Genesis 43 ~ 20080629 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

6/29 Genesis 43 Responding to Grace

We've been watching God at work in the lives of the family of Jacob. God had revealed the future to Pharaoh through a dream, God used Joseph to interpret the dream and offer advice to Pharaoh. God has raised Joseph up and placed him in power over all of Egypt to prepare for the coming famine. God has brought famine over the whole world, forcing Jacob to send 10 of his sons to Egypt to buy food from Joseph. Joseph knew who they were, but they did not recognize Joseph. He treated them harshly and accused them of spying. He gathered some information about the condition of the family, and he demanded that Benjamin be brought to prove the truthfulness of their word. Simeon was held in prison as hostage. Joseph had graciously given them provision for the journey and returned their money that they had used to buy grain. God was using Joseph to show grace to the covenant family. When the nine returned home they were horrified to find their money in their sacks of grain. God was using Joseph to bring about conviction of sin and true repentance. The recognized that they were guilty before God about Joseph, and God was bringing them to justice. Reuben made a plea to allow Benjamin to be sent with him, but Jacob refused.

1 Now the famine was severe in the land. 2 And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.”

We don't know how much time had elapsed here. It was less than two years. Simeon was abandoned in prison. The famine continued, and hunger forced the family to take action. They must do something or they will not survive. So Jacob attempts to sidestep the whole issue of Benjamin and send the nine back to Egypt. This time Judah steps up to confront their father on the issue of Benjamin. Remember Judah's character development back in chapter 38? Judah had disconnected with his family, his best friend was a pagan, he married a Canaanite woman, and his first two children were so evil that God killed them. Judah dishonors his widowed daughter-in-law, trying to protect his youngest son by not giving him to her in marriage. So Tamar dresses up as a prostitute, and while his kid brother Joseph is a slave in Egypt fearing God and refusing to sleep with his master's wife, Judah sleeps with his daughter-in-law, not knowing who she is, and gets her pregnant. Later when he hears that his daughter-in-law is pregnant by prostitution, he demands she be executed. On her way to be executed, Tamar produces Judah's signet ring and cord and staff, identifying him as the father. Judah owns up to his guilt, repents of his sin, and acknowledges 'she is more righteous than I' [38:26]. Now we see Judah, a changed man, reconnected with his family, taking a role of a wise lead among his brothers, yet still honoring his father.

3 But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.”’

Judah reminds Jacob of the facts of the case. He gives an ultimatum, but leaves the final decision to be made by the father. He could have said 'you're 130 years old – we're taking Benjamin – just try to stop us! Or he could have undermined his father's authority and said 'let's ask Benjamin what he wants to do, after all, he's over 20 years old at this point. Let Benjamin make his own decision. Instead he leaves the ball in Jacob's court. If you send the boy, we will go buy food. If you refuse to send him, then we would be wasting our time going to Egypt.

6 Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” 7 They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?”

Jacob is still trying to change the subject and assign guilt. The issue is clear. Will you or will you not send Benjamin with us? His answer: why'd you have to tell the scary guy you had another brother? You guys are just out to get me! Jacob is rightly suspicious of their character, but he's acting irrationally here. There really are no other options. Either Benjamin goes with to buy food and there's a chance that everything turns out all right, or we all sit here and starve to death. But they answer their father's insinuation. It was not malicious on their part that they mentioned their younger brother. They were responding to the man's direct questions honestly. They had no idea that he would demand that Benjamin be brought to Egypt. Judah understands what it's like to lose a son, and he knows from experience as a father the desperate desire to protect your youngest son. He makes a much more rational proposal than Reuben had made in the last chapter.

8 And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

Judah is taking initiative, showing maturity and assuming responsibility. Unlike his brother Reuben, he doesn't offer the life of the grandkids as compensation; instead Judah says he will personally take responsibility and bear the guilt if things don't go well.

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

Jacob or Israel recognizes that he has no other choices. This is the same Jacob that sent extravagant gifts ahead to appease his offended brother Esau. Now he arranges to send gifts to the man in Egypt to win his favor. He also instructs his sons to bring the money that was found in the mouth of their sacks, along with more money to buy more grain so they can't be accused of stealing. He sends them with a prayer and a declaration of his faith. His prayer is that El Shaddai – the all powerful God - grant mercy with the man. He refers to Benjamin by name but Simeon as 'your other brother'. His final statement could be taken as fatalistic and depressed, but I think it expresses a profound trust in God. His desire is that Benjamin and Simeon are returned safely, but he resigns himself to the good hand of a faithful God.

1 Peter 4:19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

This is similar to the statement made by Esther:

Esther 4:16 ... Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

Jacob was entrusting himself to his faithful creator, who is ...

