May 17, 2015 Genesis 43
Series: Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families
Today’s Message: “Your Fears are Unfounded; Your Hopes are Feeble; Your God is Too Small”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
What are you fearful of losing? What do you fear being taking away from you? Are you afraid of losing a loved one? Fearful of losing your job, your income, your security? Afraid of losing your health, your independence, your comforts? Do you fear not being in control? If you surrender your life to Jesus, do you fear that He will take from you the people and the things that are most precious to you, and so you keep them close to you, not willing to let go?
Let me approach this matter from the opposite angle. What are your expectations of what God will do for you? How big, or how small, is your hope in the Lord? Do you trust Him merely for the things you need just to get by? If your fears center on what might be taken from you by God, then your hopes center on what might be given to you by God. Do you pray very conservatively, just hoping for enough to get by, or do you believe God for more than you can think or imagine? How big is your God? How small in your faith? How big are you fears? How big are your expectations in what God might do?
These are the questions we find in Genesis 43, as Jacob and his sons struggle with going back to Egypt, in the midst of a famine. Jacob was fearful that he might lose his precious son, Benjamin, as he had already lost his beloved son Joseph. He had no expectation that he would ever see Joseph again. Meanwhile, Joseph’s brothers were fearful that Joseph was going to enslave them in Egypt. Their best hope was that they would make it out of Egypt alive and return with enough food to make it through the famine. They had no expectation that their supposedly dead brother was ruler of all Egypt, and that he was inviting them to feast with him in his house! You see, their god was too small.
Could it be that your god is too small? Are you fearful of losing people and things that are precious to you? Are you are afraid of what God might take away from you? Are your hopes and expectations are so low that you don’t need much faith in God’s power and promises? Is your god is too small? If that is true of you, then let me encourage you: Your fears are unfounded and your hopes are feeble, and God wants to impart to you a robust vision of His greatness and goodness! The Lord wants to take away your fears and He wants to raise your expectation level to the mountaintops! He wants your view of Him to grow. He desires that your fears diminish and your hopes grow, as you realize that it doesn’t depend on you; rather, it depends on who you know. And like Joseph’s brothers, we often forget that we have a Friend in high places; in fact, our Older Brother is ruler of all. Let’s see how this plays out in Gen. 43.
1. Jacob’s Unfounded Fears and Feeble Hopes
In vv. 1-14, we read about Jacob’s dysfunctional family, and their relationships are being further strained by two facts: The first is that there is a famine in the land, and the second is that they all have guilt and regret from their previous sins. They are going to starve if the brothers don’t make a return trip to Egypt to buy food, but Jacob refuses to let them go, because they would have to bring his beloved son Benjamin with them if they return. Jacob blames his sons for telling the ruler in Egypt the family story, but Judah tells his father that they had no choice. So there’s a stalemate, until Judah tells his father that he will bear the blame if Benjamin doesn’t come back. Jacob reluctantly agrees to this plan, and seeks to win favor from this ruler in Egypt by sending along a few goody bags, with some honey, spices, myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds, as well as double the amount of silver. (vv. 11-14) Jacob thinks that if he sends along some snacks that his gift will smooth the skids for his sons, and everyone can come home to poppa. You have to wonder: despite all that God had showed Jacob and done for him, did Jacob really understand God’s sovereignty and grace? How big was Jacob’s god? Jacob’s faith in God is aenemic and his fears are completely unfounded.
Think about this: if Jacob had gotten his way, and not sent the brothers back to Egypt with Benjamin, his family would not have been saved. They would have all died of starvation. (Jacob reminds us that the only reason the saints persevere is because God perseveres to bring about the accomplishment of what He has promised.) Humanly speaking, if Jacob had gotten his way (by keeping Benjamin home with him, where it was “safe”), the nation would never have gone to Egypt… where it was spared from physical famine and spiritual disaster. The “safe” way was the way of death. By holding on, Jacob would have lost everything/ everyone! Jacob was not furthering God’s purposes; he was fighting against them, yet God saved the nation in spite of him. How encouraging it is to know that our ultimate destiny is in His hands, not ours.
God’s purposes are always better and greater than anything we can imagine. (Eph. 3:14-21)
But also consider this: very thing Jacob feared, that is, losing his beloved son, was the last thing that God had in mind. For the Lord would make sure that Jacob would not only see Benjamin again, but that Jacob would see Joseph again, as if Joseph had risen from the dead! You see, God had to break Jacob’s idolatrous grip on the sons of his beloved wife Rachel. For to Jacob, life without Joseph and Benjamin would be hopeless and meaningless. God wanted Jacob to bury the idols of his heart, as he had buried the household idols at Shechem, in Gen. 35:4. To bring that about, the Lord had to take from Jacob his beloved sons, first Joseph, and then Benjamin, in order that he might receive them both back, on God’s terms. Jacob had to be left all alone, bereft of all his children, so that he would be forced to rely on God alone, in order to fulfill the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and with Jacob! This was similar to the time that God told Abraham to offer up his only son, Isaac, in that both situations appeared to remove all human hope of God’s promises coming to pass. Jacob would have to walk by faith in the promises of God. He had nothing else and no one else to comfort him.
