WAIT AND SEE
Genesis 42–46 “Now we must give an accounting for his blood” (Gen. 42:22).Twenty-two years had passed since Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave. When famine drove the brothers to Egypt, and they applied to Egypt’s second most powerful man, they had no idea he was Joseph. Yet it’s clear that none of them have forgotten what they did to Joseph. The question was, Had they changed?
When famine drove Joseph’s half brothers to Egypt to purchase food, they failed to recognize him (42:1–38). On a second visit, bringing Joseph’s full brother Benjamin, Joseph tested them (43:1–44:34). Joseph finally revealed himself to his stunned family (45:1–28). The clan moved to Egypt, where Jacob was reunited with the son he thought was dead (46:1–34).
Understanding the Text
“You are spies” Gen. 42:1–17. When the brothers appeared in Egypt to buy grain, Joseph accused them of being spies. This, and the other things that Joseph did to his brothers, should be understood as tests. Twenty-two years earlier, when Joseph was only 17, his half brothers had sold him as a slave. Joseph wanted to know if the Lord had worked any change in their characters. The tests that Joseph devised showed that God had! “Surely we are being punished because of our brother” Gen. 42:18–38. The brothers were shaken by their brief imprisonment and by the suspicions voiced by Egypt’s ruler. The conviction that they were being punished shows they had never forgotten Joseph’s pleading as they cruelly sold him into slavery. For over two decades they had lived with that memory. People sin lightly, as if doing wrong were no great matter. But once committed, sin’s memory snaps at our heels, burdening us with guilt and shame. Note too Reuben’s statement, “Now we must give an accounting.” It sums up the Old Testament view of sin as (1) a violation of a known standard (2) for which one is accountable (3) and which merits punishment. “Deeply moved” Gen. 43:1–34. This chapter is deeply emotional. We sense Jacob’s anguish at the thought of danger to Rachel’s other son, Benjamin. We sense the brothers’ terror as they faced a return to Egypt, where they were convinced the ruler intended to “seize us as slaves and take our donkeys” (v. 18). Only the prospect of starvation in Canaan forced Jacob to send Benjamin, and compelled the brothers to take the road to Egypt once again. Joseph too was torn by emotion. He could hardly control himself at the sight of his brother, and word of his father. Yet Joseph controlled his emotions not out of necessity but out of wisdom. The test of his brothers was not complete. Joseph still needed to know their hearts. All too often we act from emotion rather than wisdom. It is especially important in dealing with our children to do what is best for them, rather than what our heart tells us. “Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” Gen. 44:1–34. The final test Joseph devised placed unbearable stress on his brothers—but it revealed what Joseph needed to know. How significant it is that Judah is the one who makes the plea recorded in verses 18–34. Years before Judah had been against murdering Joseph, but had been more than willing to sell him as a slave and bring home evidence that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast (cf. 37:26–31). Now Judah offers to become a slave himself in place of young Benjamin, motivated by thought of the anguish that the loss of Benjamin would cause his father! God had worked a real change in the heart of this man who was so calloused just 20 years before. It may seem strange, but realization that we have sinned often launches personal transformation. Guilt is not intended to drive us from God but to Him. Even a person who has something as terrible to look back on as Judah did need not despair. God is the God who forgives sin and who transforms the sinner! Judah’s reaction here offers hope to all who are burdened with memories of past sins. Our past need not determine our future! We can confess our sins to God and, like Judah, we can be changed. “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt” Gen. 45:1–46:34. A stunned Jacob heard the news and realized that before he died he would actually see the lost son he loved so dearly. Emotionally this is the climax of the story of Joseph. In the flow of Genesis, it is not. The historic significance of Joseph is that through his rise from slavery to power, God made it possible for his little family to move to Egypt where they could multiply and become a great people. Yet the joy that echoes in the brothers’ excited announcement of the news that Joseph lived serves as an important reminder. In working out His grand master plan for the ages, God never forgets the individual. He remembers each one of us and truly cares about our joys and our sorrows. I confess that I get tears in my eyes as I read Genesis 45:26–28. I suspect that God, figuratively speaking, had tears in His eyes as He witnessed that scene. Ultimately, God’s most important works are not those He does in shaping history’s flow, but those He does in the hearts of human beings. Transforming a Judah. Bringing a Jacob unexpected joy.
(Gen. 46:1–27) Beersheba lies in southern Canaan. It is a pleasant place, some 974 feet above sea level. Further south, however, one can look down on the Negev and the wilderness of Zin, deserts through which an ancient highway wound its way toward Egypt. In a sense, Beersheba lies on Canaan’s border. To go further south is to leave the Promised Land behind. I suspect this is why Jacob stopped at Beersheba to build an altar and offer sacrifices to God. Jacob was so eager to see Joseph again. The dry and devastated land of Canaan was no longer livable. Yet Jacob stopped at Beersheba. I appreciate Jacob’s wisdom. Many decades before, Abraham, driven by another famine, had hurried on past Beersheba in his rush to reach Egypt (12:10–20)-even though God had placed him in Canaan. Jacob wasn’t about to leave the land in which God placed him, despite strong motives, without stopping at Beersheba to pray. Genesis 46 tells us that there God spoke to Jacob in a vision, and told him not to be afraid to go down to Egypt. There God gave Jacob confirmation that he was doing the right thing. I suspect that this part of the Joseph story provides a model for our own decision-making. We carefully consider our options. We note reasons to do one thing rather than another. On the basis of our information and our desires we “set out.” And this is right. God has given us minds with which to consider and desires that move us toward one goal or another. Our decision-making as Christians should not be mystical, but just as practical and reasoned as was Jacob’s decision to bring his family to Egypt. But, as we set out, we need to be sure we stop at Beersheba. We need to be sensitive to God’s leading and ask the Lord to confirm or to correct us in the direction we’ve chosen to move. The 70 members of Jacob’s family who were united in Egypt could be sure that they were where God wanted them to be. Jacob had stopped at Beersheba. How good it is, as we make important decisions in our lives, to stop at Beersheba and indicate our willingness to continue or turn back at God’s direction. When we stop at Beersheba, we will have the confidence that, whatever happens, we are living in the center of God’s will.
Make decisions carefully. But make it a practice as you act on them to stop at Beersheba.