15 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.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘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.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 
It’s no accident that Israel’s only connection to the Promised Land came through a grave. Way back in Genesis 2:17, God warned Adam death would follow if he chose his own version of “good” over God’s and ate of the forbidden tree. The Apostle Paul explained it in Romans 5, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Jacob/Israel – like Abraham and Isaac before him – could only be gathered to his people through the grave.
The nation’s one earthly-legal connection to the Promised Land could only be made through the grave. So, it is for all people called by God’s name, we must come into the new and true Promised Land by means of a grave. Like Joseph the savior, the Promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, was placed into the pit of death for our sins. Unlike Joseph, the new and true Savior arose from the pit for our justification and ascended to the right hand of the Father to be the “Man in Heaven” that secures our ultimate bodily unconditional eternal presence in the new land. Israel’s claim to their land came through an occupied grave. Our claim comes through an empty tomb, a cave without bones.
The era of the patriarchs was over. Redemptive history now becomes the story of the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph is the transition figure between the patriarchal era and the twelve tribes as the story shifts into the time of the exodus. “A last glimpse is taken here at relationships within this covenant community in Egypt before the centuries between the close of Genesis and the age of Moses. The conflict of Joseph and his brothers (cf. 37:2–38:30) was resolved.” Genesis leaves us with a story of grace and family/national unity following the conflict of guilt.
On their journey back from the grave-cave of Machpelah, Joseph’s brothers were seized by guilt and fear. “15 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.” Grief does strange things to us all. Perhaps, in their grieving, Joseph’s older brothers were plagued by their guilt for their treatment of him so many decades before. Of course, their fear was unfounded. They had forgotten their reconciliation and Joseph’s words 17 years before. He had told them, “do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45: 5), followed by a genuine outpouring of affection as, “he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them” (45:15). Their last 17 years had been prosperous and peaceful because Joseph the savior had cared for them. They were returning from a fresh display of family loyalty and unity. Joseph had done nothing to cause their fear. It was their unresolved guilt that caused their unreasonable fear.
The older brothers had hated Joseph when he was an arrogant, spoiled, sheltered boy and now they could not wrap their heads around the fact that he did not hate them in return. Their hatred of Joseph had been real but Joseph’s hatred for them is only imaginary. They had never confessed their sins to him, much less sought forgiveness. The brothers worried that Joseph’s earlier words of comfort to them were merely an act for their father’s benefit. Hearts of guilt are slow to recognize grace. So, the brothers sought forgiveness that was already theirs:
16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘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.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
The path to grace is often messy and twisted. It certainly was in this case because it began with a lie. The Genesis record is silent on Jacob having given any such command. The record gives no hint that Jacob ever discovered the full extent of his older sons’ treachery against Joseph. Why would Jacob share this command with the brothers and not issue it directly to Joseph? Their entire plea for forgiveness is cloaked in a bad lie.
Nevertheless, their plea for forgiveness uses strong, honest language to describe their treatment of Joseph. They use the stark words “harm,” and “crime,” and “sin” to describe their actions – though two of those descriptions they falsely attribute to Jacob. “When making a personal request of Joseph, the brothers use only crime (pešaʿ). This is the word for sinful action in its most transparent manifestation. It is revolt and rebellion” They plead twice for forgiveness. To their credit, they did not call their sin “a mistake.” They did not use the politicians’ fake hypothetical apology of “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry.” They did not claim to have merely “made an error in judgment.” They did not color their action by claim they “misspoke.” And despite their lie, Joseph saw their plea for what it was, a cry for grace from guilt-ridden hearts. So, “Joseph wept when they spoke to him” (v. 17).
The height and breadth and depth of God’s grace ought to move even the most stoic believer to tears. Of course, Joseph was no stoic. Despite their evil he had loved them and already forgiven them. Everything he had done for them was done for their well-being. Joseph had looked to the gracious providence of God. The brothers were looking at Joseph, a mere human agent, as god. Joseph wept for their weak view of YHWH and his abundant, all-sufficient grace. He wept for their warped view of him, the resurrected, ascended, glorified savior of the world.
COMFORT MY PEOPLE (19-21)
How like the Promised Seed is Joseph here. He does not chastise them for their tiny faith and their dim understanding of grace. The first and last words he speaks are, “Do not fear.” Joseph doesn’t say “Ask not,” but “Fear not.” He ministered comfort to their troubled, guilty souls. He did it with doctrinal instruction, giving three reasons to dispel their guilty fears. First, Joseph knew that he was not God. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (v. 19b). If anyone was in a position to play God, it was the vizier of Egypt, the man who served Pharaoh – the god of Egypt. He had more actual, practical, day-to-day power than Pharaoh himself to play God in his brothers’ lives and exercise some divine justice. He was, after all, the savior of Egypt.
