Teaching series from Genesis

The Road to Forgiveness

Genesis 42:1-45:15

Teaching t13918


Tonight is our final week in the book of Genesis. We’re coming to the end of our book of beginnings. Genesis is the beginning of our Bibles, and it spends the first ¼ of the book telling us about the beginning of the world, of humanity, of the separation between God and humans, and the beginning of God’s plan to do something about that separation between us and him.

It then spends the final ¾ of the book talking about the beginning of the Jewish people over 4000 years ago – through a guy named Abraham. God promised that he’d make Abraham into a great nation, and the savior of the world would eventually come from his lineage. We’ve spent a couple months learning all about Abraham and his son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob.

In case you weren’t here last week, let me bring you up to speed.

Last week we saw this guy Jacob had a lot of wives, a lot of sons and a lot of problems. Jacob had his favorite wife and his favorite son – Rachel their son Joseph – and he ignored the 3 other wives their 10 sons. And it created big problems. The other 10 got jealous of Joseph. And then Joseph said, “Hey guys, I had a dream where we were gathering grain and suddenly all of your grain bowed down to my grain.” And they were furious! “You think you will rule over us?! We will never ever bow down to you!”

Well, one day the brothers decide they’ve had enough. The ten neglected brothers are far from home with the flocks, and dad sends Joseph to check on them and to come back and tattle on them. But when he arrives they beat him up, throw him in a pit and then decide to sell him to a caravan of slave traders that just happens to come by at that time.

So you have this scene where the 10 ignored sons have a chance to get rid of the favorite son. And they seize the opportunity and sell him as a slave while Joseph cries and begs for his life.

Joseph in Egypt

And last week we left the brothers in Israel and followed Joseph down to Egypt, where Joseph was first sold as a slave, and then ended up throw in prison after that where he languishes for 13 years.

But one day, Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret. And then Pharaoh’s assistant said, “Oh yeah. There’s this Hebrew in prison who can interpret dreams!” And so they cleaned Joseph up and brought him to Pharaoh. And Joseph said, “Pharaoh, the next seven years will produce abundant harvest, but then you’ll have seven years of crippling famine. So, what I’d recommend is that you store up grain during the seven good years so you are ready for the seven years of famine.”

And Pharaoh said, “That’s a great idea.” Joseph, I want you to head that up! And “Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours” (Gen 41:40).

And so, Joseph has had quite a wild ride by age 30. He’s from a dysfunctional, abusive family. He watched his mom die in childbirth on the side of the road giving birth to his baby brother Benjamin. He’s been a victim of assault, human trafficking, slavery, attempted rape and unjust incarceration. And God has caused him to rise above it all to become second in command of the most powerful nation in the world.

So, now that he has power, what does he do about his family who abused him and victimized him and did everything they could to take from him?

Does he go back and punish his brothers? Nope.

Does he send a messenger back to them to gloat and say, “Look at me now baby.” Nope.

Does he at least send a messenger back to his poor grieving father to let him know that he’s ok? Nope.

What does Joseph do with this tremendous pain from his past? He just moves on with his life and tries to forget it ever happened.

He got a new name: Zaphenath-paneah (Gen 41:45)

He got a new wife: The daughter of the priest of On (Gen 41:45)

The high priest at On held the title “Greatest of the Seers” (Waltke), which means Joseph married about as high as you could get in the Egyptian nobility.

He had his great new job, storing up the excess grain throughout Egypt for seven years.

And he had two sons:

Gen 41:51 – Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh [= “forget”] and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

Gen 41:52 – The second son he named Ephraim [= “fruitful”] and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

And so Joseph is trying to what a lot of us do: he’s trying to deal with something horrible from his past by forgetting it ever happened.

He says, “I am Zaphenath-paneah. My wife is Potiphera. I am busy with my great career, second in command of all of Egypt. And my sons are named “forget you” and “fruitful” because God has made me forget all of you and God has made me fruitful here in this land of suffering.

And maybe you’re doing that too. Trying to tell yourself: “I’ve risen above it all. I’ve forgotten all of them behind.” Maybe you’re even a Christian now, and you’re like, “God has made me a new creation and God has given me this great life and God has made me forget all those people who hurt me. What happened was tragic but God has swooped in a made me fruitful!”

