The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Joseph was still a Song of Solomon, though lord of all Egypt. He had still an affectionate heart, though pomp and circumstance conspired to give him great eminence and wonderful power in the whole land of his enforced adoption. A man should never forget his father. Twenty years afterwards and more, Joseph"s heart yearned after his father with all a child"s clinging trustfulness and unsophisticated trembling pathos. A man should always be a boy when his father is at hand. Did I say always? Alas! I am compelled to add that there are circumstances under which fathers cease to be fathers. There may arise such combinations of circumstances as shall dispossess a man of his fatherhood, that shall turn him into a stranger and an alien. It is well, therefore, for us, whether fathers or children, clearly to understand this matter. Nothing but moral considerations should ever separate a father and his child. Not because the father is poor should the child disown him or treat his name lightly; not because he is destitute of learning should a child affect to contemn his parent. But when the father is morally corrupt,—when all the rain, and sunshine, and dew, and living breeze of a child"s long-continued patient love have been lost upon him,—then there may come a time of final separation, when the child says, "I have no father." What is animal parentage, after all? You say you are a man"s father: but what is the meaning of that? If that fatherhood is but fleshly, it is not parentage in any deep, tender, lasting sense of the term. It may be a relationship that can hardly be helped,—an external temporary relationship; there is no kinship enduring that is not moral. It is when souls are akin that fatherhood and sonship, brotherhood and sisterhood, are established. It may come to be the same thing with the son. There are fathers who have been compelled to shut the door on their own sons, and did not do so lightly; it was not for the first offence,—it was not until every hope had been disappointed, every godly desire had been repulsed and mortified, and all the volume and passion of human love had been repelled and scorned and blasphemed. Blessed are they who would for ever keep all family relationships, all tender kindreds, fresh, blooming, bright! If they would do so they must live in Christ,—their centre must be fixed upon the eternal love of the One Father. Then they will never outgrow their affections; they will be young for ever, responsive to the voice of love, always sensitive, tender, good.
A very beautiful speech is this which Joseph makes concerning his father. "Say unto him, God hath made me lord of all Egypt; therefore the bond between us is cut. Say to him, I disown my relationship to a shepherd: a man living in the bush, keeping flocks and herds, and wandering about from place to place. Say I am lord of all Egypt, and to come within the circle of my influence is to be blinded and dazzled by my glory." What a chivalrous, filial, beautiful speech! But, fortunately, we have put that speech into Joseph"s mouth. Yet how well it would come after the introduction, "Say unto him, I am lord over all Egypt." But that is not the message. You would say, you who had not read it, but only heard it, "It sounded very like that." So it did, but it was perfectly different from that. The speech reads: "Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt." It is the word God that saves the speech, that makes it musical, that gives it high tone and noble bearing, profound and gentle meaning. If Joseph had said, "Tell my father I am lord over all Egypt," I should have expected a different ending to the speech. But when a man"s greatness—whatever it be, political, social, or religious—is all traced to God, out of that one consideration will come Wisdom of Solomon, and nobleness, and pathos. Always depend upon a man who finds in God the Redeemer of his soul, the Elevator of his circumstances. Religion never made a man haughty; Christianity never made a man unendurable. There have been many great men,—self-conceited, dangerous to go near, self-important,—always standing upon what they call their dignity; but they did not know what it was to live in God and to live for Christ, and to exert their influence from the elevation of the Cross. My young friend on the way to eminence, having a sceptre of wide influence just in view, seeing thy way clear to ten thousand a year and many accessories to thy greatness and stability, know this: that thy throne will have but a tottering foundation if it rest anywhere but upon the omnipotence and all-graciousness of God.
The next point arises in connection with Jacob"s receipt of the intelligence:—
"And they went up out of Egypt, and came into the land of Canaan unto Jacob their father, and told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob"s heart fainted, for he believed them not. And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived: and Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die" ( Genesis 45:25-28).
