Beginning’s end

Joseph wept at his father’s side and kissed his pallid face. Then he brought in his physicians and ordered them to commence with the embalming process, which took forty days. The Egyptians in Joseph’s company mourned Israel for seventy days.

Joseph returned to the palace complex and addressed Pharaoh in the presence of his household.

“If I’ve found favor in your eyes, please grant me leave so that I may bury my father with his people in the land of Canaan. I’ll return after I’ve fulfilled my oath to my father.”

“Go and bury your father with my blessing,” Pharaoh answered.

Joseph enlisted all of Pharaoh’s servants and elders, and every elder in the land to go with him. This included every male member of Joseph’s household, his father’s family, and his brothers.

The women of Israel’s household stayed behind with the children to tend the flocks and herds in Goshen.

An army of chariots escorted the retinue of hundreds. They crossed the Jordan River and stopped at the threshing floor at Atad to conduct a solemn lamentation. This time of profound sadness lasted seven days.

The Canaanite passersby observed the mourning ceremony and named the place “Abel-mizraim,” Mourning of Egypt.

When they finished the ceremony, the caravan continued on to the field at Machpelah, to the cave that Abraham purchased as a burial site for his family.

The mourners returned to their homes, and all the land was quiet.

Joseph’s brothers began to wonder if he was secretly holding a grudge against them. Realizing they’d no longer have their father to protect them, they began to worry. Gathering themselves together, they went into the city to address Joseph.

“Our father gave us a message to deliver to you before he died,” Gad said. “He said, ‘Tell Joseph to forgive you for harming him.’”

Joseph’s eyes welled up with tears. Then his brothers began to weep. “We’re here at your service, lord,” Issachar said.

Joseph shook his head and stood. “It’s true that you tried to hurt me, but God intended for this to happen for good. He caused all these things to come to pass so that I could save the entire land from death. As long as I’m alive, I’ll continue to provide for you and protect you.”

Joseph continued his post as Pharaoh’s viceroy for the remainder of his life. Before he passed away, he bid his brothers farewell.

“I’m preparing to die, but God isn’t finished with you yet. He will bring you safely to the land he swore to our great-grandfather, our grandfather, and our father. When God comes for you, collect my bones and carry them with you to the land promised to us.”

After his death, Joseph was embalmed and placed in an Egyptian sarcophagus. He lived one hundred and ten years.

Blessings, curses

“Gather around,” Israel told his sons as they entered his tent in the cool of the evening. “I want to tell you what to expect in the coming days.”

All twelve sons presented themselves before their patriarch, each anticipating a blessing to carry them forward after his death.

“Reuben, my firstborn, the might of my youth, great in rank and power,” Israel began. “You went in and defiled your father’s bed. You’re unstable and your best days are behind you.”

Reuben fell to his knees and began to weep.

“Simeon and Levi,” Israel continued. “Brothers of violence, woe to those who would join in your company. In anger you kill men, and in jest, you slaughter innocent animals. You’re divided as brothers, and you’ll be scattered as tribes in Israel.”

Simeon and Levi slumped where they stood, the lines in their faces betraying a lifetime of wrath.

“Judah.”

Judah straightened his spine, bracing himself for whatever came next.

“Judah, your brothers will bow before you and praise you, and your enemies will fall under your yoke. You’re a lion’s cub, drawing vitality from the kill. When you stretch out like a lion, who dares to rouse you? The king’s scepter will remain in your hand, its base will rest at your feet until your people come with their tribute and obedience. The traveler will come into your land and tie his colt to the nearest vine, for wine will be as abundant as water.”

Judah closed his eyes and let out the breath he’d been unconsciously holding.

“Zebulun, you’ll settle on the seashore of Sidon, a safe harbor for coming ships. Issachar, you’d sooner nap between the sheep pens than to earn your keep and enjoy your freedom, so you’ll be a slave to others. Dan, you’ll serve as the justice of the peace among the tribes. Like a viper who strikes the horse’s heel, your bite will bring the rider down swiftly.”

Israel paused, as if in thought. He looked up and sighed deeply. “Save us, Lord,” he expelled, looking as if he would faint.

Judah stepped forward to steady the man, but Israel held up his hand. “We wait for you, Lord.”

Judah stepped back, and the tent was silent for a few minutes. Then Israel continued.

