“What you meant for evil, God meant for good, in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50: 20).”
Joseph’s explanation of his willingness to forgive his brothers, even the ones who had wanted to kill him, who had sold him instead into slavery, serves notice of how the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will work his redemptive purposes in Creation. He operates not by micro-managing and causing all the actions of his agents, but by incorporating and turning, to his redemptive purposes, their freedom, even their freedom and actions of resistance and rebellion. That, I would argue, is a display of even greater power than if God were to snap his (figurative) fingers and make the New Jerusalem appear on the spot, this very instant. The supreme example of God’s power through our liberty is the crucifixion of Christ Jesus, whose enemies meant it for evil, but which God worked for their (and our) eternal life.
In Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers we see again the power of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the blessings it bestows on others, even upon generations yet to be born. The reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, and of Joseph with his brothers, as a central element in the beginning stages of the family story, stands in marked contrast to all the other histories of tribes and nations that are born and bathed in blood, stories which define the community in terms of grievances against other tribes and communities, and which set the community on a path of violence, vengeance and conquest.
Until “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph,” (Exodus 1:8), the relationship between Egypt and Israel was a beautiful thing. In the last chapters of Genesis we see Egypt and the Pharoah showing great hospitality and honor to Jacob and his family of seventy. But then we see a politics of fear and distrust arising, with the culturally and religiously distinct Hebrews serving as convenient scapegoats for societal insecurity. “In the event of war, they may join themselves to our enemies” (Exodus 1:10), said the Pharoah. When a society is hell-bent on war, the war will inevitably turn inward. We’ll see how Pharoah’s politically convenient scapegoating sets in motion disastrous consequences that consume his own nation and household. “Israel is my son, my first-born,” (Ex. 4:22), God tells Pharoah, with a warning of what will happen to Egypt’s first-born sons if Israel is not released to serve God, rather than Egypt’s imperial taskmasters.
I can’t help wondering, are there any parallels between Egypt’s treatment of the Hebrews in the time of Moses, and the targeting and treatment of certain people in our world today, including “undocumented aliens?” Reply to get the thread going on that, or any other ideas and questions these chapters suggest for you.