GENESIS 42-45 – TESTING! TESTING!
Good morning folks! Why don’t I pray as we open up God’s word?
Our Father, you promise that the unfolding of your world brings light. And so by your Spirit shine the light of your word into our hearts this morning we pray, that we will hear you may be changed. Amen.
Well, it was a day like any other day for Joseph. So he wakes early heads down to the grain distribution plant that he has personally set up and oversees. AND as he rides through the streets of Cairo in his chariot:
• He banters with the guy selling the over-priced cloaks with pictures of the pyramids on them to unsuspecting tourists.
• And finds people bowing to him as they should to such a high ranking official.
Yes, it’s a normal day just like any other. And a normal group of customers – just like any other group turns up after his mid-morning coffee – bowing down in front of him to show their respect.
But as they lift their heads he just notices:
• The shape of this one’s nose
• The scar on this one’s cheek – from that run in with a wolf all those years ago.
And in an instant Joseph realises that his past has caught up with him.
He told us at the end of chapter 41 – “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” His life is in Egypt now. He’s left his dysfunctional family far, far behind. But it only takes an instant for all that to be turned upside down.
Did he momentarily freeze? Did he inwardly gasp? We don’t know – cos he keeps his game face on astonishingly well.
Because he recognises them, but they don’t recognise him. Presumably because it’s been 20 years and he is no longer a callow youth, but all grown up, without a hair on his head in the Egyptian manner and speaking through an interpreter.
And for us to understand this story we need to grasp that. 3 times the word “recognise” is repeated at the start of Genesis 42 – like the writer wants it to be underlined. What happens next only works if Joseph recognises them, but they don’t recognise Joseph.
AND chapters 42-45 of Genesis – that we’re looking at this morning – are like a mini version of the whole story of Joseph. They teach us all about the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
Out of the confusing, and surprising, and painful details of the story of this family’s life – GOD is somehow weaving… a happy ending that none of us would ever have guessed. The story is going somewhere – because God is writing and directing it.
And in these chapters – it’s like Joseph… is in God’s place. He is the one who knows things the brothers don’t. He is the one who sees the big picture.
• And the things he does – they are surprising, confusing, and painful to the brothers…
• BUT we can see that the story is going somewhere because Joseph is directing it – to bring blessing and reconciliation to his family.
BUT for a long time… it doesn’t look like that’s his intention! At least to the brothers! As the first thing we see is:
1. THE HARSH FACE OF JOSEPH
• I mean look at how he speaks to them in chapter 42, verse 7: “...he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them.”
• Then he accuses them of being spies in verse 10.
• AND then he throws them in jail in verse 17.
BUT we know who Joseph is. AND how he is clearly testing them – to find out the facts about his family.
• Is Benjamin, their Father’s other favoured son, at risk like he was?
• Have they repented of the way they treated him?
• Or are they still trying to cover it all up?
Well the answer is clear as they protest in verses 10 and 11: “Your servants have come to buy food... We are honest men... not spies!”
I mean come off it guys – That’s only half true, isn’t it? You aren’t spies, and though you have only come to get food – BUT you are definitely not honest men! Think about what you did to your brother!
They are still clinging to that appearance of decency and self-righteousness that we all try to do… to cover our sin.
BUT Joseph is about to confront them with their sin in verse 18 to 20:
• He introduces the “Fear of the Lord” into the conversation;
• And presents them with a case scenario that will give them the perfect opportunity to hand Benjamin like they did him all those years ago?
They know that Joseph has the power of life and death over them. If he wants them dealt with, then the Egyptian Secret Service only has to take them out the back and no one even finds fingers.
So… will they throw Benjamin under the bus to save their skins?
Verse 21: “Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”
The brothers brave facade begins to crumble. Sure they came for food – BUT God through Joseph is showing them they have a deeper need: To be confronted with the reality of their sin.
What an unexpected blessing! If you were to pray “Bless me Lord!” – I’m pretty sure none of this is what you’d have in mind! And yet God is working for the brothers good.
Folks, it’s only ever in the kindness of God that he shows us the ugliness of our sin... so that we can turn to him, confess our sins and be reconciled to him and others.
I don’t know about you – BUT my reaction when my sin is exposed is generally to be reluctant to humble myself and own up. I become:
• Or angry
• And make excuses
And yet as long as I’m doing that there is no repentance... and no chance of reconciled relationships.
