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B'resheet/Genesis 45:26 And they told him, saying, "Yosef is still alive" and that he is ruling over the whole land of Egypt.
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The Ya'akov/Yosef family is now close to re-uniting. Yosef has revealed his identity to his brothers and Pharaoh has given an order that Ya'akov and all his family should come down to Egypt to live in the region of Goshen and be covered by royal patronage. Gathering supplies and wagons to transport everyone, the brothers are sent back to their father in Canaan to bring the good news of Yosef being alive and bring him down to Egypt to live out the famine safely at Pharaoh's expense.
The previous verse to our text - "They went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan" (B'resheet 45:25, NJPS) - with just two verbs and a minimum of detail tells us how promptly and silently the brothers retraced their steps towards home. Carrying sufficient food not only for their journey but also for the family when they got back, they would be several days ahead of the wagons and pack donkeys that would travel at a slower pace. The brothers get to be alone with their father to break the news that Yosef is not only still alive but has risen to the position of Grand Vizier in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. There will be no Egyptian audience at least when the brothers have to explain how Yosef got to Egypt in the first place and the part that they played in that process.
Pointing out that the brothers completely forgot the little speech that Yosef had 'written' for them - "G-d has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me without delay. You will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near me -- you and your children and your grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all that is yours. There I will provide for you -- for there are yet five years of famine to come -- that you and your household and all that is yours may not suffer want" (vv. 9-11, NJPS) - Leon Kass suggests that "the brothers can hardly be confident of their father's favourable reception" and that instead, "the brothers blurt out the big news: 'Yosef is still alive; he is the ruler over all the land of Egypt!'"1
The character of Yosef completely dominates the chapter: he has controlled his revelation of identity to his brothers; he has told them to go back and bring his father Ya'akov down to Egypt and promised land and food; with a little help from Pharaoh he has organised the transport required, given everyone presents and sent them on their way after even telling them what to say. Ya'akov quite literally comes back to life in the last few verses - the Hebrew seems to suggests that he had a temporary cardiac arrest upon hearing that Yosef was still alive - and will be dominant in the next chapter. In spite of their role as news-bearers and truth-tellers, the brothers are pushed firmly into the background. Robert Alter reports that in the whole chapter they have "just three words and four syllables to speak."
While it is clear from the following verse that the brothers had a lot of explaining to do and that they would go on to recount, "all that Joseph had said to them" (v. 27, NJPS), most English translations, including the NJPS, follow the ESV in grouping all the words in our text as the direct speech of the brothers: "And they told him, 'Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.'" However well meant, this is, however, not quite correct. The word , "and that", signals the end of the direct speech and a return to narrated text. It is the narrator who tells us what else they said, both in this verse and the next. Perhaps this is because the statement that Yosef is alive, after they had led their father to believe him dead, creates a credibility gap and an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt that takes more time to heal that the text allows. Several commentators point out that it was not until, possibly several days later, when the wagons and baggage donkeys arrive that Ya'akov finally believes the brothers' story and is prepared to accept their confession and new version of the truth. Bruce Waltke comments that "the brothers are free of their guilt and can speak the truth"2 which is all very well as far as it goes and may take a weight off their consciences, but still leaves a lot of trust to be rebuilt within the family.
Another group of Israelites who initially struggle to believe what the L-rd is doing are those who returned to Jerusalem when allowed by Cyrus the Persian. Although the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the narrative story, the Psalmist - in one of the psalms now known as the Songs of Ascent - records how the people felt: "When the L-RD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, 'The L-RD has done great things for them'" (Psalm 126:1-2, ESV). "First, it seemed like a dream, so unreal, so impossible, so beyond explanation, even beyond anticipation,"3 then the people become almost speechless with laughter and emotion spilling over: they really are here, this is really happening to them. Perhaps they think of Isaiah's words - "Sing to the L-RD a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 42:10, NJPS) - and recognise that they are singing that new song of praise to G-d as He gives them a new beginning back in their own land. The nations, watching, are amazed by whatHaShem is doing for His people.
The resurrection of Yeshua seems to have had a similar effect on His disciples. Luke tells us that the women had gone to the tomb, found it empty of Yeshua but full of angels who announced the resurrection, Naturally, they rushed back to tell the disciples: both the eleven and everyone else. Luke goes on, "Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened" (Luke 24:10-12, ESV). Three significant women - the ones listed by name - plus other women who were with them at the tomb, give an eye-witness account to the disciples who dismissed it out of hand as "an idle tale"! Peter even goes and has a look for himself and is amazed to see the empty tomb and grave cloths but no body. It isn't that they wouldn't have been delighted to know that Yeshua was alive again, they simply didn't believe it.
Proof had to come from Yeshua Himself, later that evening. The two disciples whom He had met earlier on the road to Emmaus have just got back to Jerusalem, panting and out of breath, and have been telling the others about their experience - and fairly obviously meeting with some resistance because Luke tells us that "as they were talking about these things, Yeshua himself stood among them, and said to them, 'Peace to you!' But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit" (vv. 36-37, ESV). There He is actually in the room with them and their minds tell them they are seeing a ghost! Even when He invites them to touch Him and see His hands and feet, Luke records that "while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, He said to them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate before them" (vv. 41-43, ESV). They were beside themselves with joy and still couldn't quite believe, so He has to eat food - which everyone knows that ghosts don't do - before they can accept the truth.
The same thing happens to Peter some time later. Herod has arrested him and put him in jail, but the L-rd sends an angel to release him. While he is being brought out of the prison, Peter himself thinks it is just a dream or vision, until he suddenly finds himself outside in the street on his own! He rushes over to the house of John Mark's mother where the community has gathered to pray for him and bangs on the door to be let in. Then the fun begins: "when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. And when she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. And they said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, "It is his angel." But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed" (Acts 12:13-16, ESV). They don't believe her and so they argue about it for a while, leaving Peter outside in the street, still banging away on the door!
Sometimes when people tell us the truth, we can't hear or believe it from them. Either the words are too hard (or too truthful), or we can't believe that they (or anyone) know that about us. But if they are words of truth then perhaps we need to hear them anyway. Yeshua told a rich young man, "Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21, ESV), but he turned away disheartened because he couldn't accept that truth that he needed to hear. What has the Ruach been saying to you recently? It might have been in prayer whispers, a daily reading or the words of a friend or family member; it might even have been through a complete stranger who knows nothing about you at all. But perhaps you didn't want to hear that, so dismissed it as just imagination or an idle comment. You need to go back and revisit it. Ask Yeshua to say it again and promise to listen this time. He isn't in the whirlwind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice - the low whisper - that you know is His.
1. - Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2003), pages 614.
2. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 572.
3. - Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger Jr., Psalms, New Cambridge Bible Commentary, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2014), page 539.
Further Study: Psalm 33:1-4; Zechariah 8:16-17; Ephesians 4:25-27
Application: How can you make sure that you don't miss or discard what the Spirit is saying to you because you can't quite believe it? Ask G-d to say it again and listen very carefully so that you catch every word and then make sure to act on it. Ask Him to tell you more of His truth today!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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