Summary: It is at this point that chapter 45 begins. It continues from chapter 44 where Judah tries to reason out with this Egyptian official and offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin in whose sack was Joseph’s silver cup.
Joseph reveals himself
Gen. 45: 1-45
It is at this point that chapter 45 begins. It continues from chapter 44 where Judah tries to reason out with this Egyptian official and offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin in whose sack was Joseph’s silver cup. Judah and his brothers anxiously await a verdict from Joseph, one that will affect the course of their lives. Without knowing who Joseph is or what he intended to do, the brothers saw this potentate send everyone out of the room. They could perhaps see the tears flowing down his cheeks and his chest heaving with emotion. But what was the source of this great emotion? Was it anger, which would lead to further trouble? How could it be otherwise?
It may appear at first glance that Joseph simply was overcome by his emotions so that he was compelled to disclose his identity. I have earlier suggested that this was not the case. Even when his emotions did involuntarily emerge, Joseph simply left the presence of his brothers, wept, and returned (cf. 43:30-31). Now Joseph revealed himself to his brothers because they had evidenced real repentance, which made reconciliation possible.
Now that it was time to reveal himself, Joseph wished this to be done alone. I find several possible reasons for Joseph expelling the Egyptians (Genesis 45:1-2) from his presence before he made himself known to his brothers. First, this was a family matter. It was to be an intimate time, and outsiders would not add anything to that moment. Perhaps also Joseph felt that the full release of his emotions, held in check for years, would cost him the esteem of his servants. Mainly, however, I believe that it was for another reason that Joseph commanded everyone to leave except his brothers: it was in order to deal with the matter of the sin of his brothers in strictest privacy. However if Joseph intended for no one but his brothers to observe the outpouring of his emotions, it didn’t work, for “the Egyptians heard it” (verse 2), and this report even reached Pharaoh’s ears (verses 2, 16).
This scene exposes the anatomy of reconciliation. It is about loyalty to a family member in need, even when he or she looks guilty; giving glory to God by owning up to sin and its consequences; overlooking favoritism; offering up oneself to save another; demonstrating true love by concrete acts of sacrifice that create a context of trust; discarding control and the power in favor of intimacy; embracing deep compassion, tender feelings, sensitivity, and forgiveness; and talking to one another. A family that allows these virtues to embrace it will become a light to the world.
Why did Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers.? Because they passed the test. Judah had been willing to give up his life for his brother, Benjamin. Rather than allow Benjamin to become a slave, he intervened to save his life.
When Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” His brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. Put yourselves in the sandals of these brothers for a moment. They had been treated graciously by Joseph, given the hospitality of his home and his table and bountiful provisions for their families back in Canaan (cf. 43:32-44:1). Then they were stopped and searched, each of them being found with their money in their sack and Benjamin with Joseph’s cup in his possession (44:6-13). Their guilt was acknowledged and all were willing to remain as Joseph’s slaves, but Joseph refused to detain any except Benjamin, the “guilty” party (44:14-17). Judah then made an impassioned appeal for mercy for his aged father, offering himself in place of Benjamin (44:18-34).
Seeing the change in Judah, He disclosed to them the full truth: “I am Joseph”-Gen.45:3 . It appears that Joseph finally saw that his brothers could be trusted. In our own dealings with those who would exploit and deceive us, we must tread carefully, “to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”, as Jesus instructed the disciples (Matt. 10:16). As one writer put it, “Trust requires trustworthiness.” All of the planning Joseph had done in his dealings with his brothers reached this culmination, allowing him to enter into a right relationship with them. He calmed his terrified brothers by pointing to the work of God who was responsible for placing Joseph in charge of all Egypt (Gen. 45:8).
They thought the worst had come, when this Egyptian blurted out in their own tongue, “I am Joseph!” That was the worst news they could ever have hoped to hear. It brought them no relief, but only new avenues of anxiety. It was bad enough to stand before a powerful Egyptian governor who was angered at the theft of his silver cup, but to realize that he was their brother whom they had sold into slavery—that was too much! Earlier, they at least had a hope that this judge would be impartial and that mercy might motivate him to accept their appeal. But now their judge must surely be their enemy, the very one they had unjustly condemned. How could they hope for better treatment from him? No wonder they were petrified (cf. verses 3ff.).