Verse 1. Then Joseph could not refrain himself . 1 Moses relates in this chapter the manner in which Joseph made himself known to his brethren. In the first place, he declares, that Joseph had done violence to his feelings, as long as he presented to them an austere and harsh countenance. At length the strong fraternal affection, which he had suppressed during the time that he was breathing severe threatening, poured itself forth with more abundant force: whence it appears that nothing severe or cruel had before been harbored in his mind. And whereas it thus bursts forth in tears, this softness or tenderness is more deserving of praise than if he had maintained an equable temper. Therefore the stoics speak foolishly when they say, that it is an heroic virtue not to be touched with compassion. Had Joseph stood inflexible, who would not have pronounced him to be a stupid, or iron-hearted man? But now, by the vehemence of his feelings, he manifests a noble magnanimity, as well as a divine moderation; because he was so superior both to anger and to hatred, that he ardently loved those who had wickedly conspired to effect his ruin, though they had received no injury from him. He commands all men to depart, not because he was ashamed of his kindred, (for he does not afterwards dissemble the fact that they were his brethren, and he freely permits the report of it to be carried to the king's palace,) but because he is considerate for their feelings, that he might not make known their detestable crime to many witnesses. And it was not the smallest part of his clemency, to desire that their disgrace should be wholly buried in oblivion. We see, therefore, that witnesses were removed, for no other reason than that he might more freely comfort his brethren; for he not only spared them, by not exposing their crime; but when shut up alone with them, he abstained from all bitterness of language, and gladly administered to them friendly consolation.
Verse 3. I am Joseph . Although he had given them the clearest token of his mildness and his love, yet, when he told them his name, they were terrified, as if he had thundered against them: for while they revolve in their minds what they have deserved, the power of Joseph seems so formidable to them, that they anticipate nothing for themselves but death. When, however, he sees them overcome with fear, he utters no reproach, but only labors to calm their perturbation. Nay, he continues gently to soothe them, until he has rendered them composed and cheerful. By this example we are taught to take heed lest sadness should overwhelm those who are truly and seriously humbled under a sense of shame. So long as the offender is deaf to reproofs, or securely flatters himself, or wickedly and obstinately repels admonitions, or excuses himself by hypocrisy, greater severity is to be used towards him. But rigor should have its bounds, and as soon as the offender lies prostrate, and trembles under the sense of his sin, let that moderation immediately follow which may raise him who is cast down, by the hope of pardon. Therefore, in order that our severity may be rightly and duly attempered, we must cultivate this inward affection of Joseph, which will show itself at the proper time.
Verse 4. Come near to me, I pray you . This is more efficacious than any mere words, that he kindly invites them to his embrace. Yet he also tries to remove their care and fear by the most courteous language he can use. He so attempers his speech, indeed, that he mildly accuses, and again consoles them; nevertheless, the consolation greatly predominates, because he sees that they are on the point of desperation, unless he affords them timely relief. Moreover, in relating that he had been sold, he does not renew the memory of their guilt, with the intention of expostulating with them; but only because it is always profitable that the sense of sin should remain, provided that immoderate terror does not absorb the unhappy man, after he has acknowledged his fault. And whereas the brethren of Joseph were more than sufficiently terrified, he insists the more fully on the second part of his purpose; namely, that he may heal the wound. This is the reason why he repeats, that God had sent him for their preservation; that by the counsel of God himself he had been sent beforehand into Egypt to preserve them alive; and that, in short, he had not been sent into Egypt by them, but had been led thither by the hand of God. 2
