Here is a list of the posts in Barbara’s series on blindness.
Don Hennessy speaks with wisdom and compassion. Much good info here.
One thing I learned that I hadn’t heard before was Don giving more details about the Cork Relationship Counseling Centre’s experience of running groups for male perpetrators. After running those groups for a while, they realised that the groups were doing more harm than good.
- The abusers were learning new abusive strategies from each other.
- The target women were expecting the men’s groups to reform their partners / ex-partners, so they felt let down by the counseling centre.
The counselors keep running the men’s groups for a while longer, not in the expectation they would be able to change the men for the better, but in order to study the men to be able to find a language that described the abusive men’s mentality and strategies.
They eventually concluded that men who abuse their intimate female partners were using the same strategies as PEDOPHILES — targetting, setting up, and grooming. They also concluded that men who abuse adult women in intimate relationships are better at targetting, setting up and grooming than pedophiles are.
This interview of Don Hennessy was done in 2018, but I have only just found it.
I will be adding this post to my Don Hennessy Digest. If you want to learn more about Don’s work, click that link.
Joseph’s treatment of his brothers was not vindictive or bitter, but it was shrewd and calculating. He boxed them into a corner. To plan and execute that complex series of tests required wisdom and strategy.
Shrewd and calculating ≠ cold and heartless
Joseph is a good example of how being shrewd and calculating does not necessarily mean being cold and heartless. In order to be wise as serpents yet harmless as doves, shrewd calculation is sometimes necessary.
How to help re-activate a person’s conscience
Only the Holy Spirit can convict a person of sin. To whatever extent the brothers felt conviction in their hearts, Joseph was a subsidiary (second cause) of the brothers coming to feel that way. In a sense, Joseph was intelligently cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting sinners. His tests helped reactivate the seared consciences of his brothers. The narrative leaves us in no doubt that all his actions were done in love.
It is not necessarily our role to help God reactivate another person’s congealed conscience. God can do that entirely on His own! But if we are to play a subsidiary part, how can we do so? How can we help a person who no longer feels the pricks of conviction because he has persistently suppressed them? If that person’s sins are defined as crimes under the criminal code, we can report the crimes to the police and hope that the State, which wields the sword, will legally prove guilt and punish the offender. If — big if! — we are in a local church where the elders are astute, we can report the offender’s sins to the church in the hope that the church will apply discipline to the offender (e.g., remove the offender’s privileges, leadership position, even excommunicate the offender). However, as we know, both church discipline and the legal system often fail to properly investigate and enforce justice. And even when those institutions carry out justice rightly, the sinner does not necessarily admit his sin, let alone genuinely repent and reform.
Test the sinner by setting moral dilemmas which require him to act
As individuals, we will almost certainly be ineffective if we confront the sinner point blank. If we tackle the confirmed sinner head-on about his egregious sin, his conscience is most hardened on that very point, so we will achieve nothing. He doesn’t feel the weight of that accusation. The way to do it is to find or create issues (moral dilemmas) that will link to the issues we really want the person to face. This is the strategy that Joseph used with his brothers: he gave them experiences where ‘the boot was on the other foot’ (they were the ones who were imprisoned, falsely accused, called spies, etc.) and where they were put in the moral dilemma of either sacrificing another vulnerable person or protecting the vulnerable person. Joseph’s set-ups compelled the brothers to choose. They couldn’t ignore the test: they had to act.
Use stories and parables to prick the hardened conscience
Another way to penetrate a hardened conscience is to tell a story that is analogous to the sinner’s issue. On the surface, the story doesn’t name the person we are trying to convict. If the person sees the weight of the moral issue in the story, we can then help them make the connection to themselves and their own behaviour.
The prophet Nathan used this strategy when he told a parable to King David. He did not start off by accusing David directly. Instead, he told a story which brought David to express moral indignation about the sinner’s conduct in the parable. Then he confronted David: “Thou art the man!” (2 Sam 12:1-15).
Another example of the ‘tell a story’ strategy is in 2 Sam 14:1-21. David had banished Absalom for murdering Amnon. Joab got the woman of Tekoa to tell a story to David. The woman recounted the story as if it had really happened to her, but it was a made-up story. In that sense, what she did was akin to Joseph telling lies to test his brothers: she lied, but her falsehood was only done with a harmless and benevolent agenda. Her story elicited David’s sympathy. Then, with great courtesy and deference to his office of kingship, she showed David how the story related to his own treatment of Absalom. This pricked his conscience and he relented from his harsh attitude to Absalom — he allowed Absalom to return from exile.