But Joseph had been blessed with a knowledgeable trust into the person and work of God. Joseph understood who he himself was not. By means of his God-given trust, he rested in God’s works of providence. The Westminster Confession of Faith cites Joseph’s recognition of this great truth in its scripture references for its statements on providence:
God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.
The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.
How much of our relational troubles come from trying to be God in other people’s lives? If we only had God’s power and providence for just a little while, we’re sure we could set things right – our version of “right,” anyway. In our most arrogant moments, we’re certain we know what God should do with others. At our very worst moments, we try to take power into our own hands to “fix” the problem because God apparently lacks the wisdom to fix things according to our wishes or timeline.
Joseph’s rhetorical question –God’s surrogate, am I? – “is implicit in the serpent’s question to Eve. In essence, he tantalizes her with, ‘Would you like to be in God’s place?’ ‘Would you like to be your own God?’ There is a considerable contrast between Adam and Eve and Joseph. Genesis begins by telling us about a primeval couple who tried to become like God and ends by telling us about a man who denied he was in God’s place. Adam and Eve attempted to wipe out the dividing line between humanity and deity. Joseph refuses to try to cross that line. Joseph will only be God’s instrument, never his substitute.”
Joseph left all the righting of his personal wrongs to YHWH’s providence and set the example of what trust looks like for the faithful of every age. The Apostle Paul would later write to the Thessalonians:
15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 
First, Joseph realized he was not God and should not try to be so. Second, he told his brothers he saw God’s providence at work in their evil. Verse 20, “20 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.” This is the mysterious heart of the Joseph narrative. Through the free-will wicked acts of human beings, God works for his glory and our good. Joseph has lived at least the last 17 years of his life up to this point with that same bedrock doctrine in his soul. He had shared it with his brothers when he first revealed himself to them (Gen. 45):
5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Though no man could see it, God was pulling the strings to bring about his good purposes. Joseph was rejected by his brothers, given up for dead, unjustly accused, sentenced, and buried in a prison-pit in Egypt. Only in God’s good timing did he arise and ascend to glory at the right hand of the king to save not only his family-nation, but the whole known world. Joseph tells his brothers not to be afraid because Joseph has implicit trust in God’s providence, despite the intentional evil they did against their brother. This is the amazing feature that informs all of Genesis: God created everything “very good” (1:4-31). Through all his dealing with rebellious humanity, before and after the flood and in the life of the patriarchs and with Joseph, God worked out his good plan through the evil free-will choices of sinners – just as he would do at Calvary.
All of God’s dealings with his people of the Old Covenant were for the sake of preserving the line that would eventually bring the person and work of the Promised Seed to ultimately fulfill the promise of divine intimacy: I will be your God. You will be my people. And I will dwell with you. It was because God was with Joseph that Joseph could walk through the scorched places with hope and confidence rather than revenge in his heart. Isaiah would later sing of God’s promise:
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 
When the people of Israel were about to be carted off to Babylon, back to the place Abram had left so many centuries before, when darkness was about to engulf God’s people and send them into slavery once more, Jeremiah sang God’s assurance to them:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 
The promised hope would come. But in between, there would be scorched places through which to trudge. Even that hard journey was part of God’s good, just as Joseph’s journey had been hard. Just as the life of the Promised Seed would be the hardest life ever lived upon this sin-cursed earth. God’s promise through Jeremiah specifically says “the hard” is NOT evil – plans for welfare, not evil. From this we know God can have no evil thoughts toward his own. He has never had an evil thought towards any child of his and he never will. He cannot. It’s not in his nature. His plans are always thoughts of good and blessing. Even if he must put us through difficult training to build our spiritual muscles, it is for our temporal and eternal blessing. There is no evil in his plans for his people, not in their motive, not in their conception, not in their revelation, not in their consummation.
