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Online Text Sermon - Why Joseph Wept, Genesis ch.50 v.17

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleWhy Joseph Wept
TextGenesis ch.50 v.17
Sermon ID76

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"So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him" (Genesis 50,17).

"And Joseph wept when they spake unto him" (text).

1. A place for weeping

2. The mills of God grind slow

3. A right view of God


It is a very interesting question which the writers on the Bible have never altogether agreed on, the question as to whether Joseph was a type of Christ or not. It has been argued from either side. I rather incline to the view that he was a type of Christ. However, what we do know about Joseph is this: that he was a very Christ-like man, of that there is no debate, and can be no question. He was a Christ-like man in his character. I suppose if you were to select one man in the Old Testament who was especially loveable and winsome it would need to be this man Joseph. As far as I can remember, he lived a blameless life. I do not know that there is a blot anywhere on his escutcheon. He seems to have lived so close to God, and there is something so open about him, and so affectionate.

I well remember as a young Christian when I first read my Bible - not knowing my Bible, I should say - and coming to these chapters about Joseph. I can remember in my later teens, weeping over the Bible as I read concerning this charming, wonderful, Christ-like man.

Well, my text, as I have said, is this: "Joseph wept when they spake unto him" (text). And I want to point out what is very obvious to us from this text: that there's a place for weeping in the Christian's life.

Now Joseph is portrayed as an excellent man. He was a prophet. God gave him, early in life, those dreams, and his dreams were prophetic: the sun, and the moon, and the stars bowed down to him; the sheaves of corn bowed down to his sheaves. This was prophetic of what would happen in the course of God's providence in time to come. Not only would his brethren bow down to him, but his parents, also, would bow with their faces before him. He would be more important, in this world, even than his own father, and mother.

And, then, he was a man endued with divine wisdom, to interpret the dreams of others. We early discover this when Pharaoh's dreams come to light, and Joseph is hastily called out of prison to interpret Pharaoh's dreams (Genesis 41,14), which he does: he speaks of the seven years of plenty, to be followed by the seven years of famine. And the wisdom with which he advises Pharaoh, saying, Let straw houses be built, and in the years of plenty let the plenty be gathered in and sold to the people in the years of famine (verses 34-35). What wisdom.

Then, again, as we look at the life of Joseph, and place him under the microscope, we see what a pure young man he was. In his early manhood, when temptation is peculiarly strong, he was tempted; Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, in the absence of her husband (Genesis 39,7), and you remember his words: "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (verse 9). And he had to flee from her, and leave his garment in her hand, on a second occasion. Pure in life.

Patient also in tribulation. What sufferings and injustices this young man had, and yet you never find him grumbling. He never complains. He never murmurs against God. And what loving kindness he shows to his brothers. His whole life is suffused with kindness and affection. Now, then, my point here is that he is given much to weeping. I've tried to collect the references to Joseph weeping, in the book of Genesis, and this is what I came up with:

I notice in chapter 42, he weeps over his brothers (verse 24). The picture is this: Joseph's brothers had come out of Canaan to Egypt to buy bread. Joseph knew them, of course, but they did not know him. They spoke through an interpreter, using Hebrew; he spoke to them using an interpreter using the Egyptian language. It never crossed their minds that they were being understood all the time by him. And in a poignant moment the brothers of Joseph blame themselves, and blame one another, in Joseph's presence - not realizing that he could understand every word. And they turn to one another, and they said, We should have taken pity upon our brother! We shouldn't have been so hard upon our brother! (Genesis 42,21) And Joseph, we are told, turned aside and wept, when he heard their compassion for him, even belatedly.

And then, in another touching moment, when the brothers came a second time, bringing with them Benjamin, whom, probably he'd never seen (his younger brother by the same mother). When he saw his younger brother he said to the older one, Is this your younger brother of whom you spake? God be gracious to you my son! (Genesis 43,29) He turned aside again to brush the tears off his face. An affectionate man!

And, then, I think, most poignant of all, in words which we can only read from the Scriptures in Genesis 45: Joseph making himself known to his brothers, "Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence" (Genesis 45,1-3). Well now, that is one of the most sublime moments, even in the Bible itself. And I suppose it is a kind of foreshadowing of what will happen when Christ our Lord appears and makes Himself known to His brethren in the end of history, and He will say to us, I am the Jesus whom you have worshipped and served. So, this love and this kindness.

