I marvel not that Joseph had the double portion of Jacob’s land, who had more than two parts of his sorrows. None of his sons did so truly inherit his afflictions; none of them was either so miserable or so great: suffering is the way to glory. I see in him not a clearer type of Christ, than of every Christian. Because we are dear to our Father, and complain of sins, therefore are we hated of our carnal brethren. If Joseph had not meddled with his brother’s faults, yet he had been envied for his father’s affection;
but now malice is met with envy. There is nothing more thankless or dangerous than to stand in the way of a resolute sinner. That which doth correct and oblige the penitent, makes the wilful mind furious and revengeful.
All the spite of his brethren cannot make Joseph cast off the livery of his father’s love. What need we care for the censures of men, if our hearts can tell us that we are in favour with God?
But what meant young Joseph to add unto his own envy by reporting his dreams? The concealment of our hopes or abilities hath not more modesty than safety. He that was envied for his dearness, and hated for his intelligence, was both envied and hated for his dreams. Surely God meant to make the relation of these dreams a means to effect that which the dreams imported. We men work by likely means: God by contraries. The main quarrel was, “Behold, this dreamer cometh!” Had it not been for his dreams, he had not been sold: if he had not been sold, he had not been exalted. So Joseph’s state had not deserved envy, if his dreams had not caused him to be envied. Full little did Joseph think, when he went to seek his brethren, that this was the last time he should see his father’s house. Full little did his brethren think, when they sold him naked to the Ishmaelites, to have once seen him in the throne of Egypt. God’s decree runs on; and while we either think not of it, or oppose it, is performed.
In an honest and obedient simplicity, Joseph comes to inquire of his brethren’s health, and now may not return to carry news of his own misery: whilst he thinks of their welfare, they are plotting his destruction: “Come, let us slay him.” Who would have expected this cruelty in them, which should be the fathers of God’s church! It was thought a favour, that Reuben’s entreaty obtained for him, that he might be cast into the pit alive, to die there. He looked for brethren, and behold, murderers: every man’s tongue, every man’s fist, was bent against him. Each one strives who shall lay the first hand upon that changeable coat which was dyed with their father’s love and their envy: and now they have stript him naked, and hauling him by both arms, as it were, cast him alive into his grave. So, in pretence of forbearance, they resolve to torment him with a lingering death. The savagest robbers could not have been more merciless: for now, besides (what in them lies), they kill their father in their brother. Nature, if it once degenerate, grows more monstrous and extreme, than a disposition born to cruelty.
All this while, Joseph wanted neither words nor tears; but, like a passionate suppliant (bowing his bare knees to them whom he dreamed should bow to him), entreats and persuades, by the dear name of their brotherhood, by their profession of one common God, for their father’s sake, for their own soul’s sake, not to sin against his blood. But envy hath shut out mercy, and makes them not only forget themselves to be brethren, but men. What stranger can think of poor innocent Joseph, crying naked in that desolate and dry pit (only saving that he moistened it with tears), and not be moved! Yet his hard-hearted brethren sit them down carelessly, with the noise of his lamentation in their ears, to eat bread, not once thinking, by their own hunger, what it was for Joseph to be famished to death.
Whatsoever they thought, God never meant that Joseph should perish in that pit; and therefore he sends the very Ishmaelites to ransom him from his brethren: the seed of him that persecuted his brother Isaac, shall now redeem Joseph from his brethren’s persecution. When they came to fetch him out of the pit, he now hoped for a speedy despatch: that since they seemed not to have so much mercy as to prolong his life, they would not continue so much cruelty as to prolong his death.
And now, when he hath comforted himself with hope of the favour of dying, behold death exchanged for bondage! How much is servitude, to an ingenuous nature, worse than death! for this is common to all; that, to none but the miserable. Judah meant this well, but God better. Reuben saved him from the sword; Judah from famishing. God will ever raise up some secret favourers to his own, amongst those that are most malicious. How well was this favour bestowed! If Joseph had died for hunger in the pit, both Jacob and Judah, and all his brethren, had died for hunger in Canaan. Little did the Ismaelitish merchants know what a treasure they bought, carried, and sold; more precious than all their balm and myrrhs. Little did they think that they had in their hands the lord of Egypt, the jewel of the world. Why should we condemn any man’s meanness, when we know not his destiny?
