A TEST OF LOVE
Change doesn’t come easy. It never has. We can sometimes bring about a change of outward actions and circumstances, but hardest things to change are those areas on the inside.
Have you heard about the man who took his old car to a dealer and asked him to sell it for him? When the dealer asked how many miles were on it, the man replied, "It's got 230,000." The salesman replied, "It'll never sell unless you turn back the mileage." So the man left.
When the car salesman hadn't heard from the man for several weeks, he called him. "I thought you were going to sell that old car."
"I don't have to anymore," came the reply. "It's only got 77,000 miles on it now. Why should I sell it?"
This story illustrates a spiritual truth. Too many people today are only fooling themselves if they think they are pleasing God by just changing their external behavior. What they need is a new heart. The old car still had a sick engine, bad rings, and a transmission that slipped. Turning back its odometer had not changed that!
People want changed lives. They are not impressed with our doctrinal expoundings or our sanctimonious sayings, but they will sit up and take note of a truly changed life.
God is in the business of changing lives. Think of some of the changes He has brought about in the Bible.
We worship the One who is able to change men’s hearts. The study of Joseph and his brothers has been a study on how such change is able to come about.
These are the brothers who had sold their younger sibling into slavery in Egypt. They had plotted his murder and only deferred that fate by the realization that there was some money to be made by selling him as a slave.
A number of years had now passed. Had they changed? That was the question that was now to be put to the test. The test came in the form of a repetition of the previous circumstances. Once again there was a younger brother. Once again there was an issue of favoritism. Once again, they would be in a position to profit by leaving their younger brother enslaved. What would be their choice?
A CAREFUL PLAN
Then he commanded his house steward, 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.2 And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain." And he did as Joseph had told him. (Genesis 44:1-2).
Joseph had been planning for this situation for some time. As the prime minister of Egypt, he was in a position to be able to control the circumstances. He had maneuvered his older brothers, forcing them into a situation where they had to bring Benjamin, their youngest brother, with them to Egypt. Now Benjamin was being set up to appear the part of a thief.
Why? What is Joseph’s motivation in all of this? We are not specifically told, but we are given some very careful clues. They are seen in the tears of Joseph. He was not merely "getting even" with his brothers. He is bringing about a very careful plan. But I want to suggest to you that this is note merely Joseph’s plan. It is God’s plan.
God is doing something extraordinary in the lives of this entire family. He is bringing some of them to repentance and He is bringing all of them into fellowship.
Jacob had so completely favored Joseph over his other children that he tore his family apart. He sowed the seeds of jealousy and strife in his sons. They were filled with anger and bitterness and it was his doing.
But now God steps in and becomes the Spiritual Father that Jacob had failed to be. He treats the children of Israel as His own children.
Hebrews 12 speaks of how God disciplines us for our good. When He does this, He shows us that we are His children.
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.
That doesn’t seem to be a very pleasant prospect. It reminds us of the prayer of Mother Teresa that said, "Lord, you would have more friends if you treated the ones you have better." The truth of the matter is that discipline is not merely a parental prerogative; it is also for our best interest.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11).
God’s discipline is not merely to punish us. It is designed to help us to grow. That is what is taking place here in Genesis. God is doing something in the lives of Jacob’s children that will cause them to grow closer to Himself.
We live in a world of brokenness. It is a world of selfishness and of strife and of betrayal. These things happen in our world and God allows them to take place. But instead of filling us with morbidity, we can take comfort in knowing that God is able to use these things to bring about something wonderful in our lives.
A RAPID PURSUIT
3 As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. 4 They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, "Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’" (Genesis 44:3-5).
We can imagine the brothers starting off at first light, leaving the great palaces and the ancient pyramids glistening in the rising sun. Their troubles are behind them, or so they think.
Suddenly there is a call from behind them. They turn to look and they see the house steward of the Prime Minister. He likely is accompanied by the royal retinue, not that they are needed, for the brothers are still strangers in a strange land and they would have little hope of escaping the forces that could be mustered against them.
The master’s cup has gone missing and these Hebrew foreigners are the prime suspects. They must return to answer the charges.