We also find that when he made himself known to his brethren, he fell on their necks, each one, and he wept on their necks. And then, at the beginning of this chapter 50 you notice again, verse one: "Joseph fell upon his father's face, and wept upon him, and kissed him." His father Jacob had just died, and you can picture the old patriarch stretched out upon his bed, in Egypt, and Joseph, who had looked after him all these years in his old age, now, seeing his father's face, hallowed with the shadow of death upon him, stoops over, kisses his beloved father; the tears fall upon his father's face. Oh, my father - he had gone to be with Abraham, and with Isaac, and the Patriarchs of old.

Now, my dear friends, Christianity does not teach us stoicism. We know what stoicism is: it is the idea that we should be always in control of our emotions; what used to be, in England, called 'the stiff upper lip'. I'm told that when people were dying, and drowning, at the sinking of the Titanic, that Captain Smith said to the people, as they were facing death, "Die like an Englishman," which presumably meant that you showed no emotion. Well, my dear friends, that is not the teaching of the Word of God. We're not commanded in the Word of God to conceal our emotions on all occasions. The Bible is full of emotion. Remember David as he wept for the death of Absalom, Oh, my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! Would God I had died for thee! Oh, Absalom, my son, my son! (2 Samuel 18,33; 19,4) Full of emotion.

Take the apostle Paul writing in one of his letters, to the Philippians, indeed, he says to them, "I tell you this even weeping" (Philippians 3,18). As Paul was writing some of his letters, his tears were falling onto the page in front of him. His words to Timothy: "Timothy," he says, "I am mindful of thy tears" (2 Timothy 1,4). Timothy wept in his love for the apostle Paul. He served Paul as a son serves his father. "I am mindful of thy tears."

But why do we speak of lesser men? What of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Again and again the Bible shows us that our Saviour was a man of tears! He wept over Jerusalem, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem" (Matthew 23,37). He wept over men's unbelief. He wept over men's hardness of heart. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. "Jesus wept": The shortest verse in the Bible (John 11,35). Or, we're told about our Saviour's prayers, aren't we, in Hebrews, and what does the writer tell us? He says that Christ in the days of His flesh prayed unto God with strong crying, and tears (Hebrews 5,7). Our Lord often wept.

It used to be a common feature of prayer meetings: when people prayed, they wept. Well, that is all part of Biblical religion. I say it again, my dear friends, Joseph is an example to us. There is a place for tears. We live in such a hard-hearted, artificial generation. But, there is a place for tears. You know, sometimes when people are bereaved, I've had them say to me, as a minister, as they brush aside their tears, "I'm very sorry," they say, "I'm very sorry to be weeping." There's no need to apologize, for weeping. It is not a sin to weep. It is not a sin, or sign of weakness even, necessarily, to show our emotions. It might be because of godliness, it might be because of our profound concern for the sadness for this world, it may be because of our love for God and of His cause.

Well, now let me, then, bring you a little bit into the circumstances of Joseph's weeping. We are told, in my text, "Joseph wept when they spake unto him." So let's look at the reason why all this happened.


It was a new situation; a new chapter was beginning to open in the lives of these brothers, Joseph and his brothers. Their father, Jacob, had just died, and the brothers were afraid. The brothers got together, and they said to one another, Now that our father is dead, we're at the sheer mercy of our brother Joseph. If he wishes to, he can avenge himself now for all the things we did to him years ago, selling him as a slave into Egypt.

Now this, clearly, is their fear. Look at verse fifteen: "When Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite (meaning, revenge) us all the evil which we did unto him." There's something for us to learn from that, isn't there. The mills of God grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine. When those brothers were in command of the situation, and had Joseph at their control, and under their power, they little imagined that in God's time the wheel would turn round and he would have them in his power. They remembered how unkind they had been to him, and they were able to deduce the possibility that he could now wreak his full vengeance on them.

My friends, let us remember when we are tempted to show unkindness to anyone, let us remember the words: "Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32,23). They didn't remember that when they sold Joseph for so many pieces of silver. Now, they have abundant reason to remember it. God had brought circumstances round. Interesting the way the book of Proverbs puts all this: He that rolls a stone, it will roll upon him; he that digs a pit, he will fall into it (Proverbs 26,27); he that spreads a net, could be caught by it; he that breaketh a hedge, a serpent will bite him (Ecclesiastes 10,8). All that, simply, I think, means this, that as we deal with others, so God, in the end, will deal with us.

There's a very great practical lesson here: never avenge yourself. Leave all that to God. If somebody does you a bad turn, shows you an unkindness, speaks evil of you, don't try to avenge yourself. Remember the words of the New Testament, "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head" (Romans 12,19-20) and the Lord will reward thee.

