sermon: How God Deals With Conscience (Part Four)
Consciences of Joseph's Brothers
Martin G. Collins
Given 14-Jun-14; 73 minutes
Previously, at the end of Genesis 43, we began to see how the benevolence of Joseph was a type of benevolence of our God and Jesus Christ. We listed five acts of benevolence by Joseph toward his brothers who had done him wrong nearly two decades earlier.
1) They were reassured about their money by Joseph's steward. 2) They steward brought out Simeon out of prison. 3) They were given water to wash their feet and food to feed their donkeys. These were signs of respect and courtesy. 4) Joseph arrived and began to speak kindly to them, he inquired about their health and asked how they were. 5) An elegant feast was spread before the astonished brothers and they were introduced to the bounty of Egypt. Genesis 43:34 suggests that they enjoyed it.
Genesis 43:34 Then he (Joseph) 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.
So they had a fine and enjoyable time of merriment. Now dining with Joseph would have broken down their fears. Joseph must have been the most kindest of hosts, they must have warmed to his hospitality willing and quickly after what they had been through.
Now 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. Everyone is a recipient of grace, that is the provision of God for all persons, yet they fail to acknowledge it and allow it to accomplish the ends for which God dispenses such benevolence. I mentioned last time that Romans 2:4 speaks of this.
Now let me try to explain it from God's perspective, as best that I can as a human being. God does not
owe us anything, He does not even owe us a chance at salvation. When Adam and Eve first sinned against Him in Eden, God could have judged them harshly and sent them to the grave at once. If He had done that, He would have been absolutely just in His actions. Adam and Eve would have received nothing more than their just deserves.
If, acting in a different fashion, God had instead allowed them to live and produce offspring until they were literately millions of there descendants spread out over the entire earth to occupy it and pollute it by their abundant acts of idolatry, theft, sexual immorality, hatred, greed and other forms of sin and then had passed a final eternal judgment on them, God would nevertheless still have been just. No one can fault Him. The righteous angles in Heaven would still be able to cry out as they do today, as Isaiah 6:3 says:
God owes us nothing, yet, as we well know, God did not immediately condemn Adam and Eve to the grave, nor did He later suddenly commit the masses of mankind to eternal death. On the contrary, though there is a judgment that comes, God has continually poured out His blessings on men and women. You have received such blessings even before your conversion. Romans 2:4 puts the matter of God's grace to you and others as a question.
Romans 2:4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
The answer is, of course some times we do, until we repent of our sin and appreciate what God has done for us. By nature, human beings are ungrateful and they show contempt for God's kindness, yet it is precisely this kindness that God is using to bring us to repentance. Now God's genuine love has been poured out upon all persons, regardless of who they are or what wrongs they have done, as Christ said in Matthew 5:45
Matthew 5:45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
So whether a person is rich or poor, a drug addict and down in the gutter, God still offers ever last human on earth that option and availability, however He is not calling everyone now. Eventually everyone will have the choice to understand. It is out there but most do not and cannot understand, or come to repentance without God's calling. Now God's grace is extraordinary and it lead to the most extraordinary love of all. We find this described in Romans 5:6-8
Romans 5:6-8 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Now on rare occasions even a human being will die for a morally upright person, or for a person who has done a great deal of good. God's love however belongs in an entirely different category than human love because Christ did not die for righteous people or those who have done good for others, but rather He died for sinners, ungodly, unrighteous people, living in willful rebellion against God.
Now it is not just Christ's love that was shown in His death, but also God the Father's love. Though God's righteousness and judgment lead to His plan of salvation through the death of Jesus Christ, it was His love that motivated this plan. Moreover, God goes to the unheard of length of commending His love to us by this fact.
The word “demonstrate” or “commend” (in the New King James Version in verse 8), is used in two ways in the New Testament. It sometimes means to establish; prove; or to make certain. In this sense the death of Christ certainly proves God's love for us, but “prove” is such a cold word in the English language. It has the temperature of algebraic axiom and corollaries, it seems remote.
Now another use of the words “demonstrate” or “commend”, is to recommended or set forth in such a manner that the matter appeals to the heart. This is the way that God demonstrates His love to us, and this is the richness of the meaning here.
