These are the generations of Jacob: Reuben. Simeon. Levi. And Judah. Dan. Naphtali. Gad. And Asher. Issachar. And Zebulun. Joseph. And Benjamin.
Genesis 50, the final chapter of Genesis, may be viewed in three parts: the beginning (50:1-14); the middle (50:15-21); and the end (50:22-26). And these generations of Jacob – these twelve brothers – are in each part. In the beginning, these twelve brothers returned to Egypt together. In the middle, these twelve brothers were in Egypt together. And in the end, these twelve brothers remained in Egypt together. The big question is, why?
None Like These Brothers
There have been many brothers throughout Genesis, but none like these brothers. There were Ishmael and Isaac. When their dad died, these two brothers buried him together and then went their separate ways, never to see each other again (Genesis 25:9). There were Esau and Jacob. When their dad died, these two brothers buried him together and then went their separate ways, never to see each other again (Genesis 35:29). But not these twelve brothers. No, when their dad died, these twelve brothers buried him together and then went their separate ways, only to see each other again.
Each brother is back in Egypt. Joseph at his house, probably the second largest house in all of Egypt, and his brothers are each in their tent on their ranch just outside the city limits. Perhaps on a clear day, Joseph’s house can be seen from here. Some time has apparently passed and it has been a while since anyone has seen Joseph. Come to think of it, no one has seen Joseph since dad died. And he was rather quiet on the return to Egypt. Listen then to verse fifteen. “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.’”
What reason would these brothers have to think this way? Could it be that they remembered the story of Esau and Jacob? Esau hated Jacob and planned to kill his brother but not until their dad died (27:41). And so, they send a note to their brother. “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘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.” (50:16-17).
Why do the brothers send a note? It is the note that does all the talking. And Joseph hears every word and at the sound of every word Joseph weeps! Joseph is just about the only man in Genesis who cries and most of his tears are at the sound and sight of his brothers. Listen to the English Standard translation of verse seventeen. “Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” Joseph heard his brothers’ voices in this note. And as he wept, it is audible almost like a wailing, he looked up and there was each brother, all eleven, kneeling in his living room before him. Why do the brothers send a note and why does Joseph weep at the note? Fear. The brothers out of fear send this note to their brother; afraid that all Joseph has done since Genesis 42 was motivated by affection for dad, not out of any real affection for them.
Is the note real? I mean, why the note now? It seems too good to be true, too convenient. And did Jacob really say this to these eleven, well, really ten sons? There are only two records of Jacob giving a command to his sons before he died. The first was to Joseph alone. “Do not bury me in Egypt” (Genesis 47:29). And the second time was to all of his twelve sons together. “Bury me with my fathers” (Genesis 49:29). So, was there a third time, a private moment with these particular brothers, no Joseph, that Jacob commanded his sons? Maybe. It sounds good, but seems suspect. But there is something good about it.
Behold, We Are Your Servants
Whether truly genuine or not, there is a glimpse into the heart of these brothers. There is a glimpse that these brothers recognized something.
At the end of verse eighteen, the brothers bowed themselves before Joseph and present themselves as their brother’s servants. Bowing is an act of humility. Now think of it; these brothers are seeking forgiveness for something that they did nearly forty years ago! And what did these brothers do? Keep in mind Benjamin is there too and he had no part of the plan to kill Joseph. Neither was Benjamin a part of selling Joseph, accepting actual money, into slavery. But he is there, too, bowing. And what did these brothers do? Listen closely to Genesis 50:17. “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” It is important to see that these brothers called what they did not a mistake; not a failure; not an accident; not an error or lapse in judgment; not a disorder or disease or…but a break, a breaking of trust. The brothers called it sin. The brothers called it evil.
And the Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And the Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And the Bible says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Isaiah 1:18-19). And the Bible says this to who?
But God Meant It For Good
In Genesis 50:19-21, Joseph responds to his brothers. And let’s not forget his tears. This is not an unmoved, stoic man. And his response is summed in the last few words of verse twenty-one. “Thus he comforted them.” So, all that he said in verses nineteen through twenty-one was to comfort them. And his comfort for them are these words: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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. So do not fear.”