“Gad will be overtaken by bandits, but he’ll get his revenge. Asher will prepare food fit for kings. Naphtali will be a free-range deer, and his offspring will be nimble and beautiful. And Joseph…”

Israel reached out his arms, and his beloved son knelt at his feet.

“Joseph is a flourishing tree by a brook, his branches scaling the castle walls. Archers attack with brutality to no avail. He nocked his bow by the steady hand of God, the guiding Shepherd, the Rock of Israel. The God of your father will continue to steady your hand and bless you with gifts from the heavens above and from the depths below, blessings of nourishment and fertility. My blessings are greater than all the bounty that the timeless mountains have provided, and they rest upon your head. My son, you are set apart from your brothers.”

Joseph kissed his father’s hand and returned to stand among his brothers.

“Benjamin, my joy, you are a hungry wolf. In the morning you hunt your prey, and in the evening you share the spoils.”

Israel drew himself onto the bed and leaned his head on the banister.

“I’m prepared to be gathered to my ancestors. By Joseph’s word, I’ll be buried at Machpelah Cave near Mamre Oaks, purchased by my grandfather, Abraham, who is buried there with his wife, Sarah. My parents, Isaac and Rebekah, are buried there. My wife, Leah, is buried there.”

Then, Isaac drew his final breath.

Inspiration: Genesis 49

Ephraim’s blessing

Israel was getting old, so he called for Joseph. Placing his son’s hand underneath his own thigh, he said, “Testify now, that you’ll not bury me here in Egypt. Lie me down with my ancestors. You know the place.”

Joseph vowed to carry out his father’s desire. Realizing time was short, Joseph left Goshen and returned with his two sons. He wanted them to meet the man of God before he passed from the earth.

“Joseph has returned,” a servant told Israel, leading Joseph and his sons into the tent. “He has brought his sons with him.”

Israel summoned energy enough to sit up at the side of his bed. He squinted his eyes and remembered long ago when his own father was almost blind and couldn’t discern who stood before him.

“God showed Himself to me at Luz in Canaan,” Israel intonated, his voice weak and trembling. “God blessed me and said, ‘I’m making nations from you, and they will inherit this land forever.’ For this reason, and because my beloved Rachel died in childbirth, your sons will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are my sons. Their children will be yours, but as far as the inheritance of Ephraim and Manasseh, they will be equal to Reuben and Simeon.”

Israel rubbed his eyes and blinked a few times. “Come closer. Bring your sons near to me so I may bless them.”

Joseph led his sons to his father’s bedside, and Israel gathered them up, one on each knee. He embraced them affectionately and kissed them.

“I didn’t expect to see you ever again,” he said to his son, “and yet God has allowed me to see your sons as well.”

Joseph knelt low and bowed his head to the earth, then removed his sons from their grandfather’s lap. He positioned Ephraim to stand at Israel’s left side and Manasseh to stand at his right.

Israel lifted his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, the younger brother. Then, crossing his arms, he placed his left hand upon Manasseh, the firstborn. Closing his eyes, he said, “God, You walked with Abraham and Isaac, You’ve been–”

Joseph interrupted. “This one is my firstborn,” he said, taking his father’s hand from Ephraim and placing it onto Manasseh’s head.

Israel put his right hand back onto Ephraim’s head. “I know, son. Manasseh will also become a great nation. But Ephraim will be greater still. His family tree will become nations upon nations.” Then he added, “Your people will invoke blessings by saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

Joseph stepped back and let his father continue.

Isaac closed his eyes again. “God of Abraham and Isaac, You have been my shepherd all the days of my life, and Your angels have guarded me against injury. Bless these young men. Preserve my name and my family’s name through them, and let them grow into a mighty family on earth.”

The boys returned to their father’s side, and Joseph bowed once again.

“I’m dying,” Israel said, “but God is with you, and he’ll return you to the land of your fathers. I now grant you an extra portion beyond your inheritance, the spoils of my earthly conquests.”

Inspiration: Genesis 48 

Welfare system

After Israel and his family had settled, and Joseph provided everything they needed from his own house, he went back to the business of rationing his stores of grain for the rest of the people in the land.

The famine devastated Egypt and Canaan entirely until no food could be found anywhere. Joseph began to collect all the money down to the last hoarded shekel, and he brought it in cargo loads into Pharaoh’s house. In exchange, he provided the people the grain they so desperately needed to survive.