The death of Jesus Christ proves the reality and demonstrates the nature of God's unfathomable love. But more than that, it demonstrates it to us in such a manor that we will repent of our sin. Our sin left unrepeated of, keeps us from God, but if we submit to that love it leads us to embrace Jesus Christ as our own personal savior.
Notice the word “demonstrate” or “commend” is in the present tense. It means demonstrates or commends rather than in the past tense of demonstrated or commended. This shows that it is an ongoing process issued from God constantly and forever. It is not just a past happening and maybe forgotten, but rather it is a present reality and as much in force today as it has even been. It is today, right now, that God is commending His deep and genuine love to you and me by Jesus' death.
Now today you and I may look back at Joseph's brothers and fault them for their ignorance of Joseph's identity and for their slowness to repudiate past sin, but if we try we can at least find some partial excuses for them. For example, their sin was long past, more than twenty years. There was nothing they could do to change its consequences.
As far as the recognition of Joseph was concerned, how would they possibly guess that this powerful Egyptian was their despised brother that they had last seen as teenager as he was lead off into slavery? There are no such excuses for us however. We know there is God and the bible says that only fools deny it. Psalm 53:1 says:
Psalm 53:1 The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.” They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.
We know that all we are and all we have comes from God's hand. James 1:17 says:
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
In a sense that is my introduction to Genesis 44. We know that God sent Jesus Christ to save us by giving His life in our place, but do we really acknowledge this day by day? Often God must awaken
our consciences and turn us from our ingratitude. In the story of Joseph and his brothers we have seen and will continue to see a purge of the brothers self- confidence. Let us begin by reading Genesis 44:1
Genesis 44:1-6 And he (Joseph) commanded the steward of his house, saying, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack.Also put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his grain money.” So he did according to the word that Joseph had spoken. As soon as the morning dawned, the men were sent away, they and their donkeys.When they had gone out of the city, and were not yet far off, Joseph said to his steward, “Get up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good?Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and with which he indeed practices divination? You have done evil in so doing.’” So he (Joseph's steward) overtook them, and he spoke to them (the brothers) these same words.
We think that our success is earned by raw ability and the hard sweat of our brow, but it is by the great things that God does that we must recognize, even when they are achieved, as they often are, in violation of His moral laws. It is a great insight when that natural self-confidence is broken and we find ourselves thrown entirely back upon the good mercy of God. This is a profound insight, because everything in us naturally thinks the opposite way from God unless we receive His Holy Spirit and our minds can be changed.
Now we have been looking at the work of God in the lives of Joseph's sin-hardened brothers. Now about twenty-two years before the events of Genesis 44 took place, they had sold their innocent and unsuspecting brother into slavery and had lived there with their terrible secret for years. Now no one knew, net even their father Jacob, their youngest brother Benjamin, and not even their wives or children, but God knew and He was working in them to expose their sin and bring genuine healing to their lives. As long as they carried this guilt they could not grow spiritually because it separated them from God. Also they did not have inner peace which interfered with producing good fruit in their lives.
Now we have seen some of the means that God used here: physical want; harsh treatment by Joseph; prison; small, but unsettling circumstances; the pressure of an ordered necessity; and affection. These were important and increasingly effective devices that God was using to turn these brothers around to the right attitude and destroy their self-confidence.
But although these devices were working in the direction of softening the brothers hearts and awakening them to the awareness that God had not abandoned them to their sin but was still with them, these devices had still did not really bring the brothers to confess or acknowledge their sin openly. The men had not thrown themselves upon the great unmerited mercies of God.
Now this necessary end God was now about to accomplish as the result of one swift blow. At the very moment when the brothers must have been congratulating themselves on how well they have done and how easily they had escaped the worst of their fears laid before them, God suddenly struck like lightening and demolished their self-confidence. It was out of this death of self that they could be spiritually, in a sense, reborn.
To understand Genesis 44, we must put ourselves in the brothers shoes as they started out from Egypt that final morning. They had gone to Egypt with gloomy apprehensions, fueled perhaps by the even gloomier fears of their father. The last time they had been in Egypt the prime minister was suspicious of them, he called them spies and refused to believe a word about their family, particularly their testimony about their youngest brother Benjamin who had been left behind in Canaan.
