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Gen 42-44: Joseph, His Brothers, and their Sin Print E-mail
Monday, 13 February 2006

Have you ever done something wrong and thought that you had gotten away with it, only to realize later that you had not?  I remember one time when I was in the fourth grade I had a really hard teacher who was a tough disciplinarian.  She was very strict on her students and we all had a pretty healthy fear of her wrath.  Yet, as prideful fourth grade boys often do, my friends and I would on occasion try to test our wits with her and see if we would get caught.

I remember one particular time very vividly.  She had a thing about students going behind her desk.  For no reason whatsoever where we to go behind her desk.  Of course, this set the stage for some serious misbehavior and testing of wits.  When she stepped out of the room, we would try to run behind her desk, step over her chair and get back to our seats without getting caught.  On one of those trips behind the desk, my elbow flared out and tipped over her tea on her desk, causing the half empty glass to spill.  I was terrified and felt sure that there was no way that I could continue as a student in the fourth grade.

Yet, somehow, she never found out it was me.  She dropped hints on certain occasions, like when she was explaining to another teacher why tea was all over her report cards, that she knew who did it, but I was never punished for the crime.  And you know, to this day, I sometimes wake up from a deep sleep wondering, ‘When will she exact her revenge?’

Many of us probably have stories like that from our childhoods.  Yet, if you were like me, at some point it was ingrained into your head that you will reap what you sow, as Paul states it in Galatians.  Yet, is this a certainty?

We left off last week with Joseph in Egypt as second in command and the rest of the brothers back in Canaan with no idea of exactly what has happened to one they sold into slavery.  Yet, in our text this week, the truth begins to be exposed.  As we consider the lives of the brothers and their relation to Joseph, I want to point out three lessons concerning sin.

First, your sins will find you out (42:21-22, 28, 44:16).

The story picks up with a great famine in the land.  Jacob and his sons and the rest of Canaan are struggling to find food.  Yet, when they hear that there is food in Egypt, Jacob decides to send his sons to get food.  When the brothers go and stand before Joseph, over twenty years have passed since they had seen him last and the text tells us that they did not recognize him.  During these twenty years you have to wonder if they have ever thought about Joseph and how his life had turned out.  I am sure they had no reason to suspect that this leader in Egypt was Joseph, save those crazy dreams that had made them so jealous in the first place.

Yet, it seems from the text that they had not forgotten what they had done.  After Joseph keeps them in custody for three days and them tells them that they must return to their father and bring their youngest son, they make some interesting conclusions.  Look at 42:21-22.  They admit their sin in their treatment of Joseph.  You would think that after twenty years they would not be thinking about him, but it is interesting how your unconfessed sins stay with you. 

Look also at 42:28.  After discovering that their money for the food has been put in their sacks, they make the conclusion that God has come against them.  In this it seems that they are coming to realize that they have not gotten away with their sin against Joseph.  Rather, God is now bringing them to justice by causing them such strife.

Later, when they return again with Benjamin and Joseph has his cup placed in Benjamin’s sack, Judah draws a sobering conclusion in 44:16.  Look at what he says.  Judah and the others recognize that God has found them out.  They realize that the sins they thought they could hide from God were actually known by Him, for no sins can be hidden from God.

Of course, we should ask at this point, can we hide our sins from God?  We must realize like Judah and the other brothers that we cannot hide our sins from God.  This is the point that Paul is making in Galatians 6.  Listen to it again: 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  Paul is pointing out that we cannot hide from God.  Every sin that you have ever committed or that you will ever commit is known by Almighty God, for He cannot be mocked.  Thus, there is no reason for you to pretend like you can hide this morning.  Your sins will find you out.  Not only this, but…

Second, your sins will lead to disrupted relationships (42:36-38, 43:1-10).

We have seen this over and over again in the life of Jacob: sins against God lead to disrupted relationships with man.  This happened with Isaac, with Laban, with Esau, and now it is happening with his sons.  Only this time, they are the ones who are being deceptive.  They have tricked their father into thinking that Joseph is dead.  This deception has caused great distress in their relationship with him.  Look at 42:1-4.  There is tension between Jacob and his sons.  In fact, he is fearful of sending Benjamin with them because of what happened to Joseph.  Then look what happens after they return from Egypt and tell their father what the Egyptian leader has done and said.  Look at 42:36-38.  Jacob blames them for the loss of Joseph and Simeon, which in fact he is more right than he realizes, and he will not trust them with Benjamin, at least not yet.

