The Brothers Return to Egypt
If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Genesis 43. We have said several times as we have worked through the life of Joseph together that two over-arching purposes in God's providence are apparent as we read the history of Joseph. First of all, the story of Joseph tells us how Israel would up in Egypt in the first place. So that Genesis 15, verses 13 and 14 could be fulfilled. And secondly, it explains how the promise of God in Genesis 12, verses 1 and 2 would be fulfilled. That is how God would make the family of Abraham into a great nation. And as we have surveyed the life of Joseph, we have noted that in Genesis 37 through Genesis 40, a pattern. Joseph's original favored status, but conflict with his brothers, leading to his near murder and his exile in slavery which marked the beginning of a downward spiral in his personal history. There is a brief period of relief as he serves as a favored servant in the household of Potiphar, but then he goes yet lower, as he winds up in prison. Perhaps on death row. But when we came to Genesis 41, the first half of that chapter, we said that the events in the story of Joseph took a dramatic turn. From the time that he interpreted Pharaoh's dream, we saw Joseph's years of trials beginning to turn in one sense. And by the end of Genesis 41, Joseph had been exalted to the position of the grand vizier of Egypt. Nevertheless, there was a great void in Joseph's heart. And it is interesting how Moses highlights that in the following chapters. As great as was his power, there was a tremendous void.
By the way, it is easy to see, isn't it, why Christian interpreters, for centuries have seen in Joseph a pattern and parallel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In His pre-existent exultation. In His humility as He descends into the depths. And then in His exultation into the right hand of the Father. We see that same pattern foreshadowed in the story of Joseph. Now last week, we saw how God in His providence used a famine to bring Joseph's family down into Egypt. And really that story continues in our text tonight. So let's turn to God's Word in Genesis 43 and hear it.
Our God, as we consider Your Word, we pray that You would touch our hearts with a reminder of the goodness and the perfection of your inscrutable providences. There can be few, none, in this room who have loved You and walked with You for long without facing things which are perplexing, things which are deeply perplexing, even depressing. If any of Your servants are here tonight, facing these kinds of dark providences, we pray especially that Your Word would be sweet to their souls. And for all of us, we pray that the Spirit would apply in our place and in our own situation the truth of Your Word, for Your glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
We see in this passage, the pattern of God's providence in bringing about His designs in the family of Jacob continuing. And there are at least three separate scenes in the passage before us. First in verses 1-10, where the brothers plead with their father, Israel, to grant them Benjamin so that they can go down and rescue their brother Simeon. And then in verses 11-14, we see Israel finally relent and give in and give instruction to the brothers. And then in verses 15-34, this strange scene where the brother, the eleven brothers are reunited with Joseph. The encounter him, and despite some strange behavior, some perplexing kindnesses, we see them united and experience lavish hospitality.
I. God's disciplining providence in the continuation of the famine, the imprisonment of Simeon, and the words of Jacob.
Let's look then at the passage together tonight. First of all in verses 1-10. Here the brothers and especially Judah again plead with their father, Israel, to allow them to take Benjamin down to the land of Egypt. And we see here, God's disciplining providence continue. It continues in the famine. The famine does not abate. It continues. The opening words of the chapter are…now the famine was severe in the land. The disciplining providence of God continues in the imprisonment of Simeon. We don't know exactly how long they were gone. Perhaps around two years. Simeon is in prison. And then of course, there are again the strident words of Jacob which show us the tensions which still exist in this family which give us some sort of taste of what these young men had run up facing from their father. And they also give us the taste of the bitterness in the heart of Jacob himself. But we see several things worth noting.
First of all, in verses 1 and the 2, the severity of the famine continues. It is a threat to the whole family. And its very severity forces Jacob to reconsider his previous position. Reuben had begged him to allow him and his own children to stand in the place of Benjamin as a protection and to take the clan back down into Egypt again. But Jacob had refused him. But now, Jacob reconsiders. In the midst of the severity of the famine, he comes to his son, and he asks them to help. And in verses 3-5, Judah, now steps forward as the spokesman and reminds his father of the predicament. They can't go back before the ruler of Egypt and get grain, because the ruler has said, don't show your face here unless you bring your brother. Their integrity had been questioned, and it was absolutely impossible for them to do otherwise.
