sermon: How God Deals With Conscience (Part Three)
Consciences of Joseph's Brothers
Martin G. Collins
Given 07-Jun-14; 62 minutes
Previously in Genesis 42, shortages in food in Canaan forces Jacob to send his sons to Egypt, but Benjamin, Joseph's younger brother remains at home because Jacob feared losing him too. When Joseph finally encounters his brothers again, he deliberately conceals his identity. About twenty years have passed since his brothers last saw him at age 17. Now after accusing them of being spies, he holds Simeon hostage, sending the others back to Canaan with the understanding that they will return with Benjamin. Naturally Jacob is very reluctant to permit this. Today we will pick up the story in Genesis 43.
We want a good life, but most of us are willing to endure things that are not so good. As long as we are in control of the situation we will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. We will willingly submit to great hardships as long as we are doing the submitting and maintain the ability to manipulate the difficult circumstances to our own ends. That is human nature.
Some persons will die for what they believe, if the choice is theirs. The difficulty comes when control of life passes out of our hands and we see ourselves as the one acted upon rather than the actor. We resist necessity.
Now this is one reason why God uses it in awakening the conscience to His demands on our lives. As long as we feel we are in control, we think we can keep God and His standards at a distance, and when we lose control we are more inclined to acknowledge that it is God's universe in spite of everything and we must ultimately come to terms with Him.
This was the next thing God did in the task of awakening guilt in Joseph's brothers and bringing about health and healing to his family. It had already been a long process. God began by bringing the anxiety of deprivation into their circumstances. This want, produced by the famine, dislodged them from their comfortable life in Canaan and brought them to Egypt, where they met Joseph, though they did not recognize him.
Next, God subjected them to the sting of harsh treatment. They had probably never endured this before, because back in Hebron, everyone would have spoken respectfully to them since they were Jacob's children and they would have been flattered. But in Egypt, Joseph accused them of being foreign spies.
The third element of God's work of restoration in these men was pressure of solitude. They were thrown into prison and it was there, not knowing whether they would be released or forgotten, that their conscience at last began to become vividly alive. It was after their incarceration that they first confessed or acknowledged their sin.
Genesis 42:21 They [Joseph's brothers] said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore, this distress has come upon us.”
However at this point the brothers had only acknowledged their sin to one another and not to anyone who had not already known of it. Their confession, genuine as it was, still was without reference to the sovereign God of their fathers. It could merely have meant that history seems to follow a moral course; sin is often exposed and the guilty often punished. It took proof of God's presence and the details of the restoration of their money to cause them to bring God into the picture for the first time. Their cry was, “What is this that God has done to us?”
Genesis 42:25-26 Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. Thus he did for them. So they loaded their donkeys with the grain and departed from there [that is Egypt].
Genesis 42:28 So he said to his brothers, “My money has been restored, and there it is, in my sack!” Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, “What is this that God has done to us?”
We can learn a great deal from the essential parallels in lessons regarding going into and departing from Egypt. Joseph's brothers had to face Egypt as they entered into it three times. They would leave Egypt three times. They left to go get Benjamin, they left to go get Jacob and the rest of their family of the Israelites and bring them to Egypt, and their descendants would leave at the Exodus roughly four hundred years later. As you know the Israelites would be afflicted in Egypt for four hundred years and then God would free them from their captivity. This was prophesied much earlier to Abram in Genesis 15.
Genesis 15:13-14 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. [Speaking of the Israelites coming out of Egypt.]
If God had not taken the Israelites out of Egypt, nobody today would have believed that it was possible to escape such a crushing enslavement. If God had not taken the Israelites out of Egypt then we, our children, and our children's children, would still be enslaved to Pharaoh to this very day. Now how can we say that? Would not some great leader come along to free the Israelites from Egypt? Well, no, because without absorbing into our very bones that, yes, it is possible to escape the slavery of Egypt, than we, our children, and our children's children would never know that it really is possible to get out of Egypt.
