Genesis 42 - The Pain of Being Prepared for Grace
January 27, 2013 Speaker: Series: Genesis
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Genesis 42:1–42:38
[Text: Gen. 42] “The Pain of Being Prepared for Grace”
Chapter 42 is a story in search of an ending. It’s full of harsh words and fear…but it is also the beginning of grace for Joseph’s brothers, whose hearts have been hard for a long time. This story can show us how God begins to deal with us, too.
[Read Genesis 42 and Pray]
Try to put yourself in the shoes of Joseph’s brothers for a moment. 20 years ago, jealousy over your father playing favorites with Joseph led you (with your brothers) to commit an unspeakable crime against your younger brother. You thought seriously about killing him, but decided to just sell him into a lifetime of slavery in Egypt for a few pieces of silver. A lie to your father had covered it and afterward you and your brothers never spoke openly of it again. For 20 years, the guilt was pushed down and never allowed out of your heart.
Then your father sends you out on a trip to buy bread in the midst of this famine – a famine that mirrors the spiritual famine of your own soul. And as you arrive, tired and hungry, to the place where you’ve been sent, the Egyptian ruler who stands between you and life speaks harshly, accusing you and your brothers of spying out the land for an invasion. But you defend yourself, appealing to your “family values;” (v. 11) “We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.” And then, for some reason, you bring up your younger brother at home and this other brother who “is no more” (as if he just disappeared one day).
To your horror, the Egyptian zeros in on your youngest brother and wants him to come down to Egypt. The Egyptian can’t possibly know how dear the youngest brother is to your father and that losing the youngest would kill your father. Your father has already lost his favorite son and now, because you opened your mouth, he might lose the one who replaced him in your father’s heart. Still, the Egyptian ruler, who stands between you and life, demands that the youngest, Benjamin, come down to prove that you and your brothers aren’t spies. Then he wants to lock up one of your brothers as a hostage to make sure you do come back. Your family will starve to death if you don’t go along.
And up from the depths from which you had pushed it, the guilt of what you did 20 years ago rises to the surface and begins to dominate your thinking. You interpret every word you hear and every event in your life as a sign of your guilt and a warning of coming judgment. Your conscience constantly reminds you of your guilt.
And that makes you afraid because you know something about the God of your father. You’ve heard the Story about this God of justice who punishes sin – who once sent a flood to cleanse the world of violent men like you – and you just know that what you are experiencing is only the first falling of the hammer of judgment. Life becomes full of fear for you. So you say things like (v. 22) “So now there comes a reckoning for his blood” and (v. 28) “What is this that God has done to us?” All you expect from God is justice because of the innocent blood that you shed. All you expect from God is pain and punishment. All you expect from God is retribution for your sin.
Now step back into your own shoes. Is that how you expect God to deal with you?
If so, this text suggests that although that is a difficult place to be…it is also a good place to start. The recognition of sin and belief in a God of justice is actually the beginning of grace in the lives of the people of God. You have to know the bad news to receive the good news of the Gospel.
So, if your past and present sin – anger or sexual sin or greed or worry or laziness or racism or stealing or lies or selfishness – if your sin accuses your conscience and make you afraid of what God will do to you, if fear overwhelms you and everything you hear and every difficult circumstance leads you to believe that God is out to get you, if your sin makes you grieve, hear this story of Joseph’s brothers and hope. Hope because, for His people, God does not give what we deserve. He gives us grace through Jesus instead.
But His grace always starts with conviction. Let’s look at how that was at work in the lives of Joseph’s brothers.
It starts with Jacob’s hearing about grain for sale in Egypt as the rest of the world suffers in the famine. He asks his sons why they are just sitting around looking at each other and doing nothing to help their situation. Then he sends them all, except for Benjamin, the youngest and favorite son, down to Egypt. It says that Jacob was afraid that harm might happen to him. It doesn’t say why, but it seems as though Jacob might not trust his older sons. He’d sent his favorite son, Joseph, to them a long time ago and Joseph never returned. So, Benjamin will stay with Jacob.
The other ten brothers join the masses of humanity heading to Egypt for bread. And in this divinely orchestrated moment foretold 20 years prior through the dreams God gave to Joseph the sons of Jacob come and bow down before their brother, Joseph. This was the very thing the ten brothers wanted to stop from coming into reality when they sold Joseph into slavery. And now the hand of God had used their actions to bring His will into reality.
Vv. 7 and 8 tell us that even though the ten brothers did not recognize Joseph, Joseph recognized them. And his dreams came racing back into his memory.