In verse 6, Israel seems to be overwhelmed with self absorption. Notice the way he responds. Why did you treat me so badly, by telling them that you had another brother? So far, Israel is wrapped in his own misery and only thinks of himself. And the brothers answered jointly in verse 7, and they explain their actions. And let me say that upon reflection their report of Joseph's questions is poignant. Look at this verse. The man questioned particularly about us and our relatives, saying, is your father still alive? This is the first time we have discovered that this was part of the conversation that Joseph was inquiring even then, about the state of his father. They don't know that he is inquiring about his father, but that is exactly what he is doing. Have you another brother, he said. And so he is inquiring about his full brother, Benjamin. And we see something of the yearning in Joseph's own heart.
Moses is doing a lot of things at once here. He is showing us a little bit about the struggle that Joseph is now experiencing. Once Joseph had been exalted to the position of grand vizier, he had thanked God that he had forgotten his father's household, but now having encountered them in Genesis 42, he has anything but forgotten his father's household. It has reopened an old wound, and now he is thinking of his father, he is thinking of his brother, he is lonely for them. He is sensing the conflicts of the tensions of the family past.
And then, the brothers having explained their actions, Judah, once again in verses 8 and 9, steps up and he now pledges himself as surety for the protection of his half brother. Adding one more argument that they could have been there and come back twice if Jacob had only let them go when they had first asked.
It is interesting here, Judah stepping forward as the surety, isn't it? And if anything, it at least gives you a description of what a surety is. One who stands in for another and takes the penalty if necessary. There would be another of Judah who would play that role many centuries later. At any rate, we see here, God's providence conspiring to bring the brothers, all of them, back to Egypt and at the same time to discipline them in grace. Their father's response to them, both on their initial return and then their departure back to Egypt had been a discipline for them. Surely that had been a wounding thing to face the accusations and the suspicion of their father. It is an irony isn't it, he, that is Israel, had good reason of being suspicious of his sons. But the irony is that he displays this suspicion right when they, themselves are acting with the most integrity that they had ever acted. They told him exactly what had happened. They risked their own lives. And now he brings these accusations of suspicion.
And by the way, it does show us the consequence of sin. You know, when we were growing up, our parents taught us about what happens when you cry wolf. Well, that applies not just to crying wolf, it applies to a lot of things when you have established a character battle. It is not surprising that someone would judge you according to that old character pattern, even you have changed it. Here the brothers are showing signs of real change and growth, and yet the father is still suspicious as he could be. And he is also a man of a broken heart. And the Lord is using all of this to discipline them in grace. And to prepare the way for a great reconciliation.
II. The trust of Israel, the placing of his whole hope, in the Almighty God: the faith defined.
And then if you would look at verses 11-14, you will see Jacob, or rather, I should say Israel, relent from his refusal to commit Benjamin. He sets forth a plan for them and he commits himself to the sovereignty of God by lifting up a prayer of trust. The trust of Jacob is beautifully displayed in these verses. Verses 11-14. He places the whole of his hope, the whole of his future in the hands of the Almighty God. In fact, Israel's actions here, faith is defined. You couldn't get a better definition of biblical saving faith than in the action of Israel in this passage. Israel finally relents and in verses 11-13, gives three instructions. He says sons, first of all, take a present, that would have been absolute protocol in those days. If you had approached a high official, you would have been expected to take some sort of a present. Now these presents would not have seemed like extravagant gifts. But now remember they are in the midst of a famine in the land of Canaan. This probably cost them greatly to give these kinds of gifts. So they took presents of various sorts. You see that in verse 11.
And then in verse 12, he tells them to take double the money that they took last time, and take the money back that had been put back in their sacks. So he has every intention of them going, presenting themselves, giving that money back. Is Israel still suspicious that they had themselves cheated the Egyptians out of the money? I don't know, but he wants that money down there and taken back. And he gives them double the money in case they need extra. Perhaps having not been paid the first time, the Egyptians will jack up the price. Or perhaps because as the famine has gone on and the supply had dwindled and the demand has risen, perhaps now the Egyptians are now charging more for grain. Whatever the case, he gives them the money that they got back the first time, plus double that they had taken before.