But is it true that Joseph has really forgotten?

Or is he just trying to tell himself that? Is it possible he thinks about those people that hurt him all the time?

How ironic that he names his son “Forget you!” Because every time he calls his son, he’ll be reminded of the very people he’s trying to forget.

I mean, Manasseh is even a Hebrew name. Every name in his life is Egyptian now, except for his sons, one of whom is the Hebrew word for “forget.”

Joseph keeps insisting that he’s past it. And the more he insists that he is, the more he shows that he is not past his past.

And is it true that God has only made him fruitful here in the land of his affliction?

That makes it sound like all this bad stuff happened to him and God finally stepped in and helped him overcome it. Is it possible that God was at work the whole time? That God was at work even in the land of his birth, and that he was doing something bigger through Joseph’s suffering?

By the end of this story, Joseph will learn a different way of dealing with the horrible events from his past. And I hope that we’ll learn something too.

Joseph will learn that forgetting isn’t enough. That God wants to teach him to forgive and to love his enemies.

And God needs to teach you that lesson too. You can’t just forget about it. You need to forgive your enemies. And, if appropriate, you need to learn to love them too.

He’ll also learn a different way of viewing the horrible events from his past: That God didn’t just swoop in and save him in the land of his suffering. But God was at work even beforehand. And by the end, he’ll be able to say with all his heart that God is the one who sent him to Egypt… not his brothers.

The Brothers in Canaan

And, speaking of his brothers… what’s happening with the rest of the family back in Canaan? Well, the brothers are finding that getting rid of Joseph was a lot easier than getting rid of their guilt over what they had done.

And maybe some of you can relate to them. Maybe there’s something awful from your past – not something that others did to you, but something you did. Maybe you can’t even get through a day without thinking about that thing. Without thinking about “it.”

I talked to one woman who told me that every morning for the past 25 years, the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up is “it.” And maybe it’s not that extreme for you. But you’ve got your own things that you don’t want to think about but you can’t stop thinking about. And it hurts so bad and you can’t escape from the pain.

Well, right away we see how two of these brothers responded to “it.”

First, Reuben.

As the firstborn, Reuben should have been the leader. But he shows up as pitiful in this whole account. He was the one who said, “Hey guys – instead of killing Joseph, let’s just throw him in this pit and let him starve to death.” And he planned on secretly rescuing Joseph later.

But when Reuben finds out they sold Joseph into slavery…

Gen 37:29-30 –He went back to his brothers and lamented, “The boy is gone! What will I do now?”

So, what does Reuben do? He feels sorry for himself.

He laments: “What will I do now?” Oh, I don’t know Reuben. How about chasing down those slave traders and buying your brother back!

Later, we’ll see that Reuben completely rewrites the story, denying that he had any part in this crime and blaming his brothers for what happened.

So, that’s one way to deal with that thing you did: Feel sorry for yourself, deny your wrong, paint yourself as a victim and blame other people.

Well, his brother Judah takes a different approach.

Judah was the brother who suggested they sell Joseph to the slave-traders. Our first view of him, on the one hand, is that he’s a leader the guys follow. But he’s the wrong kind of leader: a cold-hearted slave-trader.

And after the Joseph incident, their household was a miserable place. Dad vowed to mourn the death of Joseph for the rest of his life. Finally Judah couldn’t take it anymore, so to forget about what happened, Genesis 38:1 says that “About this time, Judah left home…”

And we just don’t have time for this story of Judah and Tamar. But it’s another savage story involving Judah and his sons. By the time the story is over, Judah and his sons have married Canaanites, most of his sons are dead, Judah hooks up with a prostitute and gets her pregnant, not knowing that the prostitute is the widow of his dead son. So Judah finds out she’s pregnant, and he’s like, “Let’s burn her for adultery.” And then she’s like, “Judah, this baby is yours.” And Judah is like, “Nooooooo.”