The dreams were coming true…but still…something wasn’t quite right. In his dreams (back in chapter 37), eleven brothers, not ten, had bowed down to him. And in the second dream, his brothers as well as his parents had bowed down to him. Where was the eleventh brother – the youngest, Benjamin – and where was his father, Jacob? Had the treachery of the ten brothers who sold Joseph as a slave harmed Benjamin and Jacob, too?
So, Joseph speaks harshly to them and accuses them of being spies, but from the rest of the story we know that neither hatred nor revenge is his motivation. Joseph is in search of the truth about his brothers. Were they different than they used to be? Were their hearts still as hard as they were 20 years before when they threw Joseph into the pit then sat by eating a meal as if their sin was such a small thing? Joseph was testing their hearts.
That’s why he zeros in on Benjamin and demands that they bring him to Egypt as proof of their trustworthiness. And that’s why he demands (at first) that nine brothers stay in Egypt as insurance. Then he locks them all up for three days to display his power and let the ten brothers think about the situation in which they found themselves. Even when he changes the terms and says only one must stay behind while the rest go home to get Benjamin there is a purpose other than revenge at work. As he binds Simeon before their eyes, he is not doing it from hate. Joseph is recreating his own situation and testing the hearts of his brothers. Will they abandon Simeon like they did Joseph?
The brothers don’t have any choice. They have to agree to leave Simeon or else they with their family will starve. When they agreed to leave him behind they spoke to one another and Joseph heard from their own lips that their hard hearts were beginning to feel again. His brothers said to one another in vv. 21-22, “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 [who had initially tried to rescue Joseph 20 years earlier] 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’ hard hearts were beginning to feel again. They had been guilty all along, but now they were experiencing conviction over that guilt. That is how it has to start. God has to open our eyes to see how badly we need grace, but if He does, then it means grace has already begun.
But notice the effect these words of confession produce in Joseph when he hears them. Although he didn’t yet reveal himself to his brothers, see what their confession of sin and their acceptance of guilt did to Joseph? When they confessed their sin he wept. And from what he did next, we see that they couldn’t be tears of bitterness or anger. They must have been tears of love – perhaps even joy – as he learned that their hearts were being softened.
Even though the testing of his brothers has to continue, at their recognition of guilt Joseph shows more grace. He had told them that he feared God (which would not have been said by an ordinary Egyptian). Then he fills their bags with grain and replaced every man’s money and put it into their bags. And beyond that he gives them provisions for their trip home. We see that grace as grace from our vantage point.
But in the words of the brothers we hear that they aren’t able to see Joseph’s grace as grace. Listen to how the money making its way back into their bags was interpreted by the brothers. In v. 28, at the discovery of the money in one of their bags, their hearts failed them and they shook saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” Then, after telling Jacob about all that had happened, they found their money in all their bags. V. 35 says that they were all afraid. The ten brothers only saw those things as a part of judgment falling upon them.
In this part of the story, the ten brothers are confronted with their guilt and it breaks them. It even threatens to break their father in his grief and fear. All the brothers expect from God is punishment for their sin. They acknowledge their guilt and admit they deserve this reckoning, this justice that has begun.
In other words, they are beginning to walk the path of grace.
Do you remember the story of Cain, who murdered his brother, Abel, in Genesis 4? Cain was confronted with his sin, but when his guilt was laid bare and justice was pronounced he said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” There is no mourning over his sin, there is only regret and fear of the consequences. But from Joseph’s brothers there is a true acknowledgment of guilt and a confession that they are only getting what they deserve.
What is the difference between hard-hearted Cain and these hard-hearted brothers? The difference is the Covenant of Grace. The difference is the promise of God to bless this family for the sake of their father, Abraham. The difference is the promise of God to redeem the world through this family and it was a promise that depended on God, not on them.
What strikes me about this passage is how full a redemption God was working in this family. Not only was God dealing with their physical need through Joseph’s work in Egypt, but the faithfulness of God went beyond their physical need and He began to work on their spiritual need, too.
He began here by showing them their sin, confronting them with their guilt and leading them to grieve it. The reality is that for hearts as hard as theirs, more work was needed and we’ll see next week how it continued. God would continue the work of conviction begun in this chapter – painful though it would be – in order to rescue the family of Jacob from the tyranny of sin they had been slaving under for their entire lives.
