Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Tribes by Shelby McQuilkin, Saatchi Art

And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.
Genesis 50:15

Joseph had already forgiven his brothers when he first revealed his identity in Genesis 45, but now their father has died the brothers once again fear his wrath and revenge. In keeping with their earlier scheming selves they make up the story that Jacob commanded that Joseph forgive them for their crime. It's likely untrue for two reasons, i) there is no indication that Jacob even knew about the original crime—it certainly isn't mentioned during the blessing, and ii) if Jacob had wanted Joseph to forgive his brothers he would surely have asked this of Joseph directly.

Margaret Odell in her commentary on Genesis 50:15-21 suggests that the brothers' guilt has lived on within them, perhaps because they have been unable to accept Joseph's explanation of God's greater plan, and thus their characters remains unchanged.1 I offer a different perspective.

Since being in Egypt the brothers have got to know the new Joseph, and what they see makes them afraid.2 Joseph has become a ruthless tyrant. With their father perhaps the only familial element that kept Joseph from exercising his ruthlessness on his own family, not because of past misdeeds but simply because he can, they are rightly afraid. They invoke the spirit of their father in the concocted story as they feel helpless without Jacob's presence. Lies are always borne of fear.

Joseph forgives them, again, breaks down into tears, again, and again reminds them that it is God who is the ultimate forgiver, not he. If Joseph has indeed become a tyrant perhaps this story reminds us that even the tyrants, despots and dictators of this world have families they truly love, parents they mourn, siblings they would shed tears for. Most often it is circumstances that corrupt, not some inherent evil. It is easy to forget that. The bond of storgē, familial love, is a strong weed that will grow even in toxic, corrupted soil.

Genesis ends with the death of Joseph, his final words setting up the Exodus story, in the second book of Moses, God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

1 Commentary on Genesis 50:15-21 by Margaret Odell, an insightful read.
2 This episode is described in my earlier reflection on Genesis 47, Corruption.