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03 Oct 2021

Joseph Tests His Brothers [Genesis 42-47]

Overview

Forgiveness is unilateral. Reconciliation is bilateral. Forgiveness requires a change of mind for the offended. Reconciliation is that plus the change of ways for the offender. Reconciliation = Forgivesness + Repentance. The story of how Joseph tests his brothers is a lesson on this equation "Reconciliation = Forgiveness + Repentance". It is also a story of how guilt brings great grief. But most of all, it is a story of how God's providence always works out His promises. Nothing in the life of the Christian is accidental. It is all intentional. It is all providential.


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Today we're looking at Genesis chapter 42, indeed, all the way to chapter 47, as we continue the story of Joseph.

Now his life has been quite a roller coaster ride isn't it. He was first betrayed by his brothers and thrown into a pit, and ultimately sold to Potiphar, an Egyptian captain of the army. Not only was he betrayed in a pit, he was also framed by Potiphar's wife for something he did not do, and he was ultimately again, thrown into prison.

And then we read last week that he was catapulted into the second most important position in all of Egypt, to be the prime minister there. So he really had a very colorful life.

Today we continue that story, based on the revelation that Joseph received from God with regards to the abundance and the famine that would strike Egypt, he began to store up great amounts of grain during the seven years of abundance, because the next seven years will be years of great famine.

Now, we joined that story in the second year of famine, it is really a severe famine, and it affected not just Egypt, but also Canaan. Now Canaan, is where Joseph came from, Canaan is where his father Jacob and his brothers lived and the famine has struck that land and it came to the point of time that Jacob had to find food because there's not enough going around in Canaan.

Now he did not know that his son is now the prime minister of Egypt, but he did hear that there was grain available for sale at Egypt. So he got his sons to go all the way to Egypt to buy grain but he did not send all of them.

He sent most of them and kept Joseph, er, Joseph's brother, the brother of his same mother Rachel, he kept Benjamin behind. Now Benjamin is now Jacob's new favorite son, after Joseph is gone, he puts his favor upon Benjamin and wanted Benjamin to stay with him. So he sent the other 10 brothers to Egypt.

Now, providence would have it, that when they arrived at Egypt, they would face Joseph. The brothers would now bow before Joseph and, and it according to the scholars, this has been about 20 years, since they have sold Joseph. So, it is not a surprise that they might not recognize Joseph.

Now Joseph was 17 years old and now he's 37, his looks might have changed quite a bit, especially with the Egyptian dress code and so on. Nevertheless, Joseph could recognize his brothers.

Now the brothers all bowed before him and the first thing that came to Joseph's mind was the dream that he had about 20 years ago, where the 11 sheaves, representing the brothers would all bow before his sheave, Joseph's. So it is now, in a sense, coming to pass.

But when the brothers bowed before Joseph, appeared before him, Joseph immediately came up with a plan. You see Joseph wanted to reconcile with his brothers very badly, certainly he wanted to. He, I believed, had already forgiven the brothers in his heart, but he couldn't quite reconcile with them because he could not quite trust them as yet.

He was not sure if they were still angry and bitter and malicious towards Joseph, they hated him last time remember that, that's why they threw him into the pit. So he was not sure if they were still murderous and vicious and hateful or have they changed.

He couldn't reconcile with them if they will still bearing that animosity towards him. So in order to find out, whether they have changed, he came up with a plan. He was a quick witted guy I think, right on the spot, he came up with a strategy, with a way to discern if the brothers have changed.

And so today, we're going to look at this series, we're going to look at this story, a series of moves, of chess moves, if I may put it, for Joseph, to be able to kind of dig out and to unearth what the brothers are really thinking, who they really are. So chapters 42 to 47 is the story of how Joseph tests, his brothers, to see if he could really reconcile with them.

Now I know, when you look at Chapters 42 to 47, you must be saying, oh no we are really in for a long ride. Why must we cover so many chapters at one go. Well, the reason is this. I've read this story many times in my life, but I've always had a hard time trying to have a big picture of what's going on. I mean there's so many things going on and I wish someone would just simply tell me in summary, what it is.

