And when Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us…
The death of great characters being often followed by great changes; conscious guilt being always alive to fear; and the chasm which succeeds a funeral, inviting a flood of foreboding apprehensions, they find out a new source of trouble. But how can they disclose their suspicions? To have done it personally would have been too much for either him or them to bear, let him take it as he might. So they "sent messengers unto him," to sound him. We know not who they were; but if Benjamin were one of them, it was no more than might be expected. Mark the delicacy and exquisite tenderness of the message. Nothing is said of their suspicions, only that the petition implies them; yet it is expressed in such a manner as cannot offend, but must needs melt the heart of Joseph, even though he had been possessed of less affection than he was.
1. They introduce themselves as acting under the direction of a mediator, and this mediator was none other than their deceased father. He commanded us, say they, before he died, that we should say thus and thus. And was it possible for Joseph to be offended with them for obeying his orders? But stop a moment. May we not make a similar use of what our Saviour said to us before He died? He commanded us to say, "Our Father — forgive us our debts." Can we not make the same use of this as Jacob's sons did of their father's commandment?
2. They present the petition as coming from their father: "Forgive, I pray thee, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil." And was it possible to refuse complying with his father's desire? The intercessor, it is to be observed, does not go about to extenuate the sin of the offenders, but frankly acknowledges it, and that, if justice were to take its course, they must be punished. Neither does he plead their subsequent repentance as the ground of pardon, but requests that it may be done for his sake, or on account of the love which the offended bore to him.
3. They unite their own confession and petition to that of their father. Moreover, though they must make no merit of anything pertaining to themselves, yet if there be a character which the offended party is known to esteem above all others, and they be conscious of sustaining that character, it will be no presumption to make mention of it. And this is what they do, and that in a manner which must make a deep impression upon a heart like that of Joseph. "And now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father." It were sufficient to have gained their point, even though Joseph had been reluctant, to have pleaded their being children of the same father, and that father making it, as it were, his dying request; but the consideration of their being "the servants of his father's God" was overcoming. But this is not all: they go in person, and "fall before his face," and offer to be his "servants." This extreme abasement on their part seems to have given a kind of gentle indignancy to Joseph's feelings. His mind revolted at it. It seemed to him too much. "Fear not, saith he: for am I in the place of God?" As if he should say, "It may belong to God to take vengeance; but for a sinful worm of the dust, who himself needs forgiveness, to do so, were highly presumptuous: you have therefore nothing to fear from me. What farther forgiveness you need, seek it of Him."
Parallel VersesKJV: And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.