Twice he tells his brothers to not fear. Why? The brothers intended evil against Joseph, but God intended it for good. And circle that word good. This is a part of the section of Genesis called the generations or account of Jacob. There are eleven of these sections in Genesis; each begin with the words the generations or account of… The very first section is called the generations or account of the heavens and the earth when they were created (Genesis 2:4). This includes both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. What did God say about the creation of the heavens and the earth? God looked at what he had just created and saw that it was good. And what then is Genesis 3 all about? It is about Adam and his wife and transgression and sin and evil that they did. Sin broke what was good. Sin always breaks what is good. But be sure to listen to this; in Genesis 3 in the midst of what the serpent intended for evil and what Adam intended for evil and what Eve intended for evil, God surprises all three with the hope of the Savior. This has been called the first pronouncement of the gospel, also known as good news (Genesis 3:15).
And when Genesis closes there is this final word from Joseph for his brothers, words of comfort, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good;” meaning, since Genesis 3, not just in the life of Joseph, but including the life of Joseph, God in all of his dealings, all of his workings, has been continuing to bring about his good plan.
Now keeping watching closely. God meant it, meaning what these brothers did to Joseph, for good, but good for whom? Listen to all of verse twenty. “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.” Who was it good for? Joseph is not saying that it was good for him, although it was pretty good for him – he is the second most powerful man in the world. But what does Joseph say? Remember back to Genesis 45:5-11. He told his brothers to not be angry with themselves for what they did to Joseph. They did not send Joseph to Egypt, God did. In other words, God was in control the whole time! But keep listening to Genesis 50:20. Who was it good for? It was good for many people, that many people should kept alive, as they are today. So, the good was for those who were living today! The good was to keep many people alive. Keep this in mind; this evil the brothers did was something the brothers did forty years ago. But what they did forty years ago was for a good forty years later. Is that not amazing? But it gets better. Who in particular was alive today because of Joseph? These eleven brothers, ten of whom intended evil. Wow.
It reminds of Acts 2; a sermon. It takes place some fifty days after the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And fifty days later, Peter preaches to those who at the cross were yelling crucify him, crucify him! And the heart of his message is this: you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. What is the good? To give you new life. And the beauty and wonder of that message is on that day those who yelled the most awful things about and to Jesus, on this day said, what can we do to get this new life? The Bible says, repent. Call sin what it is and believe Jesus for who he is and all that he is to be for you and get saved (Acts 2:14-41). At that message, three thousand people were given new life.
There Is So Much For Us
The end, the third part of Genesis 50 is Joseph on his death bed. And he is with his brothers. And with his brothers he commands them to look forward to the day when God will surely visit them (this would be in about 400 years). God is coming for his people, to take them to his promised land. And Joseph has his brothers promise to carry his bones out of Egypt to that promised land on that day. The writer of Hebrews observes that out of Joseph’s entire life, this was the moment he really shined. He said these things by faith (Hebrews 11:22). He was looking forward to the reality to come and in a sense he tasted it now.
And as Genesis concludes, there is so much for us! It is to be like these brothers. How so?
1. Be fighting sin daily. Romans 8:12-13 puts it like this: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” How do you fight sin daily? You do not fight sin daily by yourself. The way it is worded here is to put sin to death, that is, kill it. So, you do not kill sin all by yourself. Are you saved? If you are saved you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you and so by his supernatural power you kill sin daily by calling sin what it is; sin and by saying no to it.
2. Have a goodward perspective daily. Romans 8:12-39 is the commentary on Genesis 50. And Romans 8:28 is the commentary on Genesis 50:20. Listen to Genesis Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The goodward perspective is this: in any of the unpleasant and undesirable things we endure, God indeed intends it for good, but sometimes that good is not for us. Sometimes that good is for others. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
And listen to those first few words of Romans 8:28. “And we know….” We can know this! How can we know this? This is part of that goodward perspective. How can we know? “As long as the cross stands in history, no one who knows its meaning will be able to pronounce a limitation on God’s providence.”