By J.R. Miller
"But when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived." Genesis 45:27
Every side of Joseph's character is beautiful. Everywhere we see him--he bears himself nobly. His childhood was winning. It was a sore test to which he was subjected when he began to endure wrongs; but here the splendor of his spirit shone out in even brighter light than in his childhood. When he was a slave, the manhood in him was free and unshackled. In the hour of temptation his soul remained untarnished. When he was cast into prison, falsely accused, though innocent, hurled into chains and a dungeon, he was not yet crushed. Instead of letting the darkness into his soul to darken his eyes--the light that was in him shone out and filled his prison with brightness, overcoming the gloom. Instead of yielding to discouragement and despair--he became a comforter of others. He filled the dungeon with the fragrance of love. Then at one bound, he passed from the darkness and the chains of cruel imprisonment, almost to the throne of Egypt.
Many men who bear adversity well, fail in prosperity. Many a spirit that shines radiantly in trial, fades out in the fierce light of human honor. But the promotion of Joseph, dimmed no line of the beauty of his soul. He went as quietly to the great tasks of government, as ever he had gone to his lowliest duties when a slave. He stood the test of sudden promotion to highest honor.
Again the experience changed. His brothers stood before him the brothers who had sold him as a slave. This was a great trial of his character--but he was equal to the testing. There was no bitterness in his heart. One of the most beautiful scenes in all history, is Joseph forgiving his brothers.
We pass now to still another chapter in the life of Joseph, and here, too, we shall find the beauty unsullied, the splendor undimmed. We look at Joseph and his father. We see at once, that through all the strange and varied experiences of life--he kept his love for his father warm and tender.
There is one incident which at first thought, seems to have shown forgetfulness of his old home. When his first son was born he named him Manasseh. "For God," said he, "has made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house." But he did not mean that the coming of this child into his home, blotted out all memory of his father. The words reveal the heart hunger of Joseph for home, love, and domestic ties. He had been torn away from these, and for thirteen years and more, had lived unblessed by human affection. Now the hunger of his heart was met by the child he held in his arms. He had now a home of his own, and in the new joy--the years of hungry, unmet love were forgotten, as the earth forgets the desolation of winter when springtime comes with all its glory of bursting life and bloom and foliage.
But his father was not forgotten, even in the gladness of his own happy home. All through the story of the brothers' visits, we have glimpses of Joseph's love for his father. Little did those men from Canaan, know how eagerly the great governor watched their words to hear about his father. As he pressed on them the charge that they were spies testing them, learning what was in them, they dropped the words: "Your servants are sons of one man . . . The youngest is this day with our father." They spoke carelessly as to a stranger who knew nothing of their home--but their words told Joseph that his father was yet alive, sending a thrill of gladness into his heart.
The brothers went home and came again, and when they stood before the governor, almost his first word to them was the inquiry, "Is your father well the aged man of whom you spoke? Is he yet alive?" The brothers saw nothing in the words but the fine courtesy of a noble gentleman; yet under the courtesy, there throbbed a tender filial love. When Judah presented his plea for Benjamin, referring again and again to his father at home his old age, his loneliness, his bereavement, his love for Benjamin so deep and tender that he would die if the lad were not returned to him--he little knew what chords he was touching in the soul of the great man to whom he was speaking.
It was this picturing of the aged, sorrowing father--which most of all moved Joseph as he listened to Judah's words. When the plea was ended, Joseph broke down could not refrain himself longer, and said amid sobs, "I am Joseph!" Then the very next words were, "Does my father yet live?" A few minutes later, after the passionate assurance of forgiveness had been given, to quiet the hearts of his brothers in their consternation, he bade them hasten to "my father". "Tell my father all about my glory in Egypt and about all you have seen. And bring my father here quickly!" He also sent wagons to bring his father over the rough roads as softly and gently as possible. He sent him presents, too, twenty donkeys carrying provisions and comforts for his father's use on the journey.
Weeks must have passed while the caravan slowly wended its way to Canaan, and while preparations for breaking up the old home and moving were progressing, and while the family journeyed again toward Egypt. At last, however, word came to Joseph that his father was approaching; and he made ready his chariot and went to meet him. Who can tell the tenderness of that meeting? The Bible never indulges in sentimental narration, and yet the picture its words present is very touching. "Joseph presented himself to him, threw his arms around him, and wept for a long time!" It had been twenty-two years since Joseph, a lad of seventeen, had gone away from the home door, to carry messages and tokens to his brothers, expecting in a few days to return. He had never seen his father's face since that morning, and the pent-up love of all the years found expression in his greeting.