Had the children of Israel not escaped slavery, then each and every one of us would never know that it is possible for us to escape our own personal “Egypt.” Your personal “Egypt” is a place, a condition, where you are not in charge of your own life, where you are not free to live your life or even protect your own family. Something, somehow, somewhere has us under control. It could be alcohol, drugs, uncontrollable urge to covet, or maybe you feel shackled by your job, maybe you are unemployed, maybe it is marriage problems that are tearing you apart. What is controlling your life? Maybe it is that you are deep in debt. How much free choice do you have when you are broke? In any of these situations you are in Egypt.
Maybe you are desperate to find your perfect mate and be married, that can be an “Egypt” also. One health problem or multiple health problems can be a type of bondage. Even the very name for Egypt in the Old Testament, Misrayim (which is the accurate Hebrew name for Egypt), used throughout the Bible, means narrow straits; a narrow constricted passageway. Misrayim, or Egypt, is literally a place that confines your options and restricts your activities and tightly squeezes, making it hard for you to breathe. We have all experienced this type of feeling. Anything that takes over your life and robs you of your freedom for independent action is an “Egypt.”
What details about the children of Israel leaving Egypt can we learn lessons from that we can apply to our own lives? The basic question that we need answered is this: how do we, practically speaking, escape our Egypt (or maybe Egypts)? Each one of us has a personal “Egypt” that saps our creativity, that erodes our passion for life. What can we learn form the Israelites Exodus experience to help us escape?
Rabbi Daniel Lapin has produced an audio CD that answers this question. It is titled “Let Me Go: How to overcome life’s challenges and escape your own Egypt.” His website is: www.rabbidanillapin.com. He has some very interesting and helpful insight into significant meanings of Old Testament Hebrew that vividly puts things into perspective.
Rabbi Lapin presents central lessons and to help us understand the first lesson, he shatters a myth. Moses never said, “Let my people go!” He said more than that and it is of great significance. Here in Exodus 5 is Moses' whole statement
Exodus 5:1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’ ”
So basically he says, let my people go so that they may worship God in the desert. Over and over again God says to Pharaoh, “Let my people go so that they may serve Me.” The first part without the second would be as if the founders said in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self evident” without going on to say that, “all men are created equal.”
“Let my people go” on its own is all but meaningless. Something tremendously significant is going on here. You might have thought that after hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt the climax of the entire saga would be the day that the Israelites left Egypt, but that would not be true. The climax is not the day they leave Egypt, but rather the climax is exactly 50 days after the wave sheaf offering when they arrive at Mt. Sinai to accept God's law from Him on the day of Pentecost.
The need to become servants of God was the entire reason that they needed to stop being servants of Pharaoh. This has vast global consequences. The climax was not the day they achieved their freedom by getting out of Egypt and hurling off the yoke of Pharaoh’s authority, but was rather when the Israelites accepted God's authority at Mt. Sinai.
That is why Moses never just said, “Let my people go.” But rather, “Let my people go so that they may worship God in the desert.” The purpose of the Exodus was not merely to stop being Pharaoh’s slaves but in fact to become God's slaves. This is so important that Leviticus 23:16 actually issues a command to count 50 days to the feast of first fruits—Pentecost.
Leaving Egypt was the beginning of a journey, not its end. If the Exodus from Egypt had been the entire goal to just get us across the border, the whole undertaking would have failed, it would have been anti-climactic. But that is not all. The Israelites would have known in advance that the day after the Exodus they would all be sitting around twiddling their thumbs in the heat of the sun, looking at each other and wondering what they should do next.
So here is a vital lesson for us. Be very sure that you know why you want to be taken out of your personal “Egypt.” In order for you to work with God in your conversion, you need to know what it means to worship God in the wilderness, to worship God in spirit and in truth. Perhaps you have an addiction that is destroying your life and it is more depressing every day. It will not do you any good to dream life after addiction if you have not yet decided what will take the place of that addiction or habit and how you will make your life worthwhile once you have escaped.
If you have a lousy job or no job at all and are desperate to get a good job for yourself, what if you get that good job, what then? If the goal is only to make more money, you will be back in “Egypt” before you know it. Instead commit yourself with total dedication to how you will use this new opportunity. Will you be the same person you were in your old job or will you be a new and improved version of yourself?
In addition, you should take your planning a step further and seriously decide on what good and noble thing you will do with the financial stability you crave. Wanting money to support a family or to be able to give more to charity is a goal that allows you to ask for God’s help, but just wanting to get more things is not.