The brothers are quick to plead their innocence. Their plea is true as far as it goes. They are not guilty of this particular crime.
Have you ever been falsely accused? What was your immediate response? Indignation? Self-righteousness? The next time someone says something about you that isn’t true, stop and think about what they would say if they only knew the truth.
Notice that a part of the claim of the Egyptian steward involves a claimed ability of Joseph in the area of the supernatural. Joseph instructed his steward to insist that the missing cup was not only a personal possession, but also that it was used for divination.
The practice of divination was a common one in the ancient world. Such practices took place in several different forms:
The resulting designs of these practices were to be interpreted in accordance with certain arbitrary rules and conclusions were to be drawn about the future.
This brings us to a question. Was Joseph actually engaged in divination? Or was this merely to be a part of the trappings of the test for which the brothers were to undergo? We are not told. What we ARE told is that divination and spiritism are wrong and that a Christian has no business participating in these activities.
It is entirely possible that Joseph was only pretending to use the cup for this purpose in order to carry out the deception before his brothers (in verse 15, Joseph will say that he has the ability of divination). It is perhaps for this reason that Joseph goes to great lengths to instruct his steward that this cup was to be described as a cup of divination. It may have been part of the ruse and the steward would not otherwise think to describe the cup in this way if Joseph were not to give specific instructions as to how it was to be described.
Joseph is playing a part and that involved pretending that the cup was of vital importance so that his brothers will believe it is a matter of such importance that the threat to their younger brother will be real.
A RASH PROMISE
6 So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. 7 And they said to him, "Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. 8 Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord's house? 9 With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord's slaves." (Genesis 44:6-9).
The brothers are so certain of their own innocence that they enter what turns out to be a rash promise. They promise that if the missing cup is found in one of their bags, the bag in whose possession the cup is found will forfeit his life while the other brothers will become slaves in Egypt.
This serves as a reminder that we ought to be careful of what we promise and vow before the Lord. There have been many a time when rash words resulted in sorrowful results.
AN INCRIMINATING PACKAGE
10 So he said, "Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent."
11 Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. (Genesis 44:10-12).
Joseph’s steward knows that the cup is going to be found in Benjamin’s bag and he also knows that no harm is to come to Benjamin. Therefore, he changes the conditions proposed by the brothers so that Benjamin’s freedom will be forfeited. Sure enough, when a search is made for the cup, it is found in Benjamin’s sack.
AN ACCUSING PRETENSE
13 Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city. 14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph's house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. 15 And Joseph said to them, "What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?"
16 So Judah said, "What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord's slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found." (Genesis 44:13-16).
The brothers are trapped. There is nothing for them to do but to return to the house of Joseph where he awaits their coming. Notice his words. He does not actually say that they stole the cup. Instead, his accusation is in the form of a question.
The actions of Joseph at first look harsh and vindictive as though he is paying back the evil that was done to him by his brothers. Such an interpretation is betrayed when we take a closer look and note how often Joseph was forced to leave the room in weeping as he confronted his brothers and watched their pain and bewilderment.
Joseph’s treatment of his brothers was fraught with kindness. He wanted, not only to forgive his brothers, but also to restore them to fellowship. This would take more than an outward show. It would also demand an inward brokenness.
God wants the same thing of us. He forgives our sin, but he also seeks to bring about that within us that shall restore our fellowship with Him.
The actions of Joseph are neither one of vindictiveness, nor are they merely unrestrained forgiveness without calling into account the reality of the transgression.
Vindictiveness"You threw me into slavery and prison, so it is off to slavery and prison for you"
Restoration"You need to come to the place where you recognize your guilt so that you can be truly forgiven
Forgiveness" All is forgiven and forgotten and nothing need more to be done"
Joseph has forgiven his brothers, for he does not repay in kind. But he also moves beyond mere pardon. These brothers need more than pardon. They need healing. Joseph is bringing healing and redemption to his brothers.
If you really love someone, they need more than pardon. They need healing. They need to be changed. They need renewal.
God does to us what Joseph did to his brothers. He is going to pardon them. He has already forgiven them. But he also works in their lives to bring them face to face with their sin. He will not leave them alone until they have come to true repentance.
