Introduction: Many people incorrectly assume that the last portion of the Book of Genesis is about Joseph. Thus, many may feel that the account is anti-climactic after Joseph’s dramatic rise from a prisoner to the second most powerful person in Egypt. But God’s purpose in sending Joseph to Egypt was not simply to bring him into a position of power. Instead, Joseph was God’s instrument for transforming the men who would later form the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob was spiritually blind in favoring the sons of his favorite wife Rachel. He created the jealousy, hatred, and anger that caused 10 of his sons to sell Joseph into slavery and then stage his death. After he believed that Joseph was gone, he continued to favor his last remaining son through Rachel; Benjamin. Like Abraham, God would need to test Jacob. He needed to show Jacob where his love of his son exceeded the love of the Father. Unlike Abraham, Jacob loved the gift more than the Giver. At least 10 of Jacob’s sons also needed to have their hidden sins exposed. For approximately 20 years, they carried the guilt of betraying Joseph. They were also carnal in their walk. Their jealousy and anger towards Joseph was just one example of this. The firstborn Reuben slept with his father’s concubine. His second and third sons, Simeon and Levi, misused God’s holy name to commit mass murder in Shechem. They and the other brothers then looted the town and kidnapped the remaining wives and children. They then refused to repent of their sins. The fourth son Judah had disregarded God’s laws by marrying a Canaanite, engaging in temple prostitution, moral hypocrisy, failing to teach God’s laws to his children, and preventing his third sin from providing an heir to Tamar, the widow of his eldest son Er. With the exception of Benjamin, we know that the 10 sons shared in the guilt of selling Joseph into slavery. While Reuben was not a direct participant in this, he participated in their deceit in convincing Jacob that Joseph had died. Also with the exception of Benjamin who would have only been a young boy at the time, the other sons also shared in the guilt of looting and kidnapping in Shechem. The dysfunctional family environment would also allow us to safely conclude that the younger sons followed after the carnal examples of the four eldest brothers. Finally, even Joseph was still in need of God’s further molding. God would still need to test his heart to expose the buried hurt inside of him to help him fully forgive his brothers. The spiritual renewal and building of the nation of Israel would take approximately 400 years of molding through affliction in Egypt. But it would begin with each member of Jacob’s family being tested to expose their hidden sins. From this account, God reveals seven lessons on His use of testing to expose your hidden sins.
First, God unleashed a terrible seven-year drought to test Jacob’s family and expose their hidden sins in Egypt. From this, God reveals that He uses natural disasters to test and expose His people’s hidden sins. Second, in Egypt, God used Joseph as His instrument for testing his brothers to convict them of their hidden sins by placing them in prison for three days. From this, God reveals that He also uses affliction to test and expose His people’s hidden sins. Third, as a result of their suffering in prison, the 10 sons became convicted of their sins and felt remorse. From this, God allows you to suffer affliction to bring about your repentance. Fourth, although Joseph acted at the prompting of the Spirit in bringing his brothers to repentance, he wept from the pain caused by their sins and his pain in their affliction. From this, God reveals that Jesus is equally grieved by both your sins and your afflictions. Fifth, acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Joseph did not seek to teach his brothers a lesson through vengeance. Instead, he convicted them of their sins through acts of kindness. He secretly restored the money that they used to buy the grain for their family. Just as Joseph did, Jesus also tries to bring you back to Him through kindness and blessings. Sixth, when the men returned to Canaan and found their monies restored to them, they were convicted and feared God. Jacob, however, failed to trust God. Despite God’s prior promises to Jacob, Jacob did not trust that God was in control. From this, God reveals that He also tests you to expose your lack of faith and trust in Him. Finally, God tested Jacob to see if he would let the son that he loved, Benjamin, travel to Egypt to save one of the children that he did not love, Simeon. Jacob refused. He was willing to leave Simeon in prison. From this, God reveals that He may also test you to show your lack of love for others.
The need for God to remold the rest of Jacob’s family through affliction. With Joseph in the place where God had placed him, God unleashed a terrible seven-year drought that He planned before time began. He did this to test Jacob’s family and expose their hidden sins. “1 Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, ‘Why are you staring at one another?’ 2 He said, ‘Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.’ 3 Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, ‘I am afraid that harm may befall him.’ 5 So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.” (Gen. 42:1-5; Acts 7:12). Jacob showed that he was in need of God’s molding. This account begins and ends with his favoritism toward Benjamin. The family remained divided as before. The favorite son remained separate from the group of non-favored sons, called “the ten brothers of Joseph.” This account also provides a contrast between Joseph and his 10 brothers who hated him. Joseph had grown spiritually and prepared for the drought. His brothers had not grown spiritually, and they were unprepared for it. Like Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins, Joseph was like one of the wise virgins who brought oil. The 10 brothers were like the ones who did not (Matt. 25:1-13). Joseph also received God’s blessing by using his authority to sell grain to all the foreigners who came from across the regional area: “He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.” (Prov. 11:26). By contrast, Jacob’s family struggled and feared for their lives because they thought only of themselves. The drought was God’s means to expose their sins and remold their hearts.
