GO GET FOOD (1-5)
Jacob goes to get food, read 1-5…
Jacob, along with everyone else in the world, was feeling the famine. So he sends his sons to Egypt to buy food. I love how he says it, “Well what are you doing standing around for? Staring at each other isn’t gonna put food on the table! Get going!”
Somehow or another word spread that Egypt had food to spare. Somehow all the lands around Egypt heard that Egypt could help.
APPLICATION: Be Egypt. When the unbelievers around you experience the “famine’s” of life, may you be the one they seek out.
So the brothers pack their bags and load up their money and head out. All 10 of them. One stayed behind. Benjamin. Why Benjamin? Why was Jacob more concerned about Benjamin? Why was Jacob not concerned about harm coming to the other 10 sons but he was concerned about harm coming to this one? We might remember that Benjamin was the very youngest of all Jacob’s sons. I’m not saying the youngest is always the favorite, but the youngest is always the favorite. Remember from previous sermons however not to have favorites.
Besides that, you’ll notice verse 4 says that Benjamin was “Joseph’s brother.” Joseph and Benjamin were the only two sons born to Rachel, Jacob’s favorite and cherished wife. Rachel was dead. As far as Jacob knew, Joseph has also been dead for more than 20 years. The only one left was Benjamin. What did Benjamin mean to Jacob? Aside from being the youngest, born to him in his old age, Benjamin was a flesh and blood symbol of Rachel and Joseph.
One thing I wonder is this: since the firstborn rights were taken away from Reuben and given to Joseph, did Jacob give those firstborn rights to Benjamin after Joseph’s apparent death? If so you could see even more of how precious Benjamin was to Jacob.
WE MEET AGAIN (6-8)
Next we see “We Meet Again” verses 6-8…
I can’t imagine what Joseph felt when he felt his brothers hands seize him and toss him into a pit. Or what he felt looking in the rearview mirror of the Ishmaelite’s caravan at his brothers fading away – everything he knew just stolen from him. Or what he felt when he was brought to a strange land, with an strange language, bought by a stranger and serving him among more strangers in a strange home. Or how he felt when his master turned on him and falsely accused him, and the feelings going on hearing the iron prison bars clanking shut. Or how he felt everyday for two years in that prison as the cupbearer completely forgot about his promise to get him out. Or how he felt when he was made ruler of Egypt. Despite that remarkable life, I don’t think anything prepared him for this moment: looking up from his clipboard and to see his 10 brothers walk in as his next appointment. It has been over 20 years. In some ways he had “forgotten” about his troubles from the past. But in other ways no doubt they were always “right there.” Joseph was a man who knew what to do and what to say. I have to imagine in this moment he may have felt his heart stop.
Yet in this very moment Joseph’s dreams have come true. His brothers are bowed down before him. Literally bowed down. Just like Joseph dreamed over 20 years ago. Go back to chapter 37:5-10 with me. Read. Two dreams, same message. Joseph’s whole family would come bow down before him and he would rule over them.
APPLICATION: God’s word comes true. Things happen just like God said they would.
APPLICATION: All of God’s words will come true, but they may not come true as soon as we like or would expect. Joseph had these dreams in his teens. He was probably 40ish years old when they happened. Every single word will prove true. But God is doing things on his timetable. Not ours.
APPLICATION to the APPLICATION: Faith waits. Faith trusts. Joseph waited, never doubting what God had told him. In this way, he was like his great grandfather Abraham. God told him at 75 years old that he would have a son, even though he was childless. And then Abraham had to wait 25 years until he was 100 years old for God to make good on that promise. Romans 4:21 says that all 25 years Abraham “was fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” Faith waits. Faith doesn’t lose confidence in God over time. Faith is purified and strengthened while waiting.
MAKE ‘EM SWEAT A LITTLE (9-20)
Rather than reveal himself to them and have a big reunion party, and rather than ordering them killed right there as payback, Joseph decides to take advantage of the fact they don’t recognize him. Read verses 9-20…
So Joseph pretends. Two questions: why does he pretend? And what does he pretend?