But check out what Judah does when he gets exposed as the father. He does something none of Jacob’s sons have ever done before: He admits that he’s wrong. He says, “She is more righteous than I am.” (38:26)

Over the 20 years that Joseph is in Egypt, God is transforming Judah from a cold-hearted slave-trader who runs away from his guilt into a leader who can admit that he was wrong. He’s becoming the right kind of leader – the kind who can lead the 12 tribes of Israel. And he’s going to play an important role on the road to healing in this family.

So, in summary, as Joseph spends 20 years in Egypt trying to forget what his brothers did to him, his brothers spend 20 years in Canaan trying to forget what they did to Joseph. But God knows that forgetting “it” isn’t enough. “It” must be forgiven.

And finally, after 20 years apart, God says, “Let there be famine!”

We’ll pick up the story in year two of the famine, when Jacob’s family is starting to get pretty hungry…

Genesis 42

1 When Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you standing around looking at one another? 2 I have heard there is grain in Egypt…”

3 So Joseph’s ten older brothers went down to Egypt to buy grain. 4 But Jacob wouldn’t let Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin, go with them, for fear some harm might come to him.

And so the ten brothers undertake the several hundred mile journey down to Egypt to buy grain.

6 Since Joseph was governor of all Egypt and in charge of selling grain to all the people, it was to him that his brothers came.

But at this point it’s been 22 years since they’ve seen Joseph. He was 17 then, and now he’s 39, and they just don’t recognize him. Because, believe it or not, when you’re 39 you just don’t look the same you did when you were 17. Plus, he would have shaved off his beard and his hair because the Egyptians thought body hair was gross. He was probably wearing makeup (the Egyptians invented mascara). His name was Zaphenath-Paneah. He spoke Egyptian, and communicated with them through a translator. So he’d say, “asdfpoakjsdpfonkwe” and the translator would translate to Hebrew for the brothers.

And so these 10 starving brothers arrive in mighty Egypt trying to buy some bread and they are ushered in the presence of the mighty Zaphenath-Paneah.

6b When they arrived, they bowed before him with their faces to the ground. 7 Joseph recognized his brothers instantly, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them.


Translator: “Zaphnath-Paneah demands to know…”

7b “Where are you from?”

“From the land of Canaan,” they replied. “We have come to buy food.”

And then something amazing happens as the brothers bow before him. It reminds Joseph of something from long ago, something he had forgotten. Suddenly he sees it, crystal clear, flooding back into his mind:

9 And he remembered the dreams he’d had about them many years before.

…like the dream where they’re out in the field harvesting the grain, and suddenly his bundle of grain stood up and their bundles bowed down to him. And now his brothers have come to Egypt to buy grain and his brothers they are bowing down to him. God knew this was going to happen the whole time.

Joseph notices that there are only 10 brothers. But in his other dream there were 11 stars bowing before him. So he wonders what they’ve done with Benjamin, his baby brother. Did they get rid of him like they got rid of Joseph? Joseph needs more information, and on the spot he comes up with a brilliant plan to get more information out of them.

9b He said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.”

10 “No, my lord!” they exclaimed. “Your servants have simply come to buy food…

13 “Sir,” they said, “there are actually twelve of us. We, your servants, are all brothers, sons of a man living in the land of Canaan. Our youngest brother is back there with our father right now, and one of our brothers is no longer with us.”

Which is kind of ironic, because that brother is with them for the first time in 22 years.

14 But Joseph insisted… 15 This is how I will test your story… 16 One of you must go and get your brother. I’ll keep the rest of you here in prison. Then we’ll find out whether or not your story is true…”

17 So Joseph put them all in prison for three days.

He’s probably thinking, “I was in that prison for 12 years. It’s not going to hurt them to spend a couple days there.” He’s showing them that he’s serious. It’s also giving him time to come up with a plan.

And the plan he comes up with has a few key elements:

  1. Joseph is going to be very generous to his brothers and supply all their needs for free

  2. Joseph is going to put his brothers through a series of tests to see if they have changed.

Joseph is going to devise a series of tests for his brothers to reveal whether his brothers have changed. As they pass his tests, he will reveal more and more of himself to them. If they fail the tests, then at least he’s going to rescue Benjamin from them and try keep him from suffering the same fate.