Many of the parables of Jesus fall into this category too — they were aimed at activating the seared conscience because it would have been profitless (and potentially dangerous) to hit the sinners between the eyes with their sin.
Comparing ourselves with Joseph
Even if we (as victims of abuse) are unable to do much to help God activate the seared conscience of our abuser, we can learn a lot from Joseph about wise reconciliation.
We do not have the powers of the State, as Joseph had. We are not rulers of the land. We do not have the power to imprison, to set free, to ‘set up’ and accuse, to shower gifts and favours. We probably don’t have the power to demand the production of ‘evidence’ (Benjamin), or to withhold the basic food that keeps body and soul together. But if we do desire continuing relationship with the offender, we can, like Joseph, purposefully refrain from reconciliation until it is proven safe. We can withhold reconciliation until the abuser genuinely demonstrates reformation of character, and this has been proved by testing the abuser under pressure, in situations of temptation.
If you are currently separated from your abuser and you need wisdom to be able to test your abuser in this way, I suggest you pray for that wisdom. God may give you ideas about how to test your abuser. You might have friends or counsellors who can assist with devising tests. The counselors need to be wise to the deceptions of abusers and the counterfeit reformations of abusers. You might like to ask your friends and counselors to read this series.
Above all, I encourage you not to be afraid of seeming cold and heartless. Remember Joseph — use him as your model.
If people misjudge you as cold and calculating; take courage. God looks at the heart, not on outward appearances. God knows the difference between sham reconciliation and true reconciliation. God does not want sham reconciliations, and he certainly does not want dangerous reconciliations where the abuser will turn again and rend you to pieces.
Perhaps some of Joseph’s strategic brilliance came from divinely imparted wisdom, but some also came from his own maturity of character. I venture to suggest that this is one of the biggest differences between us and Joseph. What Joseph had is what we so often lack. Let me make that personal: What Joseph had is what I so often lack. Allow me to show you what I mean.
When his brothers first presented themselves to him, Joseph’s heart was ready to burst with joy for the impending reunion, but he hid his emotion. He kept under control his need for reunion; he was strong enough to set that need to one side while he put into effect the series of tests. Are we victims that strong? Often we are not. We fall with relief into the open arms of our (un-reformed) abuser, glad for his enfoldment of us, happy to drop whatever half-hearted boundaries we might have been forming, ready to ‘forgive and forget’ in naivety rather than wisdom.
Of course, our cultural and church conditioning trains us to take this approach, and our position in society is far less powerful than Joseph’s was in Egypt. So it is not really fair to compare ourselves too unfavourably with Joseph. But I know that for me there was a weakness in my personality and in my understanding that contributed to the sliding back into the unchanged relationship with my abuser. The personality weakness came from my sexual abuse in childhood; the weakness in understanding came from the lack of good counsel I had received on the subject of abuse and reconciliation with one’s abuser.
Dear reader, lest you collapse in self-condemnation or despair about the vast difference between Joseph’s strong character and your own, I will now point out some other significant differences.
When Joseph tested his brothers so stringently, he came from a position of robust health, self-confidence and social approval.
The abuse Joseph suffered, whilst grave, was not so extreme, soul destroying or prolonged that he was permanently damaged. Joseph’s trauma was relatively light compared to the trauma of long-term domestic abuse, repeated rape, child abuse, being tortured for a prolonged time, being a concentration camp victim, or a prisoner of war under the Japanese. He had not been manipulated for years into thinking that ‘it was all his fault’. He had not been so systematically traumatised and manipulated that he had bonded with his abusers as the only way of coping with the untenable.
Even during Joseph’s years in prison, his good character had been acknowledged and valued. In contrast, the good character of a victim of domestic abuse is rarely acknowledged and valued by her friends, family, church and church leaders. Her abuser only pretends to acknowledge her good character when he is at the stage of the cycle where he is ‘treating her like a princess’ and is trying to manipulate her to get things such as sexual favours.
Unlike most victims of abuse who are considering reconciliation, Joseph the Governor had not been living with his abusers for many years. It was about twenty years since he had been subject to the original abuse by his brothers; and it was seven years since he had been released from prison and elevated to the position of Governor (five years of plenty, two years of famine). He had well and truly recovered from whatever ill health the abuse had caused in his body, and the damage it had caused in his soul. His life was in order, his housing secure, he had no family court matters pending or judged against him, he was in a well paid, high status job, his children weren’t abusing him or out of control, his family life was stable, and he was not lonely.