And thirdly, in verses 13, he says, take Benjamin. Notice these are his steps of human wisdom. In fact, there is nothing wrong with what Israel is doing here. Far from it. It is absolutely right for him to act prudently. This is consecrated strategy. But I want you to notice that he doesn't stop here. He acts wisely. He does what he can do, but he doesn't stop there. He doesn't trust in these particular strategies, the strategy of the present, the strategy of the returned money, the strategy of meeting the demands of the Egyptian officials. Ultimately his trust is in God. Look at verse 14. He says this. May God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.
I would like you to see three things about this prayer that he lifts up. First of all, notice that he uses the word, God Almighty, for God, the name God Almighty. That is the name in which God had come to his grandfather, Abram in Genesis 17:1. When he had made the promise to give him a seed. Now friends, that is so significant because you see what Jacob is about to do. He is about to send all of his seed to Egypt with the possibility that it will never return again. And that the line of the Covenant will be extinct. He is too old to have children. All of his eggs are in one basket. But it is God's basket. And so he calls on the name of God Almighty. El Shaddai. God Almighty. May He be gracious.
Secondly, notice what he asks for. He asks that God Almighty would grant them compassion in the sight of men. You realize that this a testimony to his Calvinistic theology of providence. He knows, he knows that the heart even of the Egyptians is held in the hand of his God, God Almighty. And his God can make those Egyptians to be favorable to his sons. And so he prays that God would cause them favor their presents and to favor their overtures and to bless them.
And then finally, notice this. These words of resignation. If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved. And when we read those first, and I must admit, when I read these first, they come across as pessimistic. Even almost like whining. Almost a contradiction of what he has just does. First you have this burst of faith it seems, then you have this very pessimistic whining sort of outlook contradictory to that previously expressed trust. But remember again, my friends, remember what Jacob is risking here. Everything. Once again, once again in the book of Genesis, we are seeing God require a patriarch to risk everything in order to gain the promise. The covenant promise of God is at stake. Was there doubt mixed with Israel's faith? I am sure there was. Just like there is with ours. Was there an unbelieving fear mixed with Israel's faith. I am sure there was, just like there is so often is in ours. But ultimately this whole section beseeks his absolute trust in God. He is risking everything. Everything, as he sends his sons to Egypt. We see here again the test of the faith of Israel. And we see a definition of faith even in his actions. He places his whole trust in God. Everything is in God's hands now. He would have to wait for how long? How many months would Israel have to wait before he would hear whether his hopes were dashed, or whether his fondest dreams had been fulfilled? And all of his sons be reunited with him, out of Egypt. So Israel has to place his whole trust in God. And so we see the trust of Israel here and faith defined.
III. God, in His providence, uses Joseph's kindness to convict his brothers and their presence to prepare his heart.
Finally if you look at verses 15-34, you see the eleven brothers in their encounter with Joseph and despite his odd behavior, they receive a surprisingly lavish hospitality from him. And again, we see God's providence here working on both Joseph and his brothers to affect a future reconciliation and to advance His own plan.
Moses is going to focus in this passage on two sides of the story. First of all, he is going to continue to give us glimpses of Joseph. Of his kindness, of his own woundedness, of his desire for reconciliation. And on the brothers’ side, Moses is going to continue to show us their guilty conscious, their suspicion about receiving kindnesses, their fearfulness, and at the same time, he is going to show their integrity rolling their own fear of God being cultivated. There are so many things here we can't touch on them all. But let's look at a few things.
First, look at verse 16, Joseph himself, is moved at the sight of his brother Benjamin. And apparently leaves the house the minute he sees them, and tells his steward, prepare everything for dinner. We are going to have a big, late afternoon, noon day, meal together. You prepare everything. I will be back at the right time. Moses is already showing us how Joseph himself longs for reconciliation with his family. In verses 15-18, Joseph prepares for extraordinary hospitality for his brothers. But this surprises them and actually produces fear in them. Their fears are rather humorous. Look at the end of verse 18. The men were afraid. They start speaking to one another. And look at what they say. It is because of the money that was returned in our sacks. The first time that we were being brought, that are being brought in that he may seek occasion against us and fall upon us and take us for slaves with our donkeys. Now this is the Lord of Egypt. Surely he doesn't need a few Hebrew donkeys and shepherds money in order to enrich him. And Calvin, I think rightly comments, that this is the guilty conscious of the brothers wondering what in the world. I mean, we could be cynical and say, these are Calvinists who are always suspicious when things are going too well. But in fact, I think this is the conscience of the brothers, you know, wondering. Even when they haven't done anything wrong in the taking of the money the first time, because they have done wrong in times past, their consciences are wounded and hence over sensitive, and hence, overly suspicious, even in the presence of a kindness being done to them by their brother.
