God has made big promises in Genesis. In spite of the fall and the sinfulness of mankind, God has promised to bless the nations through the seed of the woman, who will destroy sin, death, Satan and transform the world into a global Eden where God will dwell with His people and no threat of sin, death, injustice, harm, or disappointment will ever be present again.
This world’s system is in diametric opposition to the promised blessing of God. What’s more is that we ourselves are often in a place of opposing the good work that God intends on doing in us. Oddly, enough as we read Genesis, the greatest threat to the promise came from the family of promise itself. Once again the promise is in jeopardy because of a famine in the land. The famine is a means to move the family to Egypt (15:13-16).
God’s primary purpose in sending them there was to make of them a great nation (46:3). Becoming a great nation is a covenantal reality. Joseph’s brothers have shown no signs of covenantal hope. In Jacob’s family, we’ve seen no indication of a promised seed, and we’re approaching the end of the story. This family is nowhere near nation material. In fact, they are simply a mess: they have intermarried to some extent with Canaanites (unbelievers), secretly sold their brother who is presumed dead, and deceived their father concerning their crime. Within the family, there is rivalry, jealousy, and a disregard for God. Yet, God is bringing them to the critical moment of seeing the desperation of their situation.
“Life” and “death” is the frame (42:3b and 45:28) and refrain (42:3b,18…20b; 43:8; 44:30…31; 45:28) of this section of text. Life, however, is the promised blessing of God, so at the zenith of the text, Joseph exclaims, “For God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5b,7,8a). Joseph reiterates, in 50:20, the same thought he used in 45:5b,7,8a with the words, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive.” So “good” and “life” are synonyms, and “evil” and “death” are synonyms.
The family is in a life and death situation, survival or non-survival. God has purposed that they live, but He is not going to make them into a great nation devoid of a relationship with Him. God will bring them, all of them, to the obedience of faith. In this text, then we are going to see how God deals with their sin and secures their future and ours.
I want to walk through the text and then draw out a few points that will show us something of the ways of God dealing with our sin and securing our future.
Joseph brothers sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites who in turn sold him into slavery in Egypt. Through a famine, God took Joseph from prison to second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. This same famine will be the impetus of Joseph’s brothers coming to Egypt to buy grain. In chapter 42, Joseph’s brothers arrived in Egypt to buy grain. Joseph recognized them. To gain information about the family, he accused them of being spies. Ultimately, He imprisoned Simeon as collateral that they would return to Egypt with their youngest brother, Benjamin. The brothers privately lamented that they were in this distress because of their treatment of Joseph (42:21).
Joseph sent them back to Canaan and with grain, but he put their money back in their sacks. When they discovered their money in their sacks, they again felt God was paying them back for their sin (42:28b,35-36). They reported to their father all that happened. He refused to let Benjamin go to Egypt.
In Chapter 43, their grain was used up, and Jacob told them to go and buy more. Judah persuaded Jacob to let Benjamin travel with them. When they arrived in Egypt they were invited to Joseph’s house. They immediately become fearful that they were being set up because of the money that was in their sacks. What they had attributed to God’s displeasure, Joseph’s steward attributed to God’s kindness (23). At lunch, Joseph gave Benjamin a distinctively covenantal blessing (29), wept privately, seated them according to age, and gave Benjamin a larger portion.
In chapter 44, he sent the brothers on their way but had his steward plant his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. On the road, Joseph’s steward caught up with them, accused them of thievery, and searched they sacks. The cup was in Benjamin’s sack. Judah in the longest speech in Genesis offers himself in the place of Benjamin as Joseph’s slave.
In chapter 45, Joseph saw repentance and real change in his brothers. He revealed his identity and sent them to get Jacob and come to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen. Pharaoh offered them the best of the land as well.
On hearing that Joseph was alive, Jacob agreed to go to Egypt but in chapter 46 stopped on the border of the land to inquire of the Lord. This is the final theophany of the patriarchs. God reiterated the covenant promise to make him a great nation, assuring him Joseph would bury him and bring him out of Egypt. The section closes with a genealogy of 70 persons in Jacob’s family who went to Egypt.
What then can we learn from this text about God’s dealing with the sin of the covenant family and securing their future?
1. God will accomplish his purpose in spite of, through, and against every human effort.
Without exception each patriarch has preferred a son not of God’s choosing. Abraham preferred Ishmael, Isaac Esau, and Jacob Joseph. In each case, the patriarch’s arrogant choice caused strife in the family. Family conflict crystalized in the Jacob family. The sibling rivalry was so intense that Joseph’s brothers hated him, planned to kill him, but ultimately sold him as a slave.
Because of the prominence of Joseph in the last 14 chapters of Genesis, we might be prone to think that the promised line would go through him, until we read Jacob’s final words in blessing his sons. The line is going to go through Judah. Jacob in his lifetime, however, never changed his intention to make Rachel’s sons, one or the other, heirs of the birthright and blessing. Joseph did get the birthright, but prophetically in Jacob’s last words the line goes through Judah.