Furthermore, Joseph had no circle of acquaintances who were likely to collude with his abusers’ point of view. These Egyptians didn’t know Joseph’s brothers, nor did they know any of the history of the relationship. They did not have any doctrinal agendas which might incline them to put pressure on Joseph to reconcile quickly. In addition, Joseph did not have children with his abusers. His children were not putting pressure on him by saying to him “Daddy, can’t we let them come and live with us?” If and when he did choose to reconcile with his brothers, it was most unlikely he would be living under the same roof with them. To summarise, Joseph was in no fear of his former abusers, no-one was colluding with his abusers, and he was in no desperate straits in other departments of his life.
This should be a lesson to the church which, having listened to and believed an abuse victim, is trying to support her. If she can be helped to gain control and security in all the departments of her life — basic safety and protection from ongoing abuse, housing, finance, health, bringing up children, employment, legal stability, friendship, emotional recovery (which includes looking at and understanding the abuse in all its details), then she is likely to be in a position of strength from which she can with safety and wisdom consider the path of reconciliation. If she is not helped with these things, she is more likely to make poor choices… poor choices of unwise reconciliation, of unwise re-partnering, of neglecting or even abandoning her faith — the list could go on and on. And so could the abuse.
It is my prayer that abuse will cease, that misunderstanding will be no more, that suffering will end. However, the Bible tells us that only in the new heaven and the new earth will there be no more tears. If there must be tears, let us seek to promote the tears of godly separation from ungodly perpetrators, rather than the tears of the prisoners who believe they are condemned forever to imprisoning relationships. Let us help rebuild lives, let us examine the bridges we build to others, and if there could be reconciliation, let us promote only the careful, wise, well-tested reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers.
Posts in this Joseph series
Part 3: Reconciled with his brothers
Part 5: Is this post
Related series: Is it always sinful to tell an untruth?
After their father died, the ten older brothers were afraid of Joseph’s anger. This post explores why. It also discusses the value of comprehensive horizontal confession: confessing in detail to the person we have hurt exactly how we sinned against them.
(Gen 50:14-15) After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone with him to bury his father.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”
They worried that Joseph had not fully forgiven them. They thought that perhaps Joseph had been concealing his grudge while their father was alive, but now that their father was dead there would be nothing to restrain him from taking vengeance on them.
Why were they so anxious about this? There is no indication in the entire Genesis narrative that Joseph had been privately nursing (let alone subtly emanating) resentment against his brothers. Everything Joseph had said and done had been godly.
It seems to me that the older brothers still had unquiet consciences about their abuse of Joseph even though twenty-two years had elapsed since their emigration to Egypt. I suggest that the brothers were anxious because they had accepted Joseph’s forgiveness and enjoyed the privileges he bestowed on them, but they had never confessed in detail all their sins to Joseph. Having observed and heard about the behaviour of many abusers, having studied the abuser’s way of thinking, this hypothesis makes sense to me.
At no time after Joseph had revealed his identity to them do we ever see them saying to Joseph anything like this: “Our consciences are gnawing at us. We did wrong — terrible wrong — when we hated you, mocked your dreams, were jealous of you, held you in contempt, plotted to kill you, threw you into a pit, sat beside the pit and ate food without offering you any, sold you to the Midianites, and concocted a lie to our father that you had been killed by wild animals. To make matters worse, we then hypocritically comforted our father in his grief. We let our father believe our lie for years. We repeated that lie to you when we came to buy grain. We kept on allowing our father to believe that lie until you compelled us to reveal our deception to him. Thank you for pressing us so hard that we had to tell our father the truth. Thank you for your great kindness to us; we did not deserve it.”
Nor do we see Judah saying to Joseph anything like this: “I have something particular to confess. It was my idea to sell you to the Midianites. I was more greedy than merciful. I wanted to make money out of you rather than simply leave you in the pit.”
On their second grain-buying trip to Egypt, when the silver cup had been found in Benjamin’s sack, Judah had made a confession of sorts to the Governor (Joseph): “What can we say to my lord? How can we plead? How can we justify ourselves? God has exposed your servants’ iniquity.” (Gen. 44:16) On the surface, Judah had been confessing about the cup and the money in their sacks. However, the ten older brothers privately knew the deeper meaning of Judah’s confession: God was harrowing their calloused hearts and exposing to them their old iniquities — their abuse of their brother Joseph and their deception of their father.
