May 3, 2015 Genesis 42
Series: Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families
Today’s Message: “Search Me, O God…But Don’t Use People to Do It”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen BFC
How many of you have prayed the prayer of David in Psalm 139:23 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is an offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”?
And when we pray a prayer like that to God, what do we expect? That He will show us our sins; that He will reveal our hearts to us, so we can confess, repent, and claim the blood of Christ for forgiveness, right?
But what if God were to answer that prayer for having your heart tested… by using your spouse or your children or a friend? What if instead of the Holy Spirit speaking directly to your conscience, the Lord were to use other people to test you and expose your heart? Would you catch on, that He was using others to answer your prayer? Would you be willing to let the Holy Spirit use other people to show you your sinful heart and your secret idols? Or would you resent them? (Perhaps the root problem is that we usually want to be in control of the process, right?) Would you be blind to how God might be working through them?
This is what we find in Genesis 42. The Lord is going to use Joseph to test his brother’s hearts. God will work through their kid brother to expose their sins and to help them grow in grace.
But they won’t even realize that it is Joseph, just as we sometimes don’t realize that God is working through our spouse, our family, or our friends. Let’s see how that works out.
The story: God has sent a severe famine into this part of the world, and Jacob and his family, living in Canaan, have little food left. Jacob hears that there is grain to buy in Egypt, so he orders 10 of his sons to go there and buy some food, so that they might live.
When they get to Egypt, Joseph, who is in charge of all the grain, recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him. (The last time they saw him he was 17 years old; now he is 39 years old, and he is fully immersed in the Egyptian culture.)
While they have come to buy grain, Joseph sees this an opportunity to test his brothers’ hearts, to see if they have changed and repented, from 22 years ago, when they wanted to kill him, and then sold him into slavery. So Joseph devises a complex plan to put his brothers to the test, a plan that will include harsh treatment as well as great mercies. That’s what’s happening in the next three chapters, Genesis 42-44.
For our purposes, think of Joseph as being in the place of God, and think of yourself as one of the brothers. As one of the brothers, you are in a foreign land; you are at the complete mercy of this master; you are needy and totally dependent upon the purposes of this ruler; and things are happening to you that you can’t understand at all. At times you seem to be treated harshly, and yet at other times, you are given far more than you deserve!
Likewise, God can test us through hard times and through good times.
So, can you identify with the brothers here?
First Joseph tests them through his harsh treatment of them. Look at their guilty consciences, in v. 21: They said to one another, “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’s why this distress has come on us.”
In v. 22, we have Reuben defending/ excusing himself: Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.”
Then Joseph tests them through his generosity to them, for later, on the way back to Canaan, an act of unexpected kindness also sets them off! (vv. 27-28)
27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.” Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”
Derek Kidner comments “Joseph’s enigmatic gifts were a kinder and more searching test (than any act of vengeance could have been.)”
So, when life is going well, even then, your conscience bothers you, because a voice inside you says, “You don’t deserve this goodness! You’re not worthy of these blessings! If people really knew my heart and my deepest sins, they wouldn’t treat me so well and they would speak so nicely about me!”
Or when you think that life is treating you harshly, another little voice speak up and says, “Why is it always me? What did I do to deserve these problems, these hardships? I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing and now look at the mess I’m in! It’s not fair!”
God will use the hard times and the good times to search our hearts and speak to us! Will we wake up and listen to Him?
Or you might think of yourself as Jacob, the elderly patriarch of the family (vv. 36-38)
Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”
37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother 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.”
As Jacob, you are suspicious of other family members because you suspect they haven’t told you the truth about your beloved son Joseph; you tend to blame others for your misfortunes, “You have deprived me of my children!” (36); you feel like everything is against you (36); and you are at least somewhat depressed, bitter, negative toward life and toward God, and you are basically a self-centered person, even though you are part of God’s family, even though you have seen God work in your life over decades.
Jacob can’t see God’s hand at all here. He sees no further than himself and his own sorrows.
Can you identify with Jacob here?
Or maybe you can identify with Joseph? “Pastor, wait a minute… I thought you said earlier that we should think of Joseph in the place of God? So how can I identify with Joseph here?”
That’s a good question. Well, what I mean is that sometimes we are put in situations where the option of going ahead with reconciliation is up to us, humanly speaking. Sometimes… even after years and decades… God puts us in a situation where we have to decide if we are going to forgive someone who has hurt us badly, and whether we are going to seek to be reconciled to that person. That’s the position that Joseph suddenly found himself, 22 years after the incident that led to him being sold into slavery in a foreign land, being falsely accused of rape, and then left forgotten in prison… until God raised him up.