By the way, do you see God here disciplining them with kindness? It is kind of ironic. Every time we have seen their father speak to them, it has been harsh. Every time Moses has shown a dialogue between Jacob, between Israel and His sons, since Joseph was sold into captivity, it has been a harsh exchange. Here, however, two chapters in a row, we see Joseph, their brother, whom they sold into exile and into slavery showing kindness to them. He is literally killing them with kindness. God's working on their consciousness through the kindness of Joseph.
And in verses 19-33, with integrity they approach the household steward, they tell the story about how the money was accidentally given back to them and they obviously make some sort of overture to give the money back. And once again, having offered the original food money, they are surprised by kindness. The household steward says, I had your money. But your God, the God of your fathers, has given it back to you. Now I have no idea what the household steward meant. I don't whether he was a worshipper of the God of Israel, or whether he had simply seen his master in the household who was a worshipper of the God of Israel. And I don't know whether a he intended to indicate to them a miracle having occurred or whether he simply indicated that this was a kindness of the providence of their God, sent to them by their brother. The one that they do not know yet. But what he speaks is true. It was a kindness to them from the God of Israel, extended to them by their brother.
They are treated royally in verse 24, even their animals are cared for and they prepare to bring their presents into Joseph in verse 25. When we get to verses 25-34, there are several noticeable events. First of all, if you look at verses 26 and 28, twice, Moses tells us, they bow down. Moses is telling you this in order to remind you again of the fulfillment of God's revelation to Joseph twenty or more years ago in the dream. God's revelation is coming true and here the eleven brothers all bow down before their brother Joseph.
And then of course, comes Joseph's inquiry. First, he inquires after his father. And we see the emptiness of Joseph's heart here and we see how God is using this to cause Joseph to seek for, to long for reconciliation. He wants to know if his father is still alive. This is a perfectly natural thing. You know, it was told that there was a Theban general who won a great battle in the Mediterranean world, the battle of Leuctra. And this general, after the battle was over, when his other generals gathered around him to celebrate the victory, and they began to talk about the battle and they asked him, what was the greatest thing to him about this battle that he had won. He said, the greatest thing is that my mother and my father are still alive to know that I won it. And Joseph didn't know if his father would ever see what God had done in his life. It was very touching when Mike Singletary was here last week. He said that after their Super Bowl victory in 1985, after he was on top of the world, as linebacker for the Chicago Bears that the first thing that came to his mind in the hours after the Super Bowl, first of all, he said was an emptiness, but secondly he said, was the desire that at least this would make his father proud. He and his father had been estranged for many years. And he desired in this moment of his greatest victory for his father to be proud of him in this. And here we see Joseph longing to know whether his father is alive. To be reunited with him, and perhaps for his father to be able to see what God had done through his providence through his life.
And then the very next thing we see is Joseph inquire about his full brother. And Moses even throws in the phrase, his mother's son, indicating the specialness of Rachel there not only to Jacob, but to Joseph and the specialness of the relationship with Benjamin. God is building a desire in Joseph's own heart to take the difficult, the bitter steps that will be necessary to effect a full reconciliation in this family. And at the same time, he is disciplining through kindness the brothers of Joseph. When all is unveiled, friends, in God's providence, when all is unveiled, Joseph's brothers will be able to look back and see the consistent pattern of kindness that their estranged brother has performed for them, despite the fact that they had been the ones who had sold him into slavery. In God's wisdom, in His providence, He is preparing the way for reconciliation. God is wise. We can trust His providence. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this glorious story, and we ask that You would enable to believe these truths in our own experience. These things are easy to talk about. They are even easy to be moved by, oh God, but these things are among the hardest things in the world to really believe and act on in our own experience, especially when there a depth of pain. But we ask that by the grace of the Holy Spirit, You would enable us to believe when there is no sight and so to give You praise for the goodness and mercy of Your providence. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.