Bartholomeus Breenbergh 1598 – 1657 (Joseph Distributing Grain in Egypt) (1655)1
God uses droughts and natural disasters to draw His people back to Him. God frequently uses natural disasters to test the hearts of His people and remold them as clay. For example, God tested Abraham with a drought in Canaan after he first arrived. He made the mistake of failing to consult God and instead fled for Egypt (Gen. 12:10). God later tested Isaac with a severe famine in Canaan. But Isaac heeded God’s warning not to travel to Egypt (Gen. 26:1-2). Jacob had become spiritually blind and relied upon his own instincts by looking for a worldly solution. He turned to what others told him about where to buy grain instead of turning to God. Looking to the world to guide your path is not how God wants you to make decisions: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Yet, God knew in advance that Jacob would act through his flesh to send his 10 sons to Egypt. God used his lack of faith for His glory and as part of His greater plan. God, however, does not want you to follow in Jacob’s example. When disaster strikes you or your country, He wants you to fear Him and seek His presence the way that David would do hundreds of years later: “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. . . .”’ (2 Sam. 21:1(a)). “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness, to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.” (Ps. 33:18-19). “In famine He will redeem you from death, . . .” (Job 5:20). With modern scientific discoveries, mankind is frequently less willing to see God’s hand in natural disasters. Sadly, this is something that God predicted long ago: “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Amos 4:9). When disaster strikes, will you pray for the nation to fear God and turn back to Him?
God also tests you to show you where your heart hides evil. God cannot tempt you (James 1:13-14). He does, however, test you. ‘“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.”’ (Jer. 17:10). “Yet, O LORD of hosts, You who test the righteous, who see the mind and the heart; . . ..” (Jer. 20:12). “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Is. 48:10). He tests you to show you where your heart is evil. (Jer. 17:9.) David, someone who committed adultery and then tried to cover it up with murder, later invited God to search his heart to expose his sins: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts;” (Ps. 139:23). His openness to learning from his sins is what made him a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). Are you willing to let God show you your hidden sins? If you say to God that there is no need for Him to test you because you have no sin, the truth is not within you (1 Jo. 1:8). Like David, have you invited God to expose your hidden sins so that you can repent and turn back to Him?
God’s testing of Joseph’s 10 brothers through affliction. Through God’s providence, He brought the 10 sons responsible for either selling Joseph into slavery or faking his death before Joseph to have them bow to him. Here, God initially tested Joseph to see if he would retaliate against his brothers. He then used Joseph as His instrument for testing his brothers to convict them of their hidden sins by placing them in prison for three days: “6 Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, ‘Where have you come from?’ And they said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’ 8 But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. 9 Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, ‘You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.’ 10 Then they said to him, ‘No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.’ 12 Yet he said to them, ‘No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!’ 13 But they said, ‘Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.’ 14 Joseph said to them, ‘It is as I said to you, you are spies; 15 by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! 16 Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.’ 17 So he put them all together in prison for three days.” (Gen. 42:6-17). The Bible does not state what motivated Joseph’s actions. Although he was wise, he was still human. He did not pray to God. By context, we can discern that his flesh motivated his initial actions. But we can also infer that the Spirit guided his later actions. Joseph’s false allegation that brothers were spies was not of God. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Thus, we can assume that this part of Joseph’s response came from his flesh. His stern interrogation was also part of his effort to learn if the brothers had sold Benjamin the same way they sold him. Because Benjamin was not with them, this was a reasonable question to ask. At the same time, it would be wrong to dismiss all of Joseph’s actions as being motivated by his flesh. The fact that God caused Joseph to remember his prior dream was His way of letting Joseph know that these events were all part of His plan. The fact that Joseph later secretly restored the money that the 10 brothers used to buy grain shows that Joseph’s subsequent actions were all at the direction of the Holy Spirit. Led by the Spirit, Joseph became God’s instrument to test the brothers through the affliction of jail with the goal of convicting them of their hidden sins.
