confidence in his covenantal purpose along with his determination to “provide for you and your little ones” (50:21).
    5. The First London Confession, written by Particular Baptists in 1644 defines God’s providence in a way that perfectly fits with Joseph’s knowledge of these events: “That God hath decreed in himself from everlasting touching all things, effectually to work and dispose them according to the counsel of his own will, to the glory of his name; in which decree appears his wisdom, constancy, truth, and faithfulness: wisdom is that whereby he contrives all things; constancy is that whereby the decree of God remains always immutable; truth is that whereby he declares that alone which he hath decreed, . . faithfulness is that whereby he effects all that he has decreed.”

E. Joseph insisted that his brothers, his father, all their families, and servants along with their possession come to live in Egypt.

    1. God had sent him to “preserve for you a remnant in the earth” by providing a “great deliverance” (45:7). Again, Joseph is a type of Christ for he came to save the elect remnant of Israel and the elect of every nation by providing a great deliverance: Through Christ, God the Father has “delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).
    2. Joseph had been made “lord of all [Pharaoh’s] household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
      • He wanted them to tell his father that “God has made me lord of all Egypt” and of “all my splendor in Egypt” (8, 9, 13). His father, who knew the meaning of Joseph’s second dream (37:10, 11), would be convinced that all of this was a marvelous work of divine providence.
      • In a far greater way, infinitely so, our own brother in the flesh (Hebrews 2:9–14) has been crowned “with glory and honor” and has all things placed under his feet, because he was made “perfect through sufferings.”
      • Peter preached at Pentecost, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
    1. Joseph would give them the land of Goshen, the best of all the land, a proposition to which Pharaoh himself agreed (45:18). Joseph wanted them to be near him (10), so that in the coming years he could make sure they were provided for with sufficient food, land, and opportunity for growth (11). Even so, we have been “made alive together with Christ” and have been raised up with him and made “to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” so that in the coming ages “He might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5–7).
    2. In case they still had reservations about the genuineness of this revelation of himself, he appealed to the eyes of his brother Benjamin who surely would know his voice and recognize his features as his full brother. He wanted them to have unwavering assurance that these wonderful promises were true, that they need not fear, and that a safe and prosperous future was secured. In their lingering amazement and caution, we find ourselves in our slowness to grasp the surpassing glory of the riches that God has pledged to us in Christ. The entire book of Hebrews is dedicated to giving this kind of assurance built on the trustworthiness of God as presented in the completed work of Christ: “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17, 18). Perhas the two unchangeable things are the promise and the oath ( (6:13–17). If one examines the context of Hebrews seven following, we see that the two immutable things established by God’s own oath are the blamelessness, that is, righteoousness, of Christ and the death of Christ. These become the basis of the consequent and unending intercession of Christ (Hebrews 7:20–28). “The oath … appoints the Son” (7:28).
    3. Joseph showed his unreserved acceptance of his brothers and his true joy in seeing them again and in being instrumental in their well-being (14, 15). For the fourth time he wept and talked with them as brothers, not as a harsh master accusing them of being spies. They had been changed from enmity to friendship and received in forgiveness and peace. God gives us even greater assurance of his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1, 2).


When past sin comes with force to mind,
It is a revelation.
The conscience reels, the spirit asks,
“For me is there salvation?”
Can God in mercy pity me
With reconciliation?

Face to face with past transgression,
Judah shouldered all his debt;
“I will bear the blame before you:”
True repentance, true regret.
Substitution bears the load
That deep remorse cannot forget.

Knowing God has planned this trouble
Seeing wisdom in this strife,
Now in light of rich provision
Minds in tumult enter life.
Enmity and blame transcended
In the souls where joy is rife.

Restoration to the Father
Through the Son’s exalted state.
He endured humiliation,
Then by faithfulness made great.
From rich treasures he stored up,
Our needs are met at his dictate.

Vengeance would be justified, but
Loving mercy lifts our face.
Healthy fear of retribution
Follows sins our minds can trace.
True fellowship and joy and love
Flow from our brother’s endless grace.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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