Genesis 42-44: “It’s alright . . . the God of your father, has given you treasure . . .”

 This life can be utterly and totally confusing.  One day we feel on top of the world and have everything together and the next we can feel like a complete failure.  One moment may seem like everything is going perfectly and the next like everything is falling apart.  Particularly in those times when things aren’t going according to plan, we can often ask God the “why” questions.  As we have studied the book of Genesis we have come to see a very consistent pattern emerge: men’s plans are subject to God’s will.  One of my favorite proverbs gives us advice that is consistent with the book of Genesis thus far, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). In other words, God’s purposes, not ours, ultimately prevail.  The title of today’s post comes from a wonderful observation John Sailhamer made about this text, “But, as it often the case in these narratives, unwittingly the steward expresses one of the central themes of the book: “the God of your father has given you treasure” (EBC, 251).  In all truth, the gift of grace now comes front and center of this section of Scripture and this trait demonstrated through Joseph is most reflective of the heart of God.  Yet, there is one other concept that comes out loud and clear in this section as well; repentance is a prelude to grace.   

 

As we have been tracking over the last few posts, we have noticed a pattern emerging during Jacob’s life as a father.  Jacob has preferred Joseph as the favored son and God has preferred Judah.  Judah because he is the oldest qualified son of Leah and Joseph is the eldest of Rachael.  In chapter 37 of Genesis Judah begins to emerge as a savior like figure as he convinces his brothers to not kill Joseph but to sell him into slavery (37:26-27).  Judah did not want Joseph to die and so he stepped into to help him though, clearly the type of help that he gave to Joseph was clearly not all that helpful, but was better than the alternative.  In this particular narrative in today’s chapters, we will eventually find out that Judah will once again become the savior of his family and his actions will foreshadow the messiah who will spring forth from his line.

 

Most people and unfortunately many Christians believe that we live in a world ruled by what some theologians have called the law of retribution.  This is basically the idea that whatever you have done will be done to you.  If we have been generous, then we will receive generosity; If we have been merciless to others than we will not receive mercy.  Because life at many points validates this belief system at many points, we forget about one gift that overcomes the law of retribution. That gift is called grace.  The word grace can most easily understood in contrast to the concept of mercy.

 

Mercy is not getting something we do deserve  

Grace is receiving something we don’t deserve  

This text, along with the rest of the Scripture will demonstrate for us that grace trumps the law of retribution every time.  Moreover, one of the greatest opportunities we have before us as Christians is to choose grace in those times when we have every right to retribution. 

 

 

Roughly twenty-two years have passed since Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery.  Joseph had walked a long and difficult road since the last time he saw his brothers.  They had betrayed him and under their watch he experienced a situation of betrayal more nightmarish than he could have ever imagined previously.  When Joseph had his brought his brothers before him after he had thrown them in prison for three days, he overheard one of them say, “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 is why this distress has come upon us.”  The text tells us that in this moment, because he could obviously understand them he had to turn “away from tem and began to weep” (42:24).  Surely, Joseph had considered the horror that he suffered through as a seventeen year old boy but now he was actually having those events played before him through the eyes of those who looked upon him with no compassion in his hour of need. 

 

Another thing that is interesting to me in chapter 42 is that the text tells us specifically that when Joseph was to send his brothers back to Canaan to get Benjamin, he decided to lock Simeon up.  Now why would he have chosen Simeon, the second born, at this point?  It is just an observation, but it appears that Reuben vindicates himself before Joseph with his testimony that he tried to keep his brothers from harming Joseph in 42:22.  Because of this, Joseph decided not to hold Reuben responsible for thse actions but Simeon instead since he was son number two.  After Joseph had Simeon thrown into prison, he had the others go back to fetch his little brother Benjamin.  For Simeon, there was some doubt about whether or not Jacob would consider his rescue worth the risk.

 

It seems a little strange that a father would not be willing to risk just about everything to save his son, but Jacob’s obvious favoritism toward the sons of Rachael would come forth here again.  When they went to their father with the instructions that Joseph had given to his brothers about their return Jacob responded, “My son will not go down there with you; his borther is dead and he is the only one left.  If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow” (42:38).  What is Jacob saying here except that there is a hierarchy of favoritism among his sons?  He is perfectly willing to sacrifice Simeon to save Benjamin.

 

It is at this point that Judah once again emerges as the savior of the lost son.  In chapter 43 he convinced his father to allow Benjamin to travel to retrieve Simeon as well as get more much needed food with these words:

 

“Then Judah said to Israel his father, ‘Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die.  I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him; if I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you. I will bear the blame before you all my life’” (Genesis 43:8-9).

