Genesis 43-45 - Sovereign Grace
February 3, 2013 Speaker: Series: Genesis
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Genesis 43:1–45:28
[Text: Gen. 43-45] “Sovereign Grace”
This is one of the most emotionally charged stories we’ve heard in Genesis. It’s the story of guilt and repentance and forgiveness. But more than anything else it is the story of overwhelming grace being shown to people who need it by a God whose purposes will always stand.
[Pray for the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and help us to believe the Gospel we hear.]
When God makes promises, on what do they depend? Do the promises depend on how well you behave? How good a person you are? Do they depend on how clever you are or on you finding out His “perfect will?” If it does depend on those things, what happens if you blow it? What happens when you don’t behave? What happens if you aren’t a very good person? What if you aren’t clever and as hard as you try the “perfect will” of God always seems elusive and just out of reach?
God had promised to bless the family of Abraham and to one day rescue the whole world through them. Now in chapter 43 that promise is once again under threat. Not only is there a famine threatening to kill the people of God, but there is such deep sin and spiritual brokenness within the family that they seem completely hopeless. How could God ever rescue the world through people like them?
We’re going to walk through this story together this morning, making stops along to way to see the beauty of grace at work, especially in the life of Judah and in the forgiveness Joseph freely gives to his brothers. But the main point of this story comes a few verses into chapter 45. Joseph makes plain what we’ve been seeing throughout Genesis. Just like in the act of creation itself, God remains in control over all things. And that is good news because behind each and every action in this world there is a Sovereign God at work, ordaining all things to bring about the redemption He promised in the beginning.
[Read Gen. 43:1-14]
Judah knows something has to happen or else they’ll all die. He also remembers (even if his father seems to have forgotten) that they can’t go back down without Benjamin. Without Benjamin with them, there will be no food and no getting Simeon back. But Judah seems to be changing. He stands in front of his father and in v. 8 makes a remarkable offer. He’ll bear the blame forever if he doesn’t bring Benjamin home.
Jacob understands that the survival of his family is at stake here. So he puts together this gift and collects enough money to make right the “oversight” from the previous trip. Jacob is doing everything in his power to protect Benjamin, to get Simeon home and to get food for his family. But in the end, he knows it really isn’t up to him. So, in v. 14 he prays. It’s a good prayer; he appeals to the mercy of God Almighty, as the thing he really needs from the only One who can give it. And in the end he can really only resign himself to the will of God. He has done what was within his power. Now he has to wait on God.
[Pick up reading 43:15-25]
You can hear the fear once again at work in the brothers of Joseph in this section. They’re expecting an ambush and so they try to head it off at the front door by announcing they’ve brought back the money that had found its way back into their bags on the first trip. They don’t know where it came from, but the steward of Joseph’s house knows the source.
He says, “Shalom to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” It’s likely that Joseph’s steward knows exactly what happened. It’s possible that he himself had put the money back into their bags on the first visit. But do you remember their words when they found the money in the first place? In 42:28, they said, “What is this that God has done to us?” thinking that this was a terrible act of judgment that had begun to fall on them. But the steward helps them to see it, yes, as the work of God Himself, but as a gracious act meant to give them peace.
[Pick up reading 43:26-34]
In this section we hear more about Joseph’s still concealed interactions with his brothers. The point is to prepare us for what follows as Joseph’s testing of his brothers is about to reach its climax. Notice in this section how Joseph, truly out of love, singles Benjamin out and showers him with favor. In v. 29 he blesses Benjamin, the favorite, in front of his older brothers. In v. 34, Joseph gives Benjamin the honored portion of the food, giving him five times more than his brothers. What Joseph truly did in love and affection for his youngest brother, was also recreating Joseph’s own situation when he was young.
Joseph was father’s favorite and was showered with honor and given gifts above his brothers. Back then, jealously led his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, so what would they do now with Benjamin?
That’s where the story goes next. Joseph creates an opportunity for the brothers to show what is in their hearts.
Joseph had given them the opportunity to leave their brother in slavery if they had wanted to. But something is different. Now, instead of taking a bundle of torn and bloodied clothes back to their father (like they had done with Joseph’s coat 20 years before) – now they tear their own clothes in grief and guilt as their old sin comes back to torment them through this potential loss of Benjamin.
