What an awesome God we serve. Because God is outside of our limits in time, He sees far more than we can ever hope to see. God set in motion many series of events before the earth was formed. He knows us, He knows our weaknesses, and He set in motion a plan to save us. Kings, Gentiles, Israelites all play a part in this plan, even when they think they are acting independently. The interconnections of things in our lives is far beyond anything we can imagine with our limited intelligence. God can take the bad things in our lives and turn them to good. If someone doesn’t obey God, He has other plans in motion. Nothing is outside of His control. We can rest in God and know that He has everything under control. At this point, Joseph would have no knowledge that this was all engineered by God.
Ephesians 1:11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.
I am so in awe of the sovereignty of God. There are no limits to what He will do to bring about what He has said He would do – a famine, war, bounty, will lead people to where they need to be. This famine in the land will move a father and his 11 sons and family to Egypt, where they must be. This sovereignty of God will cause a Roman leader to create a census that will make Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to fulfill a prophesy.
The culture of that time was an oral tradition – and I am certain that Jacob heard at his father’s knees about Grandfather Abraham and the prophesy he received from God. Genesis 15:13 Then He (God) said to Abram; “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.” In order for this prophesy to be fulfilled, Jacob and his offspring must be in Egypt.
The famine became so bad in the land that Jacob and his sons were suffering. Jacob finds out that there is food in Egypt, and instructs his sons, verse 2 “And he said, “Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.” Have you ever said something that has multi-layers of meaning without realizing it. This is one of those sentences. Jacob was talking about their immediate survival – but without realizing it this sentence is setting in motion one of God’s ultimate plans to save our souls so that we can live and not die for eternity – through His son Jesus.
Joseph’s ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. Why ten when Jacob had 11 sons still living (or so he thought)? verse 4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “Lest some calamity befall him.” Benjamin was the only remaining son that Jacob had from Rachel, and this gives me a clue that Jacob had some doubt about what happened to Joseph – thinking that His sons may have had something to do with his “demise”.
Don’t you love stories when you know that the outcome is going to be soooo good for one of the characters. But remember, Jacob is believing that Joseph is dead, has been grieving his death, and is acting under that assumption to protect Benjamin. One day we will see the light of joy shining in Jacob’s/Israel’s eyes. Some days I wish there had been a movie made of this event – what drama and adventure would be portrayed.
Let’s do some math. Joseph was 17 years old when he was rejected by his brothers. Genesis 41:46 Joseph was 30 years old when he came into power – 13 years passed. Then there was 7 plentiful years making Joseph 37 years old. (It has been 20 years since Joseph was sold into slavery-so it makes sense that his brothers will not recognize him). Joseph was governor of ALL the people. He had all the regalia of leadership, looked different, and people gave him great respect. Joseph’s brothers verse 6 “…came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.” This dream sounds familiar, doesn’t it – it was a prophesy of a 17 year old boy long ago.
Verse 7 –Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. Then he said to them, “Where do you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan to buy bread.” Joseph recognized his brothers and also remembered his dream. He says to them verse 9 “…You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land.”
After that accusation, they said that they had come just to buy food, and verse 11-14 “We are one man’s sons, your servants are not spies. But He said to them, “No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” And they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan: and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is as I spoke to you, saying ‘You are spies!”.
Be sure your sins will find you out – Joseph knows these brothers are not honest – their track record points that one out – they lied about Joseph to their father and they certainly did not treat Joseph very well.
Joseph decides to test them, he tells them verse 15-17 “In this manner you shall be tested; By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison; that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!.” So he put them all together in prison three days.
I can only guess, but I wonder if He wanted to make sure that they hadn’t done to Benjamin what they did to him. And perhaps (and this is only speculation), the time in prison was a way to give them a taste of what he experienced. And we can’t overlook three days – like three days in the tomb. At this point, Joseph is planning on keeping 9 brothers and sending one back to bring Benjamin. But soon He will change his mind and keep one brother, sending 9 back to retrieve Benjamin.
Use your imagination a bit. Can you imagine how terrified the brothers are. Joseph is speaking to them through an interpreter, so they don’t know he understands what they are saying. He is acting gruffly – and they probably do not know the customs or laws of the land. They have no idea what Joseph is planning to do with them, and they are scared. I have noticed that when I am scared or in uncertain circumstances, it is then that I start honestly looking at myself, and trying to figure out how I can get right with God, and maybe cause a crop failure of the bad things happening in my life. Sometimes it takes a famine (spiritual or physical) to make us stop and pay attention to God. Joseph’s brothers will start having pricks of conscience soon, for it is only in real repentance that their salvation can come.
No matter how hard Joseph tries to fool them, occasionally slips of the tongue must have caught their attention – and eased their minds a bit. From their point of view, Joseph is a pagan Prime Minister – but Joseph says to them, verse 18 “Then Joseph said to them the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God.”What a strange thing for a pagan to say – they must wonder how he knows about God – he didn’t say gods, or idols, but fear God – that is a very Hebrew sounding phrase.