18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “I am a God-fearing man… 19 If you really are honest men, choose one of your brothers to remain in prison. The rest of you may go home with grain for your starving families. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother back to me…”

In other words, Joseph says: “I can’t keep all of you here unjustly in prison while your families suffer back home. Because I know there’s a God who watches over my actions and I will have to answer to him someday.” He’s throwing a line in the water, trying to awaken their conscience and point them toward the God who sees all.

And I bet even Joseph was shocked to see what he reeled in.

21 Speaking among themselves, they said, “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.”

22 “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?” Reuben asked.

Um, no you didn’t Reub. You said throw him in the pit so he’ll starve to death. Remember? He clearly hasn’t come to terms with the reality of what happened.

22b “But you wouldn’t listen. And now comes the reckoning for his blood!”

And here Joseph realizes that he was led astray by their cold, hostile demeanor that day they attacked him and sold him. In fact, these men have been haunted by their crime for 22 years, living in a prison of guilt, each day wondering if today is the day they will pay. And these cold-hearted monsters start looking more like scared boys. And it’s too much for Joseph to take.

24 Now he turned away from them and began to weep. When he regained his composure… he chose Simeon from among them and had him tied up right before their eyes.

25 Joseph then ordered his servants to fill the men’s sacks with grain, but he also gave secret instructions to return each brother’s payment at the top of his sack.

This is an interesting test. Now they have their silver and the grain. And if they come back for Simeon they’ll look like criminals. So they must decide: money and safety or loyalty to their brother.

29 When the brothers came to their father, Jacob, in the land of Canaan, they told him everything that had happened to them…

35 As they emptied out their sacks, there in each man’s sack was the bag of money he had paid for the grain! The brothers and their father were terrified when they saw the bags of money.

And that’s when Jacob realizes: It’s over. My family is over. And Jacob cries out:

36 Jacob exclaimed, “You have bereaved me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

Well, it certainly felt that way to Jacob. The only problem with his statement is that none of his feelings were true. All 12 sons were still alive. Joseph owns all the grain in the world. Simeon is doing just fine. Benjamin will live to father 10 sons. And Jacob, God is for you, so who can be against you?

This is a reminder that when we’re suffering, reality might not always match our feelings.

So Reuben speaks up with a word of comfort…

37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may kill my two sons if I don’t bring Benjamin back to you…”

And Jacob’s like, “How would it help matters to kill my grandchildren?”

And Reuben’s boys are like, “Yeah!”

38 But Jacob replied, “My son will not go down with you. His brother Joseph is dead, and he is all I have left…”

And that would have been the end of it, but…

Genesis 43

1 But the famine continued to ravage the land of Canaan. 2 … Jacob said to his sons, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”

3 But Judah said, “The man was serious when he warned us, ‘You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.’

6 “Why were you so cruel to me?” Jacob moaned. “Why did you tell him you had another brother?”

7 “The man kept asking us questions about our family… So we answered his questions. How could we know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”

And then Judah, again…

8 Judah said to his father, “Send the boy with me… 9 I personally guarantee his safety. You may hold me responsible if I don’t bring him back to you.

A much different offer than “You can kill my sons.” Judah offers himself up as security for the life of Benjamin.

And he is so sincere that Jacob agrees. He sends Benjamin and gifts from Canaan and double the money – to pay back the “mistake” from last time, and they go on their way and stand before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the manager of his household, “These men will eat with me this noon…”

18 The brothers were terrified when they saw that they were being taken into Joseph’s house. “It’s because of the money someone put in our sacks last time we were here…”

19 The brothers approached the manager of Joseph’s household and spoke to him at the entrance to the palace…

…and they explain the mistaken refund and offer him the money back. But the household manager says, “Don’t worry about it.”

23 … Then he released Simeon and brought him out to them.

26 When Joseph came home, they gave him the gifts they had brought him, then bowed low to the ground before him. 27 After greeting them, he asked,


Translator: “The great Zaphnath-paneah wants to know:”

27b “How is your father, the old man you spoke about? Is he still alive?”

28 “Yes,” they replied. “Our father, your servant, is alive and well.”

29 Then Joseph looked at his brother Benjamin, the son of his own mother. “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” Joseph asked.