Judah stands for the brothers in the presence of the Egyptian ruler and confesses their guilt. Here’s the thing – he can’t be talking about the silver cup because they weren’t guilty of that offense. Judah is confessing their sin against Joseph and accepts this punishment as divine justice for that 20 year old sin. But Joseph pushes back and won’t allow them to stay. He says that only Benjamin will stay behind in Egypt as a slave.
This is the longest speech in Genesis. And in it, Judah’s words reflect the transformation that has happened in his heart. These are words of affection and love for their father, true concern for his brother. These are the words spoken as he keeps his word to his father about standing as a guarantee for Benjamin’s life. That is radically different from the Judah who, in chapter 38, couldn’t even keep his word about giving his son to Tamar. And now Judah is offering himself in the place of his brother! That again is a radical departure from the man who was willing to burn Tamar alive but held himself guiltless for the same sin!
Judah’s repentance in this story is truly beautiful, but in the end, he remains guilty. If Joseph accepts his offer to switch, Judah will still be getting what he deserves. But when he confesses his sin to his brother and displays true repentance by his willingness to take his brother’s place, listen to what that does to Joseph.
When Judah repents, the first thing Joseph does is send everyone out of the room except for his brothers. It’s not because he’s afraid to cry in front of everyone else. Joseph is protecting his brothers and covering over their shame by not revealing their sin publicly.
And the grace and love Joseph had for his brothers knew no bounds. The rest of the chapter is full of gracious words of how Joseph intends to take care of his family, providing for them in the midst of this famine and encouraging them to hurry home, leave everything behind and come down to Egypt because they won’t lack anything once they get there. And Joseph wants them to tell their father about Joseph’s honor and position; not in some crass, bragging sense like when Joseph was younger, but in such a way as to comfort Jacob that his son is alive and means to take care of him.
When forgiveness like that is offered, it always amazes us. Whether it is Joseph forgiving and loving his brothers or the parents of a child killed by a drunk driver extending grace and forgiveness to the guilty driver, that kind of forgiveness always makes me ask, “Where does that come from?”
Joseph answers the question of why he is able to forgive his brothers early in chapter 45. As soon as he reveals himself through weeping and speaking his true name to his brothers, they are utterly dismayed and terrified of what was about to happen to them. But he comforts them and says,
“Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Genesis 45:4-8 ESV)
Joseph invites them to come near to him, eliminating the physical separation that existed between them at the meal earlier and welcoming them into his embrace. Even his body language is communicating grace and peace and unity with his brothers.
But then we get to the heart of the matter. Twice in this speech Joseph says, “you sold me.” He never excuses his brother’s actions or lessens their responsibility. But three times Joseph emphasizes that “God sent me” to Egypt for a very particular purpose: “to preserve life [and] to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
The reason why Joseph is able to forgive his brothers and show them such grace is because he believes in a Sovereign God who keeps His promises. Joseph has experienced the presence and the steadfast love of God all his days in Egypt. Though he was sold into slavery, suffered unjustly, and was forgotten in prison, Joseph seems to count it all as worthwhile because behind the sin of his brothers and beneath every pain, God was working out the salvation of His people. He had promised that He would. And now Joseph is telling His brothers that their God is unstoppable. His purpose of redemption will stand and everything has been ordained to serve that purpose.
This is the foundation of Joseph’s summary in Genesis 50:20. Joseph said to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
This is one of the truths of Scripture that is difficult, mysterious and has hurt the heads of believers for a long time. God is fully sovereign and in control. Nothing is outside his will. And at the same time He is never the author of evil. We are and we are fully responsible for it. The Scriptures teach both. Still, John Calvin speaks to the tension and fear speaking that truth produces when he says,
“Good men are ashamed to confess, that what men undertake cannot be accomplished except by the will of God; fearing [that] unbridled tongues should cry out immediately, either that God is the author of sin, or that wicked men are not to be accused of crime, seeing they fulfill the counsel of God. But although this sacrilegious fury cannot be effectually rebutted, it may [be enough] that we hold it in detestation.”
But then Calvin goes on to explain the relationship between the sin of Joseph’s brother and the actions of God:
“Joseph was sold by his brethren; for what reason, but because they wished, by any means whatever, to ruin and annihilate him? The same work is ascribed to God, but for a very different [purpose]; namely, that in a time of famine the family of Jacob might have an unexpected supply of food. Therefore he willed that Joseph should be as one dead, for a short time, in order that he might suddenly bring him forth from the grave, as the preserver of life. [From there] it appears, that although he seems, at the [beginning], to do the same thing as the wicked; yet there is a wide distance between their wickedness and his admirable judgment.”