Observe, in the first instance, the old man"s heart fainted, for the news was to him too good to be true. There is in life an element which is continually upsetting probabilities,—thus calling men up from lethargy, from that flatness, staleness, and unprofitableness of existence which would necessarily predominate if there was nothing strange, sensational, and romantic in our human relationships and in the events by which we are surrounded. Now and then we require to be startled a little. Men do us good who rouse us. The preacher who makes me shake does me good,—who gives me a new view of truth, who rouses me out of my indifference, who gives me to feel that as yet I know next to nothing. So in daily life, things that are common sometimes flame up before us into new significance, and old ruts seem sometimes to have new spikes of grass and new roots coming out of them. These things call us away from apathies that would benumb and deaden the soul. But we cannot always live in the wonderful. It is there that so many persons get wrong. You cannot live upon champagne; you cannot live upon luxuries; you cannot live healthily upon sensation. You must have something substantial, real, deep, vital,—something that touches the profoundest experience of your life, the inmost consciousness of your spirit, and that follows you through all the engagements of the day. You must have the practical, as well as the imaginative; you must have the substantial, as well as the poetical. I believe in the airy dream; I believe also in the solid rock. I like to look on the far-flashing cross that surmounts the great pile; but let me remember that yonder cross never would have blazed in the rising or setting sun if there were not somewhere the great strong foundation upon which it is rested.
So though the news was too romantic for Jacob, though it caused him to fail into a swoon, yet the old Prayer of Manasseh, who always had an eye for the practical, looked up, saw the waggons, and his heart revived. We must have waggons as well as poems. It is a sad and vulgar thing; but we must have the substantial, the tangible, and the appreciable, as well as the metaphysical, the transcendental, the mystical, the bewildering, and the grand. It is even so in the religious life. The long prayer must be succeeded by the noble deed. The bold theological statement must be flanked and buttressed, or otherwise supported by unchallengeable morality. What if a man says he believes in God and his deeds be ungodly? what does his belief in God do for him? What if a man says "I have faith," and have no works? What if a man preach the gospel and be not himself the gospel?
The brethren had good news for their father. But beyond the good news there must be something else to bring it near to his appreciation. You require to meet men according to their circumstances. God must himself become man before he can touch us and get his mighty redeeming hold upon us; for we know not the infinite except as it be accommodated to us through the medium of Christ"s dear personality, except as it be focalised in the one redeeming life. What did Jacob say when power of speech returned to him? "It is enough; Joseph is yet alive." What did his brethren say about his being in Egypt? They said he was governor over all the land of Egypt. Joseph sent word that he was lord over all the land. Jacob said, "He is alive!" A man cannot live upon lords, and governors, and fine eminent personages, in their merely official capacity. There are times when we strip away all ribbons, and flowers, and decorations, and other trumperies, and go right into the life and heart of things. Why, if they had said to Jacob, "Joseph is yet alive: we found him lying in the hedgeside, just alive, with hardly anything to cover him,—a poor, lonely, forlorn wanderer"! would that have made any difference to Israel? Would he not just as much have yearned for his child? Let us hope he would. There are times, I repeat, when we want to know about the life rather than the condition. A man"s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
Whatever Israel"s feelings might have been concerning Joseph, had the statement of the circumstances been other, let me preach this glorious gospel: God does not ask whether we be lords, potentates, or governors; but whether we have turned our poor dying eyes towards our abandoned home. The moment he hears—and he always listens—the soul say, "I will arise and go to my Father," he comes to meet us, to anticipate the statement of our sin and penitence, and to clothe us with his unsearchable riches. Men cannot believe that. It is at that point that souls are ruined by the million. They want to send word to him that they are lords over the land and governors over their circumstances; that they can maintain themselves pretty well, after all; but, if he likes to meet them on an independent basis, they will hold an interview with Almighty God. He will not accept that challenge. He does not know us when our heads are lifted up in that insanity. It is when we are nothing and have nothing, and know it, and turn our poor disappointed, shattered hearts towards his dwelling-place, towards the Cross of Christ, that he meets us with the infinite fulness of his pardon, and all the assurance of his willingness to save.
Then the third point brings up the meeting between Joseph and his father:—
"And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive" ( Genesis 46:29-30).