Sometimes young men who have risen from a lowly origin to places of honor, have not cared to acknowledge the members of their own family in the presence of the distinguished friends who stood about them in their new rank. But here, too, the character of Joseph shines in brilliant splendor. Egypt was then the first nation of the world in its civilization, its refinement, its culture. The court of Pharaoh was a place of great splendor. Jacob was a plain shepherd, lowly, unconventional in manners, without worldly rank or honor, withered, limping, famine-driven. Far apart were these two men, the governor of Egypt and the patriarch of Canaan. But the love in Joseph's heart for his father was so strong and so loyal, that he never thought of the difference, and he led the old shepherd into the presence of the great King with pride. He told Pharaoh of the coming of his father as eagerly as if Jacob too had been a king.
He made provision for his father, also, in Egypt, and nourished him as long as the old man lived. When Jacob was dying, Joseph stood watching by his bedside, the Prime Minister of Egypt by the old shepherd, with beautiful filial devotion. When Jacob was dead, Joseph fell upon his face and wept upon him and kissed him. Then followed a funeral like that of a king. Pharaoh's nobles, with the great men of the land, joined the family of Jacob in honoring the father of him who had saved Egypt from famine.
The narration of these incidents in the story shows how loyal to his father, Joseph was. Through all the years the love of his heart continued warm and tender. Amid the splendors of rank and power, he never forgot the aged man, waiting in sorrow and longing, in his tent in Canaan. When his father came to him, bent, withered, limping--he honored him as if he had been a king. During the remaining years of his life he nourished him in almost royal state. When he was dead, he honored him with the burial of a prince.
All this illustrates the nobleness of Joseph's character. The lesson is plain. Children should honor their parents. Nothing more sadly mars the beauty of a life, than anything which shows lack of filial love and respect. Children never come to an age, while their parents live--when they may cease to treat them with affection and honor, in return for their unselfish devotion, self-denial, and care on their behalf, in the days of infancy and childhood. These are debts we never can pay, except by love that stops at no cost or sacrifice, nor flags in its faithfulness, until we have laid away the revered forms to rest in the grave.
Children who rise from lowly and simple homes to wealth, honor or distinction, should never dishonor the parents they have left in the obscurity of the common walks. There have been children who have grown distinguished in the world and then have been ashamed of the old-fashioned father and mother to whom they owed all that gave them power to rise among men. There have been fathers and mothers who, old, poor, broken, and broken-hearted, have been turned away from the splendid mansions of their own children children for whom they had toiled, suffered and sacrificed, without stint, without complaining, in the time of their infancy and early years. They thought it would disgrace them to own these plain, uncouth, uncultured old people as their parents, in the presence of their fashionable worldly friends. They did not know that their unfilial treatment of their own father and mother, left upon them a dishonor a thousand times deeper than any little social stigma which their acknowledgment of them before their friends could have occasioned. All the world condemns and scorns anything that has the appearance of disrespect to parents. This is a sin which even society never forgives. On the other hand, those who honor their parents have the commendation of all men.
The beautiful example of Joseph should inspire in all children whose parents are living--a deep desire to give them comfort, gladness, and tender care as long as they live. In our infancy and childhood they cared for us, not murmuring at the trouble we caused them; when they are in the feebleness of old age and we are strong, it should be ours to repay their care and patience.
If we are blessed with wealth or with plenty, they should share it who shared their all with us in days gone by, perhaps pinched themselves that we might not lack, or that we might be better fitted for life. If we have risen to higher position and greater honor than our parents had, we should bring them into the sunshine that is ours, that the blessing of our favored life may brighten and sweeten their old age. If they are a little peculiar, or odd in their ways, lacking some of the refinements of our more fashionable life--we should remember that these are only outside disfigurements, and that beneath them beat hearts of love, and dwell spirits which are noble with the nobleness of Christlikeness.
Even if parents have marred their life by sin which has brought shame, it were better, like Noah's nobler sons--to close our eyes and to fling the mantle of filial love over the shame.