First, Why does he pretend? Why not immediately burst out, “Brothers! It has been so long! It’s me, Joseph!” Well, he pretends in order to “play” with them, apparently. I mean, c’mon, wouldn’t you?! Seriously, though, why? The Bible records people pretending numerous times. When the Israelites would conquer the land the Gibeonites pretended (Josh 9). They did all kinds of things to make it look like they were all from a distant foreign country. When the Israelite armies rolled into town to destroy the place they said, “We are from a distant land. We are not from here. Don’t kill us. Make a treaty with us by making us your slaves and let us live.” So they succeeded in tricking the Israelites. Another deception was King David fled Israel and went to the Philistines pretending to be insane (1 Samuel 21). Hebrews 13 tells us that angels pretend to be human and we don’t even know it, “For some have even entertained angels without realizing it” (v2)f. Couldn’t we say that the incarnation of our Lord, in looking like a normal human being, hiding all his divine glory, was “pretending?” Sure we could, he was pretending to be a man and not letting His visible glory out for all to see. Sometimes He seemed to pretend, like when he wasn’t going to do anything at the wedding about running out of wine (Jn 2:1-11), or when he said he wasn’t going up to the festival in Jerusalem (Jn 7:2-10). Joseph pretended with his brothers and hid himself from them. He let them go on thinking he was a powerful Egyptian official that they’d never met.
As for why, maybe he was caught off guard seeing them. Maybe for a few moments he was trying to gather himself, although putting on the best poker face history has ever seen, and in those same moments he realized that they had no idea it was him, so he just “went” with it.
Can you see the Messianic parallel? Can you see how the Messiah would come and he would not be recognized? “He came to that which was his own [Jews] but His own did not receive Him.”
Second, He pretends that he’s suspicious of them. He accuses them of being spies. The Cat is playing with the mice. The brothers give a quick biography of their family which gives Joseph an idea. He pretends to test them by requiring that they go home and get their youngest brother who did not accompany them on this trip. He says 9 of them will stay in prison while one of them goes home to get that other brother.
Okay, so on the one hand a little poetic justice: his brothers are going to get a taste of the same prison life he had to suffer. On the other hand, can you imagine the emotional longing to see his little brother Benjamin? When Joseph’s son Manasseh was born Joseph said, “I have forgotten my troubles and my father’s household.” Now that his brothers are standing in front of him all those memories and emotions came back like a tsunami.
So they all go into the prison. They spend 3 days there. Again, can anyone sense the Messianic vibrations here? After three days Joseph changes his mind. Instead of sending only one brother home and keeping the others hostage, he decides to keep only one brother hostage and send the rest home. Notice too how Joseph explains “why” he changed his mind. He says in verse 18, “I fear God.” Joseph was a man who feared God. And while no doubt 3 days in an Egyptian prison really worked the 10 brothers over, apparently the 3 days was really working Joseph over too. Maybe God spoke to him. Maybe his conscience was doing a lot of talking. Maybe he was too harsh in the moment and after some time he softened up.
APPLICATION: Be careful about making decisions in the heat of a moment. It is probably true that our best decisions are not made impulsively, but after some time stepping away, deliberating, praying (no doubt!) and seeking wise counsel.
You know what? I bet Joseph told his wife Asenath about his day at work and she probably reasoned with him that he was being too hard on his brothers. Could you imagine her fascination? Meeting his brothers? This whole part of Joseph’s life is something she had never known. Maybe she said things to him to soften his harsh perspective.
APPLICATION: Wives, are you actually a helper to your husbands? If Asenath really did this, how righteous of her. Helping her husband be merciful. There are wives like Jezebel who are ruthless and are great companions in doing evil. There are wives like Eve who lead their husbands into temptation. Then there are wives like Abigail who’s godliness prevented disaster and led King David into a merciful course. Wives you are not the head of your home but do you realize how much influence you have? For good or for evil? How do you steward your influence with your husband?