Now, years after that superficial confession, their father had died and they were anxious about Joseph becoming vengeful. One way the brothers could have dealt with their anxiety would have been to seek a face-to-face meeting with Joseph to confess their sins in detail. But rather than doing that, they sent this message to Joseph:
(50:16-18) So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin—the suffering they caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”
Joseph wept when their message came to him. His brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your servants!”
I wonder — did Jacob really command the ten older brothers to ask Joseph to forgive them? Or did the brothers make up Jacob’s deathbed speech? If they simply invented it, that would have been another lie to save their own skin. People who are reforming their character defects can sometimes slip back (even if only temporarily) into their old self-serving behaviours. (I know this from working on my own character reformation.)
On the other hand, if Jacob actually had instructed the brothers to humbly ask Joseph for forgiveness, why did the brothers repeat Jacob’s words to Joseph? Why not just send Joseph a message like this: “Please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father. Please forgive our sins against you. Please forgive us for all the suffering we caused you.” Was there any need for them to preface their request by quoting Jacob’s speech? Did they think that by introducing their request with Jacob’s words they would influence Joseph to be generous towards them?
On a related note, if Jacob actually did say those words to the brothers before he died, he must have had an inkling that their consciences were not wholly clear. Maybe Jacob was aware that the brothers were feeling anxious about Joseph paying them back for the suffering they caused him. The Bible does not narrate the episode where the brothers confessed to their father that they had deceived him about Joseph’s disappearance, but what transpired during that episode may have revealed a lot to Jacob about how the brothers were feeling about themselves and how they were feeling about their abuse of Joseph.
Jacob had been a deceiver in his youth. He had deceived his own father, thus obtaining the blessing which Isaac had meant to give to Esau. He knew how deceivers thought! He had fled from Esau’s wrath, spent years working for his uncle Laban in Syria, and on his way back to Canaan, he had wrestled with God. He had been very afraid that Esau would take vengeance on him, despite all those years having passed. As he grew old, he would have reflected on all this. And he wanted the best for all his sons.
Ideally, confession needs to be horizontal as well as vertical. Sometimes it is not possible to confess to the person I hurt — that person might have died, or I do not know how to contact them. But that was not the case with these brothers. The older brothers needed to confess and beg Joseph’s forgiveness from a place of complete humility and transparency. Not because Joseph had to hear this to be satisfied, but because a full confession brings cleansing.
The following two verses are about vertical confession but — by extension — they have some application to horizontal confession.
If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
For if you acknowledge with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and believe with your heart that God raised him up from death, you will be safe. For the belief of the heart justifies, and to acknowledge [confess] with the mouth makes a man safe. (Rom. 10:9-10)
Vertical confession needs to be accompanied by horizontal confession (if possible).
Therefore when you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way first and be reconciled to your brother; and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24)
Horizontal confession — confessing to the person I hurt — helps me keep a clean conscience before God. If I resist the pricks of my conscience that tell me to make horizontal confession to someone I have wronged, my conscience gnaws at me. I know it is sinful to squash my conscience when it is instructing me rightly. (‘Rightly’ is a key word in that last sentence. Over the years of my recovery from abuse, I’ve been learning to differentiate false guilt from real guilt.)
Not that my acts of confession justify me. My works, whatever they are, do not justify me. Faith alone justifies. William Tyndale set this forth beautifully in his Prologue to Romans:
When I say that faith alone justifies, understand that only faith and trust in the truth of God and in the mercy promised to us in Christ Jesus, and him crucified, obtains this reconciliation with God, confers Christ’s innocence upon us so that we are pronounced righteous, and assures our consciences that our sins are forgiven, and we are in the full favour of God.
The words the brothers used when they sent their message to Joseph are illuminating: “And now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father.” Those words echo a phrase used by Joseph’s steward — “Your God and the God of your father…” (Gen 43:23). In saying ‘the God of thy father’’, the brothers were acknowledging that Jacob’s God was the right God. In saying ‘the God of thy father’ they were implicitly acknowledging that Joseph had never rejected God, whereas they had rejected God. So they were saying: You were right, we were wrong; we spurned the true God when we abused you, we were not true Israelites; but we now plead to come back. Their words acknowledged that they had gone into apostasy as abusers, which Joseph had implicitly accused them of when his ‘divining’ cup was missing.