Application: What or who are you holding on to too tightly? Which people are idols in your heart? Do you ever say to God, “Don’t take so and so away from me, or my life will be worthless?”
Iain Duguid comments: “God is his gracious jealousy will never share you with an idol. He wants the whole of your heart.” Jacob feared losing Joseph and then Benjamin as well, but God had both of them safely in the palm of His hand. God wants to free us from our idols and bring us into His Shalom wholeness.
2. The Brothers’ Unfounded Fears and Feeble Hopes… and Ours as Well?
Verses 16-25 focus our attention upon Joseph’s brothers, and their fears, like their father’s, are completely unfounded. They sought by the works of their hands to win Joseph’s acceptance and favor. When Joseph brought them to his house for a feast, they feared that it was designed to be an opportunity to take them as slaves. So they were fearful of losing their freedom, their possessions, and their control over their ability to go back home. Their best hopes were that they would be set free and leave Egypt with some food in their sacks. In their eyes, God’s best for them was simply survival. They couldn’t fathom that this man they feared actually was someone who loved them and wanted to bless them richly!
These brothers give us with a picture of how we often think about God and about salvation. For they, like us, faced this sovereign ruler (Joseph) with the great fear. They perceived their only “salvation” to be in their “works” of returning the money they found in their sacks, and in the pistachio nuts they brought from Canaan. But the silver was refused by the steward, and the pistachios were ignored by Joseph.
For it was not their works or gifts that endeared these brothers to Joseph, was it? No, it was their relationship to him, but they couldn’t see that, yet. He was their brother! In the same way today, if we see ourselves as sinful people, we will dread the thought of standing before a righteous and holy God. Frantically men and women seek to gain God’s favor and acceptance by their “pistachio nuts” of good works. But such things as trying to live by the Golden Rule, joining the church, and being baptized, are unacceptable to God as a basis for salvation. For what saves a person is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Does that sound like you? Do you dread the thought of giving an account of your life before God the Holy Judge? Do you have a hard time putting your hope in a God who loves you and who invites you to feast with Him at His banquet of salvation, because you see yourself as so unworthy and so full of sin? Remember: what saves a person is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and He is the One who calls us into that relationship, by grace. Luke 14.
Look at this same wonderful truth another way: Jacob was putting all his hopes for the future on his son Benjamin, right? But God had purposed to save Jacob and his sons through Joseph, the same Joseph who was rejected by his brothers, who was marked for death, and who was, so far as Jacob knew, dead. Later, this son who “was no more” was elevated to the throne, where he was able to save his brethren. So Jacob’s hopes were placed on the wrong son. For it was through Judah, who offered himself in place of Benjamin, and Joseph, who was rejected and then exalted, that Jacob and his sons were saved. You see, Jacob would be saved God’s way, or he would not be saved at all. God had to systematically pull out all the props from under him, before he was willing to accept things God’s way. How true this is of us, isn’t it?
3. Our Strong Assurance and Our Robust Hope in the Gospel of Christ
Verses 26-34 fix our attention on Joseph, who is a picture of Christ here. Jacob hoped only that he would be kind enough to let Simeon go and not to detain Benjamin, but Joseph would do far more than this. Joseph’s brothers hoped that Joseph would believe them and not make them his slaves (as they had made him a slave); but instead, Joseph brought them into his home and gave them a magnificent meal. If Jacob and his sons were filled with fears, Joseph’s eyes were filled with tears, tears of love and compassion. Joseph’s only desire was to see a change of heart in his brothers and to once again see his father.
What a contrast we find between the fears of Jacob and his sons in the previous verses, and the tears of Joseph in this last section. Joseph’s deep love for his brothers is, of course, not yet evident to them, but it is made known to us. It makes the fears of previous verses look as foolish as they really are.
And so the true character of Joseph reveals that the fears of Jacob and his sons to be entirely groundless. The best that these men could hope for was the release of Simeon and the safe return of all the men (verse 14). Little did these men know that the governor of Egypt was the son of Jacob, their brother. What God had planned for them through the instrumentality of Joseph was more than they could ask or imagine (I Corinthians 2:9; Eph. 3:20).
Unlike Jacob clinging to His beloved son Benjamin, God the Father did not cling to His Son, whom He loved infinitely. He was willing to let Him go to earth, to die for us, to reconcile us to Himself. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, did not grasp His deity (Phil. 2:5ff), but was willing to let go and become a man, even to a death on the cross, for the same purpose.
The salvation we have received from Christ is far greater than anything we could imagined or worked out for ourselves.
You are saved God’s way, or you are not saved at all.
What are your fears? Is you God too small?
How large are you hopes? Are they worthy of a big God?
He can do more than you can ask or imagine, so ask God to enlarge your vision of how great and glorious and loving our God really is!