Verse 8. So now, it was not you that sent me hither . This is a remarkable passage, in which we are taught that the right course of events is never so disturbed by the depravity and wickedness of men, but that God can direct them to a good end. We are also instructed in what manner and for what purpose we must consider the providence of God. When men of inquisitive minds dispute concerning it, they not only mingle and pervert all things without regard to the end designed, but invent every absurdity in their power, in order to sully the justice of God. And this rashness causes some pious and moderate men to wish this portion of doctrine to be concealed from view; for as soon as it is publicly declared that God holds the government of the whole world, and that nothing is done but by his will and authority, they who think with little reverence of the mysteries of God, break forth into various questions, not only frivolous but injurious. But, as this profane intemperance of mind is to be restrained, so a just measure is to be observed on the other hand, lest we should encourage a gross ignorance of those things which are not only made plain in the word of God, but are exceedingly useful to be known. Good men are ashamed to confess, that what men undertake cannot be accomplished except by the will of God; fearing lest unbridled tongues should cry out immediately, either that God is the author of sin, or that wicked men are not to be accused of crime, seeing they fulfill the counsel of God. But although this sacrilegious fury cannot be effectually rebutted, it may suffice that we hold it in detestation. Meanwhile, it is right to maintain, what is declared by the clear testimonies of Scripture, that whatever men may contrive, yet, amidst all their tumult, God from heaven overrules their counsels and attempts; and, in short, does, by their hands, what he has himself decreed. Good men, who fear to expose the justice of God to the calumnies of the impious, resort to this distinction, that God wills some things, but permits others to be done. As if, truly, any degree of liberty of action, were he to cease from governing, would be left to men. If he had only permitted Joseph to be carried into Egypt, he had not ordained him to be the minister of deliverance to his father Jacob and his sons; which he is now expressly declared to have done. Away, then, with that vain figment, that, by the permission of God only, and not by his counsel or will, those evils are committed which he afterwards turns to a good account. I speak of evils with respect to men, who propose nothing else to themselves but to act perversely. And as the vice dwells in them, so ought the whole blame also to be laid upon them. But God works wonderfully through their means, in order that, from their impurity, he may bring forth his perfect righteousness. This method of acting is secret, and far above our understanding. Therefore it is not wonderful that the licentiousness of our flesh should rise against it. But so much the more diligently must we be on our guard, that we do not attempt to reduce this lofty standard to the measure of our own littleness. Let this sentiment remain fixed with us, that while the lust of men exults, and intemperately hurries them hither and thither, God is the ruler, and, by his secret rein, directs their motions whithersoever he pleases. At the same time, however, it must also be maintained, that God acts so far distinctly from them, that no vice can attach itself to his providence, and that his decrees have no affinity with the crimes of men. Of which mode of procedure a most illustrious example is placed before our eyes in this history. Joseph was sold by his brethren; for what reason, but because they wished, by any means whatever, to ruin and annihilate him? The same work is ascribed to God, but for a very different end; namely, that in a time of famine the family of Jacob might have an unexpected supply of food. Therefore he willed that Joseph should be as one dead, for a short time, in order that he might suddenly bring him forth from the grave, as the preserver of life. Whence it appears, that although he seems, at the commencement, to do the same thing as the wicked; yet there is a wide distance between their wickedness and his admirable judgment. Let us now examine the words of Joseph. For the consolation of his brethren he seems to draw the veil of oblivion over their fault. But we know that men are not exempt from guilt, although God may, beyond expectation, bring what they wickedly attempt, to a good and happy issue. For what advantage was it to Judas that the redemption of the world proceeded from his wicked treachery? Joseph, however, though he withdraws, in some degree, the minds of his brethren from a consideration of their own guilt, until they can breathe again after their immoderate terror, neither traces their fault to God as its cause, nor really absolves them from it; as we shall see more clearly in the last chapter (Genesis 44:1.) And doubtless, it must be maintained, that the deeds of men are not to be estimated according to the event, but according to the measure in which they may have failed in their duty, or may have attempted something contrary to the Divine command, and may have gone beyond the bounds of their calling. Someone, for instance, has neglected his wife or children, and has not diligently attended to their necessities; and though