One sin is commonly used for the veil of another: Joseph’s coat is sent home dipped in blood, that, while they should hide their own cruelty, they might afflict their father, no less than their brother. They have devised this real lie, to punish their old father, for his love, with so grievous a monument of his sorrow.
He that is mourned for in Canaan as dead, prospers in Egypt under Potiphar; and of a slave, is made ruler. Thus God meant to prepare him for a greater charge; he must first rule Potiphar’s house, then Pharaoh’s kingdom: his own service is his least good, for his very presence procures a common blessing: a whole family shall fare the better for one Joseph. Virtue is not looked upon alike with all eyes: his fellows praise him, his master trusts him, his mistress affects him too much. All the spite of his brethren was not so great a cross to him, as the inordinate affection of his mistress.
Temptations on the right hand are now more perilous, and hard to resist, by how much they are more plausible and glorious; but the heart that is bent upon God, knows how to walk steadily and indifferently betwixt the pleasures of sin and fears of evil. He saw this pleasure would advance him: he knew what it was to be a minion of one of the greatest ladies of Egypt, yet resolves to contemn. A good heart will rather lie in the dust, than rise by wickedness: “How shall I do this, and sin against God?”
He knew that all the honours of Egypt could not buy off the guilt of one sin; and therefore abhors not only her bed, but her company. He that will be safe from the acts of evil, must wisely avoid the occasions. As sin ends ever in shame, when it is committed, so it makes us past shame, that we may commit it. The impudent strumpet dare not only solicit, but importune, and in a sort force the modesty of her good servant: she lays hold on his garment; her hand seconds her tongue.
Good Joseph found it now time to fly, when such an enemy pursued him: how much had he rather leave his cloak than his virtue! and to suffer his mistress to spoil him of his livery, rather than he should blemish her honour, or his master’s in her, or God in either of them!
This second time is Joseph stript of his garment: before, in the violence of envy, now, of lust; before, of necessity, now, of choice; before, to deceive his father, now, his master: for behold, the pledge of his fidelity, which he left in those wicked hands, is made an evidence against him, of that which he refused to do:
therefore did he leave his cloak, because he would not do that of which he is accused and condemned, because he left it. What safety is there against great adversaries, when even arguments of innocence are used to convince of evil? Lust yielded unto is a pleasant madness; but is a desperate madness when it is opposed: no hatred burns so furiously as that which arises from the quenched coals of love.
Malice is witty to devise accusations of others, out of their virtue and our own guiltiness. Joseph either pleads not, or is not heard.
Doubtless he denied the fact, but he dare not accuse the offender. There is not only the praise of patience, but oft-times of wisdom, even in unjust sufferings. He knew that God would find a time to clear his innocence, and to regard his chaste faithfulness.
No prison would serve him but Pharaoh’s. Joseph had lain obscure, and not been known to Pharaoh, if he had not been cast into Pharaoh’s dungeon. The afflictions of God’s children turn ever to their advantages. No sooner is Joseph a prisoner, than a guardian of the prisoners. Trust and honour accompany him wheresoever he is: in his father’s house, in Potiphar’s, in the jail, in the court; still he hath both favour and rule.
So long as God is with him, he cannot but shine, in spite of men. The walls of that dungeon cannot hide his virtues, the irons
cannot hold them. Pharaoh’s officers are sent to witness his graces, which he may not come forth to show. The cup-bearer admires him in the jail, but forgets him in the court. How easily doth our own prosperity make us either forget the deservings or miseries of others? But as God cannot neglect his own, so least of all in their sorrows. After two years more of Joseph’s patience, that God, which caused him to be lifted up out of the former pit to be sold, now calls him out of the dungeon to honour. He now puts a dream into the head of Pharaoh; he puts the remembrance of Joseph’s skill into the head of the cup-bearer; who, to pleasure Pharaoh, not to requite Joseph, commends the prisoner for an interpreter. He puts an interpretation in the mouth of Joseph: he puts this choice into the heart of Pharaoh, of a miserable prisoner, to make him the ruler of Egypt. Behold, one hour hath changed his fetters into a chain of gold, his rags into fine linen, his stocks into a chariot, his jail into a palace, Potiphar’s captive into his master’s lord, the noise of his chains into *Abrech. He, whose chastity refused the wanton allurements of the wife of Potiphar, had now given him to his wife the daughter of Potipherah. Humility goes before honour: serving and suffering are the best tutors to government. How well are God’s children paid for their patience? How happy are the issues of the faithful! Never any man repented him of the advancement of a good man.