So what I wish for myself, is what I hope I would serve you with, you must have read this chapter and you might be lost in all the details, I think it's really advantages to read this all in one shot to have a big idea, a overview or a bird's eye view of all that goes on so that you can see the spiritual lessons that would flow from it.

Alright so let me try my best. I hope that this will not be a long winded sermon, it's going to be short and sharp, but it would still require us to look at some of the necessary components in six chapters, it's an ambitious thing, but I hope it will be advantages thing for you.

Now Joseph, let me again say is wanting to test his brothers, to see if they are still angry and cruel, or they have changed. And in order to test them, he is going to structure his test around his brother Benjamin. Benjamin will be the key thing that ties all these chapters together.

The test would move in three parts, at least that's how I see it. Number one, the test would involve first getting Ben, or getting Benjamin here, so operation, number one, find Ben, and then operation number two is to frame, Ben, get him into trouble. You see this very simple, get him here, get him into trouble and see how the brothers will respond and movement number three or operation number three will be to free Ben because Joseph obviously didn't intend for any harm to come upon his favorite brother Benjamin.

So very simple isn't it, find Ben, frame Ben, and then free Ben, so this is what we're going to look at number one operation, number one, and that is to find Ben.

[1] Find Ben

So when the brothers bow before Joseph, Joseph hatched this complex strategy or plan. He wanted to find Ben, so he said why are you here? They say we're here to buy grain. No no no, no, no you're not here to buy grain, you are spies to spy out our land. No no no, no we are not we're really here to buy grain. No you're here spies. No we are not. And then one of them blurted, We are not spies, we are one family with a father back home in Canaan, we've a brother there, and we have another brother who is not with us, but we are one family.

And when Joseph heard about one brother back home in Canaan, he said to them, Alright, to prove that you're not spies, you go back and find that brother, and bring him to me, so here it is find Ben.

Now this is not easy for the brothers to do, they were caught in a quandary, they were stuck because they knew how much Benjamin would mean to their father Jacob. They cannot imagine that, having bereft of Joseph, their father also now might lose Benjamin, if this Egyptian Prime Minister would not be happy with Benjamin, might just kill him.

So they were really stuck, and they and they said, in truth, we are guilty concerning our brother Joseph, so they recalling what they did to Joseph, about 20 years ago, in that we saw the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this distress, this quandary, this difficulty has come upon us, and Ruben answered them, Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy, but you did not listen.

You know, this is what we say in Chinese ma hou pao. That is to say, after something has happened then you, you become a preacher, you wax, not wax lyrical but you now pontificate to us.

So now there comes a reckoning for his blood, well as they talk about these things, as they struggle amongst themselves, Joseph could hear them. Of course he understood all that they said, and he began to weep. He wept, it this must have been a very emotional moment for him.

Nevertheless, he proceeded with his plan. He took his brother Simeon ransom, or hostage, not ransom. And he sent all the brothers, to go back to fetch Ben. He filled their bags with grain that they came for. And he also secretly placed the bags of silver into the bags of grain.

Now, the brothers didn't know it. They got all the grain, they got back, or they were journeying back to Canaan, except for Simeon who is held hostage back in Egypt. Halfway, they needed to feed their donkeys they open up the grain sacks and to their surprise and horror, they found the bags of silver, and they were worried they were afraid because they were afraid that the Prime Minister Joseph, would accuse them that they were really spies because they came to pay for the grain but they stole, as it were, the money. They thought they might be framed that way.

Nevertheless, they got home. They came to Jacob, they told their father all that has transpired, that Benjamin is required if they are to get more grain, and Jacob, upon hearing that was not very happy.

In fact, he wept because he had already lost Joseph, Simeon is now held there and he cannot imagine that Benjamin would also be in danger. So he did not allow, he did not agree to Benjamin following the brothers back to Egypt.

Now Reuben stepped in and said, Now dad, don't worry, I am going to guarantee the safety of our brother Benjamin, in fact I'm going to offer my two sons to you, if anything is to happen to Benjamin. But Jacob wouldn't agree to that.