Again, it doesn’t say it in the text, but I could also believe that in addition to his wife, Joseph’s little boys softened his heart. Coming home after such an emotional day at work, greeted by Asenaph with Ephraim in her arms, little Manasseh waddling over to daddy. Looking at his own sons, maybe Joseph thought, “How could he hurt his father by keeping all of his sons in prison?”
APPLICATION: The fear of God makes you merciful.
Next we see the remorse of the brothers, verses 21-24….
Notice first here that the brothers are guilt-stricken. They start recounting how heartless they were towards Joseph all those years ago.
APPLICATION: A guilty conscience is a harsh master. They thought the trouble they were in was God’s punishment on them for what they did so long ago. If you have done something you know is wrong, something you’re hiding, then your conscience will be a vicious master. Did you cheat or steal from someone? Did you have an abortion? ……There are few tyrannies worse to live under than that of a guilty conscience. You will be a slave to work off that guilt your whole life. You will start to see everything that happens to you as God’s punishment, and in a way, you’ll see it that way because you know you should be punished.
APPLICATION to the APPLICATION: Only Jesus can wash your conscience. Hebrews 9:9-11….Only He can cleanse away a guilty conscience. No amount of good works can “work off” a guilty conscience. Stop working off a guilty conscience by yourself and turn to Jesus so he can wash your guilty conscience!
Did they feel any remorse in the last 20 years or did they feel nothing at all?
Notice second Joseph was eavesdropping. He spoke their language, but they didn’t realize it. An interpreter probably came in with them when they first met Joseph as nobody would’ve expected Joseph to know their language. As part of his concealing his identity he probably just kept going using the interpreter. So they went to the prison, and Joseph is standing there, and the interpreter, and the brothers are having this discussion about their predicament, and the whole time they think Joseph can’t understand them because he’s been using an interpreter, who probably was not doing any interpretation of their conversation.
Third, notice Joseph becomes very emotional. He became very affected as he listened to them. It is a very emotional moment, and its going to only get more emotional.
Fourth he kept Simeon for his hostage. I asked myself “Why? Why wouldn’t he keep Reuben? Reuben was the oldest. If you want to strike fear of your power take the oldest, who is the sign of strength in the family?” Then I reread these few verses and it hit me. Joseph overheard their conversation and learned something he never knew about that whole situation long ago: Reuben tried to prevent them from harming him. Did you notice verse 22? “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen!” His oldest brother, the firstborn, Reuben, had tried to rescue him. All these years Joseph never knew that. Joseph was probably planning to keep Reuben but after eavesdropping and discovering Reuben was on his side that horrible day so long ago, Joseph chose not to keep Reuben as his hostage. So he picked the next oldest brother in line to keep as a hostage: Simeon.
After arresting Simeon in front of them all, very dramatic for sure, he ordered them to go home and get that other youngest brother that didn’t come. Then that would prove they are not spies. Or they would never see Simeon again. So they are packed up and sent home.
JACOB’S DESPAIR (25-36)
Next we see Jacob’s despair, ….
They stop the first night and open up their luggage to find a huge problem: their silver. In other words, they left Egypt with grain but they didn’t pay for it – or so they thought. They’re terrified that “the man” would think they intended to sneak away without paying.
They get home and they say to their father Jacob: we have good news and we have bad news. The good news is we came home with grain so we can eat. The bad news is we didn’t come home with Simeon. He’s in prison and the Egyptians won’t let him out unless we bring them Benjamin.
Jacob’s world is crumbling down around him. In his life, his brother wanted him dead, his uncle defrauded him, his daughter has been raped, his sons became murderers, his favorite wife is dead, his favorite son has been dead for over 20 years (and it still feels like yesterday), now another son is lost to prison, and he can’t get him back unless he gives up his youngest and favorite son Benjamin. Jacob’s choice is to either let Simeon languish in prison or send Benjamin with the risk something might happen to him. Jacob clutches Benjamin and makes his choice. Simeon’s gonna have to wait.
CONCLUSION: Silent Reflection