Grace for Change, Mercy for Reconciliation
Topic: Reconciliation Passage: Genesis 42:1–45:5
Intro: over the next two weeks we will be finishing up our series in Genesis, this morning we’re going to be covering chapters 42 through 49 (obviously not exhaustively) and next week Matt will be closingthe series with chapter 50. So let’s jump right in.
Gen 42:1-25 (pray)
The Lord uses the famine to bring Joseph’s brothers to Egypt which sets the stage for the final scene of Joseph’s redemptive story. As the ten brothers bow before the governor of Egypt they have no idea that it’s their brother Joseph. He was a 17 yr old boy when they sold into slavery, now he is about 38 years old, clean shaven, and looks and sounds Egyptian. So they don’t recognize him at all, but he recognizes them. And as he watches them bow before him, Joseph remembers his dreams where his brothers and parents were bowing down to him, and he realizes that God had brought it to pass. Joseph isn’t angry with his brothers, but the question on his mind is: are they the same men that they were 17 years ago?
I. Joseph devises a plan to test his brother’s character
Joseph’s two tests will revolve around Benjamin because Benjamin is the only other son of Rachel, the wife that Jacob openly favored and because Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, he openly loved her two sons Joseph and Benjamin more than his other sons too. That’s what stirred up the envy and hatred towards Joseph in the ten brothers. Joseph wants to find out if his brothers have the same sinful attitudes towards Rachel’s other son, his younger brother Benjamin.
So to get Benjamin to Egypt Joseph roughly accuses them of being spies and holds Simeon hostage demanding they bring Benjamin back to prove their claim that there were 12 brothers. And it’s at this point that Joseph sees the first evidence that his brothers aren’t the same men who betrayed him 20 years earlier. Thinking that Joseph can’t understand Hebrew, they speak openly about how this has come upon them because of what they did to Joseph. They immediately associate this Egyptian’s accusation with their guilt toward Joseph. They still carry their guilt, they still remember his cries for mercy, they remember how they ignored the distress of his soul – and now God is distressing them as punishment. Hearing this, Joseph can’t contain his tears and turns away weeping.
So the 9 brothers (minus Simeon) return to Canaan but at first Jacob refuses at first to allow Benjamin to go with them back to Egypt for fear of something happening to him. But the famine continues and before long they need more food and Jacob has to relent and allow Benjamin to go to Egypt with his brothers. He resigns himself but before they go Jacob prays over his sons: May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. God would answer this prayer beyond Jacob’s wildest expectation – God would grant them amazing mercy before the man.
When Joseph sees his younger brother Benjamin, his heart is moved again with compassion and he needs to quickly leave the room before his brothers see him weep. Joseph’s heart is tender towards his brothers and especially Benjamin, but he needs to take a measurement of his brother’s character before he reveals himself to them. Joseph’s plan is to recreate similar conditions between Benjamin and his brothers that were at work so long ago when they sinned against him to see if his brothers will respond in the same way to Benjamin. And so when they return, Joseph invites them all immediately to a lavish dinner at his house.
a. Joseph openly favors Benjamin to see if they are still envious of the favored brother Gen. 43:31-34
The word that probably best describes what Joseph’s brothers felt against Joseph is the word envy. Envy is a wicked sin. Jealousy and envy are often thought to mean the same thing but they are different: jealousy is the fear of losing something someone has to someone else (so a jealous boyfriend is afraid that some other guy is going to steal the affections of his girlfriend). Envy is the desire to have something that someone else has. Envy doesn’t even necessarily want the thing so much as it hates the fact that someone else has it. Listen to Cornelius Platinga, Jr’s description of envy:
Envy is a nastier sin than mere covetousness…what an envier wants is not, first of all, what another has, what an envier wants is for another not to have it…To envy is to resent somebody else’s good so much that one is tempted to destroy it. The coveter has empty hands and wants to fill them with somebody else’s good. The envier has empty hands, and therefore wants to empty the hands of the envied.