Joseph’s 10 brothers appear before him in Egypt2
God’s fulfillment of His promise to Joseph. God previously gave Joseph a dream where he foresaw this very moment: “He said to them, ‘Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.’” (Gen. 37:6-7). God was faithful to keep His Word. He also fulfilled a similar prophecy given to Joseph’s grandfather Isaac: “May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; . . .” (Gen. 27:29). But God did not give Joseph this prophesy to boost his ego or taunt his brothers with the reversal of their fortunes. Pride is a sin that God “hates.” (Prov. 8:13). Instead, God caused Joseph to remember this prophesy at this very moment (Gen. 42:9) to let Him know that God had caused these events to happen for a greater purpose to save his family (Gen. 50:20). Like Joseph, you too can trust in God’s promises to you.
God is in control, even when people conspire to do evil. While the brothers meant to do evil, God used their evil acts for His greater plan (Ro. 8:28). “When Joseph’s brothers plotted murder against him and sold him into slavery, they did it with the specific intention to defeat his dreams (Genesis 37:19-20). Instead, by sending Joseph to Egypt, they provided the way the dreams would be fulfilled. The great and glorious truth of God's providence is He can and does use the evil actions of man towards us to further His good plan. This never excuses man’s evil, but it means God's wisdom and goodness are greater than man’s evil. Surely the wrath of man shall praise You (Psalm 76:10).” (David Guzik on Gen. 42).3
The foreshadow of Jesus who concealed His divine glory in the form of a lowly man. Joseph was a wise and just man. But he was not Jesus. The details of his life, however, foreshadow Jesus. This even includes Joseph’s concealment from his brothers. Joseph concealed his identity from his brothers for a greater purpose of bringing them to repentance. Jesus also hid His divine form by becoming a lowly man. Like Joseph’s brothers, Jesus’ brethren did not recognize His divine nature. Nor did they recognize His as their Messiah: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” (Jo. 1:10). Even on the road to Emmaus, His disciples were kept from recognizing Him: “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.” (Lk. 14:16). At the Sea of Galilee, His disciples also did not recognize Him: “But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” (Jo. 21:4). Jesus hid His divine identity to test people to see if they would believe in faith in Him. He does not want followers who walk by sight and only believe in what can be proven to them. Jesus knows that these kinds of believers will quickly abandon Him in times of trouble.
The foreshadow of Jesus during the Millennial Reign. The bowing of Joseph’s former enemies before him foreshadow the time when the former enemies of Jesus will bow before Him: “The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, and all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; and they will call you the city of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” (Is. 60:14). “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie-- I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.” (Rev. 3:9). “. . . to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” (Is. 45:23(b); Ro. 14:11). “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (Phil. 2:11; Ps. 95:6). Is Jesus both your Savior and Lord?
The foreshadow of the suffering of the Church with the brothers’ three days in prison. God led Joseph to afflict his brothers with suffering in prison not out of vengeance. Instead, God orchestrated these events to break through the scales over their eyes and convict them of the hidden sins against Joseph that they had concealed for almost 20 years. When God does discipline, His discipline is always just and serves a purpose. Thus, it is believed by some that Joseph put his brothers in prison for three days because his brothers put him in a pit for three days. (Testament of Zebulun 6:4; First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Vol. 2, Shadows of the Messiah, Vayeshev, (2016) p. 181). The Jewish sages also interpreted these verses to conclude that there is a limit to how long God will allow His people to suffer. “The Holy One, blessed be He, never leaves the righteous in distress for more than three days . . .Thus, it is written [in Hosea 6:2], ‘After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live in his presence.’ This refers to the third day of the sons of Jacob, as it is written [in Genesis 42:18], ‘On the third day, Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you will live.’” (First Fruits of Zion, Miketz, p. 204, quoting Genesis Rabbah, 56:1; 97:7). Some might read this interpretation to be absurd on its face. Nearly every person can think of a time when they suffered more than three days in their life. Yet, this interpretation assumes that the “days” in Hosea 6:2 were solar 24-hour days as opposed to God’s days. Because God created time and sits outside of our time, He declares that His time is not equivalent to our time. “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.” (Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8). We have no way to measure His days. But we can take hope that He ordained a time when the suffering of the Church will come to an end.
You cannot hide your sins forever. If you have concealed sin, it will not stay hidden for long. The Bible warns: “But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.” (Nu. 32:23). “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecc. 12:14). “. . . but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Cor. 4:5). “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” (Prov. 15:3). “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes.” (Jer. 16:17). “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13). “For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths.” (Prov. 5:21). Have you sinned believing it will be kept secret?