More than this the prime minister had demanded proof that they were speaking the truth. They were to bring their younger brother to Egypt and to make sure that they did, he took one of their numbers, Simeon, and held him behind as a hostage. As they went down to Egypt the second time they must have wondered if their word would be believed even then, though they had Benjamin with them. They must have wondered if Simeon would be released or even if he was still in prison and not already sold into slavery elsewhere.
Their fears were ungrounded. Their word was proved good and was believed by Joseph, so they must have been quite pleased as they departed, telling themselves that it was a wise choice to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Their word had been vindicated. Furthermore these brothers must have been confident in their money. They had payed for grain the first time, then although they did not know how the money from the first transaction got back into their sacks, they had enough silver to pay for the first batch of grain as well as the second batch when they returned.
Now the bible does not say this, but I imagine that they may have been just a bit smug as they counted out their coins in the stewards presence. In their minds, no one could say that they were not well established men of this world. They had made a purchase, their money was good. Not even this rough governor of Egypt could accuse them of dishonesty. Maybe this time they even demanded a receipt showing that they it had been paid.
Now another thing that they were confident about was their integrity. Never mind that they had once sold their brother into slavery and had lived with that lie for two decades. They were honest men in their own eyes, but who was guilty? When the steward of Joseph's house went after them, according to Joseph's orders, accusing them of having stolen Joseph's silver drinking cup, they were stunned at the suggestion. They were honest men in their own eyes, they were men of integrity. Now in Genesis 44: 7
Genesis 44:7-9 And they said to him, “Why does my lord say these words? Far be it from us that your servants should do such a thing. Look, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house?With whomever of your servants it is found [the silver cup], let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.”
Ten men promised this, to be slaves if it was found among them. It takes a great deal of self-confidence to offer to be sold into slavery if any one of a number of a group of people is found to have done something wrong. What a chance they took.
Now look at these men as the steward begins to search their sacks. Imagine their faces. Here is Judah, proud of his integrity. Here are Reuben and Levi confident that their word will be vindicated. You can see their confidence grow as the bundles are systematically opened, from the eldest to youngest. They are all proven to be innocent until he reaches Benjamin's sack. No one, Benjamin least of all, could have been guilty of wrongdoing, after all he was not even in on the plot to sell Joseph.
As soon as the steward drew out the cup, they knew that this meant death and slavery to them. Were they terrified or not? They must have been thinking amongst themselves, how did it get there? It did not matter, they had the proof, but who did it? Did he do it or did someone else do it and hide it in sack of the least suspected person? At this point it did not matter because they are guilty by association and the fact was that they had it in one of their sacks.
The truth is that they were all guilty of a far more blame worthy sin and it is that sin that God was now uncovering and for which he was exacting vengeance for their own good. This is stated in a strange way in the story. After the brothers tear their clothes in grief and anxiety and return together to Egypt, notice what Judah says to the prime minister here in verse 16
Genesis 44:16 Then Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord’s slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found.”
Judah already viewed things as if the sentence of slavery had already been instituted. As far as they were concerned they were slaves right then and there. He presented a strange combination here, our innocence and our guilt. How can both properly be spoken in one sentence? The answer is that the words accurately and pointedly describe the situation. They were innocent of the theft of Joesph's cup, but they were also deeply and irrevocably guilty of the dreadful sin of having sold their brother into slavery and this was now brought forcefully to life. No one could deny it.
So what lesson can we learn at this point of the story? This is what must happen to us in life. If we are to be forgiven our sin and brought to salvation through the work of Jesus Christ, apart from God's persistent probing of our conscience, we are like these brothers before the exposure of their sin. We have been guilty of a great sin against God and against our elder brother Jesus Christ. God is our creator and sustainer, and Jesus is our rightful master, but before our conversion began, we had despised their claims and had gone about our lives self-confidently, priding ourselves in our supposed self-righteousness and in our own abilities.
