Sermon: What if You Are Betrayed?
Martin G. Collins
Given 05-Sep-20; 65 minutes
Every year, 300,000 children are taken from all around the world and sold by human traffickers as slaves. How would you react if you were betrayed by a parent, sibling, or friend who turned you over to authorities to be imprisoned, or who sold you into into slavery? In Luke 21 Jesus predicts what would happen to many of His disciples.
Luke 21:16-17 [At the end of the age] "You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake."
The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies. Worse yet, what if you are betrayed by another member of God's church? Would you be able to forgive them?
Trials, tribulations, hardships, things that cause cause us to suffer can be unifying experiences which force us to evaluate our attitudes, and they inform us of our level of faith in God to protect and save us. Such challenges also unify us as brothers and sisters in Christ and cause us to rely on one another's loyalty, if we truly love one another.
We are aware of human cruelty today. People's inhumanity toward each other is seen in the news media every minute of every day. We know of many perversions, mutilations, atrocities, and multiple murders to assure us that our age is as barbaric as any in history.
Despite this sad exposure, we are still moved by the story of the cruelty of Jacob's resentful sons to their brother Joseph. It is not easy to find a parallel in history to the cruel intentions and conduct of Joseph's brothers. Cain was of "that wicked one" and slew his brother Abel and has left the name of infamy to all the generations of mankind. But where can we find nine men conspiring at once to kill a brother? A brother whose amiable qualities deserved their warmest love. A brother who tenderly loved them and was in the very act of showing his love to them at the time when their fury broke loose upon him. Turn with me, if you will, please to Genesis 37.
At the beginning of Genesis 37 we are introduced to the fact that Joseph brought a bad report about his brothers to his father, Jacob, and that his father loved him more than the other brothers. This envied status Joseph enjoyed in his father's eyes leads to betrayal and cruelty in word and action by Joseph's brothers.
Genesis 37:2-4 This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. Now Israel love Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
Later, in verses 12-17, Jacob sent Joseph to check out his brothers, see how they were doing, and Joseph made a great effort, and in the process, got lost trying to find out if his brothers were safe to report back to his and their father, Jacob, of their welfare. But his brothers took advantage of Joseph's love to inflict their hatred and bitterness upon him as if they had been instruments of human weaknesses under Satan's influence rather than patriarchs of a future godly nation.
Now turn over to Hebrews 12. In Hebrews, the author warns us about allowing a bitter root to grow up in our lives.
Hebrews 12:14-15 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.
It is a good warning because it is precisely this that turned the sons of Jacob into would-be fratricides. At the beginning, they probably did not have their hearts set on Joseph's murder, but they envied him, and envy eventually gave way to hatred, and that gave way to a plot against his life. Genesis 37:11 says, "And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind."
Stephen echoed a judgment about this in his remarkable speech before the Sanhedrin, putting it in the right perspective in Acts 7.
Acts 7:9-10 "And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house."
Envy means "ill will occasioned by another's good success." It involves perceived superiority in the one envied and resentment by the person who envies. It is terribly destructive. Proverbs 14:30 says, "Envy is rottenness to the bones." It cannot be more vivid than that. Not much more anyway. James 3:16 says, "For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there."
The main reason is that envy is an angry resistance to God's decrees. Consequently, it is ultimately resentment of God and hatred of Him, and this is the essential issue in the matter of Joseph's dreams. His brothers had envied him before this, as the story says, and they envied him for his good qualities, which revealed their evil ones, and because of his father's choice of Joseph to assume the rights of the firstborn.
But this was not merely resentment of these circumstances. Ultimately, God is responsible for circumstances. So the brothers' envy was essentially a resentment of what God had done, and was doing, as the dreams show.
Joseph's first dream was about grain. He dreamed that he and his brothers had been working in the fields binding sheaves of grain, when suddenly his sheaf rose and theirs gathered around his and bowed down. So immediately the brothers were resistant to what he was saying, and it did not take a seer to interpret this. The dream was not as subtle as the dream Pharaoh was to have later. This dream meant that at some future time, the brothers, all but one of whom were older than Joseph, would bow down to Joseph. So naturally they resented it.