Pharaoh hath not more preferred Joseph, than Joseph hath enriched Pharaoh: if Joseph had not ruled, Egypt and all the bordering nations had perished. The providence of so faithful an ; officer hath both given the Egyptians their lives, and the money, cattle, lands, bodies of the Egyptians, to Pharaoh. Both have reason to be well pleased. The subjects owe to him their lives; the king his subjects, and his dominions. The bounty of God made Joseph able to give more than he received: it is like, the seven years of plenty were not confined to Egypt: other countries adjoining were no less fruitful; yet, in the seven years of famine, Egypt had corn when they wanted.
See the difference betwixt a wise, prudent frugality, and a vain, ignorant expense of the benefits of God. The sparing hand is both
full and beneficial; whereas the lavish is not only empty, but injurious.
Good Jacob is pinched with the common famine. No piety can , exempt us from the evils of neighbourhood. No man can tell, by outward events, which is the patriarch, and which the Canaanite.
Neither doth his profession lead him to the hope of a miraculous preservation. It is a vain tempting of God, to cast ourselves upon an immediate provision with neglect of common means. His ten sons must now leave their flocks, and go down into Egypt, to be their father’s purveyors. And now they go to buy of him whom
they had sold; and bow their knees to him, for his relief, which had bowed to them before for his own life. His age, his habit, the place, the language, kept Joseph from their knowledge; neither had they
called off their minds from their folds, to inquire of matters of foreign state, or to hear that an Hebrew was advanced to the highest honour of Egypt. But he cannot but know them, whom he left at their full growth, whose tongue and habit and number were all one; whose faces had left so deep an impression in his mind at their unkind parting. It is wisdom sometimes to conceal our knowledge, that we may not prejudice truth.
He that was hated of his brethren, for being his father’s spy, now accuses his brethren for common spies of the weakness of Egypt: he could not, without their suspicion, have come to a perfect intelligence of his father’s estate and theirs, if he had not objected to them that which was not. We are always bound to go the nearest way to truth. It is more safe, in cases of inquisition, to fetch far about: that he might seem enough an Egyptian, he swears heathenishly: how little could they suspect this oath would proceed from the son of him, which swore by the fear of his father Isaac! How oft have sinister respects drawn weak goodness to disguise itself, even with sins!
It was no small joy to Joseph, to see this late accomplishment of his ancient dream; to see these suppliants (I know not whether more brethren or enemies) grovelling before him in an unknown submission: and now it doth him good to seem merciless to them, whom he had found wilfully cruel: to hide his love from them which had showed their hate to him, and to think how much he favoureth them, and how little they know it: and as, sporting himself in their seeming misery, he pleasantly imitates all those actions reciprocally unto them, which they in despite and earnest had done formerly to him; he speaks roughly, rejects their persuasions, puts them in hold, and one of them in bonds. The mind must not always be judged by the outward face of the actions. God’s countenance is oftimes as severe, and his hand as heavy to them whom he best loveth. Many a one, under the habit of an Egyptian, hath the heart of an Israelite. No song could be so delightful to him, as to hear them, in a late remorse, condemn themselves before him, of their old cruelty towards him, who was now their unknown witness and judge.
Nothing doth so powerfully call home the conscience as affliction, neither need there any other art of memory for sin, besides misery. They had heard Joseph’s deprecation of their evil with tears, and had not pitied him; yet Joseph doth but hear their mention of this evil which they had done against him, and pities them with tears; he weeps for joy to see their repentance, and to compare his safety and happiness with the cruelty which they intended, and did, and thought they had done.