Can you imagine the thoughts and feelings that ran through Joseph’s mind and heart when he recognized his brothers, after all these years, after trying to forget about them, after thinking he would never see then again… and all of a sudden, here they are, in front of him, needing his help!
We read in v. 9 “Then he remembered his dreams about them…”
What about those two dreams in Gen. 37 did he remember? That his brothers would bow down to him? That he would be highly exalted in the whole earth?
I think at the very least that Joseph realized at that point that God was indeed fulfilling His dreams, His promises to Joseph… and therefore Joseph could rest in God’s sovereignty over everything in his life, the hard times as well as the good times.
If that’s true, then Joseph didn’t have to prove anything to his brothers. He didn’t have to lord it over them. He didn’t have to seek to get revenge for what they had done to him. Why not? Because Joseph was secure in God’s love for him. Joseph knew who he was. He knew how God was watching over him, and therefore he could focus on doing what was right and loving for his brothers. Joseph was free to love his brothers because he knew he was secure in God’s love for him. He wasn’t controlled by anger or a desire for revenge; nor did he ignore his brothers.
(Like what Jesus Christ did in John 13, when, knowing who He was and where He was going, He could humble Himself and wash the feet of His disciples, even the feet of those who would betray Him and deny Him in a short time.)
And so although it appears that Joseph is harsh with his brothers at first, calling them spies, putting them all in custody for three days, and so forth, we can see that this is all part of Joseph’s plan to test their hearts, to see how God has been at work in them, so that reconciliation might be possible. (Compare with Jesus’s treatment of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28, where He seems to speak harshly to her at first, when she asks for help with her demon possessed daughter… but it is all a test to bring her true faith to the surface.)
I find it interesting that three times Joseph accuses his brothers of being spies (vv. 8, 14, 17), when not only does he know that they are not spies, but in fact Joseph himself is spying upon them! He listens in on their conversations without them knowing that he can understand them, and he is the one who plants false evidence on them on their way back home (vv. 25ff).
So you can see how this is similar to the way in which God “spies” on us. That is, when you ask God to “Search me…and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts,” we are asking God to spy on us, aren’t we? We are asking God to search us and X-ray our hearts and our motives.
But let me ask you a question: when you pray, “Search Me, O God,” are you ready to have God use people to do that? Husband, are you open to having the Lord use your wife to expose the deep idols of your heart? Ladies, are you willing to have God use a good friend to deal with your self-centeredness? Brothers and sisters, will you allow the Holy Spirit to work through other members in this church, or even some unchurched people, to deal with your heart?
Yes, we should expect the Word of God to x-ray your heart. And yes, trust that the Holy Spirit Himself will speak to your conscience. But also remember that often God uses other people to really reveal the deep stuff inside you, so that He can deal with it and make you holy, as He is holy!
The chapter ends with everyone (including the reader) left hanging and waiting:
Joseph is waiting to see if the brothers will come back, and if they have really changed.
Simeon is waiting in prison, wondering if the brothers will come and rescue him.
The brothers, with Jacob’s refusal to let Benjamin go to Egypt, are wondering if they will ever be able to go back and get Simeon. Their hopes… and our hope… are often deferred. God calls us to wait, patiently, for His plan to work out.
Likewise, all of us are also living in a waiting period. We are waiting for a resolution, a reconciliation, not only of our own struggles and stories, but also of the great story of God’s reconciliation of all things in Christ. That fullness remains as our ultimate hope!
One last thought: Consider the parallel between the story of Joseph and his brother, and the story of Jesus and His disciples.
The deliverance of Joseph’s brothers from their hunger hinged on God using their worst sin (turning against Joseph) to accomplish His saving purposes for them. That is, their betrayal of the beloved son of their father, which led to his enslavement, suffering, humiliation, and unjust imprisonment, became the means by which God raised him to a position of power and influence for the saving of many lives.” (Duguid and Harmon).
In the same way, our deliverance from our sins hinged on God using our worst sin (turning against Jesus) to accomplish His saving purposes for us. That is, our rebellion and betrayal of the Father’s beloved son, Jesus, which led to his enslavement, suffering, humiliation, and unjust imprisonment, became the means by which God raised Him to a position of power and influence for the saving of many lives, including ours.
Let us consider all this as we come to the Lord’s Table.