Another writer put it this way:
“This is a very rich and sophisticated view of how God relates to historical events. On the one hand, Joseph does not say, “You didn’t do anything wrong; you couldn’t help it; God made you do it.” If that were the case, and they had only been God’s puppets, then they would not have actually sinned and could not be held accountable for their evil deeds. On the other hand, Joseph does not say, “You did it; God only allowed it; then he had to fix things.” If that were the case, and God had been only a bystander, he would not be the sovereign Lord who ordains, plans, and controls all things. Instead, Joseph says that the brothers most definitely chose to betray him, and they are responsible for that action. Yet, God all along arranged to work through their sin to further his good purposes.”
This is the climax of the story we began six chapters ago. The conviction that began in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers in chapter 42 (over what they had done 20 years prior to Joseph) had grown until, finally, repentance and grace kiss. Here the fear of Joseph’s brothers was quieted. But they were quieted because the plan of God – a plan that included the brothers and was yet so much larger – the plan of God was revealed giving hope to them and to all the people of God throughout time. We have hope with them because behind each and every action in this world there is a Sovereign God at work, ordaining all things to finish the work of redemption He promised in the beginning. It all depends on Him; not us.
That’s what Christians have believed since the church was founded. In Acts 4:24, Peter and John had just told the Jewish Council they could not do anything but speak the good news of Jesus, no matter what the Council threatened. They told all this to the other Christians who then prayed,
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:24-31 ESV)
The early church was able to hold together human responsibility with the sovereignty of God. Yes, Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel had gathered together and crucified Jesus, but their sin was bringing about the redemption promised by God He had promised to Abraham, even promised in the Garden of Eden! That doesn’t lessen human responsibility, but it does transform the way we look at the world.
For those believers and for us today, the sovereign power of God is a comfort. You and I know our weakness. We know our sin and how desperate we feel when we believe that the promises and plan of God depends on us. It freezes us and paralyzes us and terrifies us. But the good news of a Sovereign God who works even through our sin to achieve His purposes, oh, that humbles me and takes away my fear because now my salvation and my growth as a Christian and my eternal security - none of those things depend on me. They depend on the God who promised those things to me in Christ.
But far from making us want to give up and say, “Such is life. Whatever will be will be!” It should make us want to work and attempt great things for our great God because we are safe in Christ’s love even when we fail! The knowledge of the sovereignty of God should actually motivate us to obey him more, to cooperate with what His revealed will actually is and then to walk in freedom in the things which He has not clearly revealed.
Did you catch in Acts how the sovereignty of God affected the early Christians? They weren’t afraid by the threats of men because they knew no human could stop the purposes of God. And they didn’t retreat into a holy-huddle because “God’s going to do what God’s going to do.” They prayed for God to use His sovereign power…to help them be faithful to the Gospel and to speak the word of God with boldness while God displayed the power of Jesus in the world. And when they prayed for the Sovereign God to help them be faithful, the place was shaken and the Holy Spirit led them into faithfulness.
[Transition to the Lord’s Supper]
God has made promises about our salvation in Christ. So, on what do those promises depend? They depend on God, not on you. And in this meal, your Savior, Jesus, would assure you that that is true…
You have heard the word of God proclaimed – that He is powerful and keeps His promises and He has kept them all in Jesus. Now, Christians, touch and see and smell and taste the assurance that the promises He made don’t depend on you. They depend on Him and on Jesus, who gave his body and blood so that you could be forgiven and restored to the Father. Eat this meal and experience the love and confirmation of his promises to you once again. But even the benefits of the meal don’t depend on you. Yes, confess yourself to be a sinner like Judah. Yes, repent of your sins as you come, but know that even as you do repent that is the sovereign work of God in you. Rest in the knowledge that the blessing of God in this meal doesn’t depend on your understanding or your theology or how well you have obeyed or even how many tears you have shed over your sin. The blessing depends on Christ – and to his people he whole-hearted gives it just as fully as he gave himself for you on the cross.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26 ESV)
 Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, vol. 2; comments on chapter 45, v. 8
 From the leader’s resources in the Jesus Storybook Bible curriculum for the story of Joseph titled “The Forgiving Prince.”
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