Well, that, then, is the picture, and they knew how vulnerable they are. So they say to Joseph that they want him to show mercy to them. And when Joseph receives this message, he weeps. He weeps. And I think the reason why he weeps is this: because they had so much misunderstood his true character. I believe Joseph was hurt by the way they supposed him capable of vengeance. He was such a loving man, such a forgiving man, such a kind man, that indeed we can well believe the thought never crossed his mind of avenging himself on his own brothers for what they had done. He forgave them from the heart, and from the soul. He is a perfect example to us of how to be forgiving to those who are unkind to us. And why was he like this? It is because of his fear of God. The fear of the Lord is what created this forgiving spirit within him. "By the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil" (Proverbs 16,6).

Now then, Joseph's attitude towards God is an example to us all. These things are written for our instruction, and for our learning (I Corinthians 10,11). They're not, of course, simply in order that we might be given information and nothing else. This text tells us that Joseph wept when they spake unto him. This example of Joseph is something we are to seek to live out in our own lives, and let us not pretend that it is always easy. It is very hard to forgive someone who hurts you. Very hard. And you have to swallow, and overcome something in yourself, which is often very difficult to do.

Now, the fear that these brothers had was this: Joseph may now hate us and punish us for what we have done, in the past. So what do they do? Well, they send a messenger, first of all; they don't go in person. We're told, in verse sixteen, they send a messenger to Joseph, and the messenger says this, "Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father." They don't even go in person. Perhaps they felt that to do so, itself, would have been risky; that he would have laid rough hands on them there and then. If they felt that, they were totally misunderstanding him. What we are told is that, Joseph, when he heard the messenger, he wept when they spake unto him. It was because he had real, genuine love.

Now, you and I meet people who talk a great deal about love, in this world. In the last number of months I've never heard so many sermons about love. But the thing that I find so offensive is: where is the practice of this love? But we find the practice shown in this beloved man of God; this Joseph, this man so filled with the Spirit; this holy, good, and God-fearing man. He not only talks about love, he practices it, he shows it. And when they hear the report that he wept on the receipt of the messengers, they go themselves (verse eighteen), "His brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants."

So, when the messengers have brought back the report, I presume that Joseph received the message well, and wept when he heard it, they go in person, and they fall down on their faces. Now that, of course, was a fulfillment of the dreams. All over again, as before, the dreams of God are fulfilled: their sheaves fall down before his sheaves; they fall down before him; they do obeisance to him, and put their mouths in the dust in the presence of their brother. That is in fulfillment of God's Word.


And I want to bring you now to see the excellent theology of Joseph. Nobody who has the character of Joseph could possibly have bad theology. This man had a right view of God. And he begins to say these things, now, to his brethren. And he says, at this point, something of tremendous spiritual importance (verse nineteen), "Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Genesis 50,19-20). Now, these words are famous, and great, words - they are a manual of Christian doctrine on the subject of the Providence of God.

Now, the Providence of God we define like this: it is the most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions. Not a sparrow falls on the ground without God; all the hairs of our head are numbered; the secret thoughts of kings and governments are all well known to God. He governs everything: the winds that blow, the rising and falling of the seasons of the year; all these things are entirely in God's control. Nothing happens without God.

So now, that is the view which Joseph holds of the matter, and you can see how he needed that doctrine. He needed this view of Providence as he went through the difficulties of life. Imagine him in prison - for no reason at all. Imagine him suffering the injustices at the hands of his own brothers, if you please - for no unrighteousness at all. And you can why God, in His goodness, had taught him this doctrine of Providence: that there is a purpose behind everything that happens in our life. And he now preaches this wonderful sermon, if you like, to his brothers, and he says, My brothers, the things that you did to me while I was a young boy are things which you meant for evil, but God meant them for good.

So, there's a teaching here which we must observe: what men do to us for evil, God does to His children for good. And that's the way in which we can support ourselves, and keep ourselves bright, and keep ourselves cheerful, and rejoice in the tribulation. All the things that men mean against you for evil, God means against you, as a Christian, for good.

I'm going to quote a Puritan (you can't beat them). This is the way the Puritan put it. He said, "God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick." That's a clever way of putting it like this. He means, of course, that the things which seem, to us, to be topsy-turvy, and incomprehensible, are things which God is using to bring about His clear will. He draws a straight line, with a crooked stick.

Let me open up that thought, which Joseph gives us here amidst his tears. There will still be tears in Joseph's eyes as he's saying these things. He had no pleasure in humbling his brethren. He didn't want to make them feel that he was attacking them in any way. He was instructing them, and telling them good theology. Then what he said was sublime.

Let me give you an illustration or two of this very doctrine: that the things that men do for evil, are things which God does for good.