Were the brothers sure of their honesty? Where they confident of their integrity? Are you now innocent like Judah or Reuben or the others? God's ways are not our ways. It was precisely at this point when the brothers own self-confidence and self-righteousness were broken. Right here, and not a moment before this, is when they began to be spiritually healed.
The first aspect of their spiritual healing was that their relationship to God was transformed. Before this they had been running from Him while covering up their sin. But when He had made His presence felt through the return of their money on the first trip to Egypt, they acknowledged that He was at work.
Genesis 42:28 records that they asked, “What is this that God has done to us?” But it was in the form of a question. They still had not openly acknowledged and confessed their sin. In this later part of the story, they recognized God's hand again, only now it was not, “What has God done to us?”, but rather “God has uncovered our sin; God has won the victory.” It may be that this is the point in the story in which the brothers are actually called. Before this they were unconverted, but from this point on they were transformed individuals, or at least beginning to be.
The second aspect of their spiritual healing is that there is a change in the brothers’ relationship to others. This is the central thing emphasized and it is the purpose for which Joseph had constructed his entire strategy under God's inspiration.
Here the scene of the selling of Joseph into slavery was set up again. The brothers were in a position of relative control and power. Benjamin, the favorite of his father, was in jeopardy. What would the brothers do in a situation in which Benjamin's guilt seemed to be established by the discovery of the cup in his sack? Now notice what the steward said to the brothers.
Genesis 44:10-15 And he said, “Now also let it be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and you shall be blameless.” Then each man speedily let down his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. So he searched. He began with the oldest and left off with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and each man loaded his donkey and returned to the city. So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there; and they fell before him on the ground. And Joseph said to them, “What deed is this you have done? Did you not know that such a man as I can certainly practice divination?”
That is a curious word that is used there. Was not Joseph a man of God, so how could he practice divination? Now this is a real dispute and debate among the commentaries. Regarding Joseph's claim to practice divination, I think Adam Clarke's commentary says it the best: “I take the Hebrew word naachash here in its general acceptance: to view attentively; or to inquire.”
Adam Clarke says that is the way it should be looked at, in more of its general sense rather than some of the more detailed meanings that are given to it later that connect it with divination. The context of other cases in the Old Testament connected it with divination, but in this case, it is not. There is no connection with divination.
Would the brothers save their own worthless skin at the youngest brother’s expense? Would they step aside and see their brother Benjamin go off into slavery just as long as they could go free? What kind of story would they make up to explain to their aged father why his beloved son Benjamin had not come back to Canaan with them? Would they pretend that a wild animal had devoured him also?
Thanks to the work of God none of these thoughts were now in the minds of the brothers. Years before they willingly sold Joseph, but now there is not one of them that wished that the cup had rather been found in their sacks rather than in Benjamin's. They did not abandon him. This is the attitude the brethren in God's church must have with one another. We must have each other’s back.
When Benjamin was taken back to Egypt, they all went with him and were ready to offer themselves as Joseph's slaves. And most impressive of all was when Joseph declared that only the one who had the cup that was found was to be punished and become a slave, it was Judah who twenty years earlier counseled the sale of Joseph to the Midianites, but now stood up and offered to remain in Benjamin's stead.
Genesis 44:33-34 [Judah is speaking here] Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?”
Here we begin to see a transformation. God alone is able to bring life out of death and righteousness to a sin-scarred conscience. If you are still trying to run from God and turn aside His gracious intervention in your life, please learn and remember these two lessons. The first lesson is that God will always uncover your sin. Usually He discloses sin in this life, but even if He does not do so here, He will do so in the life to come.
Numbers 32:23 But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out.
This applies to every last human being on earth. Our sins will be found out. The secrets of all hearts will be disclosed and all hidden things will be brought into the light. God stands ready not only to expose and condemn, but also to forgive, cleanse, and restore people back to useful service. Now if we repent, it is a whole new story. God forgives it and there is no penalty to be paid because Christ’s crucifixion is added.
The second thing to always remember is: learn that it is not what you achieve in this world that matters, but rather what God, in righteousness, chooses to do through you. Self-confidence must be purged from our lives and God does not want our secular success, He wants us. He does not demand our achievements, He demands our obedience. The Christian life is a paradox.
