History, while never my favorite subject, was always a cool one. It is the story of us, the story of life and humanity and the mistakes and catastrophes that took place along the way. You get a funny feeling of superiority as you read about how some government or king or individual completely messed things up. You see exactly where they went wrong and judgmentally wonder how they missed the clear signs that this was a bad idea. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. It’s much easier to look back and see where things went wrong than to look forward and see where things will go wrong. And that is almost never truer anywhere else than it is in this section of the Bible.
Joseph, the second most powerful man in the entire world, has now added another accomplishment to his résumé – hero and savior of the world. The worldwide famine that God warned Pharaoh of has taken deep root, and people from everywhere have come to Joseph to be fed. 10 of those people are Joseph’s brothers. After years of separation, years of not knowing how the other fared, Joseph and his brothers come face to face. He recognizes them immediately. They do not recognize him.
What follows is sort of strange and chaotic, yet understandable. It’s almost like Joseph doesn’t know what to do with his brothers. He yells at them and calls them spies, but he cries when he hears them discussing what they did to him years before (verses 21-24). He throws them all in jail for three days but then relents and lets most of them free. He forces Simeon to stay in jail but he does not hurt him. He threatens all of them with death unless they do what he says (verse 20) but he does not accept payment for the food he gives them and even gives them extra food for their journey home (verse 25). In the end, although the brothers (minus Simeon) leave Egypt to return to Canaan, Joseph knows how bad the famine is. He knows they will be back.
The Treasures Within:
This family is a mess. Dysfunctional is an understatement for them. Joseph is in turmoil, showing first severity and then mercy to his brothers, apparently unsure of how to deal with them. Joseph’s brothers are absolutely miserable. As soon as things start to go wrong for them in Egypt, they remind themselves of what they did and the fact that God is surely punishing them (verse 21). They have lived their lives in constant fear, wondering what God would do to them next. The memory of what they did has followed them relentlessly, weighing them down and sapping their joy. Jacob is paranoid and distrustful. He does not trust his other sons to protect his favorite son, Benjamin. He does not even seem to trust him to God. Stubborn and fearful, he refuses to part with his son, confident that something terrible will happen to him.
And all this because of one fateful decision. The act of selling Joseph into slavery was like a sharp object poking the fabric of this family’s life. The tear caused by it has quickly widened and spread all throughout time. Perhaps we look at the mistakes of Jacob and his family smugly. Thank goodness we haven’t messed up so badly. But the truth is, we have. We have all sinned and even though our sins may seem insignificant, there are real consequences. Yes, Jesus loves us and yes, Jesus forgives us and yes, Jesus will turn something meant for evil into something good. He has done and will do all of that with Joseph’s story. Yet the consequences are still there: the misery, the fear, the distrust, the separation. The pain this family endured is memorialized forever. We can dismiss their history as an example of some people in great need of therapy or we can take it as a lesson and a warning to us here in the present day.
God’s Message To Us:
“The wages of sin is sorrow and pain and death”. Maybe we are tempted to take sin lightly because we are young or because we feel we have time. God will forgive us eventually. We’ll be able to get back on track. Those things are true, which makes the correlating lie that sin is no big deal that much more frightening. God allows us to see, in painful detail, the tragic consequences of sin because He knows how tempting and intoxicating that lie is. But the sinful pleasure and easy disregard of today leads to bitter sorrow and regret tomorrow. God is warning us. He has a better option, a road less traveled. Love Him. Obey Him. Surrender to Him. He promises that what He has for us is more satisfying than the temporal pleasures of even the sexiest sin. He promises that what He has for us is eternal and trustworthy. He promises that what He has for us is worth it. All we have to do is believe Him.
What do you think? What did this chapter make you think of? What message does God have for you within its pages?