Now before you begin to work on your Exodus from Egypt, you must know what your Promised Land looks like and where you will go after leaving “Egypt’s” border. Perhaps you are a single woman desperate to find the right man—once you found him, then what? If instead of focusing only on finding him and instead you commit with total seriousness to learning what a perfect wife and a perfect mother does, and change yourself to make the most of that future marriage, then you have realized that having a lovely wedding is only the beginning. Then you will be much more worthy of actually getting marriage.
If you do not make that commitment to move past “Egypt’s” borders that gives meaning to the Exodus, you will never actually leave Egypt. Now the next lesson that Rabbi Lapin points out for us to learn from the Exodus involves the wording of Exodus 12:51.
Exodus 12:51 And it came to pass, on that very same day, that the Lord brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt according to their armies.
“On that very same day.” What does that mean? In Hebrew, that phrase often translates in the English Bibles as: “on that very day,” or ”on the self same day.” the Hebrew reads: “Be’e[t]sem hayyom hazzeh” which literally translates as: “on the bone of this day.” What a strange phrase. Whenever we encounter a strange phrase in Scripture, we can look elsewhere in Scripture to see where the same phrase is used, then by identifying a common feature, we start to make sense of the words. We see this phrase in Genesis where it says:
Genesis 7:13 On the very same day [“on the bone of this day”] Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark.
Genesis 17:26 That very same day [“on the bone of this day”] Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael;
Let us solve the mystery here. The phrase, “on the bone of this day” is used in connection with Israel leaving Egypt; with Noah and his family entering the ark, and also with Abraham circumcising the males of his household. Now what is the common factor of all three of these scenarios?
Let us first consider what contribution bones make to the human anatomy. Bones are what stop us from looking like jellyfish. Bones are what allow us to stand upright, they enable us to look our challenges, fears, and threats right in the eye.
Rabbi Lapin points out that when the fledgling state of Israel was looking for the right Hebrew word to describe what would become their day of independence, guess what word they used? They used e[t]sem. This word expresses powerful inner courage, fortitude, and determination. Israel’s independence day is know as the day of the bone.
Now why does the Bible use e[t]sem for Noah's entering the ark? Well, there would have been a great deal of persecution from society while Noah built the ark. They certainly did not appreciate his preaching that God was sending a flood to destroy them as a response to human evil. I am sure at first the persecution of society would have started out by mocking him, then they would have hounded him with ominous warnings of what they would do to him if there really was a flood and his family tried to escape in the ark.
When God told Noah to enter the ark, Noah probably hoped to enter after dark in order to avoid the hostilities of his neighbors, but God insisted that he board the boat in broad daylight. Noah had to confront any fears he had and face the wicked, eye to eye, because he had a backbone. That is what “Be’e[t]sem hayyom hazzeh” means here: “on the bone of that day, Noah entered the ark!” He entered the ark in full view of his tormentors.
Abraham circumcised himself on the “bone of this day.” He lived at a time when society considered the human body to be sacred to all of creation, and any mutilation of the body was punishable by death.
When God told Abraham to circumcise, Abraham probably hoped that he might put it off until after dark, so as not to provoke the predictable angry response from everyone around him, but God insisted that it must be done in broad daylight. You might say it was done on the “bone of the day,” staring down his adversaries.
Later, Egypt promised the Israelites that they would never be allowed to cross the border out of the country. But what did God do? He prepared their backbone and strengthened it by amazing spiritual exercise. God required every Israelite family to seize a lamb and tie it up in their backyard for a few days. When Israel heard this instruction, they trembled in disbelief. Sheep were one of the Egyptian deities and if they knew that the Israelites were treating their gods that way, there would be a major conflict. But God's next instructions seemed even worse—they were to slaughter the lambs and still God was not done yet. Next they were to smear the blood on the door posts and lintel of their houses. Then they were instructed to roast the lambs and eat them.
Now Israel knew that there was no hope of avoiding confronting their fears. There would be no more hiding, everyone can smell a lamb roasting for miles around. Following that strengthening exercise, they were ready to, not sneak out of Egypt in the dark, but march out in broad daylight.