Spiritual victory comes through the defeat of the flesh, healing through brokenness, and finding through losing the self. So when I talk about accomplishments and achievements, I am talking about ones that are not righteous accomplishments. God does count those. If you are fighting against the circumstances that God has allowed or brought into your life, learn that it is useless to wrestle against the God of Israel. Allow yourself to be mastered by God and commit your way to Him; praise Him knowing that He will be with you and will bless you in the very end.
The literature of this world is filled with many moving speeches, but it is hard to find one that is equal to the potency and power of the plea of Judah for Benjamin, recorded in Genesis 44. There are two things that make this so moving: the circumstances under which it is spoken, and the background of him who spoke it.
Judah, pleading for his brother Benjamin here, is the same Judah that had counseled selling his younger brother Joseph into slavery twenty-two years or so earlier. Reuben wanted to save Joseph, the story explicitly says so in Genesis 37:21-22. All that the story tells us about Judah is that he saw the Midianites and saw making money from the sale of Joseph rather than merely killing him, which was profitless in his eyes. He was even sanctimonious about it.
Genesis 37:26-27 So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened.
It is hard to imagine anything more hypocritical and vile than that, but in Genesis 44 Judah pleads most movingly for his brother Benjamin. The contrast heightens the tenderness here. Again there is the desperation of it. This is not the speech of a narcissist confident of his political standing or his abilities. This is a man who, along with his brothers, had been buffeted by God as few other persons had been.
Joseph had played with him as a cat plays with a mouse, though for worthwhile purposes. Judah had been starved, abused, imprisoned, and he had been shown unexpected favor as Joseph received him. But then he had been accused of deceit and had suffered the unmitigated agony of having to stand helplessly by as Joseph’s steward discovered his master’s cup in the sack of young Benjamin. This man had all the stuffing knocked out of him, his self confidence was demolished and he was desperate. It is from the depths of despair that he pleads so eloquently for the life of Benjamin.
Judah's speech has five parts to it. First, he implores Joseph to grant him a favorable hearing.
Genesis 44:18-21 Then Judah came near to him and said: “O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh. [This is a proper courtly opening containing due recognition of the prime minister's importance in the political life of Egypt and a touch of proper flattery. Still it is natural and artless. It is evident that the man was earnest to the point of despair.] My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ “And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, who is young; his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.
The second important part to his speech here is that Judah reminds the governor of the substance and sequence of his past dealings with them. He tells of how Joseph had inquired of the brothers’ family, asking specifically if their father was still living and if there were any other brothers in the family. When they replied that they had an aged father and a younger brother, adding that they had lost another brother a number of years before, Joseph said they were to bring their remaining brother down to Egypt so that he might see him for himself. They had explained the difficulty. Now continuing on in verse 22.
Genesis 44:22-26 “And we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ [but Joseph insisted] “But you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ “So it was, when we went up to your servant my father, that we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go back and buy us a little food.’ “But we said, ‘We cannot go down; if our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we may not see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
Since all these facts were already known to the prime minister, Judah must have already been succeeding in winning Joseph's consent to continue the discourse.
The third important part is that Judah reports what had taken place when Judah had returned home from their first journey, facts that Joseph would have had no way of knowing, but that were in obvious harmony with what was told to him earlier. He tells how the brothers had explained the prime minister’s demand and how their father had protested. Continuing on with the story in verse 27.
Genesis 44:27-29 “Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one [that is Joseph] went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since. But if you take this one [that is Benjamin] also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.’
Judah does not say so, but it is evident that the father, Jacob, at last relented and permitted Benjamin to accompany the others to Egypt. But what anguish and agony on the part of the old man. It would take a hard ruler to resist Judah's heart-melting account of the old man’s distress.
The fourth statement in Judah's speech is that Judah was in a new dilemma. It was not just that Benjamin had been found to have the cup, or that the integrity of all the brothers had now come into question and their lives were jeopardized, but rather it was also the threat to the old man, Jacob, whom Judah clearly loved deeply. Continuing on in verse 30 here.
Genesis 44:30-31 “Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave.