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,

Jacob asked for the return of Benjamin and Simeon. He never would have imagined to even ask that he see Joseph again!

15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.”

Again, gracious kindness toward those with a guilty conscience is received with fear of condemnation. Imagine you were pulled over for going 2 miles per hour over the posted limit in a small rural town. The officer smiles as he writes you the ticket and lets you know that you need to pay on the spot or your vehicle will be impounded and you will spend some time in jail. You pay the ticket and as you drive away, the officer says 'I'll be watching you'. The next time through that town, you are conscientiously going 2 miles per hour under the posted limit, when you see the familiar flashing lights in your rear view mirror. The same officer strolls up to your vehicle and says 'I thought I recognized you. Why don't you jump in my car and I'll take you over to my house for some fried chicken'. I've seen this on TV and I know how this turns out. They'll never find the body!

19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

This steward's words are evidence of Joseph's strong testimony to the true God in the middle of a pagan nation. Apparently Joseph's godly character and witness has borne fruit in the land of affliction. Joseph's Egyptian steward does not refer to the gods of Egypt, but to the God of the Hebrews, to the God of Jacob. He understands that this God is a gracious God who gives undeserved treasure to his children. He seeks to replace their fear with peace. He says 'Shalom'. Again, it is a pagan Egyptian who introduces God into the conversation with the chosen family. They demonstrate a guilty conscience and fear; while this pagan Egyptian demonstrates generosity and peace and confidence in their God. He appears to have a better understanding of the character and nature of the god of Jacob, the sovereign God, El Shaddai, than the children of Israel do. God is controlling the circumstances and using this Egyptian to teach them about himself.

24 And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.

26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.

Joseph is seeing his prophetic dream fulfilled before his eyes. his eleven brothers are bowing down to him. Joseph is beginning to see that God has been at work changing the hearts of his brothers. They have indeed spoken truthfully. After some delay they have brought their youngest brother to Egypt, and they seem to be caring and protective of him. Joseph asks about Benjamin, but doesn't seem to wait for an answer. He is moved with the sight of his only full brother and he speaks a blessing on him; 'God be gracious to you my son'. He speaks a blessing on his younger brother; that God would show him favor and kindness. Joseph is overcome with emotion and has to leave the room before he can regain his composure.

31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians.

Joseph, because of his rank would eat alone; his Egyptian servants would eat at a separate table, and his Hebrew guests at yet another table. God has already revealed to Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years...

Genesis 15:13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.

Now we get a glimpse of why. From Judah's narrative in chapter 38, we see that the children of Israel were all too eager to mix with the Canaanite culture, and the Canaanites were willing to assimilate and absorb the Hebrews into their pagan culture. Within a generation, they would no longer be a distinct people, and they would lose their national identity. By sending them into the proud Egyptian culture, their distinct ethnic identity was preserved. The Egyptians felt they were superior to other races and cultures, and they would not even eat with foreigners.

The next thing Joseph does really freaks his brothers out. Joseph retains the power of knowledge over his brothers. Remember the scene in Princess Bride during the sword fight where Inigo the Spaniard says 'I admit it, you are better than I am' and the Dread Pirate Roberts asks 'Then why are you smiling?' the answer: 'Because I know something you don't know'. Joseph knows something his brothers don't know, and he begins to reveal that he holds some secret insight into their family.

33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.

Joseph has his brothers seated in their exact birth order. The odds of this happening purely by chance are less than one in 39 million [Chuck Missler, Genesis #24, @ 45min]. The brothers are sensing that something supernatural is going on, but they don't know what it is. Joseph shows Benjamin blatant favoritism and loosens their tongues with wine to see if there was any hidden resentment toward their younger brother. Our natural instinct is to cry 'that's not fair! Why does he get more than us?' The fact is they were all getting a meal with the prime minister of Egypt that they didn't deserve. They were all recipients of grace and they all had reason to be thankful. In Matthew 20, Jesus told a story about a man who hired laborers to work his vineyard. Those that worked through the heat of the day were paid what they had agreed upon. Those that were hired toward then end of the day, he graciously paid a full day's wages. Jesus' point was that the master must be just and give the wages that were earned, but he is free to be generous and give graciously what is not deserved. We have all sinned. We think we're entitled to charity. God has graciously provided his own Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He didn't have to. He has shown us great grace. How do we respond to the grace he has given us? do we look around to see what everybody else received and complain about the fairness of the distribution of grace? or do we respond to God's great grace with great gratitude for what he has done for undeserving sinners like us? Let us be known as great sinners who have received great grace and who respond with great gratitude.