In the book of Genesis, we are given this insight after the patriarch Jacob died.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

Genesis 50:15-17 (NIV)

However, despite what we read in this passage, I wonder if Jacob ever knew the real story behind what happened to Joseph. Thus, I want to explore whether Jacob knew that his sons had sold his favorite son into slavery.

First, I’m not questioning what the text says. Clearly, the brothers told Joseph that their father said to forgive them. However, does it fit within Jacob’s character to leave such an important issue until after his death? Something he knew was on the way since he made it a point to bless his sons before dying? Furthermore, he asked Joseph to ensure he wasn’t buried in Egypt. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense that Jacob would leave this critical point of business undone. Unless he never said it. 

Perhaps the most striking evidence against Jacob knowing about what his sons had done to Joseph, let alone asking that Joseph forgive them, is found in his blessings over his sons that took place about 39 years after Joseph was sold into slavery. 

The complete text of Jacob’s blessings can be found here in Genesis 49:1-28. The noteworthy blessings for our purpose today are those of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. Each blessing has two “parts.” The first part deals with history, while the second “part” deals with the future. In other words, the blessing. Here’s the blessing on Reuben.

Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.

Genesis 49:4 (NIV)

While we don’t know how old Reuben was when he slept with Bilhah, we know that it took place before Joseph was sold into slavery. Therefore, it was at least 39 years ago. Yet, because of Reuben’s actions, he loses his rights as firstborn and really doesn’t get a blessing from Jacob. 

As for Simeon and Levi, this is what Jacob said about them. 

Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.

Genesis 49:7 (NIV)

After lying to the men of Shechem about getting circumcised, Simeon and Levi kill all of the men while they’re recuperating. Their actions angered Jacob greatly because they put the entire family in danger. Thus, Jacob had nothing but a curse for them before he died. As for a timeline, this event easily occurred before Joseph was sold into slavery. 

Jacob wasn’t a man who put up with much from his sons. At least in severe matters like adultery (rape?) and murder. Therefore, Jacob’s silence regarding Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers is revealing. Jacob does say something intriguing about Joseph’s history in his blessing.

With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility.

Genesis 49:23 (NIV)

Some think Jacob is alluding to his sons’ hatred of Joseph and selling him into slavery here. That they are the archers. I don’t see that. Instead, I see the archers as a metaphor for Joseph’s trials. If we were to identify the people, that would be Potiphar’s wife and Potiphar. 

When I think about Jacob’s last request to Joseph, I can’t help but ask why, if he wanted Joseph to forgive his brothers, would he not mention it? It doesn’t line up with Jacob’s character to be silent. Some claim that Jacob knew Joseph would forgive his brothers, so he saw no need to interfere. However, as the patriarch, it was his duty to say something. 

The last point of “evidence” that Jacob didn’t know anything about what happened to Joseph is found by examining the thought process of the brothers. As revealed in Genesis 50:15.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

Genesis 50:15 (NIV)

I can imagine Judah, at this point, saying something like, “Let’s tell Joseph that dad asked him to forgive us before he died.” Of course, the brothers agree since Judah is the sensible one. Then, they send off Benjamin with the message. 

Regarding whether or not Jacob knew what happened to Joseph, we have Genesis 50:16-17, which tells us what the brothers said. In addition, there’s the logic behind the situation. Who wouldn’t ask what happened? Would Jacob really have never asked Joseph, “So, what happened?” They had 17 years to discuss the issue since Jacob was 130 when he found out Joseph was alive and died at 147. Not to mention that Benjamin must have known even if he hadn’t been there when it happened. 

While the Bible is the true word of God, not everything people say in the Bible is true. For example, when Eve was talking to the serpent, what did she say about the tree God told them they couldn’t eat from?

But God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die'” (emphasis added).

Genesis 3:3 (NIV)

Eve didn’t tell the truth. Whether it was a misunderstanding is irrelevant because what she said goes against the text, and the text says nothing about what Eve said. Since we’re talking about lies, what about Jacob claiming to be Esau? 

I couldn’t find anything more in the text that supports the idea that what Jacob’s sons told Joseph about asking for forgiveness is genuine. Do you think Jacob knew what happened? Why or why not? I’m interested in your thoughts, so please leave me a comment.