The priests were not included in this bargain, as they subsisted on a food allowance from Pharaoh and would never want for anything for as long as the dynasty had the means to provide.

When the rest of Egypt ran out of grain and had no money to pay for it, they came crawling back to Joseph. “Please, for the love of Pharaoh,” they pleaded, “give us something to eat. What good is a mummified kingdom? You must save us!”

“Your livestock for grain,” Joseph decreed.

The people, having no other alternative, brought their beasts of burden, their flocks, and herds, and they exchanged them all for a year’s supply of food.

The next year, the Egyptian people came back to beg once more. “We have no money, and we have no cattle. What’s left of your servants except for our bodies and our lands? What good is a dynasty of corpses? Take our farms and fields from us, and let us become your slaves to work the land.”

Joseph answered, “Let it be as you say,” and he purchased every acre in Egypt for Pharaoh. From east to west, every landowner became slaves on the very ground they used to possess.

Joseph parceled seed in every area for the slaves of Egypt to sow. “At harvest,” the viceroy commanded, “you’ll bring me one-fifth of your yield. Four-fifths will be yours for food and for seed.”

The people were all too glad to abide by their master’s commands, for they owed their lives to him. The worst of the famine had passed, and the skies began to show signs of reprieve.

All the while, Pharaoh’s priests never misses a meal, and Joseph’s father, chosen by God to lay the foundation of a great promise, had plenty of food to provide for his people in the fertile land of Goshen.

Inspiration: Genesis 47

Pharaoh blessed

“My family has traveled from Canaan with everything they own and are now grazing their flocks in Goshen,” Joseph said to Pharaoh. He had five of his brothers with him.

Pharaoh sat silently for a moment, taking in the drastic contrast in appearance and visage between his guests and their brother, his most trusted ally in all of Egypt.

“What is your trade?” Pharaoh asked the one with the grayest beard.

“Your servants are herdsmen, my lord,” Reuben said, bowing low to the ground. “Our fathers were herdsmen, as were their fathers before them.”

Pharaoh nodded. “And why have you come to Egypt?”

“We’ve come as strangers in your land to live here, “Reuben continued. “The famine has decimated our grazing lands, so your servants seek our Lord’s permission to settle in Goshen, where the water is plentiful, and the pastures are lush and green.”

Pharaoh turned to Joseph. “Your father and brothers are in your care, and Egypt is yours. Settle your family and their flocks in Goshen, where the richest soil in the land will provide for all your needs.” Then to Reuben, “And if any among you are skilled enough, put my livestock in their charge.”

Joseph smiled, knowing his brothers learned their trade from the most prosperous shepherd in all of Canaan.

As Reuben bowed once again in respect to the great god of Egypt who had just given them their lives back, Joseph brought his father in.

“My lord, I present to you the greatest herdsman in all the land, my father, Israel.” Joseph led Jacob by the arm, and they approached the throne. “Allow my father to put his hand on your head and bless you, for he is a man of God.”

Pharaoh descended the steps of the throne and knelt before Israel to be blessed. “How old are you?” Pharaoh asked.

“I’m one hundred and thirty years old,” Israel said. “Brief and difficult has been my life, but nothing in comparison to the years of my ancestors during their journey on our shared path of destiny. We are but pilgrims in a strange land until we reach home.”

Jacob’s blessed Pharaoh, and then he left with his sons to settle in Goshen, the land of Rameses.

Joseph opened his stores of grain to his family according to their number.

Inspiration: Genesis 47

Israel’s relocation

Joseph gave his brothers food and fresh, clean garments for the journey back to Canaan. He gave his brother Benjamin five changes of clothes and three hundred pieces of silver.

Then he loaded ten male donkeys with select Egyptian goods and ten female donkeys with grain, bread, and other foods for the journey to Canaan and back.

“Don’t fight along the way,” Joseph said with a grin. “Especially you, Simeon and Levi. And don’t sell anyone to traders, Judah.”

When the brothers arrived home, they immediately went to Israel’s tent to give him the news. “Joseph is alive, and he’s the ruler of all Egypt!”

Israel didn’t believe them until he heard how Joseph revealed himself and what he said. When he looked out of his tent and saw the wagons and donkeys, Israel’s spirit was enlivened. He felt like a new man.

“What are we waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go and live under the care of the one who saved us from death!”

