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Pharaoh, the wise and extensive plan which he formed for saving the kingdom from the miseries of impending famine, justly raised him to a high station, wherein his abilities were eminently displayed in the public service. But in his whole history there is no circumstance so striking and interesting, as his behaviour to his brethren who had sold him into slavery. The moment in which he made himself known to them, that moment at which we are now to contemplate him, was the most critical one of his life, and the most decisive of his character. It is such as rarely occurs in the course of human events; and is calculated to draw the highest attention of all who are endowed with any degree of sensibility of heart. Let us consider the sentiment which Joseph utters in the text under two views, each of which is very instructive to all Christians. 1. As a discovery of his cordial forgiveness of his brethren ; and, II. As an instance of his dutiful attention to the Providence of God.
1. The most cordial forgiveness is here displayed. I shall not recapitulate all the preceding history respecting Joseph and his brethren; as it is well known by every one who has the least acquaintance with the sacred writings. From the whole tenour of the narration it appears, that though Joseph, upon the arrival of his brethren in Egypt, made himself strange to them, yet from the beginning he intended to discover himself; and studied so to conduct the discovery as might render the surprise of joy complete. For this end, by affected severity, he took measures for bringing down into Egypt all his father's children. They were now arrived there; and Benjamin among the rest, who was his younger brother by the same mother, and was particularly beloved by Joseph. Him he threatened to detain ; and seemed willing to allow the rest to depart. This incident renewed their distress. They all knew their father's extreme anxiety about the safety of Benjamin, and with what difficulty he had yielded to his undertaking this journey. Should he be prevented from returning, they dreaded that grief would overpower the old man's spirits, and prove fatal to his life. Judah, therefore, who had particularly urged the necessity of Benjamin's accompanying his brothers, and had solemnly pledged himself to their father for his safe return, craved, upon this occasion, an audience of the governor;
gave him a full account of the circumstances of Jacob's family.
Nothing can be more interesting and pathetic than this discourse of Judah, as it is recorded in the preceding chapter. Little knowing to whom he spoke, he paints, in all the colours of simple and natural eloquence, the distressed situation of the aged patriarch, hastening to the close of life ; long afflicted for the loss of a favourite son, whom he supposed to have been torn in pieces by a beast of prey ; labouring now under anxious concern about his youngest son, the child of his old age, who alone was left alive of his mother, and whom nothing but the calamities of severe famine could have moved a tender father to send from home, and expose to the dangers of a foreign land. If we bring him not back with us, we shall bring down the grey hairs of thy servant, our father, with sorrow, to the grave. I pray thee, therefore, let thy servant abide instead of the young man, a bondman to our lord. For horo shall I go up to my father, and Benjamin not with me? lest I see the evil that shall come on my father.
Upon this relation, Joseph could no longer restrain himself. The tender ideas of his father and his father's house, of his ancient home, his country and his kindred, of the distress of his family, and his own exaltation, all rushed too strongly upon his mind to bear any farther concealment. He cried, Cause every man to go out from me ; and he wept aloud. The tears which he shed, were not the tears of grief. They were the bursts of affection. They were the effusions of a heart overflowing with all the tender sensibilities of nature. Formerly he had been moved in the same manner, when he first saw his brethren before him. His bowels yearned upon them : he sought for a place where to weep. He went into his chamber; and then washed his face and returned to them. At that period, his generous plans were not completed. But now, when there was no farther occasion for constraining himself, he gave free vent to the strong emotions of his heart. The first minister to the king of Egypt was not ashamed to show that he felt as a man, and a brother. He wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard him.
The first words which his swelling heart allowed him to pronounce, are the most suitable to such an affecting situation which were ever uttered ; I am Joseph : doth my father yet live? - What could he, what ought he, in that impassioned moment to have said more: This is the voice of nature herself, speaking her own language; and it penetrates the heart: No
of expression; no parade of kindness; but strong affection hastening to utter what it strongly felt. His brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence. Their silence is as expressive of those emotions of repentance and shame, which on this amazing discovery, filled their breasts, and stopped their utterance, as the few words which Joseph speaks are expressive of the generous agitations which struggle for vent within him. No painter could seize a more striking moment for displaying the characteristical features of the human heart, than what is here presented. Never was there a situation of more tender and virtuous joy, on the one hand; nor, on the other, of more overwhelming confusion and conscious guilt. In the simple narration of the sacred historian, it is set before us with greater energy and higher effect, than if it had been wrought up with all the colouring of the most admired modern eloquence.
When Joseph had a little recovered himself from the first transports of emotion, he proceeds to explain his situation to his brethren, and to show them the beneficent purposes for which he conceived himself to be raised by Providence into power. The apology which he makes in the text for their former cruelty is uncommon and remarkable. Now therefore be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God; and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. This apology was, in truth, no satisfactory excuse for their crime. For though the over-ruling Providence of Heaven had so directed the course of events, as to render their bad intentions subservient to a happy issue ; yet the badness of the intention originated entirely from themselves. The envy and jealousy which they entertained against their brother, led them to the commission of an atrocious deed. The deed was voluntary; the crime was all their own; and the interposition of Providence in making unforeseen consequences follow from that crime, did not, could not, exculpate them from guilt. It were an impious conclusion, that because God extracts good from our evil, we are not answerable for the evil which we perpetrate.
God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.* But the sentiment in the text is to be considered as a colour which the generous humanity of Joseph prompted him to throw on the conduct of his brethren. He saw the confusion with which they were overwhelmed in his presence. He diverts their attention from the remembrance of a crime which was now wringing their hearts with anguish, by representing to them the happy effects which that crime had produced. He sets them free from all uneasiness on his account. He calls upon them to rejoice in his prosperity, and, instead of dwelling on a painful recollection of their own conduct, to join with him in acknowledging and adoring the hand of the Almighty.
How different is this amiable spirit which Joseph discovers from that harsh and ostentatious superiority which too often accompanies the pretended forgiveness of injuries among those who call themselves Christians! They are ready to say, that, for their part, they pardon the wrongs which have been done them; they wish that the persons who have commit
* James, i. 13.