Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city. (Genesis 44:13)
We are in the second part of the story of Joseph. Part one was about the loved and favored son. Part two is about the transformation of the brothers.
We’ve looked at the character of these brothers and we’ve seen that their sins were many – sins of lies and deception, sins of sexual indulgence, and sins of disloyalty and betrayal. The question at the heart of this story is: How can men like this enter into the blessing of God?
We are following the story of how God, in his kindness, brought a great change in these men in which they came to hate what they used to love and to love what they used to hate. So this is a story of hope. It tells us that God can change the hardest heart, God can redirect the most wayward life.
The great value of this story is that it illustrates how God brings this change about. It begins with the awakening of conscience. God broke into the comfortable rhythm of these men’s lives. He aroused the memory of their past sins.
We also saw that, at the same time, God showed undeserved kindness. The money they had paid for the grain in Egypt was put back in their sacks, and when they came to Egypt the second time, they were welcomed and fed in the home of the governor.
For years the brothers had paid no attention God. They were working at their business and raising their families, but then when their consciences were awakened, they felt that God must be against them. “What is this that God has done to us?” (Gen. 42:28).
It took an Egyptian steward to say to them, “You don’t seem to realize that your God is for you. He is showing great kindness to you and he is working for your good!” (Gen. 43:23, author’s paraphrase). Not only does God show us our sins, in his kindness, but he also shows us undeserved favor.
Today we will see the great change that has taken place in the lives of these brothers, and I want to open this up with 2 questions.
We talk about the transformation of lives. What’s at the heart of it? When the Holy Spirit comes into a life, what kind of change takes place?
What needs to change?
Grieving the father
When the brothers sold Joseph as a slave, they covered their tracks by lying to the father.
They dipped Joseph’s coat in the blood of an animal and gave it to their father. Jacob said, “A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces” (Gen. 37:33).
Joseph was special to his father, Jacob, the son of Rachel, the great love of Jacob’s life. So the brothers’ lie plunged Jacob into an unrelenting sorrow. It was like plunging a dagger into Jacob’s heart. “All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, ‘No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning’” (Gen. 37:35).
Do you see the irony here? The brothers told their father a lie that brought him great sorrow. Then they tried to comfort him from the lie that they told him! Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. Tell him the truth if you want to comfort him.
That’s how it was for more than 20 years. Every day the brothers were working for their father. And every day they were perpetuating a lie to their father that caused him unimaginable grief and sorrow.
Picture the old man sitting outside his house, staring out over the fields, with a deep sadness in his eyes. His heart is broken. Joseph, who was his great joy, is no more. The light has gone out in his life.
The brothers see the old man in his sorrow. But never once did any of them say, “What if we were to tell the old man that his son might still be alive? Why don’t we put him out of the agony of imagining his son being torn to pieces and tell him that it never happened, and that we know because we sold him as a slave bound for Egypt?”
No, confession would be too hard. The truth coming out would be too costly for these brothers. “Better to sustain the lie, better to leave the old man in his sorrow than to take the risk of what might happen to us if we told him the truth.”
So day followed day, week followed week, month followed month, and year followed year.
More than 20 years of lies and pretense. Twenty years of grieving the father. That’s the first thing that had to change.
What needs to change?
Hating the dearly loved son
Remember how this whole story started – the brothers hated Joseph because he was the loved and favored son: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him” (Gen. 37:4).
‘Hated’ is a strong word, and it is used repeatedly in Genesis 37. The brothers hated Joseph. They could not speak peaceably to him. They could not sit in the same room with him and have a civilized conversation. They had this visceral antagonism towards him. Why? Because he was the dearly loved son.
Then something happened that made matters even worse. God gave Joseph a dream, a prophecy that one day the brothers would bow down to Joseph. Joseph had not asked for this dream; it was given to him. It was God’s purpose that this should be revealed in advance to the brothers, so that when it happened, they would know that God had brought it to pass.
So Joseph told them the dream: “‘We were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?’ So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” (Gen. 37:7-8).
