I’m not going to be walking us through the passage today. It’s our longest chunk – six chapters, and the teaching online that goes along with this section is 53 minutes! 53? Instead of going through line by line, I’m going to be drawing from all over the passage as I talk about two themes I see in this passage: God’s promises and God’s mercy.
I know it feels like we keep coming back to the theme of God’s promises in Genesis. It is so important though! I know of a contemporary pastor who wrote sermon overviews on every book in the bible. These sermons were published into two volumes – old testament and new. I think we have them on the bookstall. Can you imagine trying to title those two books? whole OT and ? He called them Promises Made and Promises Kept. So this theme of God’s promises is very important in the Bible and to our passage today.
Okay, let’s jump in.
Our passage begins this week temporarily leaving Joseph behind, high and mighty, in Egypt. What a reversal! It’s like he’s Cinderella! Joseph, who the brothers originally left for dead and then sold into slavery, is now second in command over all Egypt. The brothers, however, who once had power over Joseph’s very life, are now under threat of death themselves due to famine.
What’s more pressing, though, is that God’s promise of generations and land to Abraham is in peril…or so it seems. Joseph, in naming Manasseh, declared that he had left behind the stage of his life where he was part of Israel, and the rest of the 11 are in danger of dying off in the famine (42:2, 43:8).
These circumstances could mean the end of hope. If the sons of Israel are no more there would be no seed of the woman . And not only were the brothers in danger, these brothers were evil. They lifted their hand against their own brother. God would’ve been right to wipe them all out and do a restart, just like he did with the flood. And just a few chapters ago God took Judah’s sons’ lives because they were wicked. Why not here? Because God had made promises and God keeps his promises. First, he promised never to do the flood again. But he also promised Abraham a great nation – the nation of Israel of which these sons are the 12 tribes of that nation. Instead of judgment, he is going to use the evil deed of the 11 for good. He will use it to accomplish Israel’s salvation from famine and Joseph’s exaltation to be a blessing to all nations. Somehow Joseph even knows this. He says to his brothers (in 45:5-8),
“5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.[a]
8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”
And so God was faithful to his promise to grow and preserve the family Israel. Jacob and his family, about 70 people, the number 70 indicating a full/complete number (46:27) went down into Egypt in chapter 46 with God leading. Not quite a multitude or as numerous as the stars in the sky, but God’s people are beginning to grow. God also promised them multiple times that he would bring them back to Canaan from Egypt (He even made this promise to Abraham back in 15:13-14 and again to Jacob aka Israel in 46:4). Jacob and his sons may have even known of Abraham’s famine-inspired journey into Egypt and return to Canaan back in chapter 12. We see a hint in our passage that God will send them back to Canaan as Jacob faithfully makes Joseph promise he will bury him in Canaan alongside Abraham and Isaac.
This family has many reasons to trust in the promise of God, even before Joseph’s great reveal of himself and his provision for them. Through direct revelation of Himself and through dreams and circumstances, God has proven himself faithful time and again. Even here we see God fulfill something he had promised in Joseph’s dreams – the bowing down of Joseph’s brothers it happens twice in 42:6 and ?.
God keeping his promises, even when they seem imperiled, should give us great confidence in God, whether we receive the things promised to us in this life or if we only get to see and greet them from afar (Heb 11:13).
Sometimes I can get discouraged or even bitter toward God because I hold him to promises he hasn’t actually made. Especially that he hasn’t saved people I love or sanctified me or arranged my life the way I think it should be. “God, you promised that you are powerful to save, why haven’t you saved so-and-so, or other loved ones. And if you haven’t saved my them, how can I entrust you with my children? Or, God, you promised that if I trust in Christ, my life will bear fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc., but I fall so short of these things much of the time.
The truth is, he hasn’t promised to save “so-and-so” or my kids, but he has promised to save many and He is saving millions across the world – we hear about them on the news, in missionary reports, and even see them ourselves. This Sunday we prayed for the 14 people we added as new members to our church this month, people that God has saved according to his promise. And he hasn’t promised to make me perfect or make my circumstances perfect in this life. He promised to finish the good work he started in us until the day he brings us safely home.
A big moment in our passage is when Jacob has to send Rachel’s one and only son, Benjamin to Egypt. How does our imperfect friend Jacob respond? Very reluctantly, right? And he only relinquishes him when Judah offers to protect him with his own life. What a contrast to how Abraham responded to God when He asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham said “Here am I”, got up early in the morning and obeyed. Jacob’s not even being asked to sacrifice the son of the promise, but to send on a journey the son he had idolized (Take note of that ladies, God uses hard circumstances to get Jacob to let go of his idol). God is so patient with Jacob as he continues to wrestle with God.
Finally, in 43:11 we see Jacob give a trusting response. When it’s clear that he must send Benjamin to Egypt in order that God’s budding nation survive the famine, he says,
” 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man [who we know as Joseph] at once. 14 And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”
Wow. Is there anything harder than thinking of being bereaved of your children? Is there anything harder than letting go and putting your children in God’s hands? The reality is, whether we think they are or not, our children are already in God’s hands. The only question is whether we will be faithful with them, whether we will trust God with them and His plan for their lives.