they do not die, unless God wills it, yet the inhumanity of the father, who wickedly deserted them when he ought to have relieved them, is not screened or excused by this pretext. Therefore, they whose consciences accuse them of evil, derive no advantage from the pretense that the providence of God exonerates them from blame. But on the other hand, whenever the Lord interposes to prevent the evil of those who desire to injure us, and not that only, but turns even their wicked designs to our good; he subdues, by this method, our carnal affections, and renders us more just and placable. Thus we see that Joseph was a skillful interpreter of the providence of God, when he borrowed from it an argument for granting forgiveness to his brethren. The magnitude of the crime committed against him might so have incensed him as to cause him to burn with the desire of revenge: but when he reflects that their wickedness had been overruled by the wonderful and unwonted goodness of God, forgetting the injury received, he kindly embraces the men whose dishonor God had covered with his grace. And truly charity is ingenious in hiding the faults of brethren, and therefore she freely applies to this use anything which may tend to appease anger, and to set enmities at rest. Joseph also is carried forward to another view of the case; namely, that he had been divinely chosen to help his brethren. Whence it happens, that he not only remits their offense, but that, from an earnest desire to discharge the duty enjoined upon him, he delivers them from fear and anxiety as well as from want. This is the reason why he asserts that he was ordained to "put for them a remnant," 3 that is, to preserve a remaining seed, or rather to preserve them alive, and that by an excellent and wonderful deliverance. In saying that he is a father to Pharaoh, he is not carried away with empty boasting as vain men are wont to be; nor does he make an ostentatious display of his wealth; but he proves, from an event so great and incredible, that he had not obtained the post he occupied by accident, nor by human means; but rather that, by the wonderful counsel of God, a lofty throne had been raised for him, from which he might succor his father and his whole family.
Verse 9. Thus saith thy son Joseph . In giving this command, he shows that he spoke of his power in order to inspire his father with stronger confidence. We know how dilatory old men are; and, besides, it was difficult to tear holy Jacob away from the inheritance which was divinely promised to him. Therefore Joseph, having pointed out the necessity for the step, declares what a desirable relief the Lord had offered. It may, however, be asked, why the oracle did not occur to their minds, concerning which they had been instructed by their fathers, namely, that they should be strangers and servants in a strange land. (Genesis 15:13.) For it seems that Joseph here promises nothing but mere pleasures, as if no future adversity was to be apprehended. But though nothing is expressly declared on this point by Moses, yet I am induced, by a probable conjecture, to believe that Jacob was not forgetful of the oracle. For, unless he had been retained by some celestial chain, he never could have remained in Egypt after the expiration of the time of scarcity. For by remaining there voluntarily, he would have appeared to cast away the hope of the inheritance promised him by God. Seeing, then, that he does not provide for his return into the land of Canaan, but only commands his corpse to be carried thither; nor yet exhorts his sons to a speedy return, but suffers them to settle in Egypt; he does this, not from indolence, or because he is allured by the attractions of Egypt, or has become weary of the land of Canaan; but because he is preparing himself and his offspring to bear that tyranny, concerning which he had been forewarned by his father Isaac. Therefore he regards it as an advantage that, at his first coming, he is hospitably received; but, in the meantime, he revolves in his mind what had been spoken to Abraham.
Verse 16. And the fame thereof was heard in Pharaoh's house . What Moses now relates, was prior in the order of events. For before Joseph sent for his father, the report of the coming of his brethren had reached the palace. And Joseph would not have promised so confidently a home to his brethren in Egypt, except by the king's permission. What, therefore, Moses had before briefly alluded to, he now more fully explains; namely, that the king, with a ready and cheerful mind, declared his high esteem for Joseph, in freely offering to his father and brethren, the most fertile part of Egypt for their dwelling. And from another statement of Moses it appears that, as long as he lived, the Israelites were treated with clemency and kindness. For, in Exodus 1:8, the commencement of the tyranny and cruelty is said to have been made by his successor, to whom Joseph was unknown.