The second dream was like the first. Joseph saw the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to him. And obviously this involves his parents as well as his brothers, which his father recognized.
Genesis 37:10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?"
So it appears that Joseph was not very wise to tell such dreams, or was he? He may have been naive, but whether he was unwise or naive, or whether, which is quite likely, he sensed a God-given responsibility to make a divine revelation such as this known, the point is that the brothers hated the dreams as much as they hated Joseph for relating them.
Genesis 37:8 And his brothers said to him, "Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
That is, they hated his testimony and they hated the dreams themselves. This suggests that what they really hated was God's decrees regarding Joseph and their lives, and therefore they hated God for them. Otherwise, why get upset about a dream? Look at your own circumstance. If a child has a dream that reveals how the child hopes to be important someday, regardless of how foolish the dream is, the proper course is to just ignore the specifics while encouraging the child to apply himself or herself and thus live up to the goal of the dream if possible. You do not hate the child for his dreams, however self-centered and bizarre they may be.
So why did they? Since the brothers did hate Joseph the implication is that they were taking the dream seriously, which perhaps was revealing to them what God might do, and they hated God for it
Later, they saw Joseph coming toward them and they became extremely sarcastic.
Genesis 37:18-20 Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. And then they said to one another, "Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!"
This set them against God and thus revealed their foolishness, as well as their cruelty toward their younger brother. The details of the brothers' plans were given as well as their motivation. Behind their plans lie Joseph's two dreams. Little did they suspect that the plans of those who are scheming were to lead to the fulfillment of those dreams. Every detail of the story demonstrates the truthfulness of Joseph's final words to his brothers.
Genesis 50:20 "But as for you [Joseph speaking to his brothers], you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive."
There is always good that comes from what God's plans pan out to.
Beware of envy. How sad that many are not willing to take the place which God has assigned to them in this world. When a person is covetous and envious, he is saying, "God, I'm not satisfied. You didn't give me what I want." Such a person would dethrone God and re-deal the events and possessions of life for our meager bit of exultation. That is exactly what we see in our leaders today and generally in society.
Now, another step in the brothers unjustified antagonism to Joseph is hatred, which already has been mentioned since it grows out of envy, and we must take a closer look at it because it is envy's bitter shoot. Hatred is so closely connected with envy that it is itself a form of hatred and that hatred in the fullest sense is inevitable once jealousy has taken root in the heart. Here in Genesis 37, the story tells us three times that Joseph's brothers hated him.
Genesis 37:4-5 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more.
Genesis 37:8 And his brothers said to him, "Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
So you see a serious escalation here. Hatred was becoming uncontrolled fury.
If the dreams were from God, as the brothers may have suspected and perhaps feared, they indicated that God had elected Joseph to certain earthly favors. Joseph was not like them. He was godly while they were godless, and they hated him for that. But here, in addition, we find them hating him because God had chosen him for a position of special future prominence. This reminds us of what Jesus Christ said to His disciples in John 15. He had been reminding them of His election of them, saying that they had not chosen to be His disciples, but rather that He had chosen them. And then He continued,
John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
These verses contain the same two principles: Hatred for being different and hatred for being chosen. They tell us that the situation is the same today as it was in Joseph's generation. Human nature is the same today as it was during Joseph's time.
If, by the grace of God, you are different from the ungodly people around you—and by grace is the only way you ever can or will be different—then the world will hate you as the brothers hated Joseph. So if you show by your conduct that you have been chosen out of your past wicked state and have been directed to obey and love God, then the world will also hate you for your election to godliness. It is a principle that has been in existence since Cain, and it was in Satan even before that.
What you must take care of is seeing that the root of bitterness, envy, does not produce the shoot of bitterness, hatred, in your own life. On the contrary, we must live as Joseph lived and trust God to care for us even in life's injustices and deprivations.