Notice the response of Judah: God has found out the iniquity of your servants (44:16).
Judah is confessing his sin. He is not saying that he stole the cup, for he knows full well that he had not done that. On the other hand, he is completely aware of the guilt that is his own.
A PENETRATING OFFER
17 But he said, "Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father." (Genesis 44:17).
Many years earlier, these same brothers had been willing to leave Joseph as they returned to their father. Here is the question -- have they changed? Would they be willing once again to leave their youngest brother behind and return to their father?
Joseph is giving them a chance to either repeat their past offense or else to change history. They can either continue in their past practice or they can do something different. I am reminded of the sign on the old country road that said, "Choose your rut carefully; you’ll be in it for the next 20 miles."
Joseph was setting up the identical situation that had taken place years before. He was setting up a situation in which the brothers could return to Jacob without their younger brother. He was setting up a situation in which they might be rid of their father’s favorite. All they have to do is to abandon their younger brother and they will go free. They can take the road of betrayal or they can change and they can finally do it right.
A SACRIFICIAL PLEA
18 Then Judah approached him, and said, "Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord's ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’ 24 Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25 And our father said, 'Go back, buy us a little food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man's face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 And your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 and the one went out from me, and I said, "Surely he is torn in pieces," and I have not seen him since. 29 And if you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ 30 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, 31 it will come about when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ 33 Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. 34 For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest I see the evil that would overtake my father?" (Genesis 44:18-34).
This long speech is given by Judah. He had not been the example of model behavior in the past. He had entered into a sexual union with his daughter-in-law. He had once been immoral and selfish. But now we see that he had changed.
Judah had once been the ringleader in the movement against Joseph. It had been Judah’s idea to profit from their younger brother’s demise.
And Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him. (Genesis 37:26).
Judah had been the leader then and he was still acting the part of the leader now. Whereas he had once led in the direction of evil, now he leads in the direction of good.
We have already seen Judah’s confession in verse 16: God has found out the iniquity of your servants. He has not confessed to the taking of the cup, but he has indeed confessed his sin before God.
Throughout this long speech, he does not seek to mitigate his actions or to explain away the taking of the cup. He seems to assume that Benjamin was guilty of the deed. Instead of asking for mercy, he asks that he might serve as a substitute for the just penalty of the deed.
Judah offers to be a substitute. He offers to remain in place of Benjamin, taking upon himself the punishment of slavery. In doing this, Judah is a type of Christ. This is exactly what Jesus has done for us. He paid the penalty for our guilt.
Jesus is the true Judah. That should come as no surprise, for Jesus is actually descended from the tribe of Judah. Judah does not realize it, but he is walking in the footsteps of his greater Son. Judah offers his life; Jesus spent His life.
Offers to take the place of Benjamin as a slave in Egypt
Took our place of condemnation by becoming cursed in our place
His offer is to take the place of one whose guilt was accused but not real
Jesus took our place in spite of the fact that our own guilt was all too real
Jesus is the true Judah. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is the rightful king. But that is not all. Jesus is also the true Joseph.
Joseph had the right of vengeance. He had been greatly wronged by his brothers, but he does not seek to wrong them in return. In the same way, Jesus gave up His right of vengeance to become our Savior. He was betrayed by us and for us. He did not answer evil for evil. He instead took that betrayal and that death and He turned it to our salvation.
This life will contain the exercise of hardship. I don’t much care for exercise. I would much rather sit back and eat chocolate and read a good book or watch a movie. But exercise is necessary for the health of the physical body.
The problem is that exercise is hard. It involves sweat and difficulty and exertion. It involves pushing yourself until you feel weak. When you do that, you learn a wonderful truth. It is that when you endure to the point of weakness, there is a strengthening that takes place.
What is true in the physical real is also true in the spiritual realm. God brings us to the place of weakness so that we can be strong.
If you are in the midst of trouble, that is a sign that God is doing something in your life. What is it? In what way is God changing you?
When troubles come into your life, remember that His Spirit is grieved. He is emotionally involved in your life.