This passage especially hits home for me as I’m planning to send my son, my one and only son to school this fall. That’s kind of like sending him down to Egypt, right? We’re praying that God Almighty will grant us mercy and send him back to us in one piece!
Salvation for the children of God in this famine required Jacob to send his “only Son” to Egypt. Salvation for the children of God in this spiritually famished world required God to send His only Son to the world. Like Abraham and Jacob, God would receive his Son back, but unlike them, it would not be until He had died and was resurrected. God and Jesus endured what no human being ever has. And if God could bring good out of the horror of the cross, then he can bring good from our trials. I can entrust him with loved ones’ salvation, my children, my circumstances, my sanctification. And so can you in your situation. If we are bereaved, then we are bereaved, but he will be with us and He is good.
I like how one author puts it:
“The challenge for the believer is to accept the efficacy [or, effectiveness] of God’s thoughts (Isa 55:8–9), waiting by faith for the dawning of the new day. We can be assured that in whatever path the Lord directs us, it will lead us to the same place, his heavenly household. (Mathews)
We’ve considered the promises of God, now let’s look more briefly at God’s mercy.
Within this narrative of the brothers sojourning to Egypt and Joseph providing for them, there’s also a long section where Joseph tests his brothers. What’s going on here? While Joseph ends up being very merciful to them, he’s going to put them in the hot seat for a little bit. Why does he do this?
Well, when they first come to him and Joseph accuses them of being spies they reply, “We are honest men.” Really? Honest men? Depending on Joseph’s personality, he might’ve laughed to himself. Usually honest men don’t sell their brother into slavery and then create an elaborate rouse to cover up their crime. Joseph now turns the tables and deceives them. I won’t go into the details because you’ve read them, but the point is that he deceives his brothers into handing over Simeon and then Benjamin. He wants to see if they will abandon them as they abandoned him.
In the test he mimics his own favored status. Last week we saw Jacob favoring Joseph, giving him a special cloak and authority over his brothers. Now Joseph is favoring his brother Benjamin in front of the others, giving him a special greeting (4:29) and giving him 5 times the portion of food at dinner. It’s after this that he hides the cup in Benjamin’s sack and takes him into custody. Will the brothers abandon this favored one? Not this time. It seems that in the years Joseph has been gone, the brothers have changed. Judah even offers his life in exchange for Benjamin’s.
The brothers interpret Joseph’s test as God’s judgment on them for what they had done to him (42:21-22). In a way, it was God’s judgment –God had orchestrated the circumstances so that here they were before the very brother they had sold away. The test does lead them to repentance. Did you notice the first two times Joseph tests them – accusing them of being spies and then of stealing back the money they had brought to buy grain – that they profess innocence. They say they’re honest men, they say they don’t know how the money got back in their sacks. But the third time, when the cup of divination is placed in Benjamin’s sack, they don’t even try. They know that this is God’s doing to get them to repent of what they really had done. Judah says, “What shall we say to my lord? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants”.
It’s true – a time of reckoning had come for Joseph’s blood. But what had God put in Joseph’s heart? Mercy, forgiveness, acceptance. If it had been anyone else besides Joseph, someone who did not fear God (42:18), these brothers would have been killed. You see, over the past 20+ years, Joseph could have gone down one of at least two paths. He could’ve spent 20 years mulling over their offense in his mind, growing more and more bitter. And then when he got the power over them, he would’ve had their heads. I’ve seen this happen in my own extended family, maybe you have too – offenses on a much lesser scale that caused a bitter root to grow and, now, years later, the parties can’t even speak a peaceable word to one another. But instead, Joseph spent the last 20+ years trusting in God, and trusting in his promises even when circumstances seemed bleak. Like in jail. God had also lavished his grace, salvation, and deliverance on Joseph and now Joseph is eager to extend the mercy and grace he received. Instead of punishing or killing them, he spreads out a feast before them, welcomes them with tears and embraces and provides richly for them and later for Jacob’s whole clan.
I liked that in the teaching that goes along with our study, the teacher noted the significance of Joseph weeping multiple times in these chapters. She said that trusting God, as Joseph had done, doesn’t mean that we don’t feel pain. Trusting God in our trials looks like acting faithfully when we suffer; it looks like avoiding sin and bitterness. It doesn’t look like stoicism. Joseph can hardly control his weeping. He has to leave the room and then finally he explodes into tears before his brothers so that even the Egyptians and household of Pharoah hear about it.
Though it’s not mentioned specifically on the gospel chart in our homework, this section points us to this great gospel reality that we all deserve judgment, but have received grace, mercy, forgiveness in Jesus Christ if we trust in Him. And though imperfectly, we can live faithfully, fruitfully, joyfully (even as we weep) by banking on his promises.
God makes many great promises to us in his Word but we can’t find hope in them if we don’t know them. Let’s dig into his Word! Among other things, God promises if we are in Christ He will never leave or forsake us. Whether we are in prison or at the height of success. Whether we are betrayed or favored. Whether our life is working out the way we’d like it or not. Whether he saves our loved ones or not. He is good, and it won’t be long before we are safely home.
I like the way the hymn puts it,
“With mercy and with judgment my web of time he wove, And aye the dews of sorrow were lustred with his love, I’ll bless the hand that guided, I’ll bless the heart that planned, When throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.”5