Joseph is the second in power over Egypt. Pharaoh has set Joseph as viceroy over Egypt and answered to no one but Pharaoh himself. God has taken Joseph out of the pit of 13 years of misery and suffering and has given him extraordinary power. Joseph is now around 40 years old. The seven years of plenty have come and gone. Joseph has executed the plan of storing up grain for the seven years of severe famine that were coming. The famine has struck the land and people are coming from other nations to buy grain from Egypt. This is where Genesis 42 picks up the narrative. We have not seen what is going on back in Canaan with Joseph’s father and brothers. But chapter 42 tells us that they are suffering from the famine.
Jacob, Joseph’s father, has heard that Egypt has grain for sale. So he sends 10 brothers to Egypt to buy grain. We must note that Jacob does not send one of Joseph’s brothers, Benjamin. It will become clear from later events why Benjamin is the beloved son of Jacob now is because he is the last child from his love, Rachel. Notice verse 4. Jacob did not send Benjamin because “he feared that harm might happen to him.” Jacob does not fear that something bad will happen to him in Egypt. Benjamin is in his 30s in age. He is not some little kid. But Jacob fears that the brothers will harm him as they did Joseph. Though not stated specifically, the text in a few places implies that Jacob knows that his brothers were the cause of Joseph’s loss. Jacob believes Joseph is dead. It is possible the brothers told the truth to Jacob. However it came about, Jacob knows that these brothers are the reason Joseph is gone. So he refuses to send Benjamin for fear of the same outcome.
The ten brothers go to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph is the one who is selling the grain to those who come to Egypt. Notice what happens in verse 6. The brothers bow down to Joseph with their faces to the ground, just like the dream Joseph had that we read in Genesis 37. Joseph remembered these dreams at this moment when it happens (42:9), dreams he had over 20 years ago. Joseph recognizes his brothers but they do not recognize him. Not only do they not think that Joseph is alive, Joseph is full Egyptian right now. He looks like an Egyptian and not like the person they sold away. But Joseph does not reveal himself. He treats them like strangers and, the text tells us, he treats them harshly. He calls them spies who are trying to see how weak the land is so that the nation they are from can come and conquer them. Though the brothers plead that they are not spies but have simply come to buy food, Joseph does not relent and throws all 10 of them in prison. It is not hard to see that Joseph is doing to them what they did to him. Remember how the brothers could not speak peaceably with Joseph and threw him into a pit. Now Joseph speaks harshly to his brothers now that he has the power and throws them in prison. It seems that Joseph wants to execute some retribution on his brothers.
After three days in prison Joseph tells the brothers that he fears God so he is telling the truth that if they do what he tells them they will live. He will keep one of the brothers in prison and send the rest home with the grain they have come to buy. But they needed to bring the youngest brother back so that he will know they are telling the truth and then they will not die. The brothers agree to this and begin to speak to themselves, not knowing that Joseph understands them because he actually is a Hebrew like them and not an Egyptian. Listen to what they say in verse 21.
“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.” (Genesis 42:21 ESV)
We are told that Joseph was pleading for his life from that pit and the brothers ate their lunch and did not listen. Now they are paying the consequences for their actions. Listen to what Reuben says in verse 22.
And Reuben 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.” (Genesis 42:22 ESV)
Joseph likely did not know this. He did not know that Reuben was trying to spare his life. Remember that he was outraged when he came back and found that the brothers had sold him to the Ishmaelites who were passing by. So notice who Joseph takes has his prisoner. He does not take the oldest, Reuben, but Simeon, the next oldest for it was Reuben who had tried to spare Joseph’s life. Then Joseph has the brothers’ sacks filled with grain and replaced the money they spent for the grain, putting that money back in their bags. On their way back to Canaan one of the brothers opened the sack to feed his donkey and found the money back in their bags. Verse 28 says that their hearts failed and they trembled at this. They exclaim, “What is this that God has done to us?” When the brothers get back to Jacob they tell him everything that happened. They tell Jacob in verse 34 that they must bring Benjamin back so they can free Simeon and be able to buy grain. Listen to Jacob in verse 36.
And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” (Genesis 42:36 ESV)
Notice again that Jacob lays the blame on the brothers for Joseph’s life. It is not the wild beast that killed him. Jacob knows it is these sons of his. You lost Joseph. You lost Simeon. And now you want to take Benjamin. Reuben steps up and says that he will make sure that Benjamin is brought back safely, guaranteeing it by his own two sons. But Jacob will not listen. Reuben’s guarantee is insufficient. According to Jacob, Benjamin is the only one left since Joseph is dead. If anything would happen to Benjamin, it would kill him. So they leave Simeon in prison.
Genesis 43 opens that the family is out of grain but they cannot go back to Egypt without Benjamin. So Jacob relents and allows Benjamin to go because the family is out of food and they will die if Jacob does not do this. But read how Judah steps up and pledges the safety of Benjamin in verses 8-10. Judah, the one who is a moral mess in chapter 38, is back with the family. Judah, whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery, now says that he will protect Benjamin and pledges his life to bring him back.