It seems folks – that the only thing better than learning from your own mistakes, is learning from someone else’s. And so… are we willing to learn from the mistakes of these men?
The brothers were wracked with guilt – not false guilt, but healthy, good guilt – and embracing it would put them on the road to mercy and forgiveness – with God, as well as their brother. It would put them on the road to an unburdening – a liberation from having to carry this terrible burden of sin by themselves.
BUT they couldn’t see it! All they could see was the harsh face of Joseph and they thought: “God is punishing us. He is rubbing our faces in what we’ve done. This cannot end well.”
If only they could have read verse 24: “Then he (that’s Joseph) turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them.”
Behind the harsh face, Joseph weeps out of love for his brothers. AND then he comes back in the room having adjusted his mascara – as though nothing’s happened. They have no idea of the tears he’s shed.
And so at the end of chapter 42 they slope off back to Canaan. AND they take a long time coming back up the garden path – because they dread the moment they have to tell dad, “You’ve lost another son.”
• Because verse 24 – Joseph keeps Simeon in prison.
• And even though he sends the brothers off with bulging sacks of grain, their money back in their sacks, and a very generous load of munchies for the journey in verse 25…
• Their match report to Jacob is all doom and gloom – “he spoke roughly to us” they say in verse 30
• – so that even the gifts in their sacks strike fear not joy into them in verse 35.
But the work of God goes deep. AND though they can’t see it – something is clearly happening, because next we see…
2. THE BROTHERS MIRACULOUS CHANGE
I’m sure you must have seen those “Before and After” adverts on Billboards or above the seats on the Metro. Whether it’s for a weight loss plan or anti-aging cream the “Before” one is usually an obviously extreme case.
• It’s not just someone with a mildly receding hairline, because then you’re not going to be particularly impressed when you see the luscious swirl of hair that follows.
• It’s usually someone who has got just a few wee strands of hair combed over their red, itching scalp. So that the “After” picture makes you go “Wow! Ok. This gel really does the business.”
Alright, alright – it often makes you wonder if it’s actually the same person!
BUT if everything in the story arc of Joseph’s family up to this point has been the “Before Picture” – Then Chapters 43-44 are where we get the transformational “After”.
They’re back in Canaan. And as the 9 sacks of grain become 8, and then 7, and then 6 and – you can see where I’m going here! – Till they are down to the very last sack of grain – AND they have no choice, but to go back to Egypt to get food.
BUT Joseph has made it clear that they can’t go without Benjamin – AND Jacob is having absolutely none of it. So they’re at an impasse.
Until we get to chapter 43 and verse 8: “And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame for ever.”
Cue the sound of jaws dropping. Here’s the “Before” Picture:
• Back in chapter 38 Judah selfishly kept back his son from the woman who he’d promised him to as her husband – and then he gave his staff to a prostitute as a pledge for payment cos he doesn’t have his wallet on him – in exchange for some selfish sexual pleasure...
• And now he is offering his life as a “pledge” for Benjamin.
Folks, this is a Wow moment! God is working to change the selfishness of the brothers’ hearts.
AND so as they saddle up their donkeys and head back to Egypt – look at what is happening in verse 15: “So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.”
These men thought nothing selling of Joseph for 20 pieces of silver years ago. BUT now “the fear of the Lord” has transformed them into those who would trade 9 sacks worth of silver for Jacob’s other favoured son’s life.
Greed ran deep in them – as it does in all of us – not usually deep enough to sell a family member I hope! BUT for these guys that’s the “Before” picture. And here’s the “After”. “Wow!”
And then what about their jealousy?!
Well the brothers are taken to Joseph’s pad for dinner and in verse 33: “And they sat before him (that’s Joseph), the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. Portions were taken to them from Joseph's table, but Benjamin's portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.”
20 years ago these guys hated their spoiled little brother. They hated him so much that they threw him in a pit with murderous intent.
Well now they are at dinner – and another one of their brothers is getting spoiled rotten! It says that they all feasted – BUT Benjamin was given five times what the brothers were given.
I mean Joseph keeps passing things down the table – “Oh Benjamin you’ve got to try this last piece of boiled shrimp. Simeon would you mind – no, no not for you – would you mind just passing down to Benjamin.”
Joseph is testing them once again…
• to see if they’ve turned from their sin,
• to see if they’ve changed.
So how do they react?
Not a word. Even as – verse 34 – the drink keeps coming, and the mouths get a little bit looser. Isn’t that so often when family fight normally breaks out? But there’s not even a squeak of complaint or envy from the brothers.