(50:19-21 ) But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result — the survival of many people. Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Here we see two things. Firstly, Joseph does not minimise or ignore their wrongdoing — he names it squarely: you planned evil against me. Secondly, we see Joseph’s forgiveness, his love for his brothers, and his longing to nurture them.
* * *
Genesis quotes are from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). NT quotes are from the New Matthew Bible (NMB).
Posts in this Joseph series
Part 3: Reconciled with his brothers
Part 4: Is this post
Related series: Is it always sinful to tell an untruth?
A list of all the posts in my series “Is it always sinful to tell an untruth?”
If I ever get the time to write more posts in this series, I will add them to this list.
Note: Numbers 5 & 6 in this list also belong to another series (the Joseph series).
Joseph would have been glad to see his older brothers again, but he still did not know how far he could trust them. In order to test them he had set them up with charges of theft (see part 2 of this series). Now he needed to see how they would respond.
(Gen 44:14 -16 CSB) When Judah and his brothers reached Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell to the ground before him. “What have you done?” Joseph said to them. “Didn’t you know that a man like me could uncover the truth by divination?”
“What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “How can we plead? How can we justify ourselves? God has exposed your servants’ iniquity. We are now my lord’s slaves—both we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.”
The brothers prostrated themselves before Joseph for a third time. It seems that by default the older brothers let Judah be their spokesman. To Joseph’s formal accusation, Judah proclaimed and confessed that they were all guilty, that God knew their iniquity, and that, although only one was culpable for the cup, they all deserved and would gladly take punishment.
Judah said “God has exposed your servants’ iniquity.” Was it a good sign that Judah referenced God in his confession? At face value, Judah was confessing their collective guilt for stealing the cup and the money. Joseph knew they had not stolen those things, therefore the guilt they claimed to feel was false guilt. But previously, Joseph had overheard them talking their true guilt for selling him into slavery and telling their father he was killed by wild animals.
Perhaps it was a good sign that under the accusation of theft the brothers seem to have properly felt the helplessness that comes from knowing one’s sins are abhorrent to God. But an abuser can readily confess guilt when under pressure. The question is, what does the abuser do after such a confession? In this case, Judah said ‘we will all be your slaves’. This was not just a promise to go to counseling. It was not a vague promise to be good from now on. It was offering themselves as lifelong slaves to the Governor of Egypt.
(44:17-23) Then Joseph said, “I swear that I will not do this. The man in whose possession the cup was found will be my slave. The rest of you can go in peace to your father.”
But Judah approached him and said, “My lord, please let your servant speak personally to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ and we answered my lord, ‘We have an elderly father and a younger brother, the child of his old age. The boy’s brother is dead. He is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him to me so that I can see him.’ But we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father. If he were to leave, his father would die.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘If your younger brother does not come down with you, you will not see me again.’”
Judah respectfully reminded the Governor of the moral dilemma he had placed them in when they last left Egypt. The Governor had instructed them to bring Benjamin to Egypt even though it might kill their father to part with him. In reiterating that former conversation, Judah repeated the old lie that one of their brothers was dead. Hmm… to what extent had the brothers reformed from what they had been twenty years ago?
(44:24-31) “This is what happened when we went back to your servant my father: We reported to him the words of my lord. But our father said, ‘Go again, and buy us a little food.’ We told him, ‘We cannot go down unless our younger brother goes with us. If our younger brother isn’t with us, we cannot see the man.’ Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One is gone from me — I said he must have been torn to pieces — and I have never seen him again. If you also take this one from me and anything happens to him, you will bring my gray hairs down to the grave in sorrow.’ So if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us — his life is wrapped up with the boy’s life — when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die. Then your servants will have brought the gray hairs of your servant our father down to the grave in sorrow.”
Judah’s speech seems to demonstrate compassionate empathy for his father. The beautiful phrase his life is wrapped up with the boy’s life could indicate that the brothers had changed for the better.
One of the pains of being abused is being constantly misunderstood — being blamed for things that aren’t your fault, being told you have attitudes or motives or feelings that you don’t have at all. A victim yearns to be understood and believed. A victim yearns for true empathy.
Judah and his brothers had been selfish. But now in Judah’s speech we hear selflessness, putting the needs of another before one’s own. This selflessness is what victims of abuse have longed for, prayed for, believed for, hoped for, from their spouse… and have tried to demonstrate to their spouse, despite the continual trauma of abuse.
Let’s go back to Judah. Speechifying is not enough. Do self-sacrificial actions follow?