 

It was with this commitment that Jacob was finally convinced and he reluctantly gave up his protective care of his prized son Benjamin.  So the brothers made their way back to Egypt and when they arrived Joseph decided to have them over to his palace for a meal.  In this situation we find an example of how confusing life can be from a purely human perspective.  When they were sent to Joseph’s house, they became convinced that they this was happening because Joseph was still angry with them.  They became nervous and their guilty conscience got the best of them.  They began to wonder about the fact that perhaps they were about to be punished because the silver that they had used to buy their food on their first trip was inexplicably returned to them. There is a sense in which they are beginning to wonder if they are being brought to Joseph’s house to become his slaves.  They began to feel very uncomfortable because they could not understand how it could be possible that there could be something positive in all of this for them.  It is in the midst of this personal confusion that they did their best to return their silver but Joseph’s steward pointed out to them that it was God who had given the treasure that was found in their sacks.  As the event went on they were treated with nothing but kindness and generosity from this man who had once spoke to them harshly, accused them of being spies and had locked one of their brothers up in prison. 

 

It appears that Joseph was sizing up his brothers about how he was going to treat them.  In the first test, he began to ask many questions about their little brother Benjaman (who was born of the same mother as Joseph).  It seems like he wanted to make sure that the brothers had not done away with Benjamin as they had with himself.  The second test that we notice as they travel home is whether or not they had changed their ways.  To find out, Joseph planted a silver cup one of Benjamin’s bags.  The group left, with tons of food and lots of gifts from Joseph triumphantly with their family in tact.  Then all of a sudden Joseph’s men came to the place where they were and said that one of the brothers had stolen Joseph’s silver cup.  The brothers were horrified and even rashly declared that if the cup be found amongst them that the one who had it would be put to death and the other’s Joseph’s slaves.  Now, take a moment to think of the irony of this proposal.  It was twenty-two years before that they debated whether to kill Joseph or sell him into slavery and in this case they flippantly offer both alternatives to the the Egyptians on their behalf.  As we know from the story, the worst possible scenario came to pass. Benjamin had the silver cup and so Joseph’s men took him.  The old brothers of Joseph would have let the boy be taken but something remarkable has happened in these men’s lives and they are now different than they were when they did what they did to Joseph.

 

Instead of returning home to their families, the brothers decided to go back into the city to do their best to gain back their little brother’s freedom.  The same men who were willing to sacrifice the one (Joseph)  to be free of him were now willing to personally risk everything for the sake of preserving Benjamin’s life. 

 

In the midst of the worst possible circumstances, with two sons of his own, Judah speaks for his brothers and again eventual savior of his family.  He stood to speak and at the end of his address to Joseph he said these words, “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with is brothers.  How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father” (49:33-34).  It is with this that we see a common theme reemerge in the book of Genesis – the savior will come forth from the line of Judah and he will be the true Savior of the world.  The Judah in Genesis simply foreshadowed the one who came to die on the cross.  Do you know him?  The heir of the tribe of Judah is Jesus and he offers to you his grace.  But one other thing, Joseph demonstrated for them this grace after he was convinced that they had repented of their former ways.  Salvation begins with repentance (which means to turn away from sin and turn to trust Christ as our savior) and ends with grace.  The opportunity for grace and restoration is being held out before you through Jesus Christ and please remember, “It’s alright . . . Don’t be afraid.  Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks.” 

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3 Responses to “Genesis 42-44: “It’s alright . . . the God of your father, has given you treasure . . .””

  1. John Says:

    Wow, the first paragraph had me going. The first two sentences actually opened my eyes wide.
    Your commentary is very helpful and thank you for reminding us of the difference between mercy and grace. God gives us infinitely more of each than we deserve.
    Its remarkable to see the change in these men as they proceeded to rescue Benjamin, not wanting to see the pain their father would feel at his loss.
    So, they changed their ways and if we don’t want to see the pain on our Father’s face, we need to chang our ways too. Fix me up if that’s not right.
    Thanks Brother,
    John

    • Bruce Smith Says:

      Thanks John, what a wonderful thing it is to know that our Father has the wisdom to sort out this confusing existence of ours! I apprecate your thoughts.

  2. Derek Taylor Says:

    This really helped to see you break this down. What do you think the significance of Reuben’s first request to Jacob is (Gen 42:37)?

    Here’s my take:
    I think that Reuben approaches Jacob here the way that most people approach God – as if we are making a bargain. But he doesn’t offer himself. He offers something precious to himself, but not himself. That makes his offer appear to be sincere- and maybe he is, at some level.

    God wants us. He doesn’t want us to give Him something He didn’t ask for.

    The more I pondered the difference between Reuben and Judah, the more I see that Judah is the one who understands that we must offer God all of ourselves. Sacrifice- even difficult sacrifices – are not sufficient.

    Reuben did not understand his father’s heart. He did not understand that the sacrifice that God is pleased with is a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Judah seemed to understand this. He really got it. I also think that one of my commentaries got it right when it says that his admission of his sinfulness (after his daughter-in-law exposed his sin) was the turning point in his life. Once we admit our sinful and depraved condition, we are in a place where we can begin to understand our need for God and His grace.

    That’s my take- really interested to know what you think, Bruce (or anyone else for that matter).

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