Why does a manly man cry?

Did you know that one of the heroes of the Bible was a manly man who wasn’t afraid to cry?

His name was Joseph, and between Genesis 42 and Genesis 50, Scripture records that he cried eight times. That’s an average of one crying spell per chapter. Pretty impressive for a man who saved two nations from starvation, was second in command of the country, and was so respected that Pharaoh and all his court attended his father’s funeral.

Since repetition is one of the literary devices God uses in Scripture
to emphasize a point, when I saw Joseph’s overactive tear ducts dripping all over the pages of Genesis, I knew there must be a lesson or two in this flood of tears.

The first thing I noticed is what Joseph didn’t cry about. He didn’t cry: 

when the Ishmaelites sold him into slavery.

when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him

when he was unjustly imprisoned.

or when the butler forgot him and left him in prison.

And while I know there is much of Joseph’s life that isn’t recorded, according to this account, Joseph never cried for himself. He didn’t cry out of self-pity, fear, or anger.

Why not?

A few tears (or a bucket full) were certainly justified.

Joseph didn’t cry because he had a firm grasp on the truth that no circumstance enters our lives apart from God’s will and purpose. He knew that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28). Joseph articulated this truth when he said to his brothers, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God. . . . You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 45:8, 50:20).

Then I noticed what Joseph did cry about. He cried: 

when his brothers admitted their guilt and remorse over their cruelty (Gen. 42:21).

when he saw his baby brother for the first time in years (Gen. 43:30).

when he revealed his identity to his brothers (Gen. 45:2).

when he hugged his brother Benjamin (Gen. 45:14).

when he was reunited with his other brothers (Gen. 45:15).

when he saw his father again (Gen 46:29).

when his father died (Gen. 50:1).

and when his brothers confessed their sin against him and asked for his forgiveness (Gen. 50:15).

I noticed that every outburst of tears from tenderhearted Joseph came because of relationships. 

When his brothers confessed their guilt and remorse, Joseph responded with glad tears. When he saw his long-lost brother after years of separation, he cried for joy. When his brothers demonstrated that they were not only sorry for their sins, but had repented and been transformed, he cried so loudly that the servants in the next room heard him. Not only had his brothers become caring, tenderhearted men worthy of forgiveness, but their transformed hearts opened the door for brotherly fellowship in a way they had never experienced before. 

And, of course, when his father, brothers, and extended family members joined him in Egypt, his joy overflowed into a river of tears that rivaled the Nile during flood season.

The most poignant of Joseph’s tearful outbursts, however, is the last one recorded in the account of his life. Israel had died and Joseph’s brothers were still struggling with guilt and fear. What if Joseph hasn’t really forgiven us? they wondered. What if he was only pretending while our father was alive, and now he’s plotting to punish us? They approached him humbly, their turbans in their hands, and prostrated themselves before him.

“Please forgive us,” they begged. Joseph’s heart broke once more, and he wept again.

During those long, dark nights of imprisonment, when Joseph wrestled with God over the cruelty and injustice of his circumstances, he learned two things—that God is trustworthy, and God is good. Because he had settled this, he could say to his brothers, “Do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.”

“And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Gen. 50:21).

If you’re living through difficult circumstances right now, I encourage you to read the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Let the truths of this beautiful account heal your heart, grow your faith, and convince you once and for all that God is trustworthy and God is good.

Have you experienced a Joseph-like faith challenge? I’d love to hear your story. Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like When You've Been Wronged -- Three Steps to Healing.

In my quest to read through the Bible in a year, this post is based on Genesis 43-50.

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  1. LOVE THIS! We're studying Joseph at my church and so this is very timely! I can't wait to share it with the whole group! I had never noticed before exactly what made Joseph cry and what didn't. What a great encouragement to see the things that moved him to tears and the things that didn't. Thanks so much!!!

    1. Jean, I'm always excited when a familiar story yields new details and thoughts. It's a beautiful testimony to the timelessness of God's Word. There's always something new we can gain by careful study and meditation. I know your church will be blessed by spending time with this tenderhearted man :)

  2. The narrative about Joseph is one of my favorites in the whole Bible, and the scene where he sends everyone out and reveals himself to his brothers makes ME cry every time I read it! I hadn't made the connection with him crying other times but it certainly shows the importance of relationships.

    I cried many, many times over the last 18 months as my marriage ended, I moved, and my youngest child went to college. Many times I wondered about the future but I never doubted God's faithfulness. I'm so thankful that He kept my faith strong. Thanks for a great post!