On the way to Egypt, they passed through Beersheba, the place where his grandfather Abraham made a pact with a king. Israel, no longer as young as he used to be, began to doubt the safety of his travels. He found the remnants of an old altar there and offered sacrifices to the God of Abraham and Isaac.

Then he heard the voice of God in the night.

“Jacob, don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there you will become the nation I promised to your father’s father, Abraham. I’ll be there with you when you go down to Egypt, and after your beloved Joseph closes your eyes with his own hands, I’ll be with you as you go back up.”

The next morning, Israel journeyed west toward the land of Egypt. His sons carried Israel, the sons’ wives, and sixty-six children in wagons, with a train of livestock and goods acquired in Canaan following behind them.

As the caravan of Israel neared the land of Goshen, seventy in number, he sent his son Judah ahead to announce their arrival.

Joseph’s chariots entered Goshen shortly after Israel and his family arrived, and the brothers greeted the young viceroy and his entourage with fresh water. They led Joseph to a shade tree where his father was resting.

When Israel saw his son, he stood and embraced him. Joseph wept on his father’s neck for several minutes.

“I can die peacefully,” Israel said, holding his son close, “now that I know you’re alive and well.”

Joseph composed himself and addressed his brothers and their father. “I’m on my way to present myself to Pharaoh. I’ll tell him my family has come from Canaan to settle here. When you see Pharaoh, and he asks about your occupation, tell him, ‘Your servants are shepherds, like our fathers before us.’ Because shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians, he’ll “force” you to settle here in nearby Goshen.”

Inspiration: Genesis 45, 46

Brothers’ revelation

Zaphenath couldn’t keep his secret any longer. He ordered everyone but the brothers to exit the hall. The servants and officers and the steward left the mighty lord with the eleven men who had come from Canaan.

“I am your brother, Joseph,” he said, and tears streamed from his face.

Joseph cried so loudly that the household of Pharaoh heard it. The brothers were dumbstruck.

After he composed himself, he asked, “Is Father still alive?”

The brothers could say nothing. They just stared in disbelief at the man they had betrayed so many years ago. They fell on their faces and bowed to him.

“Come close,” Joseph said, his arms outstretched to receive them.

The brothers stood and approached their brother.

“I am Joseph, the brother you sold to traders from Midian. But don’t beat yourselves up about it. God did this. The famine that has ravaged the land will last another five years. I’m here to keep you alive because you’re a part of God’s greatest promise.”

The brothers stood in awe of their brother, the high lord and ruler of all the land, unsure of what his words meant.

“Now, go to my father and tell him his son is alive and in a position of great power. Bring him, all of his house, herds, and possessions to me. You’ll settle in Goshen nearby, the lushest in all the land. I’ll provide for you during these lean years, and you’ll prosper.”

Joseph embraced his brother Benjamin and wept. He kissed every brother, his tears drenching each face.

When word reached Pharaoh that his governor’s brothers were with him, he smiled. “Have your brothers take our wagons with them to bring back their wives and children,” he instructed Joseph. “Tell them not to bother collecting their possessions, because they’ll have the best of all Egypt when they settle here.”

Inspiration: Genesis 45

Judah’s plea

The brothers returned to the palace and fell at Zaphenath’s feet.

“What is this evil deed you have done? Were you not aware that I am a man of deep insight?” Zaphenath asked them.

Judah spoke up. “Tell us how to make amends. Our God has seen our guilt and has repaid us for what we’ve done. We have come to serve you in your house. If Benjamin is a slave, then his brothers are slaves along with him.”

“You speak nonsense,” Zaphenath replied. “The guilty party acted alone, and he alone will be my slave. No, go to your father in Canaan and live in peace.”

Judah stood up. “My lord,” he said, taking a step closer, “I pray, allow me to speak without getting angry at your servant. You’re like Pharaoh in wisdom and splendor.”

“Very well. Speak.”

“My lord, you accused us of being spies. We told you that we have a father who is old and a younger brother, born in his old age. He’s the only son left of his mother’s children because his brother is dead. You ordered us to bring him to you, to prove that we weren’t spies. We told you Benjamin couldn’t leave our father, who loves his son more than his own life. You insisted, taking Simeon captive and threatening to sever our relationship if we didn’t return with Benjamin. We went back to Canaan and told our father everything. Our father, Israel, refused to release Benjamin to us. After our rations were gone, he told us to go buy more food. We refused, having remembered your words, lest we take Benjamin with us. Our father said, ‘The wife I loved gave me two sons before she died. One has surely been ravaged by wild animals. If you take Benjamin, and he is hurt, I will die along with him.’ If we don’t return to Canaan with Benjamin, our father, whose life is entwined in Benjamin’s, will go to the grave, full of sorrow. I have vouched for his life, and I would rather die than return to my father without my brother. Now, release my brother, and I will serve you in his place. Let Benjamin return to the father who loves him more than life itself.”