Confront, do not evade, that was the main message of “on the bone of the day.” Similarly then, the lesson for our own exodus is that we must accept the fact that an escape from our own “Egypt” is absolutely going to require us to do something as frightening as Noah, Abraham, and the Israelites in Egypt had to do. In broad daylight, “on the bone of the day,” as it were, we are going to have to grab our fears and step way outside of our comfort zones. You may have to do something that you have never done before.
You may have to defy relatives that tell you that you do not have to strive so high, or you may have to turn your back on peers that want to keep you down with them. You may have to let go of certainty and replace it with frightening insecurity. You will have to call on every ounce of courage and then some. It will probably be something you think you will never be able to do and above all it will be something so hard, so scary, and so demanding that you actually consider staying in your “Egypt” instead of doing this hard thing “on the bone of this day.”
The next lesson that Rabbi Lapin points out is quite simple and short: you cannot get out of Egypt on your own. It is almost self-evident. Some force is imprisoning you and restricting your life preventing you from doing what you really want to do, and obstructing you from what you know you should do.
In every case the enemy has you covered. He has set up the terrain to his advantage and you have the lower hand being human. Whether it is a human god or some dark spiritual force tying you down, humanly the odds are against you, thus it is obvious that the only way out is with an outside accomplice.
God is your best hope, He is you only hope. Otherwise whoever frees us has a tendency to be our new boss. This happens when someone loans us money and then wants to call the shots in our lives. Or when people sometimes end one addiction only to fall immediately fall prey to another.
Now God almost always uses messengers to do the ground work so only those Israelites who did recognize Moses as God's messenger were able to leave Egypt, while many others stayed behind. We ourselves have to be very careful to recognize our own messengers and our own opportunities for change. Remember, to large numbers of Israelites suffering in Egypt, the idea of Moses as God's messenger of hope and redemption was just too far fetched and they remained in Egypt and died there.
We have got to be open to appreciating God's script for our lives because it does not always look exactly like the one that we might have written for ourselves. But if we truly submit ourselves to God, even in a concentration camp, as prisoners discovered, your heart and mind can be free even when your body is not. Not surprisingly, the Israelites in Egypt were not able to free themselves either and they needed God to snatch them out and carry them off to freedom by means of His messenger, Moses.
However, He never confused the messenger with the real source of power, that is our God and Father, and our Savior Jesus Christ. The trick is not to avoid Egypt physically, because it is impossible. Come out of her with your heart and minds, yes, but do not be of Egypt and do not do what she entices you to do.
Life is made up of challenges and without them we never quite live them to the fullest. But dedicating ourselves to God's will rather than our own, and by exhibiting courage and backbone, and by knowing what higher goal we have for our freedom, we, like the children of Israel, can escape our “Egypt.” Regarding the very day that Israel left Egypt, Exodus 12 says:
Exodus 12:41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day [“Be’e[t]sem hayyom hazzeh” -“on the bone of this day”]—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.
Four hundred years earlier Joseph's Israelite brothers were forced to face their Egypt three times: first when they went to buy food for their family initially because of the famine. Second, when they had to return with Benjamin and third, when they returned with their father Jacob. The last was the easiest because they were very experienced with facing their own personal Egypt's by that time.
Now getting back to where we left off concerning Joseph and his brothers, it took proof of God's presence and the details of the restoration of Joseph's brothers’ money, to cause them to bring God into the picture for the first time. “What is this that God has done for us?” was their cry.
Much had been accomplished in these sin-hearted brothers of Joseph's, accomplishments that are vividly detailed in Genesis 42, but there is a proper break between Genesis 42 and 43. It says that however much had been accomplished, the sin against Joseph would have never been fully brought out into the open, confessed and forgiven, were it not for the continuing hand of God.
There is no record that the brothers ever mentioned Joseph again after they returned home after that first time. They were away from Egypt, the place of their problems, they had grain and perhaps things could get back to normal. They must have been thinking that, because they certainly did not want to be thinking about Joseph and the lesson they were to learn.
What they thought was normal was actually abnormal in the sense that it was contrary to the prevailing character of God. They thought that a life of covered-over sin could be tolerated, but God would not tolerate it and He continued to bring the hidden sin to light.