This leads to a third point. As the story shows a root of bitterness leading to a shoot of bitterness, so also does it show the fruit of bitterness, which in this case, is the tangible act of reaching out to kill a brother. In Galatians 5:19-23 we read of the fruit of the Spirit contrasted with the works of the flesh which comes just before it, beginning in verse 19. These works of the flesh, which are the acts of the sinful nature, come before the fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The works of the flesh are sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Well, that just described all of the violence going on in these cities in the United States and beyond that. Paul does not mention murder in this works of the flesh list but he mentions two items we have already analyzed—envy and hatred. He could also have listed murder, but murder, in a sense, is a larger category and in the Ten Commandments specifically.
Turn back over to Genesis 37 in verse 20 please. Attempted murder was the fruit of bitterness in the lives of these brothers. Jacob had sent Joseph to find his other sons and bring him word of them and Joseph had searched for them from Hebron to Shechem to Dothan. It was a journey of four or five days so Joseph clearly cared for his brothers like his father did. In contrast, when the brothers saw him coming, they devised a plot to kill "that dreamer," as I mentioned before, to prevent his dreams from being fulfilled.
Genesis 37:20 "Come therefore, let us kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, 'Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!"
Earlier, as described in Genesis 34:24-29 they plotted to kill many Shechemites in revenge for their sister. Now, by contrast, they plotted to kill their own brother. There was already murder in their heart.
Genesis 37:21-22 But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, "Let us not kill him." And Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him"—that he might deliver him out of their hands and bring him back to his father.
So Reuben intervened, hoping to be able to come back and rescue Joseph and restore him to his father. Perhaps he was seeking to make up for the dishonor that he had caused his father by sleeping with concubine Bilhah.
Genesis 37:23-24 So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Reuben's plan had misfired, and Joseph was sold to Midianite traders as a slave.
Now we would prefer that the only place an action like that ever happened was in the Old Testament or among the deniers of Christ. But sadly, envy and hatred leading to vicious actions have also been found within the church of God. In Philippians 1 we find an example where the apostle Paul, writing from prison in Rome, alludes to the strife present in the church of his day.
Philippians 1:15-17 Some indeed preach Christ, even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill. The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.
Paul was not complaining here, he is rejoicing. But his words revealed that there were Christians in Rome who preached the gospel in a way designed to cause trouble for Paul, the prisoner. Paul was the deepest thinker of the early Christian church, and he was a great ambassador for the gospel. He, above all people, should have been honored and protected by all possible means. But instead and perhaps for these same reasons, Paul was resented and efforts were expended to make his situation more difficult and Paul very likely lost his life as the result of the actions of these troublemaking Christians who betrayed him.
There is little information from the early church era about the circumstances of Paul's death. But such information as exists suggests that envy led some Christians to denounce Paul, and as a result of their denunciation, Paul and perhaps others were executed under Nero.
Envy and strife caused trouble in those days, and likewise they cause trouble today, not necessarily in death, but in the declining impact of the gospel of Christ upon our society and the world, and even to the detriment of some of God's people. Envy and strife cause trouble, and they will always cause trouble. We need what Joseph exhibited in his day and what Paul speaks of in Philippians 2—the mind of Christ.
Philippians 2:3-8 Let nothing be done through a selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
We live in a sinful world. Envy is all too real and envy leads to hatred and hatred to overt evil acts, even against our brothers and sisters in the faith. It is a root of bitterness, which, when it has flowered defiles many. Christ is a cure for envy. His mind is in His people, and it will produce the Spirit's fruit rather than the acts of ours' and the world's spiritual natures, which we are busy overcoming.
Genesis 37:24 Then they took him and cast him into the pit. And the pit was empty; and there was no water in it.
Now there is what we might call a white space in the account between verses 24-25. To understand this chapter, we must put the despairing, begging cries of Joseph in that place.