That doesn’t mean we’re shielded from hardship and misery, or that we will not have to endure the consequences of our sin. It means his providence is never for evil but are always executed with an eye for our well-being and wholeness. Even the evils we unjustly suffer are for our good and his glory giving us a future and a hope. One believer who had endured beatings, stoning, imprisonment, illnesses, and shipwrecks – whose body was covered with the scars of his tormenters – expressed this unshakable truth with utter trust: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
What is the “good?” Is it us writing our own story our own way? No! It is that we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Our good is that we are becoming like Jesus in that we are predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:29). That Golden Chain of intimately-linked events in God’s good plan culminates in Paul’s astonishing declaration:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
As we see in Joseph’s story, absolutely everything that happens in the life of one of God’s children – whether we consider it good or evil – works together for our good. So much for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil! We can eat the sinful fruit and declare God’s good to be evil, but we cannot stop his good from working. R. Kent Hughes sums it up this way:
Now when you pile these three great texts together— Genesis 50: 20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”— Jeremiah 29: 11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”— and 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”— when you stack them theologically, they teach that the God of the Bible is so great that he not only breaks into life to do miracles but is involved concurrently and confluently in all that occurs in this world— without violating the nature of things. In other words, he is involved non-miraculously in everyday life, using all events for the good of his people. Any thoughts scaled down from this are not the God of the Bible but are idolatrous diminutions.
Not only is this true, but all the goodness of God is mediated through the Promised Seed, Christ Jesus. He is the co-creator and sustainer of the universe (John 17:2; Colossians 1:16, 17; Hebrews 1:1-3). If you are, as Paul argued, “in Christ,” that absolutely EVERYTHING – even the apparent evil or bad – will work out for your good, making you more conformed to Christ’s image. The doctrine of providence Joseph trusted tells us that the world and the entirety of our lives are not ruled by chance or fate, but by God who reveals his good purposes in the incarnation of Christ the Promised Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15).
If you have never really believed this, it will change your life if you will but trust God’s good providence. You have a gracious savior who not only intends your good, but absolutely guarantees it. Joseph not only believed it, but used it to comfort his weakly-trusting, guilt-ridden brothers. God was the God of their past as well as the God of their future. He is the God of your past – whatever evil your past includes. Joseph’s trauma was entirely eclipsed by his trust. He trusted that all the evil he had suffered in his life was meant for good. So, I ask you: do you genuinely believe this?
Unlike Adam and Eve (and you and I so much of the time), Joseph refused to stand in the place of God because he rested in God’s providential goodness. That led him to a third expression of comfort: “21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” His brothers had insulted him with their fears. But like the new and true Savior to come, Joseph provided for them anyway. It was not how much they trusted Joseph that mattered, it was how much Joseph trusted into God’s person and work. How much you trust into God can make a huge difference in how you perceive the events of your life. But it will NEVER change the fact that Christ Jesus will continue to provide only good for you who trust into him in the same way his type and shadow, Joseph, continued to provide for his wary brothers.
JOSEPH’S EXODUS (22-26)
Joseph lived in Egypt for 93 years and most of that time he reigned as vizier. His remaining years were blessed. “22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own.” He had joy in his family and a firm trust into the Abrahamic Covenant’s land promises. His last words were a statement of his unshakable trust, as St Author of Hebrews wrote: 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.  Moses writes (vv. 24-25):
24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”
There was no grand funeral procession when Joseph died. Yet, since his mummy would travel at the head of the Israelites as they departed Egypt for the Promised Land, there is a sense in which their exodus was a funeral procession intent on burying Joseph in the land. Joseph’s post-mortem entrance into the new land, like his fathers before him, was by means of a tomb. Like Joseph, we must die to self and hope into the new and true land in which we will dwell with God and be his eternally-perfected people by means of a tomb – albeit an empty one. If you are trusting into Christ, you have already died with him, been buried in your baptism, and been raised with him from that empty tomb.
Joseph was indeed a savior who, by God’s presence in his life, refused to put himself in the place of God as Adam and Eve had done. But Joseph’s person and work were only temporarily salvific. Pharaohs were coming who did not know Joseph and would enslave his descendants politically as the evil one enslaved them to their hopeless unbelief and idol worship. Only the person and work of the new and true savior, the Promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ could and would live the perfect life he offers to deposit into our spiritual accounts as the holiness without which no one can see God. Only Jesus could and would die the sacrificial blood-shedding death our sin deserves and sprinkle it on the doorposts of our hearts as payment for our condition of sin and all the evil actions that come out of that condition – along with all the guilt and shame.
Sin demands to ascend to the place of God. The Promised Seed descended to us to live and die in our place. Hear the words of the Incarnation:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 50:14–21.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 5:12.
 Kline, 141.
 Hamilton, 2:704.
 Morton H. Smith, Westminster Confession of Faith (Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press, 1996, c1990.), 2.
 Id., paragraph 4.
 Hamilton, 2:705.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Th 5:15–18.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 45:5–8.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 58:11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Je 29:11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:28.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:29.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:31–39.
 Hughes, 575. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 11:22.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:5–11.