There is another part of the story of Joseph and his father, which has its revealings and its lessons. We turn back to Hebron, and to the time when the brothers came home from Egypt after Joseph had made himself known to them. They told their father that Joseph was alive and that he was the governor of Egypt--but the old man could not believe the tidings. His heart was overwhelmed. For more than twenty years, he had mourned Joseph as dead. The vision of the boy's coat covered with blood, which had been brought home to him, had never faded from his memory. Joseph was dead, and torn in pieces by a wild beast. Jacob had never dreamed of seeing his son alive. Not a hint nor a whisper of him had ever come back to the old home all these years. Now to hear that he was alive in Egypt, was too much for the old father. "Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them."
His sons sought to make him believe what they had told him. They repeated to him the words of Joseph. While he still listened, bewildered, doubting, full of conflicting emotions, the wagons Joseph had sent to carry him to Egypt were driven to the door. Then the donkeys, bearing the provisions and the good things of Egypt also appeared. Now Jacob was convinced. His spirit revived. "I'm convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die!" Why did the sight of the wagons help Jacob to believe that Joseph was still alive? Wagons were not known in Canaan at that time, at least, such wagons as those which stood before Jacob's door. These were fine carriages, such as were used by Joseph himself and other members of the royal household. When Jacob saw them he knew at once that they did not belong to Hebron or to any place in that region--but that they had come from Egypt. Thus he was convinced. Joseph must indeed have sent them. So the fruits and other things sent to Jacob's door were unmistakably from Egypt. They could not have grown any place but beside the Nile.
We have here another beautiful illustration of a phase of our Savior's life. Jacob had long supposed that Joseph was dead. He had seen his coat wet with blood. Now he is told that Joseph is alive. But he cannot believe it. He has no evidence of the fact, except the words of his sons. Are they speaking to him seriously and truthfully? He has never been sure of what they told him; they have not been truthful men. Might they not now be trying to deceive him? Besides, might they not be mistaken deceived themselves? 'Joseph alive! Joseph governor of Egypt! It cannot be,' said the old man. Then came the wagons and the good things of Egypt. "Joseph sent these wagons to carry you to Egypt, and these provisions for your use on the way," said Judah.
"Did Joseph send these?" asked the old man. He looked at the wagons and the provisions. Now he was convinced. "Joseph is alive!" These gifts and presents could not have come from any place but Egypt. They must have come, too, from one that loved him and thought of his comfort. Then they must have been sent by one high in power and position, for they were fit for a king. Thus the wagons and the good things of the land helped Jacob to believe in the continued existence of his son, whom he had long thought to be dead.
All this is suggestive and illustrative of the way we are helped in this world to believe in the existence of Jesus Christ in heaven. We know that Jesus died on the cross, slain by wicked hands. We know that he was laid in the grave, and that a stone was rolled to the door. The gospel comes to us, telling us that he is alive. Note here, again, the similarity of Joseph to Christ. 'Joseph was alive in Egypt,' that was what they told Jacob. 'Jesus Christ is alive in heaven,' that is what the gospel tells us. Again, not only was he alive, he was ruler over all the land of Egypt. Jesus Christ is alive forevermore, beyond death; and he is ruler over all things, King of kings and Lord of lords!
But Jacob could not see Joseph, and could not believe that he was alive. We cannot see into the land of glory, where we are told Jesus lives and rules. We strain our eyes gazing up amid the stars--but we see no face looking down upon us. We call to him--but we hear no voice answering our calls. Can it be true, we ask, that the Jesus who was nailed on the cross and died there--is indeed alive and ruling in heaven? Jacob was convinced that Joseph lived in Egypt--when he saw the tokens he had sent. Christ sends us blessings out of heaven, which prove to us that he is really alive there and in power. Do there not come answers to your prayers, when you bow and plead with God? Do there not come comforts for your sorrows, when your heart is burdened?
Canaan was famine-stricken. There was no bread in all the land. The people were starving. In Egypt there were great storehouses. From these, supplies certain good things came to Jacob's door. Somebody had sent them, somebody who knew him and loved him. They said it was Joseph, and the old man believed it.
This world is famine-stricken. There is no bread here for our souls. Heaven has its storehouses. Daily there come to your doors from these reserves of goodness, supplies of blessing. There are blessings just for you, having your name written on them. They just meet your needs. They come just at the right time. "There must be someone in heaven who knows me!" you say; "someone who keeps his eye upon me and knows what I need, and then sends his good things to me at the right moment!" Yes; that someone is Christ. He is not dead under the Syrian stars--he is alive and in heaven. He knows you, and watches you, and sends the blessings your life requires. These good things that come into your days, with their joy and brightness, are all from him.