The first example I will take is the sin of Adam. Now, we men, represented by Adam, sinned in our first father; we rebelled against God. We meant it for evil. We yielded to the temptation of the Devil. We did wickedly. We deserve wrath and curse, hell and damnation. I can't understand people who complain when anything goes wrong in life. I can never understand those people who complain because children die young maybe, say, because there is misery in their lives, or sickness or sorrow. I can never understand why people are surprised by that. If you begin with the Bible's view of mankind that we are wicked, then, of course, all these trials and tribulations are to be expected. But now, what Adam meant for evil, God intended for good. What was the good that God intended to do to us through the sin of Adam? It was to give us another Adam, and a better Adam, and a last Adam - a Christ! a Saviour! a God-man! a Redeemer! a Blood-shedder! - One who would have a perfect and eternal divine righteousness! (which Adam never had), and to do us far more good! than Adam could ever have done. It's no thanks to Adam. It's all thanks to God. But you see how Joseph's doctrine fits like a key in a lock here: you meant it for evil; but God meant it for good (Genesis 50,20).

Let's take a second example of this very principle. David, the king, committed sin with Bathsheba. He meant it for evil. He was seduced by his own lusts; he was enticed. The consequence was that illicit relationship. He meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. From that union came those who were the ancestors of the Lord Jesus Christ. Can you imagine it? God was drawing a straight line with a crooked stick, once again.

But there's still a better example than anything I've said so far. What about the Cross of Calvary? Men meant it for evil. Oh! how lustily they hammered in the nails! how lustily they taunted Him! and reproached Him! - If thou be the Son of God, come down off the cross and then we will believe you! (Matthew 27,40-42). They threw it in His face. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The Cross is, at one and the same time, the greatest sin of history, and the greatest blessing of history. Oh, we should glory in the Cross, and in the Providence of God! Peter, himself, preaching on this very theme says these same things on the Day of Pentecost. You may remember the words, referring to Christ, "him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up" from the dead (Acts 2,23-24). The world meant Christ's crucifixion for evil - and you and I had a hand in it - but God meant it for good. You see the love of God. You see the love of Christ. And you see a beam of this love in Joseph. No wonder the Bible says, he wept. Joseph wept when they spake unto him. He remembered what God had done in his life, and he blessed God. He could forgive his brethren very easily, because he saw that the hand of God was in it for good - to him, and to them, and even to us today.

My Christian friend, let this be your character. If anyone has harmed you, hurt you, wounded you, dealt with you unjustly - thank God, that what they have meant for evil, God has been meaning for good. And wait till the wheel turns full circle. You will discover that you lost nothing for being patient, for swallowing your anger, for having a forgiving spirit, according to the pattern of our Saviour when they were nailing them to the Cross. You remember His famous, glorious words, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" (Luke 23,34). It should be easy for us to say that, if He could say that.

And look what Joseph says to his brethren. So far was Joseph from hurting them, he said this (verse 21), "Now, therefore, fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them". You can imagine him going round his brothers, he being Prime Minister of Egypt, and they being nobody, putting his hand on their shoulder, and kissing their cheek: Now, Judah, don't be afraid; Simeon, have no fear; Benjamin, my brother, don't be afraid. I will do you no harm; I will feed you, and your little ones. I'll do you all the good I can as long as I'm alive.

Well now, that's true religion! That's Biblical religion! That's Christianity! That's Christ-likeness! And if there are Christians like this in the world, they won't need to blow trumpets, or have banners. People will notice that they're different. They'll be great evangelists by their very character. People will take note of them, that they're like Jesus Christ. There's too little of this kind of Christianity, surely you would agree with me. There needs to be more of this Christianity, surely you'd agree with me. I don't pretend it's easy, but this is what we're called on to be: with bowels of compassion, forgiving one another, as God, for Christ's sake, has also forgiven us (Ephesians 4,32).

And my dear non-Christian friend here today, I assure you if you repent, and turn to Jesus Christ with all your heart - sincerely - you will find that God is the same to you as Joseph was to his brethren. How do I know? Well, because of the Prodigal Son story. This is how God is portrayed by Christ. When the prodigal returns, he doesn't return to a gruff and angry father ready to take out the whip. He returns to a father with bowels of compassion, and mercy. And when men and women return to Him, in repentance and faith, He doesn't scourge them and lacerate them. Rather, he says that He will take them into His home, and make them one of His true sons and daughters.

Will you not therefore today - young man, young woman, older person - will you not today give your heart to the Lord, and discover that He is full of kindness, and that what we read in my text is true of Jesus Christ (He also wept) and that there is in the heart of God this affection, this kindness and disposition, to forgive. So, remember these words, and let them encapsulate the thought which is so precious here, for we are told that "Joseph wept when they spake unto him."

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