************ Sermon on Genesis 42-44 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 5, 2014
"Responses to Providence"
Do you remember how Genesis 41 ends? We are told, "And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world" (Gen 41:57). All the countries. Including Palestine. Including the land God had set aside for His own people.
This means that each of the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – experiences a famine in the Promised Land (Gen 12; 26; 42). And, the Israelites listening to Moses as they travel through the wilderness have to be wondering, where is Moses taking us? What happened to the land of milk and honey Moses keeps talking about (Ex 3:8,17; 13:5; et al)?
Here is a reminder, again, that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (Deu 8:3). Here is a reminder that little is much when God is in it and a lot is as nothing if God is absent. Here is a reminder that real living only begins when you live with God and not when your stomach is full.
We read Lord's Day 10 of the Catechism this morning. We were reminded that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty come to us from the hand of God. Nothing comes to us by chance because God is in control. We see this truth in the story of Joseph. So, talking about the famine, Joseph can say to Pharaoh, "the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon" (Gen 41:32). And when Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers he says, "God sent me ahead of you" (Gen 45:5).
The Catechism also tells us the proper response to the providence of God: be patient, be thankful, be confident.
Keeping this in mind, I want to look at the response of Jacob and then the response of Joseph to God's providence.
I A Bitter Providence
A When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, "Why do you just keep looking at each other?" (Gen 42:1). Jacob doesn't know. But we do. The brothers are looking at each other with guilty eyes. They don't want to go to Egypt because Egypt is where they sent their brother Joseph as a slave. In their eyes, Egypt is a place of punishment and not a place of rescue. Egypt is a place to be avoided and not a destination.
Jacob tells them to get moving. Notice, Jacob does not send Benjamin. How disappointing that Jacob continues the same old sin of playing favorites with his sons. Jacob continues to show how fallen he is.
B In Canaan, the ten brothers face an autocratic Egyptian who throws them in jail as spies. Three days later Joseph sends them all back to Canaan except for Simeon – whom he binds and shackles before their eyes (Gen 42:24). They are told to return with their youngest brother, Benjamin.
The ten brothers return to Canaan with grain. They report to Jacob what has happened. Each of them discovers the silver, meant to be payment for the grain, in their sacks so it looks like they are thieves. What a dilemma: if they fail to go back, Simeon is lost; if they do return, Benjamin will be taken.
C How does Jacob respond to all of this? His responses are foolish for a child of God. He says,
(Gen 42:36) "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"
And it gets worse. In one raw sentence Jacob manages to disinherit and disown everyone but Benjamin!
(Gen 42:38) "My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow."Wow. Imagine being one of Jacob's other sons and hearing this. Jacob is basically saying, "You don't count. You aren't important to me. You aren't loved." What a dysfunctional family.
Did you catch what Jacob says in his first statement? "Everything is against me!" Poor, poor Jacob. What a pity-party. "Everything is against me!" Note the contrast with what the Bible says elsewhere:
-(Ps 46:7) The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
-(Rom 8:28) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
-(1 John 4:4) You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
Go back to Lord's Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism. We are to be patient when things go against us. We are to be thankful when things go well. We are to be confident that nothing will separate us from God's love. What is Jacob's response? "Everything is against me!"
The statement Jacob makes is unbelievably self-centered. The Hebrew reads, "Me you have made childless ... against me is all this!" The emphasis is on me, my distress, my pain, my suffering. What about the pain and distress of his sons and daughters, of his wives, of his neighbors? But all that Jacob has eyes for is himself. What a disappointing response.
This is what happens when all you see is a bitter providence. This is what happens when you believe in a dark providence. This reminds me of the words of Psalm 88. They could have been written by Jacob:
(Ps 88:3-6) For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. (4) I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. (5) I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. (6) You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths ... (18) You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.Wow, what a sad psalm. What a sad and even a pathetic way to view life.
Satan has taken hold of Jacob's mind and shut the door to all hope. So Jacob sees no way out. Life is hostile. Events are overwhelming.
We all realize Jacob's conclusion is all wrong. He has forgotten that God has made a covenant with him (Gen 31:44). Meaning what? Meaning, as Paul writes, "If God is for us, who can be against us" (Rom 8:31)? The answer, of course, is NO ONE! God's trials are meant to make us better, not bitter. But Jacob doesn't see this.
In my ministry, thank God, I have met very few people who have been as negative as Jacob. But let me remind you again, congregation, of the three points of the Catechism: be patient, be thankful, be confident. Yes, there is death. Yes, there are health concerns. Yes, there are financial difficulties. Yes, there are problems with the kids or grandkids. Yes, there are marriage problems. Yes, there is sin and evil and wickedness and a world that hates us and Christ. Yet, be patient, be thankful, be confident.
D Maybe Jacob had a bad day. Maybe he got up on the wrong side of the bed. But by the grace of God he was able to sing a different tune when it was time for his boys to return to Egypt. Listen to what he says:
(Gen 43:14) 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.