44:32-34 “Your servant became accountable to my father for the boy, saying, ‘If I do not return him to you, I will always bear the guilt for sinning against you, my father.’ Now please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave, in place of the boy. Let him go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm my father.”
Judah brought his plea to a climax by offering to take Benjamin’s punishment on himself. He had promised his father that he would make sure Benjamin came home. Now he was following through with that promise.
An unreformed abuser might have rehearsed his opening speech to the Governor, but when Judah says “I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm my father”, his spontaneous words have the ring of true empathy. Here we see reformed selflessness; the Christ-type of which Ephesians 5:25 speaks.
(Gen 45:1-3) Joseph could no longer keep his composure in front of all his attendants, so he called out, “Send everyone away from me!” No one was with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. But he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and also Pharaoh’s household heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence.
The emotional drama of this moment is all the greater for its being so long held off. Joseph, who had restrained his tender emotions so well, was now free to release them, discerning that it was safe to do so. Knowing the bridge had been fully inspected by the engineers and discovered to be sound. Knowing that the individuals on the other side of the bridge were not going to throw his pearls before swine. Knowing that his own selflessness would be met by comparably selfless (if rather shocked!) hearts. Knowing that now the relationship would be one of mutuality and respect.
45:4-8 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt. And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
Joseph sought to put their minds at ease. They had felt the anxiety and terror of conviction; they had repented and demonstrated fruits of repentance. Now it was right that they feel the joyous grace of forgiveness, and the sweetness of knowing that the whole bitter history could be forgotten. He assured them that he held no resentment against them because it had all been part of God’s plan, and for a purpose. So completely had he forgiven them that he did not even think to mention it. Instead he urged them to forgive themselves. (Rom. 8:28)
The narrative goes on to record the happy invitation Joseph was now able to make — to have all his family come and live in Egypt and be nourished for the next five years of famine. The brothers were astonished.
45:14 -15 Then Joseph threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him.
Next, Pharaoh himself confirmed Joseph’s offer, and spelt out its generous terms: they were to bring the whole extended family to Egypt, with their animals, and eat of the fat of the land, and not worry about bringing their household goods, for ‘the good of all the land of Egypt is yours’.
45:21-24 The sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them wagons as Pharaoh had commanded, and he gave them provisions for the journey. He gave each of the brothers changes of clothes, but he gave Benjamin three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothes. He sent his father the following: ten donkeys carrying the best products of Egypt and ten female donkeys carrying grain, food, and provisions for his father on the journey. So Joseph sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving, he said to them, “Don’t argue on the way.”
Although he no longer needed to test them, Joseph bestowed still more gifts on Benjamin than the other ten brothers. This was his prerogative and an expression of his special affection for Benjamin; but he may also have done it as an aid for the others — to help them remember and practice their new-found unselfishness, to consolidate the learning they had already made.
George Athas, Professor of Hebrew at Moore College Sydney, says,¹ “We should remember that clothing in the ancient world was far more valuable than today, since it took far longer to produce without modern technologies, and only the wealthy tended to have more than one set of clothes.”
Joseph’s caution “Don’t argue on the way” was wise. They were going back to Jacob and would have to make a clean breast of it with him. While Joseph had been forgiving, the older brothers might well be anxious about recriminations from their father. And Benjamin might have had questions for them on the journey; they would have had to respond to Benjamin with humility and honesty. The word ‘argue’ is a Hebrew word meaning to quiver (with violent emotion, especially anger or fear), be agitated, quake, be excited, perturbed. Joseph was telling his brothers not to be agitated, not to give way to fear or anger on the journey. In other words, Joseph was well aware that after character reformation, there is need for vigilance to make sure the good fruit lasts. All learning comes by repetition and practice.
We can leave this chapter, and (almost) our narrative here. The brothers broke the good news to their father, no recriminations happened, and the emigration of the family took place successfully. There is one little postscript to this saga of abuse and reconciliation, however, which is interesting. In the next part of this series we will move several chapters ahead, to the death of Jacob, who died in Egypt but was buried in Canaan, according to his wish.
¹ Private communication from George Athas who has kindly sent me a section of his draft MS for his forthcoming book Bridging the Testaments (to be published by Zondervan).
Note: I changed ‘Sheol’ to ‘the grave’ in Gen 44:24-31. For more on the meaning and translation of ‘Sheol’, see this article by Ruth Magnusson Davis.
Posts in this Joseph series
Part 3: Is this post.