Now what God did at this point was to impose the pattern of necessity upon this family. We see three kinds or patterns of necessity between Genesis 42 and 43. First, there is the necessity of nature, expressed in this case by the great famine. Instead of abating, as the brothers might have hoped it would, the famine grew worse.
Genesis 43:1 Now the famine was severe in the land.
Before it just stated that there was just a famine, now it has been increased to severe. Famine is a terrible scourge. This famine, recorded in Genesis 41-47, is the earliest documented famine in history. But there were undoubtedly many famines before this time due to the devastating effects of drought, wars, and plant disease, and there have certainly been many since.
Famine struck Rome in 436 B. C. and was so severe that many threw themselves into the Tiber River to end their lives. Famine struck England in A. D. 1005. All of Europe suffered in 879, 1016, and 1162. Even in the 19th century, despite the great advances of technology and commerce, hunger afflicted many countries in Africa and Asia.
Famines continue today and are growing worse. Even in the United States now we have this horrible drought, the beginning of a famine, in California which has devastated a high percentage of the crops that come from there, which affect the prices in the grocery stores around the country, and the drinking water becomes less as well.
Many perish in famine due to malnutrition and accompanying diseases and often rain is nonexistent for years. You may not realize this, but there have been droughts in past history that have been figured out by the rings on the trees, that have lasted between 200-400 years in the California area. The most recent one is said to have lasted about thirty-five years.
The frightening thing about famines is that little seems to be able to be done about them, yet they are only one example of a long list of so-called acts of nature that humble us from time to time. If you are interested at all for a more detailed description of how the Bible records and describes famine, please listen to my three part famine series which takes you through the past, present, and future famine.
Whether we like it or not we will more than likely see it in our lifetimes.
Who has not been awed by the force of a great storm such as a hurricane, tornado, or a terrible blizzard? Dangers like famine carry with them the inescapable reality of the possibility of death. These things remind us that we are not sovereign, that only God is sovereign, and they warn us that we dare not trifle with the Great God of creation.
Now the second pattern of necessity God imposed upon the family of Joseph was the will of man. Expressed here are the demands of the unrecognized Egyptian ruler. These demands have been made known to Jacob shortly after the brothers had returned from their journey from Egypt.
Genesis 42:33-34 Then the man, the lord of the country [Joseph], said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’”
So Jacob had refused even to consider letting Benjamin go to Egypt, and in verse 38 it says:
Genesis 42:38 But he [Jacob] said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.”
Here he seems to suggest that the brothers might be able to slip down to Egypt without Benjamin, incognito, to buy grain.
Genesis 43:2 And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the grain which they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them, “Go back, buy us a little food.”
Now Judah knew better than that. He may have been a sin-hardened man, but he was no fool and he knew that Joseph meant business when he demanded that Jacob's youngest son be brought to him by the brothers on their next visit. Judah would not budge.
Genesis 43:3-5 But Judah spoke to him, saying, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ ”
So this kind of necessity confronts us at a different level than the necessity of nature, because at first, it does not seem all that inescapable. The will involves people and we genuinely think that we can get people to change. An example is, a husband has a quality that his wife does not like and the wife thinks that she can change him. Experience shows that it is near impossible. Children think that they can change their parents, employees think that their boss can be changed to act differently or change his mind in some undesirable requirement. These changes do not always come, and we are therefore forced back on God, who alone is able to transform human beings.
Generally we are forced to the conclusion that changes, if there are any, must occur in us and thus God awakens us to our need and leads us to ask Him for assistance.
Now the third necessity imposed on Joseph's family was circumstances. This is seen in Jacob's protest against Judah's insistence that he could not go down to Egypt again unless Benjamin was brought along. Now notice what Jacob is asked:
Genesis 43:6-7 And Israel said, “Why did you deal so wrongfully with me as to tell the man whether you had still another brother?” [This was a pretty petty and unreasonable protest, because as the brothers pointed out, no one could have anticipated the prime minister's demand.] But they said, “The man asked us pointedly about ourselves and our family, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Have you another brother?’ And we told him according to these words. Could we possibly have known that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”
It did not matter in the slightest how this situation had come about, but these were the circumstances and they had to be dealt with it as they were, they were inescapable. So also with many of the circumstances of our lives. We may get annoyed under them, but our restlessness and protests accomplish nothing. God uses them to change us and sometimes to search out problems in our lives.