A beautiful combination of official duty and filial piety! The whole land of Egypt is suffering from famine. Joseph is the controller and the administrator of the resources of the land. He does not abandon his position and go away to Canaan; but he gets the chariot out, and he must go part of the road. "I know I am father to Pharaoh and all his great people. I shall not be away long; I shall soon be back again to my duties. I must go a little way to meet the old man from home." Yes, I do not care what our duties are, we can add a little pathos to them if we like; whatever be our lot, we can add a little sentiment to our life. And what is life without sentiment? What are the flowers without an occasional sprinkling of dew? It may be a grand thing to sit on a high stool and wait till the old man comes upstairs. But it is an infinitely grander thing, a "lordlier chivalry," to come off the stool and go away to meet him a mile or two on the road. Your home will be a better home—I do not care how poor the cot—if you have a little sentiment in you, a little tenderness and nice feeling. These are things that sweeten life. I do not want a man to wait until there is an earthquake in order that he may call and say, How do you do? I do not want a man to do earthquakes for me. Sometimes I want a chair handed, and a door opened, and a kind pressure of the hand, and a gentle word. And as for the earthquakes, why—wait until they come!
What a beautiful picture of reunion is this! "He fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while." See them there! The old man not speaking, because he cannot speak,—speaking most because saying nothing. Joseph not speaking for some time. Only weeping upon one another! Then Jacob, not wanting the thing to be spoiled, says, "Now the next thing, the next thing, Joseph, must be heaven! Whatever comes after this will be an anti-climax. Now let me die!" It was as old Simeon spake when he saw the Child of God, "Now let thy servant depart in peace." We do now and again in life come to points we do not want to leave. We say, "Lord, let us build here." But the Lord says, No, not here, because there is a lunatic at the foot of the hill; and you must not build and put yourself into nice places, and settle down, until you have seen whether you cannot heal the lunacy that is in the world below.
I cannot look upon those two men together without feeling that moral gulfs may be bridged. Joseph was no prodigal son. But, as I see Joseph and his father resting on each other, and weeping out their joy, I cannot but think of that other and grander meeting, when a man who has been twenty years away from God, or fifty years away from all that is true and beautiful in moral life, finds his way back! He does not go in a chariot or walk uprightly, but crawls on his bare hands and knees; and God meets him, lifts him up, and when the man begins to tell "how poor and—" God hushes him with a great burst of forgiving love! It seems as if God will never allow us to finish the statement of our penitence. It is enough for him that we begin the story, punctuating it with sobs and tears. He causes the remainder of the statement to go down in the ocean of his love, in the infinitude of his mercy! Is there to be any home-going today? Is any man going to say, "I will arise and go to my Father"? Go! He calleth thee,—poor old pilgrim, grey-headed, burdened, sinful, self-abhorring! Go! And thou shalt come out no more for ever!
The fourth point arises in connection with Jacob"s introduction to Pharaoh:—
"And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage" ( Genesis 47:7-9).
It is very tender, pathetic, and instructive to hear an old man sum up his life. How did Jacob sum up his earthly course? He said it was a "pilgrimage." He had been going from place to place, hardly ever resting, always on the move, scarcely ever taking off his sandals, scarcely laying down his staff. Life is a pilgrimage to us. We are strangers here; we have no continuing city here. Jacob also said that the days of the years of his life had been few! Think of a man over a hundred years of age saying that his days had been few! They are few when looked back upon. They seem so to run into one another as to make but a moment. You look a hundred years ahead, and you cannot endure the thought of existing under present circumstances, so long a time. Yet, if you could go to the end of the century and look back upon the vanished days, you would say they had been few. Jacob said that not only the days had been few but evil. We get to see the brokenness of life, its incompleteness, its fragmentariness, when we get through it. But when it is all over, and the old man looks back, he says, "Evil have been my days. If not morally evil altogether, if here and there there are signs of holiness and trust in God,—yet, looked at as a whole, my life has been a poor structure; my days have been evil; I have been wanting in effective work. There is not one word of self-praise I can claim, when I look back on the days of my pilgrimage."