Genesis 37:25 And they sat down to eat a meal. And then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead with their camels bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt.
Nothing is said in Genesis 37 of any complaint by Joseph. However, in Genesis 42, amid a scene that took place 22 years later, the brothers remembered this earlier moment and confessed.
Genesis 42:21 And then they said to one another [the brothers speaking], "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."
So although it was left out in the initial account at the beginning, there he was under great distress and he did cry out, which made their actions even worse because of what they did next. It is a statement that Joseph was begging for his life from the pit and that the brothers would not listen to him. In fact, it was worse than that. These hardhearted scoundrels sat down to eat and enjoy their meal while her younger brother cried out to them.
This is profoundly moving and rich in comfort for those who, like Joseph, may have suffered much injustice and indifference. Have you experienced human cruelty of any kind? Does no one seem to care that you are suffering? Are others indifferent to the damage being done to you? Do they even trample on the bruises? If so, you can identify with Joseph as he cried out from the pit to his brothers. I hope that you will also be able to identify with him as he learned through this and other times of suffering, to commit his ways to God, who hears the cries of His afflicted people and always moves to rescue and restore us in due time.
The worst thing about being in trouble as Joseph was is to find that no one cares, which is usually the case in this sinful world. When you are at the top of the pyramid and everything is going well, most people do care and that is why the rich are flattered and the famous are sought after. But lose your money and lose your position or job or reputation or good appearance, and immediately people begin to pass by on the other side of the road. They refuse your invitations. They ignore your phone calls. No one wants to know that you are suffering or what you are suffering of. I am speaking in generalities, and I am speaking of the very worst. But nevertheless, this does happen, and almost everyone has experienced it.
The world is notorious for its indifference. But what do we say of the indifference of Christians? What about Christian husbands who are insensitive to the frustration and bruised feelings of their wives, or parents who cannot hear the hurt cries of their children, or neighbors who cannot see the weary glances of those who may be looking to them for help?
Now I am trying to encourage those who are suffering primarily from indifference, but it is a message that cuts two ways. It is a message for those suffering but it is also a message for those who are insensitive to what others are suffering, particularly if they are contributing to the problem.
So what has been the saddest moment of your life? It was probably not a moment in which you yourself suffered from injustice, though you may have suffered many of them, but rather a moment when you heard the cry of someone weary and were indifferent to him or her and it weighs on you thinking of the effect of this sin on a brother or sister or whoever it may be that could have been helped.
Few things could be worse than Joseph's brothers indifferently and callously eating their midday meal while Joseph cried out to them for his life. But a careful reading suggests that there may have been something even crueler than this. Although the brothers were indifferent to Joseph's plight, it may be that they were not silent. They have also mocked him, thus adding insult to the injury they were inflicting. It does not say this specifically, just as it does not record Joseph's cries from the pit, but with their attitude being so sarcastic and being so cruel and so hateful, how could they resist saying something to him that was equal to that.
When the brothers had seen Joseph coming toward them on his errand from Haran, you recall what they said to one another. "Look, this dreamer is coming. Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit, and we shall say some wild beast has devoured him. We shall see what will become of his dreams." So this tells us what was in their hearts and on their lips as Joseph came to them at that time.
Now, how could they say something like this as they jumped on their younger brother, stripped him of his ornamented tunic, and cast him into the pit? Joseph certainly would have protested. "What are you doing? Why are you doing this to me?" Notice the hypocrisy of the brothers and thinking of themselves as fairly decent guys. The comments of Judah are similar in this respect. Judah was probably the most disreputable character of this band of reprobates. There he was among those who hatched the plot to throw Joseph into the pit to die. But when he saw the Midianite merchants coming and realized that he could make money by selling Joseph to them as a slave, he announced his change of plan by the most disgusting speech in the whole story.