Jacob is so worried about losing Benjamin because of what happened to Joseph.  Indeed, the brothers’ sin has caused great distress with their relationship with their father.  Although we affirm with David in Psalm 51 that all sin is against God, this does not mean that our sin against God will not impact our relationships with one another.  No, in fact the opposite is true.  Our sin against God will always impact our relationships with one another.  If our struggle is with lust, then that will impact how we relate to our sisters in Christ.  If our struggle is with jealousy, as with the brothers, then that will impact how we rejoice at another’s success or fight for one another’s sanctification.  We cannot expect to live in sin, while at the same time living in unity with one another.  That is just not how sin works.  No, all sin will impact our relationships with one another.

So, we have seen two negative lessons from sin, but is there anything positive that we can learn from this passage?  In other words, what are we supposed to do with our sin if we know that we cannot hide from it and we know that it is going to impact all of our relationships?  It is this question that leads to our third lesson this morning…

Third, your sins should lead you to repentance and change (43:8-9, 44:18-34).
Joseph is testing his brothers in this passage.  We are told that he recognizes them the very first time they appear before him in Egypt (see 42:7).  We also see that he still cares for them by his tears (see 42:24 and 43:30-31).  So why does he put them through all that he does?  It seems that he testing them to see whether or not they have truly changed.  In fact, we could say that God, in His providence, is using Joseph to test the brothers.  Joseph tests them in at least three ways.

First, he puts the money in their sacks to see if they will return it.  He knows their struggle with money (seeing that they sold him into slavery) and he wants to see if they will be honest.  Thus, notice how the situation is handled when they return.  Look at 43:16-23.  Only after they are honest with the servant about the money does the servant assure them that they are alright and have nothing to fear.

Second, we have seen from early on in this text that Benjamin has taken the place of Joseph in their father’s eyes (see 42:4).  When the brothers tell Jacob that they must take Benjamin back with them to Egypt, Jacob flat refuses and simply considers Simeon lost (see 42:36-38).  So then, how will the brothers treat him?  We saw how they treated Joseph.  But will they treat Benjamin the same?   When they return to Egypt with Benjamin and are invited to feast with Joseph, Joseph intentionally gives Benjamin more to test the brothers.  Look at 44:34.  Yet, the verse concludes by telling us that they were not jealous of Joseph’s favoring of Benjamin, but only ‘drank and were merry with him.’ 

Then, Joseph comes to the final test.  In chapter 44 he sends them back to Canaan again.  Yet, this time, he has his servant conceal his cup in Benjamin’s sack.  After they leave, Joseph sends his servant after them to confront them about the cup.  Of course, they all refuse taking the cup and tell the servant that if any one of them is found with the cup then that one will die.  When the servant finds the cup in Benjamin’s sack, they are all mortified and immediately rip their clothes.  They pack up their donkeys and return with the servant to face Joseph.

At this point Judah makes a strategic move.  He admits freely that they are guilty before God.  And even when Joseph tells him that only Benjamin will be kept as a slave in Egypt, Judah will not allow it.  His speech is one of great humility and sincerity.  He recites to Joseph in all honesty what has happened and what Jacob has said about Benjamin.  He tells him that returning to Canaan without Benjamin will drive his father down to Sheol.  He comes to the climax in verses 33-34.  Look at those with me. 

This is a great example of a man who has changed.  This is why Joseph has tested his brothers, to really see if they have changed.  And with this final speech we see that Judah has gone from one who is willing to sell his brother into slavery to one who is willing to be a slave in the place of his brother. 1  Indeed, by these actions we see that Judah and the others have truly repented and truly changed.

Thus, we conclude with this question: can a sinner really repent and change?  Can a sinner really stop hiding from his sins and admit that he is in need of mercy?  Can the relationships that have been disrupted be renewed?   Yes!  A resounding, ‘Yes!’  But how can this be?  Because Judah will not be the last one to offer himself in the place of another.  No, there will be One who will come in the line of Judah who will not be guilty of any sin or malice.  And He will graciously choose death on a cruel cross in our place that we might freely repent of our sins and know forgiveness by believing in His name.  Yes a man can change, by the grace of God a man can change.  Thus, do not pretend to hide from the Lord this morning.  Do not pretend that your sins have not brought distress on you and your relationship with others.  Rather, repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of Judah, who freely gave himself in your place, dying a death that you deserved, winning a victory that you could not win, that you might be reconciled to the Father through belief in the Son.  Do not pretend to hide, brothers and sisters, repent.  Repent and be saved.  Amen.

Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 567.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 February 2006 )

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