Verse 22. And to all of them he gave each man changes of raiment . That he furnishes his brethren with supplies for their journey is not wonderful: but to what purpose was it that he loaded them with money and garments, seeing they would so soon return? I, indeed, do not doubt that he did it on account of his father and the wives of his brethren, in order that they might have less reluctance to leave the land of Canaan. For he knew that his message would scarcely be believed, unless some manifest tokens of its truth were presented. It might also be, that he not only endeavored to allure those who were absent, but that he also wished to testify, more and more, his love towards his brethren. But the former consideration has more weight with me, because he took greater care in furnishing Benjamin than the rest. Jerome has translated the expression, "changes of raiment," by "two robes," and other interpreters, following him, expound it as meaning "different kinds of garments." I know not whether this be solid. I rather suppose they were elegant garments, such as were used at nuptials and on festal days; for I think that constant custom was silently opposed to this variety of dress.
Verse 24. See that ye fall not out by the way . Some explain the passage as meaning, that Joseph asks his brethren to be of tranquil mind, and not to disturb themselves with needless fear; he rather exhorts them, however, to mutual peace. For, since the word zgr (ragaz) sometimes signifies to tremble or be afraid, and sometimes, to make a tumult, the latter sense is the more appropriate: for we know that the children of God are not only easily appeased, if any one has injured them, but that they also desire others should live together in concord. Joseph was pacified towards his brethren; but at the same time he admonishes them not to stir up any strife among themselves. For there was reason to fear lest each, in attempting to excuse himself, should try to lay the blame on others, and thus contention would arise. We ought to imitate this kindness of Joseph; that we may prevent, as much as possible, quarrels and strifes of words; for Christ requires of his disciples, not only that they should be lovers of peace, but also that they should be peace-makers. Wherefore, it is our duty to remove, in time, all matter and occasion of strife. Besides, we must know, that what Joseph taught his brethren, is the command of the Spirit of God to us all; namely, that we should not be angry with each other. And because it generally happens that, in faults common to different parties, one maliciously accuses another; let each of us learn to acknowledge and confess his own fault, lest altercations should end in combats.
Verse 26. And Jacob's heart fainted . We know that some persons have fainted with sudden and unexpected joy. Therefore, certain interpreters suppose that the heart of Jacob was, in a sense, suffocated, as if seized by a kind of ecstatic stupor. But Moses assigns a different cause; namely, that not having confidence in his sons, he was agitated between hope and fear. And we know, that they who are held in suspense, by hearing some incredible message, are struck with torpor, as if they were lifeless. It was not, therefore, a simple affection of joy, but a certain mingled perturbation which shook the mind of Jacob. Therefore, Moses shortly after says, that his spirit revived; when he, having returned to himself, and being composed in mind, believed that which he had heard to be true. And he shows that his love towards Joseph had not languished through length of time, inasmuch as he set no value upon his own life, except so far as it would permit him to enjoy a sight of Joseph. He had before assigned to himself continual sorrow, even to the grave; but now he declares that he shall have a joyful death.
1 The division of chapters in this place is singularly unhappy. It interrupts one of the most touching scenes recorded in the sacred volume, just in the middle. It separates the irrestible appeal of Judah to the feelings of Joseph from its immediate and happy effect. In the Hebrew Bible, the section commences with Judah's address, and no break is made where this chapter commences; so that the whole is given as one continuous narrative.—Ed.
2 Only two years of the famine had now elapsed, and there were yet five years in which there should be "neither earing nor harvest," so that this was indeed but the commencement of the grevous suffering to which Jacob's family would have been exposed, but for the extraordinary interposition of Divine providence in their favor. The word earing is an obsolete Saxon term by which our translators have rendered the Hebrew word syrx , (charish,) which means ploughing, or preparing the ground for seed.—Ed.
3 Ver. 7. Ut ponam vobis reliquias in terra. "To preserve you a posterity," (or, as in the margin,) "to put for you a remnant" in the earth.—English translation.—Ed.