Genesis 37:26-28 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. Then the Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
What hypocrisy! Not only of Judah but of the brothers joining in and accepting that as a lame excuse. What evil covered over by sanctimonious speech! Sadly, this is the way people speak today even when they are committing the most despicable atrocities. "Black lives matter. Let's burn down this building." "Black lives matter. Let's destroy people's income and their businesses." It is the same attitude running through. All lives matter. Black lives matter, children's lives matters, all lives matter. (Just to make sure I do not offend someone out there who is favorable.)
There is one other element that was unknown to Joseph but might have increased his anguish if he had known of it. Reuben was plotting to save him. Knowledge of Reuben's plans might have increased his agony, not because a plan to help would not have been welcome, but because it was so evidently ineffective. It was a classic case of too little, too late.
Genesis 37:29 Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit and he tore his clothes.
Reuben had indulged his sensual appetites by sleeping with his father's concubine, Bilhah, for which he presumably lost his birthright. But indulgence in one sin does not necessarily mean indulgence in another. The characters of people should not be evaluated by a single act, however terrible, that it causes us to worry about their conversion. But Reuben apparently cared for Joseph and thus plotted from the beginning to save him.
First, he counseled against his murder. He said in verses 21-22, "Let us not kill him. . . shed no blood." Next he planned to go away and come back secretly to rescue Joseph from the pit. The story says that he wanted to take him back to his father, perhaps to atone in part for his wrong against Jacob. But while Reuben was gone, the Midianite merchants came along and Joseph was sold to them. When Reuben returned, all he could do was bewail the situation.
Genesis 37:30-33 And he returned to his brothers and said, "The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?" So they took Joseph's tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, "We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son's tunic or not?" And he recognized it and said, "It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt, Joseph is torn to pieces."
So Joseph did not know what Reuben was planning but if he had, it might have added to his grief. Joseph might have wondered why Reuben came up with such a lame plan rather than flat-out defending him. Why did Reuben not stand beside him and fight off the brothers? Although Reuben wanted to help, because he was not straightforward about it, he failed and was implicated in this great injustice because he did not stand with God's strength, stand with the power of the Holy Spirit against the injustice.
We have examined the brothers' treatment of Joseph, showing parallels to those who are ill-treated today. Now let us now see the comfort in knowledge of God and His ways gives in such situations.
Joseph's brothers did not grieve for him and neither did the world to which he was thrown by their callous actions. The Midianites did not care for Joseph. Even Reuben's grief was less impressive than it should have been since he was at least primarily to blame in the tragedy. The only person who did grieve for Joseph was his aged father, Jacob, who mourned with a grief that could not be comforted.
Genesis 37:34-35 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; and he refused to be comforted, and he said, "For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning." Thus his father wept for him.
We have such a Father, our Father in heaven, and it is a fact that He grieves for us in our trouble even more than Jacob grieved for his beloved son Joseph. What is true about our heavenly Father grieving? First, it is true that God does indeed care for us, even when others do not. He always cares for us. In this story, the care and grief of Jacob are contrasted with the cruelty and indifference of the brothers. In a similar way, the care of God is contrasted with the indifference of the world in our situations.
The Greeks were unwilling to believe this of God because in their philosophical understanding, God had to be unmoved and unmovable. That is, that He did not change, no matter what happened. Not even in His attitude or His emotions. They argue that if God could be moved by any human situation, however tragic, then to that extent we who lived through those such tragedies would have power over Him, that is, power over God. This is throughout the Greek's philosophy. And to the Greeks, this was impossible. God must be the unmoved Mover.
This may sound like good philosophy to some, but it is not the teaching of the Bible concerning God. God loves, God grieves, and God agonizes over the distress and sorrow of His children. Jesus wept over the unbelieving city of Jerusalem. When we go through difficult times not knowing why they have come or why God is permitting them, we are tempted to believe that God does not care, that He is indifferent. But we are taught otherwise. Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 6.
Matthew 6:26-30 "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
In I Peter 5:7, the apostle Peter wrote, "Cast all your care [or anxiety] on Him because He cares for you."