So they go back to Egypt with double the money, first to return the money that came back with them last time and to buy more grain to bring back to Canaan. They also took gifts for they fear that they will be considered thieves when they return. When the brothers return, they are taken to Joseph’s house. Now they are really afraid because they did not happen last time. So they begin to explain to the steward over Joseph’s house that they did steal and they were surprised to see the money in their bags. The steward tells them not to be afraid because they were paid for the grain. Then Simeon is brought out to them. For the first time in over 20 years all the brothers are in the same house as these await for Joseph to come at noon. So the brothers clean themselves up and prepare for the meal. When Joseph enters, all the brothers bow down to him. But in seeing Benjamin, Joseph is overwhelmed with emotions and must leave the room as he weeps over seeing his brother again. After regaining his composure and washing his face, he comes back out to them and orders the food to be served. The brothers are sat at the table from oldest to youngest and the portion of Benjamin’s was five times more than any of the others. I believe that Joseph is still testing his brothers. Will they complain against the favoritism that Benjamin receives just like they complained at the favoritism that Joseph received? But they do not. The chapter concludes with the family feasting and making merry.
Joseph has one more test which is told to us in chapter 44. Joseph instructs his servants to put the money back in their bags with the grain, just like before. But this time put Joseph’s silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. Then after they leave the city, chase them down, and tell them whoever has stolen the cup will be Joseph’s servant. So they do this very thing. They chase the brothers down and charge them with stealing the silver cup. The brothers know they have not done such a thing. So they empty their bags and there is the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. He is going to have to go back to Egypt. Joseph believes the brothers will leave Benjamin to come back to Egypt and they can live together. Joseph is not done testing his brothers. But notice what happens instead.
In Genesis 44:13 we see that all the brothers go back to Egypt. They do not leave Benjamin like they left Joseph. They fall to feet of Joseph and notice it is Judah, the one who sold Joseph into slavery, the one of great immorality in Genesis 38, that retells the whole story about how their father will die if they do not return with Benjamin. So Judah fulfills his pledge and offers to give his life for Benjamin. Judah will be Joseph’s servant so that Benjamin can go home. With this, Joseph finally relents. He can no longer be harsh to them but reveals himself to his brothers.
We will leave the story and see how this turns out in our next lesson. But we must consider a great message that we see in how God works in our lives.
God In His Mercy Causes Us To Face Our Guilt So We Will Turn To God and Change
It is the mercy of God in our lives to have a guilty conscience for our sins. Listen to the words of Judah in Genesis 44:16. “How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants.” We saw the brothers say a similar thing in Genesis 42:21. God in his mercy is pricking our hearts. God in his mercy is trying to get us to look at our sins. We live in a world that like to blame things on karma or some cosmic force. It is God’s purpose that our sins confront us. Unfortunately, what we try to do is quiet our conscience. We try to ignore what God has given us. Over time we can be very successful in quieting our conscience to such a degree that we are not moved by sins any longer. But we must not quiet the conscience but train the conscience in the will of the Lord because it is a blessing of God. This is the mercy of God so that we turn back to God and change. Consider that it has been over 20 years since the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. But that sin was still nagging them all these years later. When trouble comes, the first thing they think of is this sin they committed 20 years before.
True guilt is the mercy of God because it brings the guilty to seek forgiveness and repent. The apostle Paul taught the same thing to the Corinthians.
Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death. For consider how much diligence this very thing—this grieving as God wills—has produced in you: what a desire to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what deep longing, what zeal, what justice! In every way you showed yourselves to be pure in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:9–11 HCSB)
There is a result that God desires from our guilt. Paul writes in joy to the Corinthians that the result of repentance (the changing of life direction) has occurred. It might be “big” sins or it might be “small” sins. It may not be a sin at all. Maybe it is just a decision you are making. Let God’s mercy of feeling guilt cause you to confront what you are doing, consider your ways, and make appropriate changes. Do not ignore it. Do not quiet it. Let it do its work and see that guilt as a gift.
Transformed By Mercy
Consider how God was also pricking Joseph’s heart. Not only is God pricking the brothers’ hearts for the guilt of their sins, Joseph is being pricked from his harsh behavior and retribution against his brothers. Joseph has to keep gathering himself to continue this charade and harsh treatment of his brothers. We are watching a transformation of the heart of Joseph.
We are also witnessing a transformation of Judah’s heart. Judah is the one who not only is willing to take a pledge for the life of Benjamin (he could have been uncaring), but when put to the test he did what he said he would do. At that moment he is willing to trade his life so that Benjamin could be free. When the difficult moment came, Judah takes the spotlight and lays down his life so that Benjamin would not have to be Joseph’s slave. What a transformation in Judah! Judah emerges as the new leader and is ready to be the patriarch of the family for the covenant promises. God is pricking our hearts through the words and actions of others to see the mercy of God.
We are also to be transformed by the mercy of God. Listen again to the words of the apostle Paul:
But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)
Paul first says that mercy in his life has come to him so that Jesus might display his perfect patience. Notice when Paul writes to the Christians in Rome that the mercies of God are the basis for life transformation. The mercy of God is to change us and move us. Jesus has stepped in on behalf of our condemned lives and took the punishment of our sins away from us through his death on the cross. The mercy of God must overwhelm us. Our hearts are to be transformed by mercy. When we should be called into account for our actions, Jesus raised his hand and gave his life so that we would not have to be enslaved to sin.
So what will you do with the guilt of your sins? What will you do with the voice that cries out to you? Will you silence it? Will you ignore it? Or will you let it cause the grief that leads to the change of life that God intends?