You see the “Before” picture? A family that was defined by selfishness, and greed, and jealousy – to the point that they would sell each other, and kill each other.
And here’s the “After” – feasting as a family and making merry. THE LORD KNOWS HOW TO CHANGE HIS PEOPLE.
AND that means that God can change you too.
I know when I look at my heart I see patterns there of selfishness, and greed and jealousy – That honestly have been there for years. They’re still there today – AND sometimes I’m tempted to despair.
But people can change. So don’t despair. Don’t give up!
• On change for yourself…
• BUT also for others.
• Not least OUR families.
Joseph’s family always makes me think of a book I was once given for Christmas entitled: “All Families Are Psychotic.” I don’t think that was a particular comment on my family! BUT an acknowledgement that while we might talk about some families being “broken” or “dysfunctional” we must admit that all families – even the very best of them – often behind closed doors – are dysfunctional.
Family life is difficult in a fallen, sin-stained world.
BUT here’s God wants us to know this morning: There is Hope! Whatever your family looks like. God has not given up on your family! God never gives up on families – Just like God never gives up on us!
So in your struggles with family – please take that excellent advice given to us by Elspeth in that interview earlier on and:
i. Ask for help – don’t just struggle on alone.
ii. Make a plan – to be positive and change the things you can change, not the things you can’t.
iii. AND Be patient – after all Joseph’s family’s great transformation was not quick and easy. It took 20 years! They spent time in prison. It was rough.
BUT we see here the “After” picture – AND so we can know that if God can change this family... then there is hope for all of us.
So let’s look lastly – at the happy ending. As in chapter 45 we see…
3. THE BIG REVEAL
AND so we come to the moment this whole story has been building up to at the start of chapter 45. Joseph when he realises the work of God in his brothers’ hearts – they are confessing their sin; they’re willing to lay down their life for Benjamin – He can’t control himself any longer: “It is I – Joseph!”
But Joseph is not just revealing his face to them – He’s also revealing God’s hidden plan behind the scenes of their family history also:
• As in verse 5 he says: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
• Then again in verse 7 he says: “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
• AND verse 8: “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
God was behind it all! AND so the brothers can see that behind the harsh face of Joseph has been a hidden plan – the hidden plan of God working for theirs and others good.
In fact, it wasn’t only Joseph’s face that they had misjudged… but God’s. They thought – as their sin was unveiled, as things seemed to unravelling – that God was against them the whole time. But he was not!
AND so I think the final thing we are to learn here this morning is: Not to flinch when it seems to us that God is being harsh towards us.
For the reality is that changing is painful. The stripping away of jealousy, greed and selfishness – and hundreds of other things that we could talk about if we had time – stripping our sin is painful.
Sometimes the things we have to go through to change us hurt – And hurt deeply. But there is a hidden plan.
And as we look at the brothers before, the brothers after…
• I think that helps us not to flinch when it seems to us that God is being harsh with us.
• When we can’t see what he is doing – and how he could possibly do any good in this.
• Because it shows us how he can be doing something that is beautiful, that is wonderful.
• That we will one day see at the even big reveal. AND we will thank him for it.
It doesn’t lessen the pain of the steps along the way I know – but I think it helps to know that behind the harsh face… there is a hidden plan.
AND let me just push that a bit further and say – behind the harsh face, Jesus weeps. Joseph wept in private – the brothers had no idea what was going on.
But I wonder when we get to heaven, when we see Jesus, when we see his face – might there be tear stains on his cheeks from the things that he has allowed us to go through…
• Lovingly, wisely…
• But tearfully... for our good…
• To change us.
And so if this is you at the moment and life is rough – and it seems to you as if God is just showing you a harsh face and you don’t know why – well may be, may be… this is the reason why:
• That God wants to show you who he really is.
• That God wants you to see his real face –
• So that you would move towards him and see his face of love.
• AND find peace, and life… and hope.
AND if you find that hard to believe this morning – here’s what we’re going to do… We’re going to finish with a song written by a man called William Cowper:
• Who suffered from depression all his life,
• Tried to end it on numerous occasions,
• Failed because his best laid plans kept going wrong in the strangest of ways,
• AND so he sat down and wrote these words:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
So though I would ordinarily encourage you to stand and sing – BUT maybe this song is one to sit, and ponder, and pray through. Let’s do that now.