Second, it is true that God comforts in sorrow even when others speak cruel words or mock our calamity. David suffered periods of great abuse when former friends and even members of his family turned against him. His own son, Absalom, tried to remove him from the throne. And when David was driven from Jerusalem, his capital city, Shimei of Benjamin cursed him. These verbal spear thrusts must have wounded David deeply. But David found comfort in the Lord.
Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
His rod represents protection and His staff represents guidance. God is there with protection and guidance for us, and we are to ask him for wisdom.
This has been the experience of many who have gone through facing times of crisis. God has a special way of meeting us and providing comfort during those difficulties.
Third, is that God not only cares and comforts, He also preserves us and reaches out to us to save us in His own proper time. He does this effectively. Reuben wanted to save Joseph, but his plan misfired. He was not ready with the right actions at the right time. God always is. With God it is different. His actions are always right actions and they always come at precisely the right moment and He did this for Joseph. Let me give you some examples:
At the right moment, God caused the Midianite merchants to pass by.
At the right moment, He saw that Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard.
At the right moment, God caused Joseph to be sent to prison to meet and help Pharaoh's chief cupbearer. At the right time, God lifted Joseph to the pinnacle of power in Egypt.
And at the right moment, God knows what we need and we will find He is never too early or too late with His aid, for His protection, for His comfort. Our heavenly Father is not indifferent. He does care. He is not ineffective. One day He will send His Son and He will return in power and judgment after He has first accomplished His own perfect purpose in our lives. The Feast of Trumpets is coming up in a few days and this is part of what it represents.
Now turn back to Genesis 45. Let us pick up the story when Joseph and his brothers meet again after just over twenty years have passed. From this point, there is quite a bit of interaction between them without the brothers knowing that the governor of Egypt they are submitting to is Joseph. After some back and forth between Canaan and Egypt, Joseph reveals himself as their long-lost brother and sends them with a wealth of provisions to take back with them. They are to reveal to their father that Joseph is alive and they are to bring him and his whole household back to Egypt because there was a famine that was going to last five more years. It had already been going on two years. It was a total of seven years, but from this point it was five years left.
Genesis 45:24 (ESV) Then he [that is, Joseph] sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, "Do not quarrel on the way."
"Do not quarrel on the way." Now the New King James Version reads, "Do not become troubled," which does not translate the meaning as well as the word "quarrel."
I do not think Joseph intended to be funny when he told his brothers who were leaving Canaan "and do not quarrel on the way." Nevertheless, this seems at least mildly humorous. It is amusing to hear Joseph admonishing his brothers almost like admonishing bad children to behave themselves and not to get into trouble on their way to Canaan. Keep in mind, ten of them were older than him.
This warning was one of the several important things Joseph had for them. First, he had a great message. They were to tell their father that Joseph was not dead but was living and was governor of all Egypt. Second, they were commanded to hurry. They had good news and they were not to waste time on their way.
Genesis 45:9 "Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph: "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry."
And third, the brothers were given generous provision. They were to take clothes, grain, bread, and other necessities, and it is only at the last, after these more obvious matters were attended to, that Joseph called out and said, "And don't forget! No fighting! I don't want to hear that you have been misbehaving all the way home." You could just almost picture him with that attitude as he told them not to quarrel because his whole young life for 17 years was watching them quarrel. So he knew that that had been in them. I am sure he had hoped they had at least overcome that somewhat.
Joseph was an astute judge of character. If he had not been, he would not have been a successful manager of Potiphar's affairs or successful governor of Egypt. So we understand that though Joseph was profoundly moved and even overcome by his reunion with his brothers, he had not lost his senses and still figured that in many respects, Judah and Simeon and Levi and Reuben and the others are much like they had been. They were more decent men now, but they were still full of character flaws, and it was possible that the old bickering that had characterized their past days in Jacob's household might break out again once they were out of Joseph's earshot.
