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

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

Joseph rules

Pharaoh said, “Joseph of the Hebrews, God has shown you something no one else has seen. Therefore, it suits you to rule over my house and my people. The only thing I will withhold from you is the throne.”

Pharaoh took off his signet ring and placed it on Joseph’s finger. Then he addressed the servant at Joseph’s side. “Dress the new governor in quality linens,” he said, “and give him a gold chain.”

Outfitted like a king, Joseph mounted the general’s chariot, and the officers of the guard escorted him through the city streets. Servants prepared the way in front of his royal train, shouting, “Bow your knee, your master is in your midst!”

Later that evening, Pharaoh and Joseph met in Pharaoh’s counseling chambers. “You need a name,” he told his new confidant. “We’ll call you Zaphenath-Paneah.”

“Thank you, Lord.”

“And you’ll have Asenath, the priest’s daughter, as a wife. Without your consent, no one moves a muscle in the entire land of Egypt.”

And so it was with Joseph, now Zaphenath.

Zaphenath left the palace on frequent business trips for the next seven years. The earth yielded an abundant volume of food, and he would make sure a fifth of the produce from the fields were freighted to the storehouses in every city. Soon there was such a surplus of grain, he stopped tallying up each shipment.

During this time, Zaphenath also fathered two sons with his wife, Asenath. He named his firstborn Manasseh, saying, “God caused me to forget my troubles and my brothers.” He named the second son Ephraim, saying “God has let me prosper in a land of hardship.”

Soon enough, just as Pharaoh had dreamed, the famine began. In every land, far and wide, the famine’s effects devastated the people, but Egypt had bread and plenty of it. The people came in droves from all over the world to seek the exalted god of Egypt for food.

Pharaoh said, “Go see Zaphenath-Paneah.”

Zaphenath opened wide the doors of the storehouses and sold grain to all who needed food.

Inspiration: Genesis 41