The fifth and final part of Judah's speech is his personal plea for Benjamin. This is the tenderest part of his speech. He explains how he had pledged himself for his younger brother’s safety.
Genesis 44:32-34 “For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.’ [So he offers to take Benjamin's place and remain in Egypt as the cruel task master’s slave.] Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?”
I do not know what response Joseph would have been hoping for from Judah or the others as he had devised this test earlier this day, but whatever he had hoped, he could not have desired anything better than this to come out of it. The brothers not only stood by Benjamin, but Judah now pleaded for him and offered to become a slave himself if that meant Benjamin could go free. What a wonderful change of character we see here in Judah, from selfish to selfless.
There may be no more moving or powerful appeal to one’s person for another in all literature than this amazing plea of Judah for Benjamin. There are similar, if not profoundly moving examples of this same thing elsewhere in Scripture. There is a connection between them as I intend to show.
The first example is the plea of Moses for his people when they made and worshipped the golden calf. Under the direction of Moses the people who had left Egypt had come to Mt. Sinai. The book of Exodus says that God descended upon the mountain in the midst of a cloud of smoke and fire. Moses spent forty days on the mount, receiving the Ten Commandments and other parts of the law. As the hours turned to days and the days to weeks the people who were left in the valley gradually overcame their awe of the cloud, the smoke, and the fire and grew increasingly cynical and impatient.
Exodus 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
So they remember the worship of Apis the bull and Hathor the cow that they had known in Egypt, so they asked Aaron, and perhaps even demanded of him to make an image of Apis or Hathor for them. So he took their gold, melted it in the fire and when he was done he had enough metal to make a small calf. That satisfied the people so they began to worship the calf.
Exodus 32:4-6 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
It was not long before this debased and degenerate worship gave way to debased and degenerate living. One follows the other automatically. They began to throw themselves into an orgy on the mountain. God was still speaking to Moses, but He knew what was going on in the valley and He angrily interrupted the giving of the law and sent Moses back down to the nation.
How ironic the situation was, and how horrible. God had just given Moses the Ten Commandments, but while God was giving the Ten Commandments, the people of Israel were willfully breaking each one, beginning with the first and greatest commandment, “you shall love the Lord your God.” Let us look at this in Exodus 20 so that it is embedded in our minds.
Exodus 20:2-8 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
That is the first four commandments called the greatest commandment and the first of all. While God was saying that, the nation that He had delivered was making the image and worshipping in direct violation of the first and greatest of all commandments of God.
Mark 12:28-30 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment.”
When Moses returned to the people he began to deal with their sin the best he knew how. In seething anger he smashed the stone tablets of the law God had given him and now in righteous anger he entered into the camp, rebuked Aaron publicly, and called for all who remained on the Lord's side to stand before him. The tribe of Levi responded, and upon Moses’ command, the Levites were sent to kill those who had lead the rebellion. Of the roughly 2 million who had come out of Egypt, about 1.5 percent, which is about 3,000 people were slain. Moses called on the rest to re-consecrate themselves to God.
From a human point of view, Moses had dealt with the sin, the leaders were punished, the loyalty of the people was at least temporarily reclaimed and all seemed to be well. But Moses stood in a special relationship, not only to the people, but also to God. God still waited in wrath upon the mountain. What was Moses to do?
Moses knew something of the horror of sin and something of the uncompromising righteousness of God. Had God not said, “You shall have no other gods before Me” and had He not promised to punish the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generations? Who was Moses to think that the limited judgment he had begun would satisfy the holiness of the Almighty God? On the mountain, Moses had said that the people were God's people.
Exodus 32:11 Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
Moses knew that they were His people also and he loved them nevertheless. The night passed and the morning came when Moses was to re-ascend the mountain. He had been thinking and throughout the night a way had come to him how he might possibly divert the just wrath of God. He had remembered the sacrifice of the Hebrew patriarchs and the sacrifice of the Passover. God had shown by these sacrifices that He was prepared to accept an innocent substitute in place of the just death of the sinner.
At this point Moses could have hardly voiced his idea even to himself, but when morning came, with great determination he began to climb the mountain once again. In an agony of love, he now prepared to make a most moving and selfless offer. Moses reached the top of the mountain and began to speak. We see this here in verse 31.