Notice Jacob’s persistence as it comes through this in this text. When he thought Joseph was dead, he set his affection on Benjamin. The writer shows Jacob’s favoritism in his own words in 42:4,36-38; 43:6. If that’s not enough, the writer shows Judah’s perception of his father’s favoritism in 44:20, 27,29, 30, 34. If we don’t get the point, the narrator in his own words reveals this stubborn rejection of God’s purpose in the genealogy. He list the sons of Leah (46:15), Zilpah (46:18), Rachel (46:19) and Bilhah (46:25). In every case he mentions the mother last in the list and calls none of the Jacob’s wife, with the exception of Rachel whom he mentions at the head of the list and refers to her as Jacob’s wife. Does it not hurt you to read this?
God is not without his choice. Reuben is Jacob’s oldest son who had disqualified himself as firstborn (35:22 c.f. 49:2-4) and Simeon and Levi disqualified themselves as replacements at Shechem (ch.34; c.f. 49:5-7). Reuben is cast against Judah every time he appears from chapter 37 to the end of the book. In chapter 37, he plans to rescue Joseph from the pit (37:22,29-30), but Judah leads the way in selling Joseph in the meantime (37:26-27). Then in chapter 38 we have the crazy story of Judah and his Canaanite daughter-in-law.
Then in the text before us today Reuben offers his two sons to be killed by Jacob if he does not bring Benjamin back from Egypt (42:37). Jacob rejects Reuben’s offer (42:38). Judah, however, persuades his father to let Benjamin go to Egypt, offering to himself as a pledge to bring Benjamin home (43:9). By the time we get to the story of silver cup being found in Benjamin’s bag, the text reads, “When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house” (44:14). Judah is clearly dominant. He demonstrated his leadership by making a case to Joseph to take all the brothers as slaves (44:16). When Joseph rejects that notion (44:17), Judah made an extended appeal arguing Jacob’s love for Benjamin and the loss of one son already, and offering himself in exchange for Benjamin (44:18-34).
So much did this demonstrate the transformation of Judah that Joseph reveals his identity (45:1-15) to his brothers.
At any rate, I want to show here that God accomplished His purpose in spite of, through, and against every human effort. He overturned the brothers’ murderous plot, He overturned Jacob’s intentions for an heir, and He salvaged a brother bent on self-destruction.
I want to say at this point rivalry, jealously, and anger do not accomplish the will of God in your family. If you are looking at your mate or siblings with disdain, you need to repent. The church is a family. We are the brothers and sisters of the Lord and the children of God. Pursue love and earnestly desire spiritual gifts especially that you may prophesy to edify and build one another up.
2. God deals with us by severe mercy to effect the change necessary in our lives for us to function as His covenant people in the world.
God is building a nation out of Jacob’s family, and they seem unconnected to that reality. They sold Joseph, the family is hopelessly divided, and they began to intermarry with Canaanites (chapter 38; 46:10). Famine drives the story (41:56-42:1) and becomes a severe mercy that will reunite the family and put them in a place that they can grow into a great nation. God is not merely interested in their nationhood, He is also interested in their character. They are to represent Him and reflect his character in the world. For this to happen, God must deal with their sin.
Famine pushes them out of Canaan into a context where they will be confronted with their sin. The family is in dire straits. Their situation could not be worse. They are forced on a dangerous journey to buy food based hearsay that Egypt has food. It must have been intimidating for a small group of nomads to arrive in Egypt, an ancient global power that is beyond its 12th dynasty.
As soon as they arrive in Egypt, they were treated harshly and accused of being spies (42:7,9,12,14,16), taken into custody (42:17), and threatened with death if they could not prove their story (42:18-20). The very first place their minds went for an explanation of this event is to their sin (42:21). Reuben is helpful with an “I told you so” (42:22). The irony here is they were unknowingly standing before Joseph telling him they are “honest men” (42:11 c.f. vv 18 and 33). Honest men don’t break out in hives of guilt. Again when one found his money in the mouth of his sack, they felt the condemnation of God for their sin (42:28b). Perhaps there was a hint of confession is Jacob’s words when they arrived home and money was found in all their sacks (42:35-36). Again, when Benjamin was found with the silver cup, Judah pleaded his case before Joseph, confessing God had found them out (44:16).
God has put the sons of Jacob in a place where they must deal with their sin. There is no way to move forward without coming clean before God.
Joseph is moved by hearing is brother’s remorse over their sin (42:23,24), but before he can reveal himself to them he must be convinced they have been changed. His plan in having Benjamin come to Egypt is to recreate a similar situation with Benjamin as the situation years earlier that led his brothers in jealous rage to sell him out. So Joseph insisted they bring Benjamin to Egypt. He invited them to his house to eat, seated them in order from the oldest to the youngest, and gave Benjamin 5 times the food he gave the brothers. He watched. The brothers drank too much and enjoyed watching their little brother eat too much (43:34). One test passed, one more to go.