Yet he can abide to see his brother his prisoner, whom no bonds could bind so strong, as his affection bound him to his captive. Simeon is left in pawn, in fetters; the rest return with their corn, with their money, paying nothing for their provision but their labour; that they might be as much troubled with the beneficence
of that strange Egyptian lord, as before with his imperious suspicion. Their wealth was now more irksome to them than their need; and they fear God means to punish them more in this superfluity of money, than in the want of victuals. “What is this that God hath done to us?” It is a wise course to be jealous of our gain; and more to fear, than desire abundance.
Old Jacob, that was not used to simple and absolute contentments, receives the blessing of seasonable provision, together with the affliction of that heavy message, the loss of one son, and the danger of another; and knows not whether it be better for him to die with hunger, or with grief, for the departure of that son of his right hand. He drives off all till the last. Protraction is a kind of ease in evils that must come.
At length (as no plea is so importunate as that of famine) Benjamin must go: one evil must be hazarded for the redress of another. What would it avail him, to see whom he loved miserable? How injurious were that affection, to keep his son so long in his eye, till they should see each other die for hunger!
The ten brothers return into Egypt, loaded with double money in their sacks, and a present in their hands: the danger of mistaking is requited, by honest minds, with more than restitution. It is not enough to find our own hearts clear in suspicious actions, except we satisfy others. Now hath Joseph what he would, the sight and presence of his Benjamin, whom he therefore borrows of his father for a time, that he might return him with a greater interest of joy: and now he feasts them whom he formerly threatened, and turns their fear into wonder. All unequal love is not partial; all the brethren are entertained bountifully, but Benjamin hath a fivefold portion. By how much his welcome was greater, by so much his pretended theft seemed more heinous; for good turns aggravate unkindness, and our offences are increased with our obligations. How easy is it to find advantages, where there is a purpose to accuse! Benjamin’s sack makes him guilty of that whereof his heart was free. Crimes seem strange to the innocent. Well might they abjure this fact, with the offer of bondage and death: for they, which carefully brought again that which they might have taken, would never take that which was not given them. But thus Joseph would yet dally with his brethren, and make Benjamin a thief, that he might make him a servant, and fright his brethren with the peril of that their charge, that he might double their joy and amazedness, in giving them two brothers at once. Our happiness is greater and sweeter, when we have well feared and smarted with evils.
But now when Judah seriously reported the danger of his old father, and the sadness of his last complaint, compassion and joy will be concealed no longer, but break forth violently at his voice and eyes. Many passions do not well abide witnesses, because they are guilty to their own weakness. Joseph sends forth his servants, that he might freely weep. He knew he could not say I am Joseph, without an unbeseeming vehemence.
Never any word sounded so strangely as this in the ears of the patriarchs. Wonder, doubt, reverence, joy, fear, hope, guiltiness, struck them at once. It was time for Joseph to say. “Fear not:” no marvel if they stood with paleness and silence before him, looking on him, and on each other. The more they considered, they wondered more; and the more they believed, the more they feared. For these words, “I am Joseph,” seemed to sound thus much to their guilty thoughts:Â—You are murderers, and I am a prince in spite of you. My power, and this place, give me all opportunities of revenge: my glory is your shame, my life your danger; your sins live together with me. But now the tears and gracious words of Joseph have soon assured them of pardon and love, and have bidden them turn their eyes from their sin against their brother, to their happiness in him, and have changed their doubts into hopes and joys, causing them to look upon him without fear, though not without shame. His loving embracements clear their hearts of all jealousies, and hasten to put new thoughts into them of favour, and of greatness; so that now forgetting what evil they did to their brother, they are thinking of what good their brother may do to them. Actions, salved up with a free forgiveness, are as not done: and as a bone once broken is stronger after well setting, so is love after reconcilement.
But as wounds once healed leave a scar behind them, so remitted injuries leave commonly in the actors a guilty remembrance, which hindered these brethren from that freedom of joy, which else they had conceived. This was their fault, not Joseph’s, who strives to give them all security of his love, and will be as bountiful as they were cruel. They send him naked to strangers;
he sends them in new and rich liveries to their father: they took a small sum of money for him; he gives them great treasures: they sent his torn coat to his father; he sends variety of costly raiments to his father, by them: they sold him to be the load of camels; he sends them home with chariots. It must be a great favour, that can appease the conscience of a great injury. Now they return home, rich and joyful, making themselves happy to think how glad they should make their father with this news.