Inspiration: Genesis 44

Benjamin detained

Zaphenath summoned his steward and said, “Take these men’s empty sacks and overfill them with food. Then put their money back at the top of each sack.”

“Yes, lord,” the steward said.

“Take my cup,” Zaphenath continued, “and put it in the sack that belongs to Benjamin, the youngest brother.”

The brothers didn’t understand the Egyptian tongue and didn’t know what was happening.

“Yes, lord.” The steward took the royal cup and left the assembly.

The next morning, the brothers loaded their donkeys and took to the road leading out of the city. They hadn’t gone far when Zaphenath directed his steward again.

“Go, overtake the brothers on the road and ask, ‘Why have you betrayed your lord who treated you with love and compassion? He has given you everything, and yet you’ve stolen his silver cup!’”

So the steward and his retinue overtook the brothers, who had just begun their long journey into the harsh wilderness to Canaan.

“Halt! Why have you stolen your lord’s silver cup when he treated you with so much respect? Does he not drink from his cup and use it to divine the will of God?”

Reuben, in shock, replied, “Why are you accusing us of this? We’d never do that! We brought back the money we found at the top of our sacks on our first visit. Stealing from our lord doesn’t make any sense.”

“Nevertheless, you have done this evil thing. This is how Israel’s sons repay Egypt’s hospitality.”

“If you find our lord’s cup in anyone’s possession,” Judah said, white knuckles clutching his staff, “put him to death.”

“More than that, “Reuben added, “we will all return with you and become slaves in your house.”

“By my lord’s will, who is merciful,” the steward said, dismounting his horse, “whoever has the cup will return with us as a slave of the house. The rest of you may go free.”

Every brother dropped his sack to the ground and untied it. The steward went around to every bag, beginning with Reuben the elder and ending with Benjamin the younger.

“What have we here?”

When the steward found the cup in Benjamin’s sack, his men tied Benjamin’s wrists and escorted him back to the palace.

The brothers tore their garments and lamented until the sun shone directly overhead. Then, just as they had done earlier that morning, they fastened their loads, but instead of going home, they went back to the city.

Inspiration: Genesis 44

Benjamin’s portion

After they had washed their feet and quenched their thirst, the brothers were led into a large dining hall, more lavish than the meeting hall.

Reuben took from his bag all the gifts Israel told the brothers to present to the lord, Zaphenath.

When Zaphenath entered with his guards and servants, the brothers bowed low to the ground and presented their gifts of gum, resin, nuts, balm, and honey. A servant gathered up the commodities on an oblong tray and left with the platter stacked high.

“We accept your gifts. Sit, sit,” Zaphenath said through his interpreter. He leaned forward with a hand on his knee. “How’s your father? Is he well?”

The brothers sat at the table, taken aback by the lord’s courtesy and his concern over their father’s well-being.

“Your servant Israel is alive and well, my lord,” Reuben answered.

Zaphenath walked over to Benjamin and looked into his eyes.

“You must be the youngest son of Israel,” he said, quirking an eyebrow and smiling. “God’s grace be upon you, son.”

Zaphenath turned away abruptly and left the hall. As he exited, tears gushed from his eyes. Great affection welled within him as he cried in a private chamber for several minutes.

Then he washed his face, composed himself, and re-entered the hall. “Serve us our meal!” he ordered. Servants from every corner of the room who had been standing in wait for the master’s orders served the brothers a feast fit for kings. At a separate table, the Egyptian household ate, and Zaphenath sat alone.

After everyone had their fill, the brothers were assigned seats before the great lord, in order by birthright. Reuben sat to Zaphenath’s left, and Benjamin took the position at his right hand. The brothers were astonished by this and looked at one another as if to ask, “How did he know?”

The servants brought in decadent cakes and set them before the guests, but Benjamin’s portion was five times larger than any of his brothers.

Wine flowed liberally into the afternoon.

Inspiration: Genesis 43