Exodus 32:31-33 Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! [Now it must have been in great anguish, because the Hebrew text is uneven and the second sentence that Moses speaks breaks off without ending. The fact is indicated by the presence of a dash in the middle of verse 32.] Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.
It is a strangled cry, a gasping sob welling up in the heart of a man who is asking to be sent to his grave if only it can mean the salvation of the people he had come to love. Moses had such a great love for his people Israel. He had seen the sin of Israel and already they had rebelled against God and against him, they had turned their back on his good leadership and would do so again, but still he loved them and wanted to save them just as Judah wanted to save Benjamin.
Now the second illustration of a self-sacrificing spirit is found in Romans 9. It stands at the beginning of a section of the book in which Paul discusses the present unbelief and future destiny of the Israelites, but before we turn there, let me give you a little background information.
Paul was a Jew by birth and education and was proud of his heritage. He agonized at the evident unbelief of the people to whom Christ first came and to whom the gospel had been so long and earnestly preached. Nothing in Paul's experience indicated that there would be a mass turning to the Messiah by the Jews and hence, along with his agony for them, he feared a historical outpouring of God's judgment on them.
Moreover, as an acute observer of the events in Judea and the Roman world, Paul must have observed the rising tide of nationalism spurred on by the zealots and feared that it was soon to engulf the country and end in terrible destruction. He also would have known of Christ's prophesies concerning Jerusalem. Remember what Jesus said concerning the destruction of Jerusalem here in Luke 21.
Luke 21:20-24“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
So in light of these prophesies and the historical situation, Paul feared even more greatly for his people. Now at the end of the Romans 8, Paul was riding an emotional high when he declared that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate a believer from the love of God in Jesus Christ. When we read that, our hearts and minds are thrilled and lifted to greater heights to this day. But then we come to Romans 9 and we find Paul exclaiming in a very different mood.
Romans 9:1-2 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
Now to speak and to act in Christ with a conscience not only illuminated, but under the present power and operation of the Holy Spirit, is not special to the supernaturally inspired; to the elect; to the members of God's church, but rather it is a privilege and should be the aim of every converted member of God's church.
Consciousness is the act or judgment of the mind in which we decide on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our actions and by which we instantly approve or condemn them. It exists in every man or woman and is a strong witness to our integrity or to our guilt.
What has happened? The answer is that Paul is now suddenly thinking of the members of his own race (the Jewish people) and he is grieving because for the most part they have rejected the gospel of God's grace in Christ that He has been expounding. Paul is in such anguish for them and we read his very words here in verse 3
Romans 9:3-5 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
Paul was a very careful student of the Old Testament of course, so although he does not say it explicitly, it is hard to imagine that he wrote these words without thinking of the similar statement made by Moses, that great law giver of Israel. In fact, Paul is probably deliberately equaling Moses' words to identify with Moses and thus add credibility to his own statement. Like Moses, Paul was saying that he could consent to the grave if it would result in the salvation of the sinful, rebellious, unbelieving people he loved. No other nation had these wonderful blessings, yet Israel took them for granted and ultimately rejected the righteousness of God.
Today we belong spiritually to God's elect and have similar blessings to enjoy, such things that are mentioned here. Adoption in glory; the new covenant in Christ’s blood; the law written on the heart; priestly service through Christ; and we have Abraham as the father of the faithful, all because we have Christ.
Now I want to show the connection among all three examples: Judah, Moses, and Paul. The connection is the Spirit of God through Christ. It is from God, through Christ the Savior and Master of all three men, from whom this transformed behavior comes. These men all received God's Holy Spirit and therefore inevitably exhibited the character and love of their Savior. But how far beyond even these great biblical examples is God's Spirit working in them? So much greater than even this and look how great this is, to be willing to give one’s life for someone else!
Judah was willing to become a slave to save Benjamin, so greatly did he love both him and his father. Moses was willing to be sent to his grave for the sake of his people. Paul expressed a willingness to be accursed if it could mean the salvation of those he loved. But interestingly not one of them actually had to do it, and even if they had, they would have been sacrificing themselves only for people very much like themselves.
