When must of us read today’s passage from Genesis we somewhat confused, because it seems that Joseph is contradicting his previous actions when he is dealing with his brothers. When in reality Joseph is showing his brothers a great deal of mercy and he is also putting his brothers to the test. And it is these two things that we are going to be exploring more in depth for the rest of our time together.
The first thing we are going to look at is Joseph’s mercy towards his brothers. And in order to better understand mercy we need to leave Genesis and look at two other passages of scripture. The first passage of scripture that we are going to look at in order to understand mercy is Micah 6:8 which says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV).
This passage is one of the great summary statements of the Bible. If gives the clearest and most complete picture of how God expects his people to conduct themselves. This verse gives a threefold definition of God’s standard of goodness and what our commitment to him involves: (1) We must act justly, which requires being fair and honest in our dealings with others. Notice that it says we must “act justly”. This is significant because a person can claim to appreciate justice; but they speak falsely unless they are willing to take the necessary action to make sure that others are treated justly. (2) We must love mercy, which requires showing genuine active compassion and kindness to individuals in need. Notice that it says we must “love mercy”. This is significant because people can actually appear to do merciful things, but their actions are not true unless they really love people from their hearts. (3) We must walk humbly with our God, total reliance on him and undying respect for his purposes—following them every day. Public worship is only a small part of our total commitment to Christ. A genuine love for the Lord must be shown by gracious actions toward others—particularly those in need.
And the second passage is actually the words of Jesus spoken at the very beginning of his Sermon on the Mount in a portion of scripture that we call the beatitudes. That passage is Matthew 5:7 which says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” The word “blessed” that Jesus used here means content and sheltered by God’s promises. But who then are the “merciful”? The “merciful” are those who are full of sympathy and compassion toward those who are suffering either from sin or sorrow. The “merciful” sincerely want to help ease and eliminate such suffering by influencing people to depend on God for help and to entrust their lives to Jesus Christ. Merciful people also get actively involved in meeting people’s needs. By showing mercy to others, we “will be shown mercy”.
Now that we understand the concept of mercy and who the merciful are we can now look at our passage for today in Genesis. In yesterday’s passage we ended with Joseph imprisoning his brothers for three days. Which would seem to be an act of vengeance and not an act of mercy, especially considering the fact that Jospeh had accused his brothers of being spies in yesterday’s passage. Today’s passage starts in Genesis 42:18 which says this:
On the third day Joseph said to them, “I fear God—do this and you will live. If you are honest, let one of you be confined to the guardhouse, while the rest of you go and take grain to relieve the hunger of your households. Bring your youngest brother to me so that your words can be confirmed; then you won’t die.” And they consented to this.
Then they said to each other, “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.”
But Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? But you wouldn’t listen. Now we must account for his blood!”
They did not realize that Joseph understood them, since there was an interpreter between them. He turned away from them and wept. When he turned back and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and had him bound before their eyes. Joseph then gave orders to fill their containers with grain, return each man’s silver to his sack, and give them provisions for their journey. This order was carried out. They loaded the grain on their donkeys and left there. (42:18-26)
What we here is the first test that Jospeh put his brothers through, because the three days that they spent in the prison was not meant as punishment, but was meant to be a time of reflection on what they had done to Joseph. And this time of reflection clearly worked because Joseph’s brothers finally realized that they had done something wrong. What the Jospeh’s brothers finally developed was a sense of guilt over how they had treated Joseph twenty years earlier and they also realized that God was confronting them with their crime, which was Joseph’s intention all along. What we must remember is very simply this: often when we think that we have gotten away with sin, God will work in our consciences to expose our guilt, and we can either harden our hearts and resist God or humble ourselves, confess our sin and decide to do right, which is what Joseph’s brothers did. And we see the result of this in the next section of todays passage.
At the place where they lodged for the night, one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver there at the top of his bag. He said to his brothers, “My silver has been returned! It’s here in my bag.” Their hearts sank. Trembling, they turned to one another and said, “What has God done to us?”
