Genesis 41


Genesis 41-42:  From Rags to Riches.  

Joseph is the “Cinderella Man” isn’t he? In just a matter of moments he goes from rags to riches.

When we last saw Joseph standing in the court of the Pharaoh, he had just interpreted the dream successfully and told the king and his counselors what they needed to do.  

Now remember the subtitle I gave to last week’s lesson from the book of Job?  “ He knows the way I take, and when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold.”  

Do you realize what the Pharaoh saw in Joseph?  Gold. Pure Refined God.  The Pharaoh even proclaimed… ‘ where shall we find one such as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is.”  The Pharaoh, no doubt a capable judge of men and their abilities and talent realizes he has found someone of rare quality. The Pharaoh sees a  pureness of character, a humble spirit, a man of wisdom and discernment in whom rested the Spirit of God. 

Joseph had been prepared and refined by Almighty God. In the school of faith, Joseph had learned the practical but useful and necessary things: the language, the customs, and the judicial system, you might say from the bottom –up. Joseph learned how to manage successfully from running Captain Potiphar’s household and possessions  to running a prison system.  

But more importantly , Joseph had also learned to trust the Lord with all his heart and lean not to his own understanding and in all his ways to acknowledge God and God would direct his paths.  

Joseph was ready. He was prepared. He interprets the dreams correctly- giving God all the credit. He then tells  the Pharaoh what must be done to prepare for the years ahead. 

In verse 41:41, the Pharaoh says to Joseph:  See I have set before you all of Egypt.

Joseph is given the signet ring which represents the authority of the Pharaoh. Joseph was dressed in the finest linens- given a gold chain and the chariot that recognized him as second-in-command in all of Egypt.  

The Pharaoh then gives him an Egyptian name: “ ZaphenathPaneah.”  This name has been given several different interpretations all of which serve to describe or express Joseph’s unique contributions to saving Egypt from this disastrous famine. The name has been translated as : Savior of the World; Abundance of Life; Revealer of Secrets; and Furnisher of Sustenance.  Certainly we can see all of these names as describing our Lord Jesus Christ.  

In fact this portion of the story reminds of the scripture in Phillipians 2: 7-10.  For like our Savior, Joseph had been highly exalted and at his name every knee would bow.  

Joseph’s blessings continue as he is also given a bride.  

Verses 46-49 describe Joseph going about his duties during the years of abundance. The abundance, the blessings of God, who loves to bless and never does it in a stingy manner were so great- they could not count the grain.

Verse 50 tells us it was during this time of abundance before the famine began, that God blessed Joseph and his bride with two sons. Their names are significant as we will see.  

Joseph names his first son, Manasseh: for God has made me forget all my troubles and all my father’s house.

The second son is named Ephraim:  for God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of affliction.  

Notice Joseph credits God as the One who has enabled him to forget all his troubles and it is God who has blessed him and made him fruitful.  

God had enabled Joseph to be successful wherever he ended up in the past 13 years, first in Potiphar’s house and then in the prison. But maybe when Joseph looked back he realized the greater work God had done was the work of God’s grace that enabled him to wipe out the pains of the past, his brother’s actions, Mrs. Potiphar’s false accusations so that Joseph could make a new beginning without harboring bitterness over the wrongs he had suffered. When we cannot forgive and forget, we are held captive by the bitterness. When we cannot forgive and forget we are held captive by our thoughts of revenge, getting even, as we rehearse those wrongs over and over like an oft repeated video, then we think about getting even and turning the tables on those who wronged us.  

We will see that Joseph still had memories of what his brothers did to him- but we will see that he does not harbor bitterness or malice toward them. I believe  God had to do this work of grace in Joseph’s heart before He could allow him to have such a position. God had put Joseph in a refiner’s fire in order that when he was tried he should come forth as gold.  

Could it be that what is holding God back from allowing you to be blessed is that you are holding on to a grudge?  Do you have a list somewhere in your mind of those who have done you or yours wrong?  

Then ask God to enable you to forgive and forget.  Now you cannot forget what has been done, no more than Joseph could forget what his brothers had done. But he could forget the hurt it caused, realizing that although his brothers had meant it for evil, God had intended it for good. In other words, we can only forget the hurt, when we understand that God had a reason to allow it. We forget the hurt, because we understand that God has allowed this to happen .One sees things in a different light-when they walk in the light as He is in the light. Understanding it is from God is the key to forgiving and forgetting. 

Remember where sin increased- grace abounded all the more. Do you know how God’s grace is sometimes described:  as aggressive forgiveness.  When it is sin versus grace- grace wins every time! When we experience the grace of God in the forgiveness of all our sins- how can we continue to hold a grudge against another?   

