This lesson is a continuation of the theme from the last lesson. In lesson 11 we looked at how Joseph demonstrated faithfulness, forgiveness, obedience, and patience to overcome great trials in his life at an early age. In this lesson we see how his efforts paid off and how his growth is demonstrated when he is brought face to face with those who sold him into slavery, his own brothers. Joseph learned early in his life how to rely on the Lord.
I have to admit that the story of Joseph meeting his brothers after 22 years away from the family in a strange land is my favorite scripture story. I weep every time I read it. I would be hard pressed to find anyone in the Old Testament for whom I have greater respect and admiration than Joseph of Egypt.
Before we begin, I need to say that this commentary on the lesson assumes you have taken the time to read the scriptures associated with it. If you really want to get the most out of this lesson, please make sure you read the lesson first (Genesis 40-45).
All my life I thought that the dreams Joseph had were kind of a fluke. They just seemed random. Who has dreams that they are a stalk of wheat and all their brother stalks of wheat bow down to them? Weird. But what I didn’t realize until this lesson is that one of Joseph’s gifts of the spirit was dreams and the interpretation of dreams. Duh! I felt really dumb once that occurred to me. He was sensitive to dreams just like Joseph Smith Jr., was sensitive to spiritual manifestations, like angelic visitors and visions. These were their special gifts. In both cases their specific gift permitted them to be able to do what they were foreordained to do in mortality. It makes me wonder what we could each do with our own spiritual gifts if we were living up to our privileges.
It was Joseph’s dreams of being in a position of power that required his family to bow down to him that got him into trouble with his brothers in the first place. Even his father chastised him for saying that Jacob himself would bow down to him. Joseph’s dreams were one of the big reasons his brothers wanted him dead. Yet it was this same gift that brought attention to him in Pharaoh’s court, but not until Pharaoh himself needed his dream interpreted.
God’s ways are mysterious
When we say that “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform,” they are only mysterious to us because we don’t know where God is going with how he is moving us about so we end up in the right place at the right time. It is not until everything comes together and we see that He was weaving a grand tapestry with our life and it is only now that we are beginning to see where we fit in that design that we can appreciate what the Lord has been doing with us the whole time.
Look at Joseph. Where did the Lord need Joseph to be? In Egypt. When did he need Joseph to be there? Before the seven years of plenty began. Why? Because Joseph’s calling was to bring the house of Israel into Egypt so that at the end of the 400 years of bondage they would be ready to conquer the land of Canaan and the surrounding areas that were promised to Abraham. In short, Joseph was key to positioning the house of Israel where the Lord needed them to be for His miracles to be performed when Moses’s prophetic turn came along in the future.
If Joseph had not been in Egypt, the famine would have killed off many thousands of people all throughout the middle east, including his own family. That would have caused problems for the promises the Lord had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). By sending Joseph into Egypt, especially since he was equipped with the spiritual gift of dreams and the interpretation of dreams, Joseph was positioned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams about the upcoming years of plenty and the years of famine. He was also able to give Pharaoh the wisest advice on how to prepare his kingdom for such an event. This means Joseph also had the spiritual gift of wisdom.
In Genesis 41:33–36 Joseph has concluded the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, and through his spiritual gift he gives wise counsel to Pharaoh.
33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.
34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years.
35 And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities.
36 And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.
Who else would Pharaoh put in charge of such an undertaking but the one who was wise enough to see it coming and know how to prepare his nation for what was shortly to happen? How was Pharaoh blessed for rewarding Joseph in this way? His nation not only survived better than all other nations afflicted with the famine, but because Joseph had stored all that grain, when the other nations came knocking at the door for food, Egypt was ready to sell it to them, for a price. Egypt became even richer than before. Thanks to Joseph Pharaoh came out smelling like a rose. Small wonder that Pharaoh invited Joseph’s family to come and live in the best part of the country and showered them with gifts and privileges.
The brothers come knocking
One of the grand points of this story of Joseph and his brothers is to show how the Lord is in charge of His own work. He has determined who’s ancestral line we are each born into. He decided when we would come into mortality, as well as our sphere of influence while here. He has determined what our opportunities in life will be, and what our gifts will be. So what, you may ask, are we supposed to do while here if the Lord has made all the tough decisions? That is my point.
The only things we need to worry about in this life is whether or not we obey the commandments, and how we obey them. The Lord has already arranged for us to experience trials and have blessings along the way, and many opportunities will come to us only if we have already chosen to live up to our privileges in this life. When we choose unwisely, certain opportunities get shut off from ever being able to be offered to us. We won’t know what most of these opportunities are while we are in mortality. And I dare say that if we find out in the eternities what we could have had if we had been more obedient and valiant we will be perfectly mortified at our own stupidity.
Joseph chose well. He lived up to his potential, just like his great grandfather Abraham did. No matter what trials came his way his reaction to them was one of humility and perseverance. He never complained about his situation or blamed this person or that person that he was wrongly accused or poorly treated. He was humble, and he always relied on the Lord for his strength. As a result, the Lord was able to open doors for Joseph that might never have been able to be opened if he was whining and complaining about how unfair life was. And it certainly appeared to be unfair.
Life can be deceptive
Our lives have a way of tricking us. For example, Joseph was going to be killed by his own brothers, but at the last minute they decided to sell him into slavery and make some money instead. Then he was betrayed by his employer’s wife and wrongfully accused. He was thrown into prison. Then he had to wait years before he was finally brought before Pharaoh and in an instant, as it were, he went from being a lowly prisoner to the second most powerful person in Egypt.