Now we come to the last scene of all—to the close of this strange eventful history. "Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation." Joseph died! Then after all, he was but mortal, like ourselves! It is important to remember this, lest we should let any of the great lessons slip away under the delusion that Joseph was more than man. We have seen fidelity so constant, heroism so enduring, magnanimity so—I had almost said—Divine, that we are apt to think there must have been something more than human about this man. No. He was mortal, like ourselves. His days were consumed, as are our days; little by little his life ebbed out; and he was found, as we shall be found, dead. Song of Solomon, then, if he was but mortal, why cannot we be as great in our degree? If he was only a Prayer of Manasseh, why cannot we emulate his virtues, so far as our circumstances will enable us to do so? We cannot all be equally heroic and sublime. We can all be, by the grace of God, equally holy, patient, and trustful in our labour.
Joseph died! Thus the best, wisest, and most useful men are withdrawn from their ministry! This is always a mystery in life: that the good man should be taken away in the very prime of his usefulness; that the eloquent tongue should be smitten with death; that a kind father should be withdrawn from his family circle; and that wretches who never have had a noble thought, who do not know what it is to have a brave, heavenly impulse, should seem to have a tenacity of life that is unconquerable; that drunken men and hard-hearted individuals should live on and on,—while the good, the true, the wise, the beautiful, and the tender, are snapped off in the midst of their days and translated to higher climes. The old proverb says, "Whom the gods love die young." Sirs! There is another side to this life, otherwise these things would be inexplicable,—would be chief of the mysteries of God"s ways. We must wait, therefore, until we see the circle completed before we sit in judgment upon God.
Joseph died! Then the world can get on without its greatest and best men. This is very humiliating to some persons. Here Isaiah, for example, a man who has never been absent from his business for twenty years. You ask him to take a day"s holiday, go to a church-opening, or to a religious festival. He says, "My dear sir! Why, the very idea! The place would go to rack and ruin if I was away four-and-twenty hours." It comes to pass that God sends a most grievous disease upon the Prayer of Manasseh,—imprisons him in the darkened chamber for six months. When he gets up at the end of six months, he finds the business has gone on pretty much as well as if he had been wearing out his body and soul for it all the time. Very humiliating to go and find things getting on without us! Who are we? The preacher may die, but the truth will be preached still The minister perishes,—the ministry is immortal. This ought to teach us, therefore, that we are not so important, after all; that our business is to work all the little hour that we have; and to remember that God can do quite as well without us as with us, and that he puts an honour upon us in asking us to touch the very lowest work in any province of the infinite empire of his truth and light.
When few die we can name them one by one,—count them on our fingers. "Joseph died." Some deaths are national events. Some deaths are of world-wide importance. "And all his brethren." There we begin to lose individuality. Death is coming upon us now quicker. We have no time to go through them,—Judah, Simeon, Reuben, and so forth. "All his brethren, and all that generation." Death is mowing them down! You have no time to read their names and pick each out individually. Such is death! Crushing up one generation in one grasp; mowing down the next with one swing of the scythe. We cannot all, therefore, be equally conspicuous; each cannot have his name written in history as having died. Some of us will be classed in dozens. "All his brethren," and no name left! Others of us will not even be known as families and households. We die as parts of a generation,—a great crowd, an innumerable body! What of it? The thing is not to leave a name behind us—a mere name. It is to leave behind influences that hearts will feel, memories that will be cherished at home, and that will be blessed by those whom we have served and helped in life. Die! The time will come when men will laugh at death. We shall one day get such a view of the universe, that we shall look down upon death, and say, "O death, where is thy sting?" How so? Jesus Christ abolished death. If we believe in him, death will no longer be to us a spectre, a ghost, an ugly guest in the house, sucking out our blood and darkening our future. It will then become a swinging door,—and, as it swings, we shall pass in to light, to music, to rest. Death will always be a frightful thing to the man who has no Saviour. Death must be more or less a terror to every man who is not in Christ. He may have lived himself into that measure of beasthood that will not confess terror. I never knew of a felled ox, saying, "Death is very terrible." So there are some men who have lived themselves down so beast-ward and devilward that they hardly know death from life. But to a man who has any consciousness of right and wrong, any moral sensitiveness, if he have not God in the house, death must be an unwelcome thing to him, a dark and terrible interlocutor. But the man who is in Christ, his life is above the reach of death. When the body crumbles and falls down, to get up no more in this state of things, the soul is a guest in Heaven. A guest? Nay,—he is a child at Home!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 45". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24