Do you recall what Jesus said after teaching his disciples the model prayer, we call the Lord’s prayer?  “ for if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” . (Matt.6:14-15) A spirit of unforgiveness is sin and for God to forgive us when we do not forgive would be hypocritical of God.  

Do not be confused- when you and I got saved, all our sins, past, present and future were forgiven. However when we sin in the present or future and do not confess it- we do not lose our salvation- but our fellowship with the Lord is broken- the intimacy is missing. Jesus explained this in John 13 when washing the feet of the disciples. Peter resisted having the Lord wash his feet, but the Lord told Peter He could have no part of him unless He washed his feet. Peter then replied then wash me all over—and Jesus tells Peter and us- a person who has a bath needs only to wash his feet, his whole body is clean. A picture of one saved –(bathed) need not be saved again when they sin-they just need their sins confessed and cleansed. We need the enabling, empowering grace of God to do this.  Ask God to enable you by His power to forgive and forget the hurt that resulted from others wrongdoing toward you.  Realize that God has allowed that to happen to you for a reason- for His Glory and your Good. For He always does what is right and  yields the most good for the most people for the longest period of time.  

When you have done that—God then is able to give you your “ Ephraim.” Do you see the process here? First God gave Joseph the ability to UNDERSTAND the harm done to him and no longer harbor bitterness, then God caused him to be fruitful in the land where he had been afflicted.  

God was then able to bless Joseph with abundant fruitfulness. And we see in the story of Joseph not only what we must allow God to do in our lives to experience the abundance of His blessings- we also see what we are to do with the abundance. Having had the storehouses filled beyond measure, Joseph then opened the storehouses of blessing to be shared with all who came in need.  

It is at this point our story switches scenes from the success of Joseph’s campaign during the years of abundance to the beginning of the famine and its affects in Canaan on Jacob and his family.  

Chapter 42 begins with telling us that Jacob had learned there was grain in Egypt. He tells his sons, why are you sitting around here looking at each other- there is grain in Egypt – go down there and buy some , so that we may live and not die.  

Now at least 20 + years have passed since Joseph had been gone. Thirteen years from 17- 30 spent in Potiphar;s household then prison.  Seven years of abundance then the famine strikes. So Joseph is at least 37-38 years of age. His brothers have spent the last 20 years living in Canaan. We can only speculate how life has gone for them- but certainly for Jacob- part of him died the day they brought the blood-stained robe of Joseph to him and let him think for the last 20+ years Joseph had suffered a violent death by wild animals.  

The stage is set for one of the most remarkable reunions in history.

A “cold case” was about to be reopened and finally resolved.

Jacob sends his 10 older sons down to Egypt to buy grain. He keeps Benjamin, the youngest  son,  at home with him lest some harm come to him in the company of his older brothers.  

Verse 6 sets the stage: let’s imagine this scene as the camera closes in on  Joseph, the governor of Egypt. He is  now a mature man in his late 30’s dressed as an  Egyptian, speaking Egyptian and in a position of power, second only to the Pharaoh. He goes by a different Egyptian name.  

Obviously his brothers do not recognize him although Joseph recognizes them at once. They bow down to him with their faces to the ground. Joseph realizes this significance that after over two decades the dream is beginning to  be fulfilled. But Joseph realizes in the dream God gave him- eleven stars had been in obedience to him. So where was the eleventh son, Benjamin?  

Joseph sets out to discover what he can about his family without revealing who he is just yet to his brothers. Watch as he uses a series of accusations to get the information.

Joseph speaks harshly to them through an interpreter. Where have you come from?

From Canaan to buy food they reply.  

Joseph accuses them of being spies and attempting to gain information about Egypt so they may attack them.  

They reply they are honest in their intentions- they say we are honest men, your servants –not spies.

Again Joseph accuses them.  

More information follows- information Joseph desperately wanted to hear.

The brothers reply we WERE twelve brothers the son of one man who LIVES in Canaan. The youngest ( Benjamin) is now with our father and one ( Joseph) is no more.  

In this manner, Joseph learns his father and Benjamin are still alive. He puts them all under guard for three days. 

On the pretense of verifying the truth, Joseph will use the circumstances to get his younger brother Benjamin before him. He tells  them he will hold one brother as prisoner, while the other  brothers returned home to get Benjamin and bring him back and thus verify their story is true.   

In the meanwhile the brothers had evidently been talking to each other during this ordeal. Guess what was the topic of conversation?  What they had done to Joseph over 20 years ago. They believe they are now being punished for what they did. They remembered  Joseph pleading with them not to do this thing to him. They remembered Joseph calling out to each of them by name to let him up out of this pit. Reuben reminds them he told them not to harm the boy- and now this is why they are in this fix.  Pay day had come- their sins had caught up with them. Taking responsibility for their sin and their own personal guilt is the first step toward clearing what must have been seared consciences. The pressure had been there for over 20 years.  