Does the pattern of necessity really bring changes? It did in this story. We see two changes, first in Judah and then in Jacob. The change in Judah was an important one, similar to the change already noted in his brother Reuben in the previous chapter. When Jacob had refused to allow Benjamin to allow to go to Egypt with the others, Reuben had intervened to pledge his own sons as security.
Genesis 42:37 Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him [Benjamin] back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.”
This was extravagant. Jacob would never have killed Reuben's sons, but the sentiment behind the pledge was nevertheless sincere. This is the same concern for Benjamin, now seen in Judah's remarks.
Genesis 43:8-9 Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.
Before this Judah had been hard and self-centered and now he is beginning to soften. For the first time in his life he has made someone else's happiness more important than his own. It is significant that he will later, in chapter 44, lead the plea for Benjamin's life and freedom after Benjamin is accused of having taken the cup of Joseph which was found in his sack.
The greatest changes of all were in Jacob. Earlier in story he had refused to face necessity, saying that he would never allow Benjamin to be taken to Egypt. He had even complained petulantly.
Genesis 42:36 And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me.”
Genesis 43:6 And Israel said, “Why did you deal so wrongfully with me as to tell the man whether you had still another brother?”
Jacob was wrestling against God again as he once did on the banks of the Jabbok on the border of Esau’s territory. But Jacob had learned his lesson then and the lesson of those earlier days had come back to him as he had to face up to these God-ordained necessities. Now I did not really look into it, but for some reason the name Israel and Jacob are interchanged in this story. There must be a significance to that, but I have not looked deep into that.
Genesis 43:10-14 For if we had not lingered, surely by now we would have returned this second time.” And their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: Take some of the best fruits of the land in your vessels and carry down a present for the man—a little balm and a little honey, spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight. Take your brother also, and arise, go back to the man. And may God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!”
So here he was a man accepting what God had decided would be at this point and putting himself in faith into God’s hands.
Two names are significant in this place. First, Israel, which was Jacob's covenant name and second was God Almighty, to whom the chastened patriotic appeals. When Abram's name was changed to Abraham, the old name was never used again. The new name represented a profound and permanent growth in his character. It has been otherwise with Jacob however. His name was changed to Israel at Jabbok, but it is not long after this that his new or covenant name is used.
Usually he was thinking and operating much like the old Jacob had done. He was self-centered, self-serving, and complaining, however at this point in the story we see Jacob emerging as Israel once again—as a prince, or as one who has been conquered by God. In this character, he rightly appeals to the Sovereign God Almighty for the issue’s outcome.
Now consider this: Jacob is now at an extreme old age, he is about to be left alone so far as the companionship of his sons. When long ago the ten brothers went from home to feed their flocks, Joseph was the comfort of his father’s heart, Benjamin being only but a child at that time. In his love to the ten, Jacob sends Joseph to Shechem and Joseph goes on to Dothan and there disappears. Jacob still has Benjamin as well as the ten to comfort him in his being bereaved of Joseph.
And when the ten are first constrained to go to Egypt for food, Jacob still has Benjamin left to comfort him, but now he is to be literally left alone. Benjamin goes with the rest and however it may be necessary to put a good face on the mission and send the brothers off with a hopeful blessing, it is for the father, a terrible venture.
Already Simeon is the tenant of an Egyptian prison. And in this new mission, all the rest may end up sharing in Simeon's fate, if not even a worse catastrophe than that. Jacob consents to surrender his life and his son's life to God. Leaving Benjamin with his father he then has something to look to and lean on after the flesh, but if he gives up Benjamin, what remains? It is all henceforth with Jacob an exercise of mere and simple faith and enduring as seeing Him that is invisible.
Let anyone imagine the state of Jacob after he had sent all of his sons away? It is the very triumph of that faith, which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, weeks or months must elapse before any reports can reach him of the good or ill success of this expedition. It indeed seems like a doubtful prospect, but by God's grace, the very extremity of the emergency stirs the old faithful Jacob to a new course of faith. He has trusted God before, he will trust him still and not be afraid.