Joseph must have realized that things would be different when they were away from Egypt. In Egypt, there was the magnificence of the court and the air of absolute authority that surrounded everything associated with the Pharaoh. In Egypt the brothers stood understandably in awe of Joseph. His word was law and they were even terrified of him. What would happen once they had escaped the country? Would their repentance shallow once they were beyond his influence? We do not know what Joseph was thinking, but we know that he was thinking something maybe along that line. One of things he was thinking is this is all in God's hands and God is in control. Whatever happens, it will be according to God's plan.
There was also the looming necessity of appearing before their father, Jacob, and of confessing the whole despicable story to him. They would have good news—Joseph was alive—but they could not tell this without explaining how they had once plotted to kill Joseph, had sold him into slavery, and had perpetuated a cruel hoax on their father. They had slaughtered a goat and had dipped Joseph's richly ornamented robe in its blood. So they definitely had their tails between their legs, so to speak. Remember how they deceived their father.
Genesis 37:32 Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, "We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son's tunic or not?"
They were about to have to explain some pretty terrible lies. When Jacob concluded that a wild animal had killed his son and had torn him to pieces, the brothers had allowed him to persist in this sad delusion for over 20-some years. How would they explain what they had done? Who would explain it? How would the guilt for their actions be assigned? To a specific person? To all of them?
Joseph may have imagined their self-serving excuses and eventual arguments that could follow, but there is nothing in the story to indicate that his brothers reacted in that way. On the contrary, there is reason to believe that the brothers were thoroughly changed men. That the self-sacrificing and humble spirit Judah showed in pleading for Benjamin as recorded in chapter 44 was true of them all.
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."
This is the brothers talking to Joseph. They deeply sense their guilt, and were not at all inclined to excuse themselves, either now or later. They had labored under a burden of guilt for decades, and they were not about to come under its malevolent influence again, willingly. Still, this is how sin works and Joseph was right to protest against it. "Don't quarrel on the way, he said." It was a way of telling his brothers to live like honorable men and not to allow sin to have control over their lives.
Let us turn over to James 4, please. We have a New Testament equivalent of Joseph's warning and James is a very practical book.
James 4:1-6 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"? But he gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resist the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
These words are not only an equivalent of Joseph's warning to his brothers recorded in Genesis 45:24, but also a biblical commentary on them. They analyze the cause of quarreling and prescribe a cure. War begins in the minds of men but James' analysis goes deeper than war. He says that quarrels arise from our inward and unruly desires. We want things, but we cannot have them. So our spirit are a tossing sea of emotions. It is out of this emotional turmoil that fights, quarrels, and conflicts come.
War begins within people's emotions. Its origin is not merely on an intellectual level. It goes down into the vast emotional reservoir of life and conduct that underlies a person's heart and mind. It is in this emotional center of humans that war begins. It starts when the lusts within a person struggle together against one another. Continuing on in James 4:
James 4:7 Therefore [here is the solution] submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Nothing in the Genesis account indicates that Joseph analyzed the causes of quarrels among brothers in this way, as James later did. But if he had similar inspiration from God that James had, Joseph and his brothers might have arrived in a similar realization, or something very close.
First, James says in verse 7, "submit to God." In other words, have trust and faith in God. This is precisely the thing that most characterized Joseph's own outstanding life. When Joseph was carried away into slavery because of his brothers' intense hatred of him, he might have complained about the injustice and have blamed God for it. He could have done that. He might have protested, "How could you let this happen?" Joseph might have rebelled against God when he was falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and was imprisoned. Joseph might have argued along these lines, but he did not. On the contrary, he submitted himself to God and was content to live the life that God gave him.
Are we content to live the life that God has given us no matter what happens next?
This is why Joseph's speech was so often filled with the name of God. Here are some examples.
Genesis 39:9 "How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"
Genesis 40:8 "Do not interpretations belong to God?"
Genesis 41:16 "God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires."
Genesis 41:25 "God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do."
Genesis 41:51 "God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's house."