And that’s just how God has always worked in His people throughout the Story of Redemption. Before He presents us with the good news of grace, He causes us to see our need for it by showing us our guilt and confronting us with this truth: all we deserve from him is wrath and retribution because we have rebelled against Him and tried to take His place and His glory for ourselves.
The Scriptures say that’s exactly why God gave His people and the World the Ten Commandments. Romans 7 says that sin was already in our hearts killing us, but God graciously exposes our rebellion against Him as sin as we are held up to the mirror of His perfect Law. Only then can we see ourselves clearly.
And if you see your guilt, if you see that you do not measure up to the standard of holiness and purity and love (for God and neighbor) that the Law presents, there are a few responses.
You will try harder to make up for it. Good luck with that. That’s what Reuben was doing when he offered his own sons as sacrifices to make up for the life of Benjamin. That is not the way of the Gospel.You will despair and mourn the consequences of sin (like Cain) but continue to run away from God (like Cain). That isn’t the way of the Gospel, either.
Or (and this is the good one that only happens when the grace of God is at work in us)…
You will believe that you are a sinner and deserve the wrath of a Holy God. You will be broken by that truth and grieve over your sin – not just the consequences but over the sin itself which is an affront and a wound to the loving God who made you. You will believe the truth about you and mourn…but then you will keep going in your belief. You will believe what the Scriptures say, that “…the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17 ESV)
The third response is the way of the Gospel. God convicts us of who we are apart from Him and then He gives us faith to believe that, in Jesus, that isn’t who we are anymore. Because Jesus died for His people on the cross, our sin became his sin, our guilt became his guilt, our punishment became his punishment. But by faith in that same Jesus his righteousness becomes our righteousness, his peace becomes our peace, his resurrection life becomes our life and his kingdom becomes our true home. All we have to do is believe it and rest in it.
For Joseph’s brothers, they didn’t know that all their fears would come to nothing. They didn’t know that grace was at work beneath the conviction and guilt they felt. But the brother they had wronged was weeping over their conviction, already forgiving them and showing extravagant grace to them and their families. It was in the power of Joseph to give them death or life but, because of the grace of God, he chose to give them life instead of what they deserved. He covered their sin with his love. It’s the same way with Jesus.
If you are experiencing the conviction of sin today I want you to know that that is the starting place of grace. If today you direct your faith toward Jesus for the first time or if you have rested in him for a long time, God is always faithful to convict us of our sin and show us our constant need for a Savior. We never get past this. We are always lacking, but in Christ, we are always declared righteous and whole. So, like we did earlier in the service, we freely confess our sin and what we deserve. But we keep going and believe the Gospel of Jesus that, in him, we are not given what we deserve. He gives us grace instead.
That’s hard to do sometimes when you’re in the middle of recognizing your sin. Sometimes the best thing that you can do when fear takes your heart and you forget the Gospel is to talk to your brothers and sisters who are on the outside of your story, so to speak. They can sometimes see clearly the grace that you are missing. But even if they can’t, they can remind you of Jesus and the Gospel. And the perfect love of God which is ours in Him can cast out all fear.
But if you don’t think that your sin is a big deal, I’m afraid that you are in a dangerous position because Joseph’s brothers were right; there truly is a God of justice who punishes sin. It’s just that, for the people of God, Jesus took the punishment for our sin through his death on the cross. For those who don’t rest in Jesus and his finished work on the cross, there remains a fearful reckoning.
But for you who believe, if you’ve heard the story of a God of justice who punishes sin and you’ve believed it, then now is the time to keep going with your belief and trust in the God who shows grace to sinners. Don’t let it worry you that He begins His grace with the conviction of sin. That’s the first half of the Gospel that we have to believe; we truly are worse than we could ever realize. But the second half of the Gospel tells us that, in Jesus, we are more forgiven and beloved than we could ever hope.
[Prayer – Father, thank you for the grace of conviction. Thank you that you are such a faithful God and friend that you would show us our sin and our faults and then lead us on to set our faith in our sinless and perfect Savior, Jesus. Thank you that by faith alone you count us as righteous in your sight. Father, may we always walk in repentance before you, repenting even of our good deeds because they aren’t good enough to save us. And may we always follow that repentance with faith in your Beloved Son, who covers our sin and shame with his love and grace. Amen.]
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV)
More in Genesis
March 3, 2013Genesis 50 - How to Die. How to Live.
February 24, 2013Gen. 48-49 - Crossed Hands and Undeserved Blessings
February 10, 2013Genesis 46-47 - How God Supports His People