So they waited, I'm not sure, for how long, but the famine just went on, it got worse. And Jacob was getting desperate, there really is no food left for them. And now forced into a corner, he finally had to make a choice as to whether the brothers will go back with Ben.

Now, Judah stepped in at this time and said dad, I'm going to vouch for the safety of Benjamin. I'm going to guarantee his safety. If anything is to go wrong, I will offer my life, on behalf of my brother Ben, so you could send him with us.

So Jacob finally relented and he packed their bags with lots of presents and gifts for Egypt and packed in two times the amount of money because the first time round, they, they came back with the money, so he packed their bags with two times the amount of money.

He sent all his sons across now to Egypt. And the sons now appear before Joseph. When Joseph saw Judah and the brothers, and in particular, Benjamin, he again was moved and he wept, without them seeing.

And then that very same day, he organized the feast for them, but it was a very strange feast because when the brothers sat down at table, they could see very obviously that Benjamin, on your left, had five times the amount of food as compared to the rest of the brothers.

Well, we see now the first movement, and that is to find Ben. Alright, very simple story, Joseph took advantage of their lack and their desperation to force their hand to bring Benjamin here.

[2] Frame Ben

And now when the brother Benjamin is here, he moves on to movement number two and that is to frame Ben, he's going to get Ben into trouble. So what happens is that he fills again their sacks with grain, but surreptitiously, also placed a bag or not back but pleased a silver cup into the bag of Benjamin.

Now this silver cup is the personal special cup of Joseph. He called his servants to kind of a covertly placed it in it, so that in the bag, so that no one would know. He sends the brothers now back to Canaan.

But as they were just a little off, he then calls his stewards, his servant to chase after the brothers. And when the steward got there, the steward said to the brothers, why do you guys repay good with evil. Our master sold you the grains but why did you steal from him, why did you steal his silver cup with which he calls for divination, or he uses it for his spells, that's what the steward said.

The brothers then protested, no, no, no, no, no, we did not steal anything from your master, why would we do that? No, you did. Oh no, we didn't. Well, I will search your bags. Alright, you can search our bags and if the cup is found in any one of our bags, that person will die and all of us will be the servants of Egypt.

The steward then says, no, we do not need that, the person in whose bag was found the silver cup, he will become the servant. Well, of course, when the steward, searches through the bags, they would be surprised, and indeed, they will be shocked that this cup was found in none other but Benjamin's sack.

They all broke down, they tore their clothes in grief, they wept in tears, and they knew that they were in deep trouble. Now they did not allow Benjamin to go back to Egypt alone, they all went together with him, and they appeared before Joseph.

And Joseph says, Why would you do this thing, why would you steal from me, don't you know that a great man like myself, knows divination, and this will not escape my eyes. And Judah, now, as the spokesman for the brothers, begged for mercy, he pleaded with Joseph, and said, we are guilty of these things, we will all be your servants. Joseph says no, I do not need all of you to be the my servants, I just want Benjamin to be my servant.

And Judah says, No, don't take Benjamin, to be your servant. He's my father's favorite, I've pledged for him, let me be your servant. Now that is remarkable. And so, I want you to know that we are still on track. Movement number one, Find Ben, movement number two Frame Ben.

[3] Free Ben

So Benjamin is now in trouble, but movement number three, of course, as I said, it was never Joseph's intention to hurt Ben, movement number three is Free Ben. When Judah pleaded before Joseph to free Benjamin and to take him, Joseph cannot help but to weep. Again, this is the third time we see him weep.

He dismissed all his servants, and he wept openly before his brothers. And then he said to them, 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 they 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. And now they openly and freely and happily reconciled.

Now maybe before I go on, you will have this question, was Joseph using disguise or deceit. Well, I really find no excuse, as it were, I think he did use disguise, he did use deceit. Whether that was morally right or not, I think I'll leave it for you to decide, I think he did so.

But all I could say is that his plan really worked, isn't it because the rest of chapters 45 to 47, it is a simple account of how he managed to get Jacob, all people of Israel, about 70 of them is listed in Genesis 46, the genealogy of the family account is given there.

