Genesis 42:1-28 – Guilt and Grace

Jacob grieving Joseph

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”

Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. So, Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So, when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.

“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”

Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

“No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”

“No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”

Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” And he put them all in custody for three days.

On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.

They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”

Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.

Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.

At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”

Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?” (NIV)

So far, the story of Joseph has been told in three acts:

  1. Joseph was sold into Egypt and rose to the head of Potiphar’s household.
  2. Joseph was sent to prison and rose to oversee the prisoners.
  3. Joseph was released from prison and rose to be the administrator of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

Today’s Old Testament narrative hinges on the treatment of Joseph toward his brothers, who don’t know who he is, and on the response of guilt the brothers have concerning their encounter with Joseph. It is a story of guilt and grace; and, there must be one before the other.

Joseph’s brothers have a history; they aren’t very nice guys. Thus far in the book of Genesis, we have these events from them:

  • Simeon and Levi committed premeditated genocide against the town of Shechem.
  • Reuben committed incest.
  • They all, except for Benjamin, sold their own brother Joseph into Egypt.
  • Judah impregnated his daughter-in-law, Tamar.

These guys seem like disappointing recipients of Abraham’s covenant.  Yet, this only heightens how gracious God is (who is always the principal actor in all these stories). God’s covenant loyalty is the operative force and is not dependent on the actions of less than stellar brotherly spirit.

So, Joseph, knowing his brothers’ character, put them to the test. He did not trust them any more than he could lift a pyramid, and so, set up a ruse to find out about his brother, Benjamin, and his father, Jacob. Joseph appeared to carefully craft a plan to see Benjamin (his only full brother) and be with him – whereas he doesn’t seem to have any desire, understandably, to be with his other half-brothers.

Joseph’s plan awakened (likely unintentionally) guilt in the brothers for what they had done to Joseph.  There are two kinds of guilt: true guilt and false guilt.  False guilt takes responsibility for something which we have not done or assumes guilt for some nebulous action. On the other hand, true guilt arises from a specific act which spurs the person to seek forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. This is a grace from God.

Sometimes we need to get our behind in the past before we can get our past behind us.

Moving forward in life, while ignoring actions which have hurt or damaged others, will eventually come back to bite us in that same behind – not to mention the unattended guilt which, over time, turns into gangrene of the soul.

Today is the day to deal with unresolved stuff lingering within your spirit, for tomorrow may be too late. Let us confess our sins:

Holy and merciful God, I confess my sinfulness – the shortcomings and offenses against you and your people. You alone know how often I have sinned in wandering from your ways, wasting your gifts, and forgetting your love. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am ashamed and sorry for all I have done to displease you and harm your image-bearers. Forgive my sins and help me to live in your light and walk in your ways, for the sake of Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s