Have you ever felt like your life is unraveling and nothing is going right?
In Genesis 42, Jacob is made to feel that way, even though God was working graciously on behalf of his family.
vv. 1–5 - At the end of the previous chapter, we learned that the prophesied years of famine have come and struck, not just Egypt, but all lands. However, news is spreading that there is corn in Egypt and v. 1 tells us that Jacob hears of this and challenges his sons to visit Egypt. However, Jacob is protective of Rachel’s son Benjamin, and there are indications he harbors a suspicion that his sons had something to do with Joseph’s demise. Thus, in the providence of God, only the ten sons guilty of mistreating Joseph are sent to Egypt.
vv. 6–28 - Arriving in Egypt, Joseph immediately recognizes his ten brothers, and through an interpreter, speaks harshly to them. Joseph remembers his dreams, and questions no doubt arise in his mind: are my brothers the same as they were 20 years ago? And why is Benjamin not with them? Have they done something to him? Thus, in order to test them, Joseph mentions the possibility that they are spies. In those days, Hittites, Assyrians, and surrounding people groups would always give cause for concern, so why not those from Canaan? Joseph’s treatment of his brothers appears unnecessary, but v. 21 shows the effectiveness of Joseph’s actions to provoke their conscience and open the door to their repentance when they say, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” According to v. 24, when Joseph sees the first indication that they recognize their wickedness against him, he breaks down in tears. Another indication that he is not simply exercising vengeance on them. When Joseph appears again, he takes Simeon to make sure they return to Egypt with Benjamin. Given that the eldest, Reuben, opposed the mistreatment of Joseph, Simeon was the most responsible for the wicked plot against Joseph. As the brothers make preparation to return to Canaan, Joseph orders that the money they brought be hidden with the corn. One of the brothers, we are not told who, discovers this on the journey home and again, according to v. 28, they all feel their conscience being pricked.
vv. 29-38 - With Simeon missing, the brothers must explain their experience to Jacob, including how the Governor of Egypt requested Benjamin to be brought to him to prove their honesty. After this, they all discover their money with their corn and fear grips them. It is then that Jacob proclaims in v. 36, “all these things are against me.” Every one of them feels a sense of divine displeasure. Reuben, in an attempt to recover Simeon, speaks thoughtlessly, and offers the life of his two sons. But what comfort is there in putting more innocent lives at risk? Jacob will not be moved. To lose Benjamin would be to bring him to an early grave.
God’s people may lawfully trade with the ungodly for their own survival and profit. Some extreme views of Christianity push believers away from business interactions with the world. At times there are boycotts, and though I’m not entirely against them, here we see the covenant community trade with the world in good conscience. Let us not adopt unbiblical convictions which impoverish our families.
The only land without affliction is the place of an eternal day. Canaan, the land of promise, became a land of famine to Abraham (Gen. 12:10), Isaac (Gen. 26:1), and now for Jacob. When Jesus prepared His disciples for ministry, He told them to expect difficulty. But He consoled them by saying, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.” Christ gives peace of mind and heart, but not a life without famines and trials.
Difficult days require men of action. Jacob challenges the idleness of his sons; “Why do you look one upon another?” Instead of motionless despondency, we must do something. But just as this drove Jacob’s sons before the feet of Joseph, so it should drive us to the feet of Christ. There is rarely a better first response than going into the presence of Christ.
God works on man’s conscience through experiences of justice and mercy. Joseph functions as God’s instrument to bring repentance to his brothers, both by harsh words and actions, as well as deeds of mercy. Scripture tells us it is not just knowing the terror of God that we persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11), but also the goodness of God should lead men to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Conscience and God’s providence alarmed the mariners in the storm of Jonah 1, and the islanders who saw Paul bitten by a viper in Acts 28. Man’s interpretation of what God is doing is not always accurate, but that should not cause us to be numb to the fact that God superintends this world in ways designed to keep us humble and bring us to repentance. Since this is the case, the only way to avoid a sense of divine terror is “to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16).
Ignored admonitions are reminders of our own shortcomings. We can understand the frustration of Reuben when he laments, “Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear?” We have all been there, frustrated that someone did not listen to us. However, every sin is committed by dismissing divine instruction. This should keep us all humble when we find ourselves in Reuben’s position.
Everything is against those without Christ. Jacob didn’t realize that God was orchestrating things for their good, but this is only true for believers. Are you saved? This passage calls us to fall before Christ, the Governor of the universe and the brother of penitent sinners. Like Joseph’s brothers, we are guilty, and we come to the one who alone can provide corn for our souls and save us. Have you come?
“Brothers and Sisters, does it not strike you that the Lord’s rough dealings with His children, when He intends to bless them, have the effect of making them see how utterly dependent they are for that blessing from Him? Why, Jacob’s sons could now see that Joseph could lock them up for life, or take away their lives, or could send them back, if he pleased, with empty sacks to starve! They were entirely in his hands. They had no more power to escape than the dove has from the talons of the hawk. So God would have us know that we are entirely and absolutely in His hands, as the clay in the hand of the potter. If He pleases to withhold His hand, all the world and all Heaven cannot help us!” — Charles Spurgeon