He got all of them, the livestock, the goods, everyone in Israel, or Jacob's family to come and relocate to Egypt. They met with Pharaoh himself and they settled in the land of Goshen, which is part of Egypt.

So this is the story, this is I think what we have covered in about 17 minutes or so. I hope this is a story that can maybe settle in your minds. Now, my job is not to be a storyteller. My job is to be a preacher, to teach you God's Word with regards to God, grace, Gospel and glory. So, what lessons can we learn from this story in chapters 42 to 47.

I'd like us to maybe consider just three things, two of which are really I think major or thematic here, one is probably by the way, but let me just share with you. Number one, I think these chapters reveal this spiritual lesson, that reconciliation requires repentance.

I think this is a spiritual lesson that is very clear in this text, that if you are to reconcile with anyone, then the offender needs to repent. You see, this story could have been really simple. I mean it could be that Joseph met with the brothers, and immediately reconciled with the brothers.

Now, we then won't have to have such a long story, we won't have to have at least three of the chapters here, but God gave us extra three chapters, and Joseph had to go through great pains to find Ben, frame Ben and then free Ben because he wanted to elicit if or he wanted to see if the brothers are still cruel and angry or have they really changed, and it's only after he realized that they have changed, especially Judah.

You know, Judah 20 years ago, he was the one who suggested selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites traders, but 20 years later, he's the one who would say, take care of Benjamin, I would sacrifice myself. And it is only upon seeing the response of Judah and the brothers, that there can be real reconciliation.

So all this story really highlights the fact that reconciliation requires repentance, on the part of the offender.

Now let me camp here, a little bit for you. I like to say that forgiveness is unilateral. What I mean by that is this, you don't have to wait for the offender to do anything before you are called to forgive. You see sometimes we think, Oh, only if the offender say sorry, then I'll forgive him. Actually that's not quite Biblical. If your enemy has done something wrong to you, even if he does not say sorry, you know, the Bible tells us to forgive.

The Bible tells us not to have bitterness or animosity, or hatred or anger towards even our enemies. Forgiveness is unilateral, it is not dependent on what the offender does. Now that may be shocking to a lot of people that, but that's what the Bible says, We do not forgive someone, because he deserves it or because he says sorry, we forgive someone because God has first forgiven us.

So it's independent of whether the offender deserves it or not, forgiveness is unilateral but reconciliation is bilateral. What I mean by that is, if you are to reconcile with your offender, yes, you must forgive, but also the offender must change, must turn must repent. So forgiveness is unilateral, reconciliation, however, is bilateral, repentance is needed for reconciliation.

Maybe to put it another way, forgiveness involves a change of thinking by the offended. I'm upset with you, I hate you, but forgiveness says, I forgive you. I will not be upset with you, I will not hold it against you, forgiveness, involves a change of thinking of the offended.

Reconciliation involves that, plus, a change of ways of the offender. So to have real healing, to have real getting together again, yes, the offended needs to forgive, the offender also needs to repent.

So, reconciliation is really consisting of two parts, forgiveness and repentance. Forgiveness on the part of the offended and repentance on the part of the offender. Joseph, I believe, has already forgiven, he was not angry with them, he was not bitter against them, but to reconcile with the brothers, he must see and know that the brothers have also turned and changed their ways.

So, if you understand this, you would understand that we are to forgive always. God does not allow, God, God does not want His children to live in bitterness, in hatred, in anger, in animosity, He does not want to and we are to forgive always, why, because God has first forgiven us in Christ Jesus.

Whilst we are to forgive always, we may not always achieve reconciliation, why, because even though I can choose to forgive, the offender may not choose to repent. That's why it's not always easy or possible to live in peace with everyone. Not because you're not to forgive, but because not everyone chooses to repent.

Now, that's why Jesus commands, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. There are some people who say, Oh, Matthew 18, is saying that I have a right to not forgive him if he does not say sorry to me. No, no, that's not how Matthew 18 is to be understood. Matthew 18 is not about forgiving your brother, Matthew 18 is about gaining your brother, reconciling with your brother.