When they reached their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them: “The man who is the lord of the country spoke harshly to us and accused us of spying on the country. But we told him, ‘We are honest and not spies. We were twelve brothers, sons of the same father. One is no longer living, and the youngest is now with our father in the land of Canaan.’ The man who is the lord of the country said to us, ‘This is how I will know if you are honest: Leave one brother with me, take food to relieve the hunger of your households, and go. Bring back your youngest brother to me, and I will know that you are not spies but honest men. I will then give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the country.’”
As they began emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his bag of silver! When they and their father saw their bags of silver, they were afraid.
Their father Jacob said to them, “It’s me that you make childless. Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!”
Then Reuben said to his father, “You can kill my two sons if I don’t bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you.”
But Jacob answered, “My son will not go down with you, for his brother is dead and he alone is left. If anything happens to him on your journey, you will bring my gray hairs down to Sheol in sorrow.” (42:27-38)
In the first section of today’s passage we saw Joseph test his brothers willingness to humble themselves before God and at the very end of that section we see and on into the section that we just read we see Joseph testing his brother’s integrity. Because Joseph only returned the silver that his brothers had used to pay for the grain to see what they would do in that situation. And as we will see in the last section of todays passage Joseph’s brothers passed this second test with flying colors.
The men took this gift, double the amount of silver, and Benjamin. They immediately went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.
When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his steward, “Take the men to my house. Slaughter an animal and prepare it, for they will eat with me at noon.” The man did as Joseph had said and brought them to Joseph’s house.
But the men were afraid because they were taken to Joseph’s house. They said, “We have been brought here because of the silver that was returned in our bags the first time. They intend to overpower us, seize us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys.” So they approached Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the doorway of the house.
They said, “My lord, we really did come down here the first time only to buy food. When we came to the place where we lodged for the night and opened our bags of grain, each one’s silver was at the top of his bag! It was the full amount of our silver, and we have brought it back with us. We have brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in the bags.”
Then the steward said, “May you be well. Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your bags. I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. The steward brought the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet, and got feed for their donkeys. Since the men had heard that they were going to eat a meal there, they prepared their gift for Joseph’s arrival at noon. When Joseph came home, they brought him the gift they had carried into the house, and they bowed to the ground before him.
He asked if they were well, and he said, “How is your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?”
They answered, “Your servant our father is well. He is still alive.” And they knelt low and paid homage to him.
When he looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother that you told me about?” Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” Joseph hurried out because he was overcome with emotion for his brother, and he was about to weep. He went into an inner room and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out. Regaining his composure, he said, “Serve the meal.”
They served him by himself, his brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who were eating with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, since that is detestable to them. They were seated before him in order by age, from the firstborn to the youngest. The men looked at each other in astonishment. Portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, and Benjamin’s portion was five times larger than any of theirs. They drank and became drunk with Joseph. (43:15-34)
In order to better understand the events of this last section that we are going to discuss we need to have a brief summary of the events that led up to the ones mentioned here. At the end of the previous section Joseph’s brothers had returned to Canaan and their and Joseph’s father Jacob/Israel. And it was not long before the grain that they had bought in Egypt ran out and they needed to go back and buy more, but there was a small problem with that. And that problem was Jacob did not want to send Benjamin to Egypt with his brothers. In fact Jacob does not agree to send Benjamin to Egypt with his brothers until Judah tells Jacob that he will take responsibility for Benjamins safety, even going so far as to say this “You can hold me personally accountable! If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I will be guilty before you forever” (Genesis 43:9). This then brings up to the last section that we are going to discuss.
We see in this last section of today’s passage that Joseph truly was merciful. Because the response of his steward could only have been given the steward had received specific instructions from Jospeh on what to say to his brothers. And more importantly it shows that Jospeh was not seeking vengeance for his brothers actions some twenty years ago. And tomorrow we will see Joseph’s final test of brothers and the final proof that Joseph was a man who acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly with God.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Genesis 44-45, Matthew 14:13-36, Psalm 18:37-50 and Proverbs 4:11-13