These brothers had envied Joseph his father’s open affection. They envied the many colored coat for what it represented – they didn’t want the coat for themselves – when they did take it from Joseph they ripped it and covered it with blood – they just didn’t’ want Joseph to have it. They wanted to empty Joseph’s hands of what he had. They envied the dreams God gave to Joseph – they didn’t want to own the dreams, they wanted to kill the dreamer.
Joseph now wants to see if they had shifted their envy to the other favored brother, Benjamin. So he presses on their hearts at the point of envy: They all ate well, but Joseph openly lavished 5 times more generosity on Benjamin than the others – how would they respond? Would they envy Benjamin being openly favored? They had enough to eat – but envy never is satisfied with enough – it is an especially wicked sin because what it wants isn’t just more for self, but less for someone else.
Benjamin gets five times what they get. It’s obvious. What will it stir in their hearts? Will they resent and disassociate themselves from Benjamin? Joseph tests their hearts for the same envy that once consumed their hearts for him. That’s the first test. The second test comes the next day.
b. Joseph frames Benjamin to see if his brothers are still capable of disloyal betrayal
As they leave, Joseph frames his brothers, but not all of them – just Benjamin. He singles Benjamin out and puts a silver cup in his bag and then has his steward follow them and accuse them, and of course finds the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. And through this, Joseph tests them at their other point of sin: could they allow another brother to be carried off in slavery if it meant that they got off scot free? Would they be as disloyal to Benjamin as they were to him? And don’t miss the fact that the cup was silver – that is important, not because of its value – stealing anything would have been serious – but because they had sold Joseph for 20 silver pieces. It is reminiscent of their disloyal betrayal 20 years ago.
Joseph gave them a very easy way out: they can abandon Benjamin over a silver cup and save their own necks. They once betrayed their brother over 20 pieces of silver – would they do it again? So they are confronted with the same situations and with a choice: how will they respond this time? There is an interesting application of this to our lives.
God will often recreate similar conditions in our lives to reveal to us what is in our hearts
Have you ever tried to get away from a situation that you didn’t like – only to find yourself in a similar situation before long? You leave a job cause your boss drives you crazy, only to find your supervisor in your new job is just the same! You move to another state because you envision that there you will set up a better lifestyle, you’ll be less materialistic, life will be less busy, family life will be more spiritual. But before long your life looks the same as it did. You leave a church because you aren’t making friends easily – people just aren’t reaching out to you - only to find the people in the next church have the same problem. And we begin to wonder: what in the world is wrong with everyone else? Don’t be surprised if God brings you back to the same type of situation or person again and again – He is revealing our hearts to us. But here’s the good news:
II. God’s grace has changed Joseph’s brothers – and His grace is powerful to change us
The circumstances are much the same – but the brothers are not. God has changed Joseph’s brothers – they’re not the same men they once were. Joseph observes at the dinner that they were merry and laugh and don’t resent that Ben is getting 5 times more. Maybe they tease Benjamin for getting five times more but Joseph could see it didn’t bother them. In fact, they rejoiced to see how well he was being treated. They couldn’t wait to get him back to their father and tell him how well everything went. They pass the test of envy.
But even more powerfully, when Benjamin is framed with a crime, Judah, representing the heart of all the brothers, steps forward in beautiful display of self-sacrificial love to offer himself in Benjamin’s place.
Vs. 16 - Judah recognizes this as God exposing their guilt from years ago. They do not claim to be innocent – they see it as delayed justice for their guilt. What they did to Joseph is never far from their minds. But listen as he goes on.
Vv. 17—34 - Judah openly and without bitterness tells Joseph that Benjamin is the son their father loves the most – the one son he could not bear to lose. They have forgiven their father for loving Joseph and Benjamin more than them, and they have accepted it graciously - in fact, they are ready to guard that special love. Judah then selflessly offers his life in the place of Benjamin so that their father does not go to the grave in sorrow.