Well, it isn’t hard to understand where they were coming from. “First of all, he is dad’s favorite son, and now he thinks he’s better than we are!”
So when Joseph came on the long journey to find his brothers, they conspired together to kill him. Judah said, “We can do better than that! We can get money for him, and get rid of him at the same time.” So when the Ishmaelite traders came, they sold him for 20 pieces of silver, and Joseph was taken as a slave to Egypt.
That’s the story of the brothers. What are they doing? Grieving the father. Hating the son. What has to change to turn their lives around? These two things. I think this speaks very powerfully to us today.
Are you grieving the Father?
Are you grieving the Father with a lie or a deception? The Apostle John wrote to a community of Christians, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn. 1:6).
Are you saying, “Yeah, I’m a Christian,” when you are actually walking in darkness? This is what the brothers were doing – professing to love the father, but walking in darkness. So they were living a lie, maintaining a pretense.
What about hating the dearly loved Son?
The world has no place for the loved and favored Son who says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is no room in this world for Jesus’ exclusive claims, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).
The world will always hate the dearly loved Son. It cannot bear for him to be exalted over us. It cannot stand the exclusivity of his claims. Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
God’s great purpose is to reconcile all things through Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). The agenda of the world is to reconcile all things without Christ. For the Son who says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18), and “Whoever loves father, mother, son, daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37, author’s paraphrase), the world says, “We will not have this man to rule over us.”
What needs to change in these brothers is what needs to change in all of us – grieving the Father with our lies and our pretense and hating the dearly loved Son, because we do not want him to rule and reign over us. The heart of repentance is to stop grieving the Father and start loving the Son.
This is the central point of chapter 44. After more than 20 years, Joseph’s brothers show up in Egypt. Joseph needs to know if they have changed. Will they still grieve the father? Do they still hate the dearly loved son?
Joseph devises a test to see if there has been a change in these brothers. The test centers around Benjamin. We saw last week that, like Joseph, Benjamin was born to Jacob through Rachel, the great love of his life. Benjamin was also a dearly loved son.
Jacob loved Benjamin as he loved Joseph. The brothers hated Joseph because he was so greatly loved by the father. Did they also hate Benjamin? Would they sell out on him as they had on Joseph, bringing even greater grief to their father, or had there been some change?
The test came in two parts. The first is at the end of chapter 43, where the brothers are brought to the banquet in Joseph’s house: “Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs” (Gen. 43:34).
No doubt Joseph was watching carefully. If you put 11 guys in a room and give one of them five times as much as all the others, what do you think will happen? Would they start muttering and complaining? “Hey, why did Benjamin get more than us?” But nothing like that happened. So far so good.
Then Joseph has his steward place his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. Soon after the brothers have left the city, Joseph’s men go after them and confront them outside the city, “Why have you repaid evil for good?” (Gen. 44:4), and they accuse the brothers of stealing the silver cup.
The brothers are confident that they have done nothing wrong, “How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants” (Gen. 44:8-9).
One by one they open their sacks. Nothing in Rueben’s sack. Nothing in Simeon’s. Nothing in the sack of Levi or of Judah. The sacks are opened and nothing is found. But then when Benjamin’s sack is opened a flash of silver gleams in the light of the sun: “The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack” (Gen. 44:12).
This is the turning point in the brothers’ story. It would have been easy for the brothers to look at each other and say, “The best thing we can do here is to give up Benjamin. It’s his life against all ten of ours. After all, the cup was in his sack. We’ve done nothing wrong. Maybe he’ll meet up with Joseph in Egypt?” And the pressure to say it was very great.
The gain for the brothers was much more than 20 pieces of silver. If they gave Benjamin up, they could have their own freedom. They could go back to the old man and tell him his dearly loved son has been taken to Egypt. They didn’t even need to lie. They could tell the truth, “The man in Egypt made Benjamin a slave. There was nothing we could do about it!”