It was even a blessing that God blocked the thought of his family out of his mind so that he could do what God needed him to do for those twenty years. It did not mean he never thought of them, but it means he did not dwell on it. He did not obsess on it.
Genesis 41:52 "God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction."
Genesis 45:5 "God sent me before you to preserve life."
Genesis 50:20 "You meant evil against me; but God intended it for good, in order to bring it about as it is is this day, to save many people alive."
Genesis 50:24 "I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land."
These verses show something of Joseph's theocentric worldview. He recognized that God was in perfect control of everything. Joseph recognized what we call the sovereignty of God. It is possible to recognize this and still struggle against it, but Joseph did not, and as a result of his conviction of the presence and power of God in all things, Joseph added submission. A person who is submitted to God is not likely to be quarreling with his brothers along the way. When we submit to God, we accept His forgiveness and realize we owe forgiveness to others.
The second thing James tells us is that it is necessary to resist the Devil. These are such commonsense and such obvious things but we have to be reminded of them every day. It is necessary to resist the Devil who at times attacks even God's most submitted servants. This is another way of saying that in spite of our intentions to submit to God, temptations nevertheless do come and we must be prepared to fight them.
Joseph could have spoken of this personally. He submitted to God during his early days in Egypt and had been blessed in Potiphar's eyes. But that did not stop temptation from coming in. In the person of Potiphar's wife Joseph had to be ready for it. He had to be prepared and he was. In the same way, the brothers would have to be ready to resist their natural tendency to quarrel whenever it reared up its ugly head. They would have to stamp it out. Hopefully, they did. They would have to say, "I shouldn't say that," or "Forgive me. I don't want to be offensive."
Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." It is pleasant, always. We remember that Jesus Himself resisted the Devil when Satan worked through Peter to suggest that Jesus might avoid having to go to His death.
But remember the order. First, submit to God, then resist the Devil. If you do it the opposite way, that is, if you try to resist the Devil in your own strength, the result will not be as James says in James 4:7 "and he will flee from you." On the contrary, Satan will attack you. It is only when you submit to God and put on the whole armor of God that you can take your stand against the Devil's schemes. In Ephesians 6 we are going to read the very familiar territory of the armor of God.
Ephesians 6:11-13 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
The third thing James tells us is to draw near to God, which means consistently praying, and at times fast.
James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.
Why do we need to pray and fast? Obviously, because by praying and fasting, we turn our minds to God. Seek His way, submit His will, and draw on His strength to resist Satan's temptations. Prayer was clearly a concern of James as evidenced by encouragements to pray throughout his epistle. Fasting is not for trying to force God to do something for you. It is for getting your mind in sync with God's will.
James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
So in chapter 4 we are warned against failing to pray, which is why we do not always have what we need, and against praying with wrong motives, which is one of the reasons why God does not always honor our requests.
James 4:2-3 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
In his last chapter, James commends prayerful perseverance, using the prophet Elijah as an example.
James 5:17-18 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
In verse 16 James says a result of drawing near to God through prayer is that "the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." Not only for oneself but mainly for others as well.
So how does prayer relate to quarreling? Simply that if we are looking to God for our needs and are seeing Him answer and supply them, we will not be lashing out at others for failing to do what we want or provide what we desire.
James' fourth and last point is that we are to turn from sin and humble ourselves before God. That is, we are to repent and overcome our sins and to be humbly submissive to God.
James 4:8-10 Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
James' language is strong at this point because he does not want the need for repentance to be taken lightly. If we are to draw near to God, it must be with clean hands. That is, right action and a pure heart, which is a right motive. James obviously has Psalm 24:4 in mind here.
Psalm 24:3-5 Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
That is what is required of submissive, resisting, prayerful men and women of God. And it is important. Those who have washed their hands of sin and purified their hearts and humbled their minds and hearts are not going to betray one another or quarrel.
We can say with Joseph, God intended it for good. That is what we want to be able to say about everything that happens in our life—whether good or bad—that God has intended it for good.