Joseph listened to them- for they did not realize he could understand them because he used an interpreter.

Joseph who God in His refining had made tenderhearted, could not control his emotions and he left their presence to weep. What causes one to weep tells us  a lot about their character.  We will observe the occasions that cause Joseph to weep. Here he weeps, I believe because what Joseph wanted more than anything was reconciliation with his brothers. Joseph was wise in the ways of guilty men. He  had probably learned in counseling prisoners who were guilty of crimes that confession and accountability were the ingredients to rehabilitation and reconciliation . Confessing their sin and repenting of it was necessary for there to be reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers at last. But causing his brothers this necessary distress was not a pleasant task for Joseph. He took no joy in seeing his brothers suffer.  

So Simeon is kept in Egypt as the other brothers return to get Benjamin. Joseph sees to it their sacks are filled with needed grain and then has the steward replace their bag of silver back in each sack. Watch what happens when they stop at night.  

One of the brothers opens his sack of grain and discovers his bag of silver has been placed in the bag. There would have been a time when any of these brothers discovered they had received monies they did not deserve they would have laughed at the mistake of another – but gladly kept the money themselves and never think of doing the right thing and returning it.(Finders keepers- losers weepers)  Something has changed in these brothers.  

Listen to their reaction;  their hearts sank, and they turned to each other trembling and said; ‘ what is this God has done to us?’ Having activated their seared consciences God is now able to give them a different perspective. Before a situation of ill-gotten gains of money would have made these men happy- now they are aware of God’s hand on their lives.  

These men who had sold Joseph for cash, who loved money and what it would  buy to bring them pleasure- now look at this money as a curse. What they had loved- they now loathe. Sometimes God has to give us over to the sin  we so desired and enjoyed  until we come to loathe what once we wrongfully loved.

Returning home with their brother Simeon held hostage in Egypt, the brothers once again bring their father, Jacob, bad news. The man who is over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as if we were spies. He has demanded we bring our youngest brother to verify we are telling the truth as to who and what we are.  

Jacob reacts by saying to them: ‘you have deprived me of my children, Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!’  

Reuben pledges his two sons in assurance he will bring Simeon and Benjamin back. But Jacob is adamant- my son, Benjamin, will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. ( meaning of Rachel’s two sons). If harm comes  to him on the journey you are taking, I will die.

Jacob is not exactly the picture of  courageous faith is he?  But are we not somewhat like  Jacob when trouble comes? 

We all seem to believe Murphy’s law, that is – if anything can go wrong it will. When trouble strikes we tend to :

  1. Respond negatively rather than positively.
  2. We view the problems strictly from a human viewpoint and leave God out of the equation. We will never solve the problem if we leave God out of the equation.
  3. We tend to resist change and new- especially as we grow older.


Jacob did not see God in any of this problem and situation. He viewed everything in the worst-case scenario.  Jacob exhibits no faith at all. He immediately responded negatively assuming Simeon would be killed and if Benjamin went down so would he.

He viewed the situation only from a human viewpoint.

His mind is closed to the unexpected. What he fears most- letting them take Benjamin down to Egypt is exactly where the solution to all his problems awaits. Yet it takes  a step into the unknown.  

Why is Jacob not trusting God you and I ask?  But you see we have the benefit of knowing the outcome of his situation and Jacob does not.

The old Jacob had always been a manipulator using his guile and intelligence to get himself out of a mess or gain an advantage.   

How about ourselves? Have you ever tried to manipulate your way out of situation? Ever jump to conclusions?  Ever immediately go to the worst case scenario when something bad happens? Do you ever try to solve a problem without God as part of the equation?  Have you ever resisted something simply because it is new or a change from the way you have always done things? Haven’t we all pushed the panic button at some time during trouble?

We are not that different from Jacob sometimes are we?  

The question of today’s story is found in the question the brothers asked when they found their bags of silver in their sacks of grain: WHAT IS THIS GOD HATH DONE TO US?

Do you see that Jacob and  his sons  have done something we all tend to do in our times of  trouble- we tend to pass judgment on God without all the facts. God is doing things we cannot sometimes understand- for after all His ways are higher than our ways. If we are believers, God has promised to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  

But our first response  to trouble should be: what is God doing? And what does He want me to do? Discovering what God wants me to do in a given situation should be our first response. Remember God is love- but in His love and desire for our best God is sometimes a consuming fire- to burn away the dross and bring us forth as pure gold.  

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14