When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, the brothers were put right back into the same position they had been in with Joseph 20 years ago. The whole thing was being replayed with the other favored son, Benjamin. Would they grieve the heart of the father? Would they give up the dearly loved son?
Verse 13 is a great moment in the brother’s story, “Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Gen. 44:13). There’s the evidence of transformation right there! “We cannot go back to the father and add sorrow to his sorrow.
We cannot give up Benjamin, his dearly loved son.”
Picture Joseph looking out of the governor’s mansion. He knows he will see one of two possibilities: Either he will see one man, Benjamin, coming alone; or he will see eleven men standing as one. Joseph looks out and what does he see? He sees the ten men coming with Benjamin, because they will not grieve the father, and they will not give up the son.
When they get back to Egypt, Judah steps forward and speaks to Joseph. Remember, he still does not know that the governor is his own brother.
Judah refers to his father no less than 15 times in verses Genesis 44:18-34.
vv19-20, “My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age… and his father loves him.’”
v22, “We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’”
v34, “How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”
Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes listening to Judah say this. He can only come to one conclusion: Judah has changed. He hears Judah saying, “My father, my father, my father…”
“Boy, my brother has really changed! He didn’t care a lick about my father. Now he loves the father.”
2. Love for the favored son
“Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers.” (Gen. 44:33)
Again put yourself in Joseph’s shoes, listening to this, “Well, this is a remarkable transformation! Judah was the one who proposed selling me as a slave. Now Judah says he is ready to become a slave in order that his brother may go free!”
What needs to change? Grieving the father. Hating the son. Has this change happened in these brothers? Undoubtedly it has.
Here are three applications from the story – one from Judah, one from the brothers, and one from Joseph. As the story develops, we’re finding pointers to Jesus all over the place. Joseph points us to Jesus, so does Benjamin, and now we see Judah pointing to him as well.
Have you noticed how Judah steps up to take the lead in this part of the story? In Genesis 43:8, it is Judah who urges Jacob to let Benjamin go and offers himself as surety.
Now in Chapter 44, it is Judah who steps forward as the great intercessor who pleads on behalf of his brothers. It is Judah who offers himself as the one who will stand in the place of Benjamin, taking whatever might come in order that he may go free.
Why Judah? Jesus Christ will be born into the line of Judah. He will be the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5). Who will Jesus be? He will be the intercessor and the substitute. The pointers from Judah to Jesus are wonderful, and so are the contrasts.
Judah was the brother who offered himself in place of the loved and favored son. Jesus was the loved and favored Son who offers himself in the place of his brothers.
Judah was the guilty one, guilty of grieving the father and giving up the son. He offers himself in the place of Benjamin, who was innocent of the sins against Joseph and Jacob.
Jesus was the innocent One who offered himself in the place of the guilty.
Judah offered to become a slave in order that his brother may go free. But for Jesus it meant dying on a cross in order that his brothers may go free.
Judah offered to do something great, but the mercy of Joseph prevented him from going through with it. Jesus not only offered to become our substitute. He did it! He gave himself, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with His blood
Hallelujah! What a Savior
Benjamin might have said to the brothers, “Are you really going to come with me? If you do, you better be ready to take up your cross and follow me. Who knows what will happen to us or what they will do to us when we get there.”
That’s precisely what the favored Son says today, “Take up your cross and follow me, wherever that leads you, whatever that means.” Are you ready to say, “I’m all in! I’m taking my stand with the dearly loved Son. You are the ruler and master of my life.” That’s how you take up your cross and follow Christ.
When these repentant brothers stop grieving the father and start loving the son, Joseph makes himself known to them as their brother
Chapter 45 is our focus next week, but I can’t end without reading you these verses: “Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, ‘Make everyone go out from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph!’” (Gen. 45:1-3).
Do you want to know and experience the love of Christ in your life today? Do you want to be able to say, “I know that Christ is mine and that he loves me?” Stop grieving the Father. Start loving the Son. Bow before Christ as your sovereign Lord, and you will come to know him as your gracious Savior.
© Colin S. Smith
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