In other words, the reason why you go to your brother to tell him his fault is not to make him say sorry to you so that you feel good. Huh, I'm upset, and I will be upset, until you say sorry, that's not what Matthew 18 is about.

Matthew 18 is saying, you forgive your brother in your heart. Don't go to him in bitterness, in anger, in animosity, forgive him with your heart, and now you want the best for him. You want him to stay away from sin, you want him to be reconciled with you, therefore with already a forgiving heart, go to him to win your brother, so that he might repent. You see, reconciliation requires repentance.

So, in a marriage, your spouse might have wronged you. And maybe some of you are holding out and say, I will never forgive him, I'll never forgive her, until he says sorry, but that's not Biblical. You are to forgive your spouse, right there and then, no bitterness, no hatred, looking to God, who for Christ sake, has forgiven you. You are to be tender hearted, forgiving one another, and then, you are to go to your spouse, and to lovingly encourage him to turn from his or her sinful ways, so that you may win back your spouse. That's the Biblical approach.

Now, it's not always easy, because he or she might not choose to repent. So there is a difference between forgiving and trusting. There's a difference between forgiving and reconciling, why, because reconciliation requires repentance and that I think is very obvious in the story that is before us, how else, or why else would God give us all these details, except to help us realize, Joseph needed to elicit the change and repentance in his brothers, in order for full reconciliation to take place.

Secondly, I think this is not the main point of the story at all, but I think is still worth a consideration, and I see in this story, guilt gives grief. The brothers are tormented with guilt. Now, they betrayed their brother Joseph 20, over years ago. But 20 over years later, they were still haunted with that story, they were still haunted with their dreadful act.

They said, that this is why the distress has come upon us. They felt that all this struggle and quandary they were in before Joseph was a result of their guilt, they were believing that this was retribution for their sinful act. Reuben likewise, articulates it as such, so now there comes a reckoning for his blood.

William Shakespeare said, suspicion, always haunts the guilty mind. I'm told that in psychology, guilt is a major problem in counseling. Many people struggle with men, struggle with mental distress because of the problem of guilt, and they feel that any bad thing that happens to them, thereafter, because of the crime or because of the sin they've committed is retribution and so, suspicion, always haunts the guilty mind, there is no peace, and there's no rest.

A story is told of the Federal Conscience Fund in U.S. In the United States, they have this thing called the Federal Conscience Fund. It's for anyone to who has cheated the government to give back to the government, they can give back to this Federal Conscience Fund. One day, the fund, or the office, received a letter that, that reads something like this, I have cheated on my taxes, and I cannot sleep. Here's a check of $100. And if I still cannot sleep, I'll send in the rest I owe.

You know there are people like that, they are so guilt stricken that they cannot sleep that they cannot rest, then I think, this story in a little way illustrates the guilt of the brothers and how they were tormented by it. Just a, I think this is a side note, but I think it's still a point worth learning, I suppose.

And I just want to encourage any one of us today who might be struggling with guilt. Guilt before God and guilt because of our sin, I like to remind you that there is a solution for guilt. Not that we would do better in life, to make up for our crimes, not that we can pay for our sins, but to remind ourselves that God has given us a tremendous promise in the Bible.

If we confess our sins, He's faithful and just to forgive us, forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, to remind ourselves that our sins, how grievious they are, are already borne and taken and paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ.

The only solution to guilt, today, is that there is a Righteous Substitute and sacrifice for your sins, He paid it all and all to Him, we owe. May you find deliverance from a guilty conscience, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Well, we have looked at how reconciliation requires repentance. We have looked at how guilt gives grief. Finally, and maybe the most obvious lesson we should learn from this segment, that is in line with the entire Book of Genesis, and that is how providence performs the promise of God.

God's promises will always be fulfilled, how? By His providence. Providence is the sovereign act of God to fulfill His will, and to fulfill His purposes. All that is happening to Joseph, all that is happening to the nation, or to the family of Jacob, is really an outworking of the promise of God. It's not an accident, it's not a chance occurrence. It's that providential dealing of God.