And he remembers this little boy, who was only a toddler when Joseph last saw him. And now Benjamin is 24 years old, and Joseph has missed his entire childhood, with this brother he could have had a relationship with. And it’s too much for him to handle. He stammers out, in Egyptian…

29b “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. 31 After washing his face,

31b he came back out, keeping himself under control. Then he ordered, “Bring out the food!”

32 The waiters served Joseph at his own table, and his brothers were served at a separate table… because Egyptians despise Hebrews and refuse to eat with them.

34 And Joseph filled their plates with food from his own table, giving Benjamin five times as much as he gave the others.

How do they react to Benjamin getting preferential treatment? Have they changed? The answer is: yes.

34b So they feasted and drank freely with him.

Genesis 44

1 When his brothers were ready to leave, Joseph gave these instructions to his palace manager: “Fill each of their sacks with as much grain as they can carry, and put each man’s money back into his sack. 2 Then put my personal silver cup at the top of the youngest brother’s sack…”

3 The brothers were up at dawn and were sent on their journey with their loaded donkeys. 4 But when they had gone only a short distance and were barely out of the city, Joseph said to his palace manager, “Chase after them and stop them. When you catch up with them, ask them, ‘Why have you repaid my kindness with such evil? 5 Why have you stolen my master’s silver cup, which he uses to predict the future? What a wicked thing you have done!’ ”

7 “What are you talking about?” the brothers responded. “We are your servants and would never do such a thing! 9 If you find his cup with any one of us, let that man die. And all the rest of us, my lord, will be your slaves.”

11 They all quickly took their sacks from the backs of their donkeys and opened them. 12 The palace manager searched the brothers’ sacks, from the oldest to the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack! 13 When the brothers saw this, they tore their clothing in despair. Then they loaded their donkeys again and returned to the city.

14 Joseph was still in his palace when Judah and his brothers arrived, and they fell to the ground before him. 15 “What have you done?” Joseph demanded. “Don’t you know that a man like me can predict the future?”

16 Judah answered, “Oh, my lord, what can we say to you? How can we explain this? How can we prove our innocence? God is punishing us for our sins. My lord, we have all returned to be your slaves—all of us, not just our brother who had your cup in his sack.”

17 “No,” Joseph said. “I would never do such a thing! Only the man who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go back to your father in peace.”

18 Then Judah stepped forward and said …

19 “My lord… we have a father who is an old man, and his youngest son is a child of his old age. His full brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him very much.’…

30 “And now, my lord, I cannot go back to my father without the boy. Our father’s life is bound up in the boy’s life. 31 If he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die… 32 My lord, I guaranteed to my father that I would take care of the boy. I told him, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame forever.’

33 “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 … I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!”

So Judah offers himself as a substitute to take Benjamin’s place. And Joseph is finally satisfied.

Genesis 45

1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Out, all of you!”…

But the brothers don’t understand what is happening. Zaphnath-Paneah is really agitated and screaming something in Egyptian. “asdfaojwerfnkladsfas”

And then, once they are alone, the mighty Zaphnath-Paneah begins weeping…

2 Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him…

And then he wipes his face and says, in perfect Hebrew, “ani yosef

3 “I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?”

And his brothers said, [slack-jawed silence]

3b But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. 4 “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt.

And again the brothers said, [slack-jawed silence]

And Benjamin said, “Wait. You guys did what to Joseph?”

And then Joseph said…

5 But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.

Well, that’s a different perspective on Joseph’s suffering.

6 This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.

And the brothers said, [slack-jawed silence]

And then Joseph said…

9 “Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately! 10 You can live in the region of Goshen, where you can be near me with all your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and everything you own. 11 I will take care of you there…’”

And the brothers said, [slack-jawed silence]

12 Then Joseph added, “Look! You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that I really am Joseph! 13 Go tell my father of my honored position here in Egypt. Describe for him everything you have seen, and then bring my father here quickly.” 14 Weeping with joy, he embraced Benjamin, and Benjamin did the same. 15 Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them, and after that they began talking freely with him.

And there was a lot to catch up on!


  1. Stop denying what happened or blaming others

  2. Confess your guilt to God and receive his forgiveness

  3. Confess to a person too and accept whatever consequences there might be

  4. Stand firm on the grace of God and receive his healing