This is the man who but yesterday we saw thoroughly unmanned and indulged in a childish burst of frustration against God as well as against his sons. “All of these things are against me!” Inferred in that is God also being against him as well. Have we not said that very thing indirectly when we complain about this and that in our lives? That does include God because God is directing our lives as brethren in His church.
Where is his spiritually mature reason? Where is his strong faith? What a change now! Jacob is himself—He is Israel, the faithful father for half a century—on his feet a again with staff in hand, eyes fixed once more on the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God.
Now this is not his rest, his tent in Canaan is not his home, all things are not against him though all these things, the things that are seen may seem to be so. Thus a second time, when he is weak, then he is strong. Strong in faith seeing an unseen God, leaning on an unseen powerful arm, looking up into an unseen loving face, looking out for an unseen glorious home. This is what we all must be doing in our lives and through our trials.
Strong in such faith, Jacob can attend to what is urgent in the circumstances at hand, going into even its minute business details. He can order his household seriously, but cheerfully, in a crisis that would make the hearts of others fail. Calmly committing himself to the way of God who blessed him at Bethel, led him to Syria, and brought him back to Canaan—the God who had guided and guarded him all of his life up to now, the God of whom he can say: “I know in whom I believe.”
Jacob will walk on for the rest of his earthly sojourn not wearily, not grudgingly, but rejoicing, hopeful, not weeping always as if all things were against him, but praising God who makes all things work together for His good and the good of those who make Him first in their lives.
Genesis 43:15-17 So the men took that present and Benjamin, and they took double money in their hand, and arose and went down to Egypt; and they stood before Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my home, and slaughter an animal and make ready; for these men will dine with me at noon.” Then the man did as Joseph ordered, and the man brought the men into Joseph’s house.
What awakens the human conscience and draws a woman or man to Jesus Christ? It is mostly a sense of need occasioned by an awareness of sin. We know sin by the law, what follows in actual experience is an awareness of the great love of God. We are not brought to Christ by an acute awareness of sin, but rather by the love of God and Christ displayed in the written word of God. We love God because He first loved us.
Now this is not to say that God does not use other means to awaken the conscience and bring us to where we can recognize and respond to His love. We have been looking at some of these other means in the story of God's awakening a sense of sin and bringing about repentance in the lives of Joseph's brothers. He had used the proof of His presence in small things and last of all the pattern of an ordained necessity. These had shaken the brothers out of their spiritual lethargy and had brought them to confess their sin at least among themselves at this point.
Still there was a sense in which the most effective of God's means were yet to come. In this section of the story, God uses the affect of genuine love to melt away their hearts still further. Love frightens, it should scare us even more than it does, but loves also draws.
This is not the first time in the story that Joseph and his brothers receive the token of Joseph's good favor toward them. On their first visit to Egypt, they had purchased grain and had started back to Canaan, but toward the end of their journey, maybe because they had run out of immediate provisions for their animals, one of the brothers opened his sack and found his sliver returned.
Later, after they had returned home, each one discovered that his silver had been returned to him and this frightened them. It brought them to recognize the hand of God in their circumstances. “What is this that God has done to us” was constantly on their mind. However there is nothing in it to make us think that Joseph's intentions were anything other than just being kind.
Unlike the situation in Genesis 44, where the cup is hidden in Benjamin's sack, Joseph did not send soldiers after the departing brothers to bring them back to Egypt, nor does he mention their money again. The brothers bring it up, discussing it with Joseph's household steward.
Genesis 43:18-23 Now the men were afraid because they were brought into Joseph’s house; and they said, “It is because of the money, which was returned in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may make a case against us and seize us, to take us as slaves with our donkeys.” When they drew near to the steward of Joseph’s house, they talked with him at the door of the house, and said, “O sir, we indeed came down the first time to buy food; but it happened, when we came to the encampment, that we opened our sacks, and there, each man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight; so we have brought it back in our hand. And we have brought down other money in our hands to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” But he said, “Peace be with you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.
So Joseph never mentioned it, so far as he is concerned, the return of the money was an act of pure benevolence. Joseph simply wanted to give their money back, he had no hidden motives. Something like this occurs again in this part of the story, however here, Joseph's benevolence is even more noticeable and emphasized.