That good old man would never have hoped, that Egypt could have afforded such provision as thisÂ—”Joseph is yet alive.” This was not food, but life to him. The return of Benjamin was comfortable; but that his dead son was yet alive, after so many years’ lamentation, was tidings too happy to be believed, and was enough to endanger that life with excess of joy, which the knowledge thereof doubled. Over-excellent objects are dangerous in their sudden apprehensions. One grain of that joy would have safely cheered him whereof a full measure overlays his heart with too much sweetness. There is no earthly pleasure whereof we may not surfeit: of the spiritual we can never have enough.
Yet his eyes revive his mind, which his ears had thus astonished. When he saw the chariots of his son, he believed Joseph’s
life, and refreshed his own. He had too much before, so that he
could not enjoy it: now he saith, “I have enough; Joseph my son is yet alive.”
They told him of his honour; he speaks of his life: life is better than honour. To have heard that Joseph lived a servant, would have joyed him more, than to hear that he died honourably. The greater blessing obscures the less. He is not worthy of honour, that is not thankful for life.
Yet Joseph’s life did not content Jacob, without his presence:
“I will go down and see him, ere I die.” The sight of the eye is better than to walk in desires. Good things pleasure us not in their being, but in our enjoying.
The height of all earthly contentment appeared in the meeting of these two, whom their mutual loss had more endeared to each other. The intermission of comforts hath this advantage, that it sweetens our delight more in the return, than was abated in the forbearance. God doth oft-times hide away our Joseph for a time, that we may be more joyous and thankful in his recovery. This was the sincerest pleasure that ever Jacob had, which therefore God reserved for his old age.
And if the meeting of earthly friends be so unspeakably comfortable, how happv shall we be in the light of the glorious face of God our heavenly Father! of that of our blessed Redeemer, whom we sold to death by our sins: and which now, after that noble triumph, hath all power given him in heaven and earth!
Thus did Jacob rejoice, when he was to go out of the land of promise to a foreign nation, for Joseph’s sake: being glad that he should lose his country for his son. What shall our joy be, who must go out of this foreign land of our pilgrimage, to the home of our glorious inheritance, to dwell with none but our own, in that better and more lightsome Goshen, free from all the encumbrances of this Egypt, and full of all the riches and delights of God! The guilty conscience can never think itself safe: so many years’ experience of Joseph’s love could not secure his brethren of remission. Those that know they have deserved ill, are wont to misinterpret favours, and think they cannot be beloved. All that while, his goodness seemed but concealed and sleeping malice, which they feared in their father’s last sleep would awake, and bewray itself in revenge: still, therefore, they plead the name of their father, though dead, not being to use their own. Good meanings cannot be more wronged than with suspicion. It grieves Joseph to see their fear, and to find they had not forgotten their own sin, and to hear them so passionately crave that which they had.
“Forgive the trespass of the servants of thy father’s God.” What a conjuration of pardon was this! What wound could be either so deep, or so festered, as this plaster could not cure! They say not, the sons of thy father, for they knew Jacob was dead, and they had degenerated: but “the servants of thy father’s God”. How much stronger are the bonds of religion than of nature! If
Joseph had been rancorous, this deprecation had charmed him; but now it dissolves him into tears: they are not so ready to acknowledge their old offence, as he to protest his love; and if he chide them for any thing, it is for that they thought they needed to entreat; since they might know it could not stand with the fellow-servant of their father’s God to harbour maliciousness, to purpose revenge. “Am not I under God.” And fully to secure them, he turns their eyes from themselves to the decree of God from the action to the event; as one that would have them think there was no cause to repent of that which proved so successful.
Even late confession finds forgiveness. Joseph had long ago seen their sorrow; never till now heard he their humble acknowledgment. Mercy stays not for outward solemnities. How much more shall the Infinite Goodness pardon our sins, when He finds the truth of our repentance!
* “Bow the Knee”.