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.

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

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

Money returned

On the way out of the city, Zebulun opened his sack of grain to feed his donkey, when he noticed his purse half-buried in the grain. It was full!

“Look, brothers,” he said. “My money has been returned to me.”

The brothers stopped and looked inside their sacks. They were dismayed to find that every shekel used to buy grain was still in their possession.

“We’ve stolen from the man,” Dan gasped. “What has God done to us?”

The brothers reached their father’s house as the sun was going down, and they relayed their misadventures to him. When they showed Israel their full bundles of money, his countenance changed from concern to despair.

“You stole from the ruler of Egypt,” he sighed. “Joseph is dead, Simeon is taken captive, and now you would take my beloved Benjamin away.”

“And yet we must. For Simeon’s sake,” Judah said.

Israel shook his head.

Reuben stepped forward. “My two sons’ lives for Benjamin,” he vowed. “If I don’t return him to you alive, you can kill them both.”

“Madness!” Israel shouted. “You should listen to yourself sometime. Benjamin’s brother was ravaged in the wild, and the road to Egypt is treacherous. If he came to harm, I couldn’t bear it. I’d join him in the grave.”

So, Israel his sons’ request for Benjamin.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Alternative plan

After three days, Zaphenath sent for the prisoners.

The brothers presented themselves and pressed in meekly before their Egyptian lord.

“Do what I say, and you’ll live to tell about it,” he said through his interpreter. “If you’ve told me the truth, you’ll have no objection to elect one among you to stay here in my prison while the rest take the grain you’ve purchased to your father and his people. Return with your youngest brother.”

The brothers all looked at one another in confusion. Their lord would release all but one of them instead of imprisoning all but one.

“This we will do,” Reuben answered with a most humble bow. “We give thanks for your kindness.”

“Do as I have instructed, and you’ll be vindicated and live,” Zaphenath emphasized. “I fear God, so I’ll have no innocent blood on my hands.”

They all nodded in agreement, then spoke quietly among themselves.

“This is all happening because of what we did to Joseph,” Judah said.

“We’re paying the price for his innocence,” Dan added.

“We’re paying for his blood,” Reuben corrected.

“Joseph begged for mercy, and we betrayed him,” Simeon said. “We’ve cursed ourselves.”

Reuben elevated his gaze. “I told you not to hurt him,” he said, his eyes glistening with tears.

They stood before Zaphenath, and all the brothers wailed in sorrow. They didn’t know that Zaphenath understood every word they spoke in Hebrew. They didn’t realize they wept for the blood pumping in the veins of their Egyptian lord.

Zaphenath turned away from his brothers, whose cries echoed off the chamber walls, and he wept privately. Then, having composed himself, he returned. Pointing a finger to no one in particular, he commanded, “Bind him!”

The guards brought Simeon forward and fastened heavy chains around his wrists, his ankles, and his neck. He was led out of the great hall.

Zaphenath ordered his officers to fill eight bags of grain and collect the amount owed from each brother. They did exactly as they were instructed, then provided food for the brothers’ journey, loaded their donkeys with grain, and sent them on their way.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Zaphenath’s test

Word spread throughout the land. Egypt had grain for sale. When the news reached Israel, he gathered his sons and said, “What are you all waiting for? Go to Egypt and buy us grain, so we don’t die out here!”

Israel’s ten oldest sons packed their camels and left for Egypt, joining the travelers in Canaan who sought relief from the famine. Benjamin didn’t go with them, because Israel was afraid that he might get hurt. Benjamin was his only living reminder of Rachel, the wife he loved.

Of course, Joseph, now called Zaphenath, governed the entire land, and he was the distributor of grain to everyone. When his brothers came and knelt before the great viceroy, they bowed with their faces to the ground.

Zaphenath recognized them instantly, but he treated them as strangers. “Where are you from?” he asked gruffly through his interpreter.

“We come from Canaan to purchase food from your stores,” Reuben answered for his fellow travelers. It was clear they didn’t recognize their brother at all.

Zaphenath remembered the dream he had as a boy, and how one day he knew that eleven brothers would bow before him. Among Israel’s sons, Zaphenath counted only ten. Where’s Benjamin? he asked himself.

“You’re spies,” he said. “You’ve come to see where our gates weak.”

Judah answered, “Lord, your servants have only come to buy enough grain to feed our family. We all share the same father, a man of God. We wouldn’t lie to you.”

“No, you’re spies, I’m sure of it,” he said as he stood from his royal seat. “Guards, remove these—”

“No, lord, we’re your servants!” Reuben pleaded. “We come from Canaan. Our youngest son is with our father and our other brother is dead.”

“Ah, a test, then!” Zaphenath shouted. “This will be how you prove yourselves: One of you shall go back home, collect your youngest brother, and bring him to me. The rest of you will wait in prison for their return. If you don’t come back with your brother, as surely as Pharaoh lives, you’re spies. And you don’t want to know what I do to spies.”

The brothers agreed to the test as if they had a choice, and the captain of the guard escorted them to the prison until the great lord of Egypt considered which brother to release.

Inspiration: Genesis 42

Lofty dreams

Seventeen-year-old Joseph daily shepherded his father’s flocks with his brothers. While his brothers tended flocks in a brute and callous way, Joseph treated each animal with tenderness and compassion. One day, he went to his father and complained that his brothers were treating the herds with cruelty and neglect.

Now, Israel favored Joseph over his other sons, having fathered him in later years with the wife that he loved, and lavished him with expensive gifts. One was a long cloak with sleeves of multicolored layers. Joseph, oblivious to the overt inequality of favor he received from his father, enjoyed parading around in his robe like a proud peacock. Joseph’s brothers hated Joseph for this, and they never missed an opportunity to speak cruelly to him.

One night, Joseph woke up from a dream, and partly out of spite, he shared it with his brothers. “We were all tying up parcels of grain in the field,” he recounted, “when my parcel stood upright, and your parcels gathered around mine and bowed low to the ground.”

The brothers were indignant. Reuben, the oldest, said, “You think you’re going to rule over us?” The others laughed, but their hearts brooded with anger toward Joseph.

Being young, foolish, and increasingly braggadocious, Joseph shared another dream. In the presence of his father and brothers, he said, “I also dreamed the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me.”

Israel balked. “Watch your tongue, boy,” he rebuked, “You think your dead mother, your brothers, and I are going to bow down to you?”

The contents of the boy’s dream reverberated in Israel’s mind, and the brothers stewed quietly as their wrath intensified.

Inspiration: Genesis 37