Then Joseph says, “if you are honest men”, one (not 9) will be confined in prison, and the rest will go and carry grain for the famine of the houses. But they are instructed to bring back Benjamin, so that their word is verified and they shall not die.
They talked among themselves, not realizing that Joseph could understand what they were saying, and talking about Joseph, their conscience was pricked, verse 21 “Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.”
They are seeing a connection of their past actions to their current situation. Reuben, the eldest who was responsible for Joseph, says in effect – see, I told you so. verse 22 And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not speak to you, saying, “Do not sin against the boy; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.”
Joseph is moved by their comments, and turns away to weep – he weeps many times in this narrative. Jesus wept also. Joseph takes Simeon from them and binds him. He will be the one to go to prison until the brothers return. Some speculate that it was Simeon who was the ring leader of the whole attack against Joseph.
Joseph gives them grain, and tells his servants to put the money in the sacks with the grain. They load their donkeys and return. When they brothers camped for the night, they took grain to feed their animals and one brother found that the money was in the sack. verse 28 “…My money has been restored and there it is in my sack!” Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, “What is this that God has done to us?”
There is so much of me in this statement. First of all, the money was returned because, just like with us, salvation cannot be purchased, it is a free gift. But the brothers don’t understand that. They are just more terrified – for fear of what the Prime Minister (Joseph) will do. They probably think that there is some sort of entrapment occurring. And then, who do they blame? God. I spent many years blaming God for things that He did not do – things that occurred at the hands of men.
They return to Jacob and report their encounter with the prime minister to him, informing him that they have to return with Benjamin to free Simeon. We will now see in how much regard Simeon is held. Jacob decides to leave Simeon in prison, rather than risking his beloved son, Benjamin.
Now Jacob is believing in error that Joseph is dead – looking at circumstances. He says, verse 36 And Jacob (notice it is Jacob – remember God refers to Jacob as Israel when Jacob is acting as God would have him act, and Jacob when he is acting in the flesh) their father said to them, “You have bereaved me, Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me.”How wrong He is – all these seemingly adverse circumstances are really for Jacob – and done to preserve the Nation Israel.
Reuben takes responsibility – offering that Jacob could kill his two sons, if he takes Benjamin and doesn’t return with him. Here is another hint that Jacob knows that something wasn’t quite right with what happened to Joseph verse 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.
So, we leave Chapter 42 with Simeon in prison, the brothers in terror because of the money, and Jacob not sending Benjamin. Stay tuned for Chapter 43 for the next exciting installment!
And now a word from Beth Moore – The Patriarchs
I love her insights – here is something I never saw before – Page 202 “The Hebrew terminology adds interesting insight in verse 9, possibly suggesting a play on words. Joseph accused his brothers of seeing “where our land is unprotected,” but a closer rendering of the Hebrew word for unprotected is naked. “Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.” To ancient Hebrew thinkers like Joseph, to be stripped of your robe was to be left virtually naked.”
Beth then recounts the actions of Joseph – the imprisoning of the brothers, the request to send one back, then nine back, she says on p. 203 “What in heaven’s name was Joseph doing? Actually, Dear One, I don’t think Joseph had a clue what he was doing. After all, he was in full throttle reaction mode. A number of commentator’s feel the need to justify all Joseph’s actions and make him above reproach, I suppose so he’ll fit neatly into a savior-type role. I see no need. Only one Savior is perfect. I’m fine with giving Joseph some room to wig out.”
Regarding Joseph’s comment about fearing God, Beth says, p. 204 “I’d like to suggest that fearing God had everything to do with Joseph’s change of plans. Quite possibly Joseph fell under conviction as he held all 10 men in custody. Perhaps God caused Joseph to ask himself how different he was from his brothers. After all, had Joseph not thrown them as surely “into a pit?”
This next statement by Beth, p. 204 is so true of me, and what I went through. God does release us from this though, if we trust Him. I know, because He has worked hard in this area in my life. “Let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s position for a moment. Let’s say we each sustained a serious hurt but God was with us in the years that followed, using our pain to build our character and humility. We’ve come a long way and produced much fruit, but some of the old wounds are still there. We’ve just chosen to ignore them. Suddenly, we come face-to-face with the person we perceive caused us such pain. We don’t give full way to our flesh. Neither do we give full way to the Holy Spirit. In other words, we’re not entirely blameless….but who can blame us? What brings us in check when we recognize a measure of our own vindictiveness? I believe it’s the fact that we fear God! We know that He tests not only our actions but also our motives. Quite possibly, only the fear of God kept Joseph in check….God is too practical to use the journey Jacob’s family had ahead for their sakes and not for Joseph’s. Only the most misshapen ego sees conflict resolution as straightening out only the other party. One side may have more work to do, but rarely is the other completely blameless.
Then Beth adds one more statement 204 “”Jacob must have experienced a terrifying sense of deja vu’, as once again his sons returned minus one. This time, with a pouch full of silver. Who could believe anything they had to say?”
Hoping you have a blessed Sunday – it is pouring rain here.
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