To be sure they tell us that the proofs of Christ's resurrection are infallible the historical proofs. Witnesses saw him. He gave indubitable evidences of being truly alive. He ate with his friends. He talked with them. He showed them the nail prints in his hands and feet and the spear wound in his side. He remained on the earth for forty days until the last shred of doubt of his resurrection had vanished from the slowest to believe of all his friends. Paul said triumphantly, "Now is Christ risen from the dead." The historic evidence is utterly invincible.
But a proof still more convincing and sure, is found in the experience of every believer. We know that Christ lives and reigns in heaven, for every day blessings come to us that could have come from no land but the heavenly land, and that no one but Jesus could have sent to us. The forgiveness of our sins, the peace that fills our heart, the joy that comes in sorrow, the help that comes in weakness, the human friendships that bring such blessings, the answers to prayer, the blessings of providence--who but Jesus could send all these heavenly good things to us? These are the best proofs to us that Jesus lives and rules in the land of blessedness and glory.
Wagons came for Jacob, to bear him to Egypt. Wagons will come for us by and by to carry us home. A chariot of fire, with horses of fire, came for Elijah and bore him away into heaven. The chariots need not be visible, are not visible, which come for God's people; nevertheless they are real. Jacob was not left in famine smitten Canaan while Joseph continued to live and rule in glory in the land of grain and wine. The royal carriages came to take him to his son. This, too, is a parable. We learn that Jesus lives and rules in heaven. We have glorious proofs of this. We bow in prayer and we know that our Redeemer lives and that he hears us and remembers us.
But that is not all; that is not the best. To know that Christ, though unseen, is yet yonder in the silences, amid the hallelujahs; that he ever lives to make intercession for us; that he sends blessings down to us on the earth, heaven's good things--is a very precious truth. Even this is a joy that thrills our hearts. But there is something better.
We are not to stay always on this earth, separated from our Savior. The wagons came and took Jacob away from that land of hunger, with its mere handfuls of the good things of the land of plenty, and bore him right into the heart of the country where his son ruled. He was met on the borders of the country by the son who had died to him--but still lived. He was welcomed by him with love's warmest welcome. He was presented to the king who bade him dwell in the best of the land. There he stayed close to his son, nourished by him. No longer did he have merely a few of the good things, sent from far away, as tokens of the abundance in store yonder; he dwelt now in the very midst of the storehouses and had all that he could wish.
We see how beautifully true all this parable is, in its application to Christ's believing ones in this world. Here our joy is very sweet--but we have only little foretastes of the heavenly good things. By and by, the wagons will come for us to take us into the very presence of Christ. Already they have come for some of our friends, and have borne them to the land of life and blessedness. That is what death is--God's chariot swinging low, to carry home the beloved saint. When Jacob got into the royal carriage and it drove away, he was not sad. He was leaving his old walks and the place of his sorrows--but he was going to his son! He was leaving famine and poverty, and was going to a land of plenty. That is what dying is to the Christian. We shall leave the place of toil and care, to find rest. We shall leave the land of tears and separations, to go into the presence of our Joseph.
The wagons of heaven have been at our doors already and have taken some of ours home. Some day they will come for us, and we will go away from this earth where the famine is, and where we cannot see our Savior. But it will not be a sad day to us, if we are Christ's own by faith. The wagons will take us to the land where our Savior lives in glory and reigns over all. He will meet us on the edge of that blessed country.
He will meet us on the borders of the land of blessedness. He will welcome us with tenderest love. He will present us to his Father not ashamed to own us as his friends, his brothers, his sisters, before all heaven's angels. He will give us a place near to himself, close to the center of heaven's glory. There he will nourish us with heaven's choicest fruits, and we shall go no more out forever.
Our Joseph has gone before us to prepare a place for us! And when the place is prepared for us and we are prepared for the place, he will come again and receive us to himself, that where he is--there we may be also. Dying is but going from where we get only the crumbs--to sit at the full table!
The doctor had spoken of the importance of keeping everything serene in the death-room, where a Christian woman was about to take her departure. "I do not see anything here to make us unserene," she said. "Death is but entering into wider, fuller life." Shall we not try to get true views of Christian dying?