What a picture of God’s transforming grace in a life! The gospel of grace declares that all of us and any of us can change by the Spirit of God at work in us. We are saved from our sin and that includes an inner transformation by the grace of God that changes us deep within. Not just surface change. Not just situation change. Heart change – we are changed to the depth of our inner being. This change comes as we come to Christ, humble ourselves before him, and repent of our sin.
This should give hope to the Christian struggling with the same sin for a long time: anger or fear or greed or selfishness or lust. As we come to Christ in repentance, God’s grace is there to transform us.
- It should also restrain us from giving up on others. We should never think that anyone is beyond the power of God to change. It may take time, and we should pray for them. But never give up hope.
In this moment, Judah foreshadows his future and ultimate Son, Jesus Christ, who would offer himself in our place on the cross. It is a beautiful, tender, redemptive moment and Joseph cannot hold his emotions anymore. He sends everyone else out of the room and then he reveals himself to his brothers.
III. Joseph desires reconciliation not retaliation 45:1-3
What had Joseph turned over and over again in his mind over those 20 years? If you’ve been hurt by someone, what thoughts about them do you replay over and over again? The desire to retaliate is a strong desire - when someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back. But the thirst for vengeance is a dark sin that eats away at the person who entertains it over and over again.
ILL: there was a will written in 1935 by a man named Donohoe that is a horrible display of how his soul had grown dark by some perceived wrong inflicted on him by his daughters. The will read in part, "Unto my two daughters, Frances Marie and Denise Victoria, by reason of their unfilial attitude toward a doting father, . . . I leave the sum of $1.00 to each and a father's curse. May their lives be fraught with misery, unhappiness, and poignant sorrow. May their deaths be soon and of a lingering malignant and torturous nature. May their souls rest in hell and suffer the torments of the condemned for eternity."
The thirst to retaliate is a dark thirst and Joseph had longed for vengeance all those 20 years it would have twisted him into a more wicked person than his brothers had been. But look at vv. 4-5. They are afraid, but Joseph comforts them and calls them to come near (the spirit of reconciliation) and declares that God was at work in it all – they sold him here, but God sent him here…for good. Remember Jacobs prayer that God would grant them mercy? Here is amazing mercy – the one betrayed comforting the betrayers. Reconciliation not retaliation.
In this, Joseph is, once again, a picture of Jesus. 1 Peter 2:23 says of Jesus, When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. On the cross, Jesus didn’t shout, “Father, avenge this!” Instead he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus didn’t retaliate against the evil done against him – his mission was reconciliation, not retaliation. We are reconciled to God through faith in his atoning blood.
To wrap up, reconciliation then brings healing and joy to all of Joseph’s family. Before long they were weeping in each other’s arms and soon Jacob had the joy and comfort of seeing the son he thought was long dead, and blessing grandchildren he didn’t know existed. It is a picture of the family of God being united and healed through reconciliation and forgiveness. As Matt takes us through chapter 50 next week, we’ll see the power and beauty of forgiveness in the lives of this family and for our own lives as well.
Is there someone who has hurt you – maybe even years ago – and you’re held onto that hurt? You want vindication? You don’t want them to change, you want them to pay. Maybe you don’t say it that way – but deep inside you hope for bad things to happen to them and stand ready to read it as God’s judgment against them?
Jesus had mercy on us, and therefore we should bend that mercy outward to those who have hurt us. And when we live like that we will have the kind of buoyancy that Joseph had – because we will trust God and see God and those who have hurt us as the ultimate force in our lives. And God’s purposes are always good and right.
I want to ask Tony to come up and share a testimony of how God taught him that lesson – through hard times and the sins of others against him, he learned to trust God and it freed his soul from bitterness. Tony, please come up…
Jesus has forgiven us so much – every sin – and we should rejoice and live in that forgiveness, and give it to others. We are the recipients of mercy, we should be the dispensers of mercy. Don’t hold onto bitterness – repent of it, give it to God and ask God to free you from it. Any sin committed against you pales to the sin you have committed against God and He has forgiven you of. And ultimately, while others might have meant it for evil, God meant it for good.