Joseph’s brothers felt put upon to have to live with this snotty teenager who kept having offensive dreams of grandeur. When they finally found a way to get rid of him they found that they nearly killed their father with grief. They then had to live with the guilt for 22 years. When they finally make the journey to Egypt to buy grain for their families so they wouldn’t all die of starvation, they find that the ruler of Egypt seems to have it out for them. They are accused of being spies and told that they had better not show their faces again unless they bring their younger brother with them. Simeon is kept as a hostage until they can prove their innocence.
How are they supposed to get that past their father? He was still mourning for the loss of Joseph after all these years, and he was overly protective of Benjamin, being the last remaining son of his favorite wife, Rachel. Interesting that he didn’t seem to have a problem with Simeon being held as a hostage. When they had eaten the grain they bought they had to find a way to convince their father to let Benjamin go with them back to Egypt or they would all starve.
When they get back to Egypt Joseph gives them a bad time, but eventually allows them to leave. They no sooner leave the city than Joseph sends his servant to catch up with them and accuse them of stealing from him. They, completely confident of their innocence (that was probably a first for them), tell Joseph’s servant that whomever stole from him would become his servant. So who’s sack is the silver cup in, but Benjamin’s.
In Genesis 44:9–13 they swore to the servant that the man in who’s sack the cup was found would die and all of them would become servants to the ruler of Egypt. Little did they know they had been set up.
9 With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen.
10 And he said, Now also let it be according unto your words: he with whom it is found shall be my servant; and ye shall be blameless.
11 Then they speedily took down every man his sack to the ground, and opened every man his sack.
12 And he searched, and began at the eldest, and left at the youngest: and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
13 Then they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass, and returned to the city.
Judah, the one who wanted to kill Joseph when Joseph was just 17 years old, begged Joseph, still not recognizing that he was speaking to his own brother, and promised to become his servant in the place of his younger brother. Judah appears to have had a change of heart in the last 22 years.
Misery all around
Can you see that Joseph is not the only one in this story to have been wrongfully accused? His brothers also had to deal with being unjustly accused. Perhaps Joseph wanted to test them to see if they had had a change of heart in all these years. He was not trying to torture them because he was seeking revenge. He could have done that with the snap of his fingers. Joseph loved his brothers. At least three times while speaking with them (before the great reveal) he had to leave the room to cry because he couldn’t hold back the tears of joy at being reunited with his brothers once again.
Israel also suffered. He had been lied to about the fictitious death of his favorite son for 22 years. His son Simeon was in prison, and might never be seen again. His only remaining son from Rachel was ordered to appear before the ruler of Egypt or they would all starve. He finally decided that what would happen would happen, and he had no control over it, so he let Benjamin go.
The whole family of Israel is now suffering. Only Joseph sees any end in sight. The brothers fear their own death and the death of their father, and Israel fears the death of his sons. Things are spiraling out of control and the brothers don’t know what they can do to salvage this situation.
This is when the great reveal takes place. Joseph, who’s heart is pure and his love greater than his desire for revenge, cannot hold back any longer. He breaks into weeping and tells his brothers in their own language that he is Joseph whom they sold into Egypt. Instead of being thrilled at the news, the brothers are terrified. What will he do to them for their nasty deed? How will he treat them? They all certainly feel Joseph would be justified in extracting his revenge to the limits of the law, and that is what scares them most.
But Joseph professes his love for his brothers and tells them not to be afraid because it was God who brought him to Egypt in order to save their family. He didn’t blame them at all.
The Lord has an amazing ability to change night into day, and despair into hope, and anguish into peace. In a moment, Joseph turned his brother’s fears and anxieties into relief and joy. And they quickly demonstrated to Israel that his fears were unfounded, and that his sons Benjamin and Simeon were safe, and that his long lost son, Joseph was not only alive, but the ruler of Egypt!
Think about this, could the brothers have made matters worse for themselves in this situation? Of course they could have. They could have denied that they had a dead brother. They could have breathed out threats to Joseph or tried to lie to him. The possibilities are endless. But they were true to their word, just like they said they were. And the Lord helped Joseph feel comfortable about revealing himself to his family.
All of us, at some point in our lives will find ourselves misunderstood or wrongfully accused. We will all have a time when we are mistreated. Life will always prove to be unfair, it is the nature of the beast. But when we find ourselves in a position to exact revenge, or feel slighted, or feel like we are being picked on by the cosmos, we do have a choice. We can turn to the Lord and acknowledge that we don’t understand what is happening to us. We can admit that life is bleak and unreasonable, unfair, and difficult. We can also acknowledge that He is our only source of comfort and peace. We can rely on his strength to support us and guide us so we can cast from our heart the pain and anger that comes so quickly in such situations.
Why is this so important for us to do this? It is because it is in these moments of our lives that we are able to recognize that we are being tested to see if we will lash out and serve Satan’s purposes or if we will humble ourselves and seek to serve the Lord. It is in these times that we learn that forgiveness is a healing balm to the soul, that humility becomes our greatest source of strength, and that love makes our soul to blossom, even in the searing heat of the day.
The story of Joseph being sold into Egypt holds multiple examples of how the Lord can take even the most awful crimes and punishments and teach us godly attributes. How we weather these storms is up to us. If we seek for God’s forgiveness for our first feelings of anger and resentment, our hopelessness or despair, and we plead with the Lord to help us rely on His strength to get us through our current troubles, he can open our eyes, change our heart, and help us mature in godly ways that can only happen when we learn to cast our burdens on the Lord and rely on his tender mercies to get us through the day.