Joseph has tested his brothers, several times, and they pass – they show moral integrity and family loyalty. Faced with similar circumstances to their past sins, they react differently. And now we get high drama.
Sarna says, “[Joseph]’s emotional tension is overwhelming. Twice before Joseph had broken down – when he overheard Reuben describe the agonies of his sale into slavery (42:24) and when he first set eyes on Benjamin (43:30f). On this last occasion, Joseph has succeeded in controlling himself, but he can no longer control his pent-up feelings.”
He sends his Egyptian servants and entourage away, partly so they won’t witness this intimate drama, and partly so they won’t know that his own brothers sold him into slavery. Sobbing, he reveals himself to his brothers [verse 3, E-author]. “I am Joseph. Is my father still living?” In his impassioned appeal in the prior chapter, Judah mentioned their father 14 times (2 x 7), and that undoubtedly helped shatter Joseph’s self-restraint.
He tells them [verse 5, J-author] that he is their brother that they sold, both reassurance and rebuke: I will act brotherly, although you didn’t back then. He tells them that although their intent was evil, God turned it for good purpose, saving lives – including their lives. He repeats this in verse 8, replacing “sold” me with “sent me.” He will restate this after Jacob dies, in Chapter 50:20. Joseph, alone of all biblical characters who does not speak with God, recognizes the hand of God in his story and forgives his brothers.
The line “father to Pharaoh” in verse 8 is strange. We have no such title from Egyptology. Perhaps the term is used in the sense of “advisor” or administrator?
He tells them not to be distressed or angry with themselves. In verse 12, “you can see for yourselves… it is really I who am speaking to you,” that is, directly, without an interpreter, in their own language.
In verse 14, he throws his arms around his brother Benjamin and weeps. We had a very similar reunion and verbs in Gen 33:4, when Jacob and Esau are reunited: they throw their arms around each other and weep. But with Jacob and Esau, it was formality, they were not REALLY reunited. Joseph here undoes another of Jacob’s sins: he is indeed reunited with his brothers and this scene ends their enmity.
In verse 16, Pharaoh supports Joseph’s instruction that his family should all come to Egypt, as honored guests. In verse 18, Pharaoh says (literal translation) “bring your father and your families … to me.” The phrase is a boundary marker as the Israelites are brought to Egypt, and again when they leave Egypt, God says He “brought [Israel] to Me” (Exodus 19:4.)
I find verse 20 interesting: “Never mind about your belongings.” I think it’s very human, reflective of the reluctance of people (especially of the aged) to uproot: what will we do with our furniture? What will we do with grandma’s antique silver? Where will I put the coffee pot? And so forth. It’s a way of avoiding thinking about the major change, by raising little questions about belongings. Very human, from that day to now (and reminds me of when I dealt with my mother-in-law’s move to assisted living.)
They are to settle in Goshen. There is no source defining the exact geographic location, but most scholars assume the area of Wadi Tumeilat, from the eastern arm of the Nile to the Great Bitter Lake. Sarna says, “Egyptian texts confirm the presence of Semites and other Asians in the northeast part of the country, both at the end of the Sixth Dynasty (ca 2250 BCE) and about 1700 BCE in the wake of the Hyksos invasion. Exodus 12:38 refers to a ‘mixed multitude,’ that is, foreign tribes, dwelling in the area…” Gen 46:32ff and 47:6 and other sites tell us that Goshen has excellent grazing areas for cattle, and this conforms to our knowledge of ancient Egypt, that the Nile Delta was used for cattle.
Goshen must lie on the natural route from Asia to Egypt, since Joseph travels there to greet his father en route (Gen 46:29). After the Exodus, the route from Goshen (Exodus 8:18) also implies it’s near that border. When we get to the book of Exodus, the J-author tends to locate the Israelites living together in Goshen; the E-author seems to have them spread about, living amongst the Egyptians.
Joseph gives the brothers a change of clothing (!) in verse 22. Since clothing was a source of hostility, it’s another sign of complete reconciliation that clothing is now given them as a gift. (Remember the importance of clothing to mark Joseph’s fall/rise, discussed in Gen 41.)
In verse 28, Jacob doesn’t care about the famine, nor about Joseph’s high position; he only wants to see his long-lost son.