Joseph had his silver cup planted in Benjamin’s sack. The design of this plan was to see if they would abandon Benjamin to slavery in Egypt the same way they had abandoned him, only this time the stakes are higher. Their own necks are on the line. Rather than abandon their brother, Judah offered that all of them be taken as servants, no doubt to be in a position to protect Benjamin (44:16). When Joseph refused and gave the brothers opportunity to abandon Benjamin and go free, Judah offered himself as a slave in the place of Benjamin (44:33-34). Judah, 20 years earlier, was the ringleader in selling Joseph, and now he offers himself to save his father’s favorite son! Judah used the word “father” 14 times and the word “brother” 7 times in his speech to Joseph. He pleaded passionately for his father and brother motivated by empathy for his father at the thought of Jacob losing his favorite son, thus showing a complete reversal from his actions 20 years earlier.
Through severe mercy God confronted the brothers with their sin bringing about a complete reversal to effect the change necessary in them to be his covenant people in the world.
3. God desires us to view the experiences of life through the lens of His good and sovereign purpose.
Joseph had been in Egypt for about 22 years. He had been in Egypt longer than he had lived with his family in Canaan. He was 17 when his brothers sold him. At this point in the text he is around 39, having served Pharaoh for around 9 years. From the closing verses of chapter 41, it appears that Joseph is settled into life in Egypt and has put the past behind him (41:51-52).
Then out of nowhere, one day he sees 10 of his brothers, the 10 who conspired against him, bowing down before him (42:6; c.f. 43:26). The narrator notes in 42:9, “And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them.”
Suddenly, he is faced with his dreams and his brothers. He recognized them. They did not recognize him. Of course, they didn’t recognize him because he had changed, and he was dressed in the Egyptian regalia of royalty. Perhaps the larger part of not recognizing him, however, was that seeing him was the last thing they would have expected. Hopefully, we have all had the experience of seeing someone we know in a context where we don’t expect to see them and we ask ourselves, “Who is that person? They look so familiar.”
Joseph overheard their admission of guilt (42:23), and he wept. He hasn’t wept over this in years. Suddenly, he is forced to think through the barbarism of his brothers on the fulfillment side of the dream. “Is this real? What is God doing? I’m caught up in this event and can’t control my emotions. What are the possibilities? Where is this going?” So Joseph acts in wisdom and tests the spirits by carefully simulating an opportunity for his brothers to behave scandalously again. Rather than sell their brother, they offer their own lives for his.
By God’s grace, Joseph reinterpreted his brothers’ evil intentions as God’s good design to save them through him (45:5-8). Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers and God’s good design. In his exclamation, he repeated 3 times that it was God who sent him, and for the first time, he saw the purpose of God in sending him to Egypt (45:7). He wanted to bring his brothers into that realization as well.
Both needed to be freed by viewing the events of the past through the sovereign purpose of God, both the ones who sinned and the one sinned against. How can I be freed from the guilt and condemnation of my sin? I know that because of the good purpose of God my sin is not final, but His good purpose overrules my sin. How can I be freed from my hurt feelings, the pain of the past, let go of my grudge and my desire for revenge? I know that any evil that has been done to me has been or will be overcome by God’s good purpose. The evil designs of men must bow to the purpose of God. I can now have empathy for the person who is lashing out and inflicting pain. There is a crushing weight of layer after layer of hurt and hate and jealously and disappointment and anger on their souls. How do we feel when we see Joseph’s brothers writhing in guilt? “Gleeful, they are getting what they deserve.” Joseph wept. This is the power of the sovereign purpose of God at work in him.
How far into the future Joseph could see the purpose of God, I do not know. But I do know that in the storyline of the Bible the preservation of the covenant family was essential not only for their salvation but for ours. Joseph and the land of Goshen become like a Noah and the ark story. The land of Goshen is a place of safety where Jacob and become a nation (46:2-4). It the midst of a world ripening for judgment, Goshen became like a temple with God dwelling with His people.
Even in the unfounded Egyptian view of Hebrew people, God worked for the good of His people (43:32). Racism cannot hinder the sovereign good purpose of God. It is a reality in our world, and we must recognize it and slay it in ourselves. Yet, to extinguish racism is not our mission. To put an end to social snobbery is not our mission. To put an end to classism is not our mission. To preach the gospel to the nations is view of planting churches made of every tribe and nation is our mission. This is the only thing that answers the sinful hearts of mankind. If you want to do something about social injustice in the world, preach the gospel and plant the church. I’m in the fight, and it’s making a difference. Do I think that planting church by gathering the multiethnic family of God in fellowship around gospel cures the ills of society? Yep. I do. If you really want to make a difference, lead people to Jesus, bring them into the diverse family of God in the church, and teach them the Bible. We must view life through the lens of the sovereign purpose of God. The Bible ends with nations gathered in one voice in praise of the Lamb. No one else offers that vision or that hope or the wherewithal to bring it about.
The point of the text is that life is found in covenant relation with God, and death is opposition to the God of the covenant. You live by embracing God’s purpose of blessing in Christ. Then you grow to view all of life through that lens.