The story begins with the brothers’ fear, the same fear that had gripped them when the return of their silver was discovered. At their father’s insistence, they had brought back double the money on this journey, half to pay for the grain already purchased and the other half to pay for a new supply. But when they presented themselves in Egypt and were immediately invited to eat with Joseph at noon, they suspected a plot against them.
Verse 18 basically tells us that they thought they were brought there because of the silver that was put into their sacks the first time. They thought that he wanted to attack and seize them and take them as slaves. They were terrified, to say the least, and their complaint was pathetic. Joseph intended only good to them, but they supposed that he was hostile.
It is when they were in this frame of mind that the benevolence of the prime minister began to pour out upon them. First, they were reassured about their money by Joseph's steward. They explained the situation to him, but he who presumably knew about and perhaps even carried out the former arrangements, and he replied with irony in verse 23:
Genesis 42:23 But he said, “Peace be with you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.
They were not to worry about their money anymore. What a great sigh of relief that was.
Second, the steward brought out Simeon which must have been a cause of great joy for these brothers as well. Not knowing Joseph's intentions, they might have suspected that his treatment of Simeon would be dishonorable and that he might already have sold him into slavery, in which path they were soon to follow. But Simeon had not been enslaved and now he was no longer imprisoned. The prime minister was a man of his word. Their brother had been given back to them.
Third, they were given water to wash their feet and food to feed their donkeys. This was a sign of respect and great curiosity and benevolence.
Genesis 42:24-26 So the man brought the men into Joseph’s house and gave them water, and they washed their feet; and he gave their donkeys feed. Then they made the present ready for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they would eat bread there. And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed down before him to the earth.
They were being treated as friends, not enemies, at that time.
The fourth thing was that Joseph arrived and began to speak kindly, inquiring about their health, asking how they were, and even asked about their father.
Genesis 42:27-33 Then he asked them about their well-being, and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” And they answered, “Your servant our father is in good health; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads down and prostrated themselves. Then he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your younger brother of whom you spoke to me?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Now his heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself, and said, “Serve the bread.” So they set him a place by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves; because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth; and the men looked in astonishment at one another.
In all this, Joseph was trying to control himself, being deeply moved at the sight of his youngest brother, whom he had not seen for more than twenty years. Also Joseph and Benjamin were full brothers, being the only two children of Jacob and Rachel. On the verge of breaking down, he rushed from the room to weep privately. The affect of Joseph's genuine love is obvious.
The fifth act of benevolence was that an elegant feast was spread before them. A day before they had been on the verge of starvation, which is why they had come to Egypt, but now they were introduced to the bounty of Egypt. The last line in verse 34 suggests that they enjoyed it.
Now up to this point they may have been fearful, even suspecting evil motives on the prime minister’s part, but dining with him broke down their fears and Joseph must have been the kindest of hosts. And they must have warmed to his gracious hospitality.
Genesis 42:34 Then he took servings to them from before him, but Benjamin’s serving was five times as much as any of theirs. So they drank and were merry with him.
He would have asked questions of them and they would have replied with what he most wanted to hear, tales of their families and of home. This must have been a most touching scene. The interesting thing however is that the brothers enjoyed the benefits of Joseph’s love and affection without actually knowing who he was. When the feast was over, the brothers simply prepared to return home, leaving this interesting interlude behind them.
Now please turn to Romans 2. This is where the story becomes an illustration of how millions of men and women respond to the true and even greater benevolence of God. All are recipients of grace, the provisions of God for all persons. Yet they fail to acknowledge it or allow it to accomplish the ends in which God dispenses such benevolence. The apostle Paul speaks of this here in verses 4-7.
Romans 2:4-7 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,who “will render to each one according to his deeds”:eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality.
You see there what we are to be doing, that and much more. Now have you faced your personal “Egypts”? Have you escaped your own “Egypts”? Are you able to stand alone on the “bone of the day” in broad daylight?
Christ has used various means to awaken you to your need and bring you to an open admission of sin, but have you gone only as far as God’s tactics have forced you to go? Even though He has been most gracious and loving to you? Please awaken to God’s goodness and appreciate every divine intervention in your life, whether good or bad. Acknowledging that all you are and all that you have are a result of God's grace for you.