The first time the brothers were sent to Egypt, Jacob said nothing about the presence and blessing of God. But the second time he invokes the name of "God Almighty." In the Hebrew, "El-Shaddai."
"El-Shaddai." This title of the one true God focuses on His power to complete promises. El-Shaddai is a Promise Keeper. He keeps all of His promises. All of His promises to Noah He keeps. All of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob He keeps. All of His promises to you and me He keeps. He is El-Shaddai! He is God Almighty. He is the God with the power to keep His promises. There is nothing He cannot do. This name means He is more than able to be with Jacob's children in the land of Egypt (Gen 43:14).
Today, in Christ, He continues to be "El-Shaddai." Meaning what? Meaning we can trust His covenant promises: His promise of forgiveness, His promise of life everlasting, His promise of a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth, His promise of hearing and answering our prayers, His promise of victory over sin and Satan and death, His promise of never leaving us or forsaking us.
II Comfort in Providence
A Do you think Joseph's behavior towards his brothers is strange? Why doesn't he reveal his identity, welcome them warmly rather than harshly, tell them all is forgiven, and send for his father and his brother and the rest of the family? Why does Joseph carry on with the elaborate masquerade? Why does he throw his brothers in jail? Why the tests with the money and the silver cup in his brothers' sacks? Why does he take Simeon hostage? Why the dinner where Benjamin is favored above all the others?
We know Joseph did not do any of this out of anger – though he certainly had a right to be angry with his brothers. We know Joseph was not filled with thoughts of revenge – though he certainly could be excused for wanting revenge. Listen to what Joseph said to his brothers after he revealed himself to them:
(Gen 45:5) 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. (Cf Gen 50:20)Joseph acknowledges the providence of God, the control of God, the rule of God. And, to use the words of the Catechism, he responds with patience, thanksgiving, and confidence.
B So why does Joseph respond the way he does to his brothers?
Joseph is concerned about the souls of his brothers. He wants to know the state of their heart. Have they repented of the evil they did against him? Are they as jealous of Benjamin as they were of him? Has God changed their heart? Do they love one another – which is the test of true faith? Do they show themselves to be part of the covenant?
So, look at what Joseph all does to test his brothers. Joseph throws them into the pit of prison even as earlier they had thrown him into the pit. The brothers see this as divine punishment for they way they had treated Joseph, and Reuben adds, "I told you so." Hearing this, Joseph is moved to tears (Gen 42:21-24). The brothers are showing signs of repentance.
When Benjamin comes to Egypt with the brothers, Joseph hosts a banquet for them in his home. He seats them in the order of their birth, so that Benjamin is seated last. But Joseph favors Benjamin, who is seated in the seat of least honor, with the greatest gifts, giving Benjamin five times the portions he gave his other brothers (Gen 43:34). How encouraging that this favoritism does not trigger envy and hatred in the hearts of the ten brothers. The brothers are showing signs of spiritual maturity (Gen 43:34).
The greatest test of the brothers occurred when Joseph's silver cup was found in Benjamin's sack of grain (Gen 44:1-2). The brothers are told they can return to Canaan, but Benjamin needs to be left behind as a slave (Gen 44:10). The test is perfect because it recreates the scene in Canaan twenty-two years ago when the same brothers went back to their father after selling their brother into slavery. But this time the brothers respond differently. They will not leave a brother behind in Egypt.
Do you remember the beautiful statement Joseph made after father Jacob died and the brothers were worried that Joseph would seek revenge?
(Gen 50:20) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.The saving of many lives happened when hungry people were given food. But more importantly, the saving of many lives happened when the brothers repented of their sin and began to live out their faith.
Joseph tested his brothers and discovered they are children of the covenant. Joseph tested his brothers and discovered they have repented and converted. Joseph tested his brothers and discovered their faith now is real. Isn't this remarkable? Isn't it remarkable how concerned Joseph is for the souls of the brothers who sold him into slavery? And, shouldn't we have the same concern for the souls of one another?
Many times when someone does us wrong we want to strike back and get even. Many times when someone has hurt us we are filled with desires for revenge. Joseph shows us another way: we need to have concern for the soul of the person or persons who hurt us. We need to pray for their salvation. We need to work for their conversion. We need to seek their repentance.
Joseph was patient. Joseph was thankful. Joseph was confident. So, Joseph acted wisely in dealing with his brothers.
So far we have looked at Jacob and Joseph. The true focus of the narrative, however, is Judah.
At the beginning of the Joseph story it was Judah who proposed selling Joseph for twenty pieces of silver (Gen 37:26-27). Does this sound familiar? Doesn't this sound like Judas and what he did to Jesus (Mt 26:15)? It is no accident that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Judah's name is "Judas." However, at the end of the narrative, it is Judah who is willing to stand as a substitute for Benjamin, bearing his punishment (Gen 44:33-34).
Isn't this beautiful? Judah begins as a type of Judas and ends up as a type of Christ! Truly our almighty God moves in a mysterious way.
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