Genesis 42–45. How God Saved the Brothers.
Key Notes: Joseph trapped his brothers into confession. The brothers show a model of crisis-conversion.
Genesis 42–45 is a story of reconciliation between an aggrieved man and his guilty brothers. It is told with care and subtlety. There is fear and remorse, despair and relief, and finally forgiveness and reconciliation. It is a passage to be savored.
42:1–5 Jacob sent ten sons to Egypt to buy food when the famine began. Benjamin, the youngest, was not to go. All ten were required to go because each had a sizeable family to feed.
42:6–23 Joseph was the agent in charge of food rations and he recognized his brothers at once, but they did not know him. Fourteen or fifteen years had changed him a lot. He had left home young; he was now a mature man and he was wearing an Egyptian beard and royal clothing. They bowed to the ground as he had prophesied years before. They would bow again and again. (43:26; 44:14; 50:18). Joseph accused them of spying and they confessed that they were 12 brothers, one at home with his father and one who "is no more." Joseph had them thrown in jail and their guilt for ruining Joseph was reawakened.
42:24 Joseph took Simeon as a hostage for Benjamin, who had to come with them on the next visit.
42:26–28 On their way home, one of them found his money in the top of sack of grain. Again, the fear of God was aroused. They recognized God’s hand, probably for the first time. God was punishing them: ”What is this that God has done to us?”
42:29–35 They reported their encounter with Joseph to their father. Then they found that each of them had had his money returned in the grain bags. They were all suddenly vulnerable.
42:36–38 Jacob was in distress and Reuben offered his two sons if Benjamin did not return.
43:1–10 But when the famine continued and it came time to buy grain again, Jacob was reluctant to let Benjamin go. Now Judah agreed to bear the blame if there was any trouble for Benjamin and Jacob was resigned to let him go.
43:11–15 Jacob arranged a present of nuts, medicinals, spices and honey to give to Pharaoh's food czar.
43:16–25 This time Joseph arranged a noon dinner party for the brothers and they were in dread of being trapped into slavery. But Simeon was restored to them. At the door of Joseph's house, they apologized to the steward for the money in their sacks and offered to return it. The steward assured them that he had been paid and everything was all right. "Your God...must have put treasure in your sacks for you."
43:26–34 At the noon dinner Joseph could hardly contain himself when he saw Benjamin. He arranged the brothers in order of their ages, to their amazement, with larger portions of food for Benjamin. They relaxed and had a good time.
44:1–13 But Joseph went on with his frame-up, a trap. Not only was their money in their sacks again, but Joseph's personal drinking cup was in Benjamin's sack, and the steward was sent to intercept them. Benjamin now appeared to have committed a criminal act worthy of death. He had stolen a prized possession from the Prince of Egypt. The brothers were back in Joseph's presence for the third time, now in great distress.
44:14–1 Joseph denounced them and demanded Benjamin as his slave. Judah moved away from the group and got close to Joseph. He made a long and impassioned plea for mercy for Jacob, not themselves. He acknowledged their guilt before God. “God has found out the guilt of your servants.” He said his brother (Joseph) was dead and only Benjamin was left of mother Rachel’s children. He told Joseph that Benjamin's life and Jacob's were bound together, and that without Benjamin, Jacob would soon die. He spoke of Jacob as “father” fourteen times in sixteen verses. Then Judah offered himself as a slave in place of Benjamin.
“This is one of the manliest, most straightforward speeches ever delivered by any man. For depth of feeling and sincerity of purpose it stands unexcelled. What makes it most remarkable, however, is the fact that it comes from the lips of one who once upon a time was so calloused that he cared nothing about the grief he had caused his father.” (Exposition of Genesis. H.C. Leupold, Wartburg Press;’42. p.1086)
45:1–15 Joseph could contain himself no longer. He had the house cleared and wept over his brothers. He cried so loudly that the servants heard and told Pharaoh. When he said his name, they were stunned. He begged them not to be distressed any longer. God had sent him ahead of them to save the life of the whole family. When he had kissed Benjamin and all of his brothers, they relaxed and were able to talk to him.
45:16–24 Pharaoh echoed Joseph's invitation and offered them the best of the land of Egypt. He sent wagons to bring their wives and children back. Joseph gave them beautiful clothes, money and food, with the invitation to Jacob to bring everyone to Egypt. And “Do not quarrel on the way.”--over who got the best?
45:26 When they reported back to Jacob that Joseph was alive and ruler of Egypt, Jacob fainted. But when they told the whole story, and he saw the wagons, he revived and resolved to go to Egypt to see Joseph.
What Joseph did could be seen as mere vengeance.
You despised me as a tale-bearer? I denounce you as spies.
You would rather kill me than bow to me? Bow again and again.
You put me in the pit? I put you in prison.
I am not your father’s favorite son? Bring the favorite son to me.
You sold me as a slave? You are slaves to me. (44:16–17)
Where is my money of my enslavement? You have it with you.
Joseph's strategy used these elements, but in a remedial way:
1. get information:
a. accuse them of spying to get the family history.
2. arouse anxiety and guilt:
a. keep Simeon in hold as a demonstration of their vulnerability.
b. challenge their loyalty by demanding Benjamin over Jacob's objections.
c. make Benjamin appear guilty of a crime, indirectly threatening Jacob.
3. give them the opportunity to sin as they had before.
a. they could give up Benjamin, the other spoiled child, son of Rachel. With Joseph it had been jealousy and pride that fueled their destructiveness. But now their father’s life was in jeopardy.
b. they could save themselves at Jacob's expense. When they brought him the bloody coat they did not care about his feelings. Maybe they can ignore Jacob’s feeling for Benjamin as well.
The brothers' response.
1. They felt the pain and guilt of their sin. 42:21–22; 44:16
2. They demonstrated a change of heart, refusing to grieve their father by separating him from Benjamin.
3. Judah offered himself as a slave to Pharaoh in place of Benjamin.
Joseph's concluding work.
1. He revealed his identity,
2. overlooked (forgave) their sin by showing how God over-ruled them,
3. made reconciliation,
4. offered material salvation.
The conversion of many believers is described in similar terms:
1. Guilt is aroused for sins.
2. A change of heart and direction (conversion) is evident.
3. Christ reveals Himself as Lord and Savior.
4. Sin is cleansed.
5. Reconciliation with God is accomplished.
The Joseph story is a model of crisis conversion. The brothers were confronted with their sin, guilt, and weakness and then were relieved by the offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. Salvation also granted physical survival and unified the family in a foreign land. Jacob was a grieving bystander but also was rewarded with God’s blessing.
Joseph is a type of Christ. Prophesied to be The King, He aroused the envy of His own people. His personal authority was overwhelming. They rejected Him and tried to destroy Him. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. In spite of their rejection, He emerged again to reconcile them to Himself, save their lives and enrich them.
Jesus saves. Trust Him.