In Jesus' case the sacrifice was made for those basically for those unlike Himself. We are sinners, He is the sinless one; we are unloving, He is loving and caring; we are selfish, He is selfless. Only He and His Father possess that perfect love that reached down to us and as we make use of the Holy Spirit that is given to us, work with God and submit to Him, those horrible flaws in our character slowly are going to go away and one day we will be completed as God wants us completed, and we will receive that wonderful glorification that Christ has already received.
John 17:17-23 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
John 17:26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
We see Joseph's love for his brothers in the way the story unfolds. That despite what his brothers did to him he still loved them very much. Are we this forgiving? We can see the importance of love, we can recognize that if we leave love out of the equation for Christian living we have distorted it all. We can eve understand the doctrinal points that love comes from God, that it is demonstrated by Christ’s sacrifice and that it must be seen in the members of God's church. Even the tares understand that much, but how do we do it? That is the most important question. How do we love on another, and how do we put this great love of God into practice?
Well, I have several examples here that might help us. First, we must love one another by listening to each other. This is such a simple concept. We live in an age in which people do not listen each other. So one of the things we need to do, if we are truly characterized by the love of God, is to listen to one another. God listens to us and we must do the same.
The second thing is that we should share. It is yet another simple concept but extremely important. We are not to be like some professional counselors, listening but never interjecting ourselves. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a family relationship, so we do not sit by computers analyzing what we are told and then come back with answers carefully based upon social science surveys. That is one of the major problems of Facebook, Myspace, and other social sites. We have to come back as people who are on the same level as the ones to whom we are talking to. We can say, “Yes, I’ve gone through that and God intervened on my behalf and He will on your behalf as well.”
Our problem today is that we do not like to share ourselves and the reason for this is because we are ashamed of ourselves because we are sinners and are afraid that if we really did tell what is inside of us the other person would turn away and be disappointed in us and we would lose the relationship. We should ask ourselves, is the relationship worth having if that is the way that you are going to be treated?
We are to always love everyone, but it is obvious in life that we do not always like everyone. That is just the reality of it. So how do we get to the point of really being able to share? There is only one way and that is to know deep in our hearts that before God we are fully known as we are. God sees all of our blemishes, sins, shames, but nevertheless, Jesus Christ loved us, died for us, and we are now fully accepted in the Family of God. If you can know that you are known and loved, then you can share your true self and love others.
The third thing is that we must serve. It is taught in John's gospel that we must serve. Service is the outworking of Christ's love.
John 13:1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come and that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them to the end.
John 13 contains a demonstration of what this loves means in the washing of the disciples’ feet. Jesus concluded in verses 14-15:
John 13:14-15 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
Proper serving requires humility. Later Jesus goes on to teach what this loves means and that the Holy Spirit will enable us to love. Finally in His prayer in John 17, He lists the special marks that would characterize the church: joy; holiness; truth; unity; witnessing; and love. The last of these involves service. God's church is not in the world to be served, but rather to serve in order that the love of God in Christ might be increasingly known through the testimony and witnessing. These are specific loving acts of God's saints.
When Judah pleaded for Benjamin, Moses for his people, and Paul for the Israelites of his day, all three knew, or had hope, that it would not actually be necessary for them to pay the great price mentioned, but nevertheless they were willing to do it. Even Judah might have thought that the prime minster of Egypt might be merciful and that he would not have to be a slave or that having become a slave for Benjamin, he might thereafter somehow again acquire his liberty.
When Jesus pleaded for us in His earthly ministry, He knew that He would have to pay the full price for our redemption by His death. He had no doubt and still he did not shrink from the ultimate cost. God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 15:13-14 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
“You are My friends” implies a stunning level of familiar and cherished personal interaction with the one who is also the Eternal Omnipotent Creator of the universe. In the Old Testament, only Abraham, and by implication Moses, are called “friends of God.” Here our Savior, Jesus Christ is extending this privilege and joy to all obedient believers, to His church, to His beloved bride. So as brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be thinking and say the same thing to each other from the heart, “You are my friends.”