We closed the last chapter with Judah begging Joseph to take him as a slave instead of Benjamin, fearing that their father would die if he lost Favourite Son #2.
Picking up from this, Joseph starts to tear up (presumably at the thought of his dad dying). He asks everyone to leave the room (which apparently applies only to Egyptians…) and begins to sob so loudly that “the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it” (Gen. 45:2).
Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, describing himself as the one they sold into slavery. But that’s totally cool, ’cause “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). I don’t want to make too much of this, but it’s a recurring theme that I’m not at all comfortable with. God has a plan, he’s going to make himself an omelette, and if eggs get broken, well, that’s just too bad. There’s no respect for people as individuals, only as pawns for God’s use. This seems rather disrespectful. Just as Jacob/Israel loved Joseph and Benjamin while seeing his other children as little more than farmhands, so God seems to favour his plan.
Now, you may argue that preserving life is a fairly laudable goal, and that selling a child into slavery isn’t such a great price to play. But we mustn’t forget that it is God himself who is sending the famine that he then pressed Joseph into slavery to mitigate (Gen. 41:25, 28, 32).
Joseph sends his brothers back into Canaan to get their families and Jacob/Israel. When they return to Egypt, he will put them in Goshen (this is plausible. My study bible says that: “According to Egyptian sources, it was not unusual for Pharaoh to permit Asiatics to settle in this country in the time of famine”).
He also instructs his brothers to tell Jacob.Israel about “all that my splendor in Egypt” (Gen. 45:13). I’m not sure whether to file this under the Old Testament’s odd habit of listing people’s possessions, or whether it’s just a son who wants to show his dad that he “done good.”
In any case, he then embraces his brothers. Benjy is the only one named and gets the first XOXOs, of course, since the others aren’t really much more than support cast.
Pharaoh hears that Joseph’s brothers are in town and he gets really excited. He promises them the best land in Egypt and gives them wagons to make the return journey a bit more comfortable for their families (although travelling in wagons prior to the invention of suspension springs really wouldn’t have been all that comfortable…). He also tells them not to bother bringing back their possessions because they will be given the very best lands.
In the middle of a famine, the pharaoh tells them to go ahead and enjoy the “fat of the land” (Gen. 45:17-18). In the middle of a famine.
Joseph gives everyone festal garments, except Benjy to whom he gives five festal garments and 300 shekels of silver. It’s absolutely impossible for these people not to constantly remind everyone who the favourites are… I would hope that he at least gave Benjy these additional gifts on the sly, but I suspect that it was done with full pomp in front of the other brothers.
Now, I’ve done a lot of travelling in my short young life and I must say that one of the key strategies is to pack as lightly as possible. Joseph doesn’t subscribe to this philosophy, so he sends the brothers home with a ton of gifts for dad – gifts that dad is going to have to lug right back into Egypt.
When Jacob/Israel hears that Joseph is still alive, his “heart fainted” (Gen. 45:26), and only the sight of the wagons that have been sent for him are able to revive him.