You remember that God had said to Abraham, hundreds of years before this, know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be servants there and they will be afflicted for 400 years.

So this whole story, this twist and turn of Joseph being sold, of Joseph being thrown into prison, of Joseph in catapulted to become the prime minister of Joseph, saving up the grain so that he may sell it, of this famine is so that the nation of Israel would come and dwell in Egypt, and that this promise will be fulfilled.

God's promise, absolutely will be fulfilled, because God's providence, God's sovereign acts, God's sovereign dealings would see to it.

And not only that, God also promised Abraham that there will be a Special Offspring, so shall your offspring be, not offsprings, but offspring, just one, singular, so shall your offspring be and this one Offspring intended by God, will be the Source of blessing for all nations.

Now, of course now we realize that this Offspring, or this promise is about the Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that the Lord Jesus Christ would come from Israel's line, from the Jewish line, and in particular from Judah's line and that preservation of the land or the people of Israel is critical, in order for this promise to be fulfilled.

Imagine if the whole family kaput, they die, they starve to death, God's promise will not come true. So, all that we read, is really the providential out workings of God,it is n order for His promises to be realized. That's as simple as it is.

So why this story, again to demonstrate the sovereign providential Hand of God and Joseph understood it. So he said to the brothers, don't be upset, don't be distressed, don't be angry. You sold me, but actually I see behind the scenes, it is God who sent me here.

Joseph had a very God centered view. Oh yes, there are twists and turns, oh yes there is pain and suffering. Oh yes, it involves, even the sins of Potiphar's wife, and of Joseph's brothers, but behind it all, he could see God. And again, he says in verse 7, it is God who sent me. And then he says in verse 8, it was not you who sent me here, but God.

My friends, this is the lesson in Genesis, isn't it, nothing happens to us by accident. Everything takes place by providence. Yes, life can be very messy, life can be very difficult to read. COVID is a very messy situation. COVID is very difficult to read, your family breakup is messy. Your struggle with sickness is difficult, it seems so random.

It seems so accidental, but it is not, it is providential and we need to see it, like the way, Joseph saw it, and really give it enough time, stand at where we are today, in 2021, and we can say about 4,000 years ago, God was absolutely spot on, in, ensuring His promises will come to pass. God is absolutely gracious and good to Joseph, and Jacob, and to the entire family. God is absolutely working out His promises for the good of His people, and for the glory of His Name.

And so it looks messy today, but fast forward 2,000 years later, when we look back, we can all sing praises to God, thank You God for all that You have given to us, whether we are in the prison, whether we are in a pit, or whether we are in a palace, we know that You have a purpose and plan, we see Your wisdom, Your goodness, Your power behind it all and we worship You.

Friends, maybe today you're struggling, trust Him today, God is working all things together for good to them that love God. God is always working for a higher purpose, not just to put you in prison, not just to put you in the pit, not even just to put you in a palace, but He's working out a greater purpose for His own namesake, and for the glory, and for the goodness of all those who would believe upon Him.

Maybe today you're a seeker, in that you're not a Christian, but you're finding out more about the Bible, I'm glad you're here. I want to say, maybe today, as you come to this point of your life, it looks difficult, it looks like a mess, but maybe God is bringing all that to come to this juncture, so that you may hear about God in the Bible.

You may hear about your sin, you may hear about how God has promised Jesus, to die and to pay for the sins of the world, so that today, you might turn from sin and believe in Jesus. I pray that will be true for you today.

Let's close with a word of pray together. Father, we thank You this morning. Through these six chapters, we can learn precious lessons, about what real forgiveness and reconciliation is all about. To learn about the pain of sin and guilt, and how the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us and frees us.

But most of all, we thank You that yet this is another story that we can hold in our hearts, to remember, nothing is accidental. No pain is accidental, no suffering is accidental, but all are intentional and providential, to work out Your promises, to work out Your glory, to work out Your blessings upon those who would belong to You.

Strengthen our hearts, give us courage for the day. And we pray for repentance and faith, for those who are seeking You today. Bless Your people, we thank You in Jesus Name. Amen. God bless.

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