Genesis (Part 225)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 50:15-21

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.


Here we learn that Joseph’s brothers worried that with their father gone, a secret grudge that Joseph may have had against them may now come to the fore. Keep in mind that *many* years have passed since their initial reunion. One wonders about their relationship with Joseph in those years to allow such a fear to persist. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 50:15

And when (literally and) Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they (literally, and they) said, Joseph will peradventure hate us,—literally, If Joseph hated us, or pursued us hostilely (sc. what would become of us?), לוּ with the imperfect or future setting forth a possible but undesirable contingency—and will certainly requite us (literally, if returning he caused to return upon usall the evil which we did unto him. “What then?” is the natural conclusion of the sentence. “We must be utterly undone.”

The conversation among the brothers, as reported by the text, reflects a relationship – as they perceive it at least – where Joseph’s love for Jacob protects brothers for whom he otherwise has animosity or contempt. Thus with Jacob deceased, that protection is removed, and they are “undone.” They therefore concoct a scheme. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(16, 17) Thy father did command . . . —Many Jewish expositors consider that this was untrue, and that Jacob was never made aware of the fact that his brethren had sold Joseph into slavery. It is, however, probable, from Genesis 49:6, that Jacob not only knew of it, but saw in Simeon and Levi the chief offenders. But besides the father’s authority the message brings a twofold influence to bear upon Joseph: for first it reminds him that they were his brethren, and next, that they shared the same religious faith—no slight band of union in a country where the religion was so unlike their own.

I am not certain that this command seems untrue. In fact, it seems somewhat likely to me that Jacob might remind his others sons to ask forgiveness of Joseph. It does seem highly unlikely that Jacob was unaware of the fact that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. The Pulpit Commentaries adds the following note to the same two verses:

Genesis 50:16Genesis 50:17

And (under these erroneous though not unnatural apprehensions) they sent a messenger unto Joseph,—literally, they charged Joseph, i.e. they deputed one of their number (possibly Benjamin) to carry their desires to Joseph—saying, Thy father did command before he died, sayingSo shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil (nothing is more inherently probable than that the good man on his death-bed did request his sons to beg their brother’s pardon): and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. Joseph’s brethren in these words at once evince the depth of their humility, the sincerity of their repentance, and the genuineness of their religion. They were God’s true servants, and they wished to be forgiven by their much-offended brother, who, however, had long since embraced them in the arms of his affection. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him—pained that they should for a single moment have enter-rained such suspicions against his love.

Genesis 50:18

And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. Both the attitudes assumed and the words spoken were designed to express the intensity of their contrition and the fervor of their supplication.

Perhaps this is an example of Jacob being somewhat crafty, even on his deathbed. By having his sons make this request of Joseph, they make one more appeal to their brother’s heart and the forgiveness he shows them openly, again, helps draw Joseph closer to them going forward. Joseph likely will work harder, after this, to be certain that his brothers feel no unease. Continuing on with Ellicott in verse 19:

(19) Am I in the place of God?—That is, am I to act as judge, and punish? Judges are sometimes in Hebrew even called God (as in Exodus 21:6Exodus 22:8-91 Samuel 2:25), as exercising His authority.

Notably, Joseph’s reply here presages a famous verse from Deuteronomy 32:35:

Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
    and their doom comes swiftly.’

Joseph indicates then that even prior to Moses, there existed among the Patriarchs a notion that revenge belongs to God and not to man. Finishing the section with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 50:20

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good (literally, and ye were thinking or meditating evil against me; Elohim was thinking or meditating for good, i.e. that what you did should be for good), to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (vide Genesis 45:5).

Genesis 50:21

Now therefore (literally, and now) fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. Thus he repeats and confirms the promise which he had originally made to them when he invited them to come to Egypt (Genesis 45:11Genesis 45:18Genesis 45:19). And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them—literally, to their hearts (cf. Genesis 34:3).

Note in verse 20 that Joseph brings up the theme of God bringing good out of a thing intended for evil. As I have mentioned before, Christian scholars verse Joseph as a “Type” of Jesus Christ and this verse plays into that idea.

Biblical Typology is a way to read the text as a story. The theme mentioned in one place is something you have to keep in your mind, as a reader, because it will come back up again later. That can be a bit confusion as a modern who may sometimes want to treat the text as a historical account.

Joseph is still a ruler in Egypt, and after his father’s death, he works to set his brothers at ease with regard to remaining in Egypt. It is worth remembering, too, that by now it is likely the family has discussed the prophecy which was given to Abraham much earlier in Genesis 15.

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 

As it is unlikely that the famine lasted for four hundred years in Canaan, this prophecy likely helped to convince Jacob’s family to remain in Egypt long after such a time as they were perhaps able to return home. However, that stay in Egypt also likely became less voluntary in future decades.

We are nearly to the end of Genesis. The next section will be the last wherein we examine the verses. I will then do a section wrap-up covering the chapters since the last big section wrap-up and after that I envision topical posts occasionally over ground covered within the book.