Joseph’s conviction of his brothers’ sins through his fear of God. Joseph’s name was never mentioned in this account. But the men subconsciously associated Egypt with their wrongfully enslaved brother. After their three-day incarceration, their hidden sins could no longer be concealed. Joseph’s proclamation that he feared Yahweh was enough for the 10 men to feel judged by God for their sins: “18 Now Joseph said to them on the third day, ‘Do this and live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.’ And they did so. 21 Then they said to one another, ‘Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.’ 22 Reuben answered them, saying, ‘Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.’” (Gen. 42:18-22). At this point after nearly 20 years, Reuben assumed that Joseph was now dead. Under the law God gave to Moses, he believed that Joseph’s blood debt was on them all (Gen. 9:5-6). In the Bible, the number ten is associated with both the righteousness of the Ten Commandments and God’s judgment under these Commandments. Reuben was the first to break. He previously pleaded with his brothers not to kill Joseph. He instead told them to lower Joseph into a pit (Gen. 37:21-22). At the time, Reuben most likely carried guilt from defiling his father’s concubine Bilhah (Gen. 35:22). But his later actions establish that his motive was to restore his name. When he later found that his brothers had sold Joseph, he stayed silent to protect his name. He was born to lead. But sin had compromised his ability to lead others. If you are sinning, others will be less likely to respect you when you try to lead. They will call you a hypocrite.
Joseph causes his 10 brothers to fear with his request to see Benjamin4
Leaders are held to a higher standard. Joseph decided that one brother would remain behind to ensure Benjamin’s return (Gen. 42:19). That brother is later identified as Simeon, the second oldest of the 12 (Gen. 42:36). Joseph knew that Reuben was not present when the other nine decided to sell him into slavery (Gen. 42:22). Judah was in fact the one who proposed selling Joseph into slavery. The others then agreed with his proposal (Gen. 37:26-27). Joseph was there in the pit at the time and would have likely heard Judah’s words. But, as the oldest brother present, Joseph held Simeon responsible for the conduct of the other brothers. Thus, he received the greatest punishment. Church leaders are also held to a higher standard of conduct (1 Timothy 3:1-13). Because a leader has influence over others, a leader must be a check against others under their authority who seek to sin. If God has placed you in a place of leadership at home or at work, do you ensure that your own conduct keeps others from stumbling in their walk? Do you also gently correct others when they sin?
God may also use affliction to bring about your repentance. Like Joseph’s brothers, God may also use affliction to expose your sins that you refuse to acknowledge: “I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” (Hos. 5:15). ‘“If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies-- or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.” (Lev. 26:40-42; Nu. 21:7). When one person sins against another, God requires both the confession of sin and the payment of restitution to make the victim whole: “then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged.” (Nu. 5:7; Lev. 5:5, 16: Lk. 19:8). The ten brothers could not pay the cost of restoration for their brother’s captivity. But God still required them to confess their sins. If you have hurt someone else, have you confessed your sins to that person and restored them?
Rejoice that God only disciplines you out of love. Your old sins should not weigh you down. Instead, rejoice that God has given you the chance to learn and change from your prior mistakes: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (Jam. 1:2). Do you give thanks that God loves you enough to correct you when you sin?
A just leader fears God. As a related point, God was able to use Joseph to engineer his brothers’ repentance because he feared God. If he did not fear God, he would have likely left his brothers in jail or sold them as slaves. Like Joseph, Jethro advised Moses to select leaders who feared God: “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.” (Ex. 18:21). Nehemiah proved that he was a godly leader because he feared God: “But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God.” (Neh. 5:15). “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (Job. 1:1). For a leader, fearing God includes avoiding harsh treatment of those under your authority: “You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God.” (Lev. 25:43). If you wish to be a leader for God, He also wants you to fear Him. This does not mean that you cower from His presence. Instead, it means that you must hate evil: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; . . .” (Prov. 8:13(a)). Do you hate evil enough for God to make you a leader?
God’s conviction of the hurt that lay hidden in Joseph’s heart. Although Joseph acted at the prompting of the Spirit in bringing his brothers to repentance, he wept from the pain caused by their sins and his pain in watching their affliction: “23 They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them. 24a He turned away from them and wept.” (Gen. 42:23-24(a)). In his sorrow, he foreshadowed Jesus.
The foreshadow of Jesus in Joseph’s grieving. Like Joseph, Jesus was a “man of sorrows” and “grief.” “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Is. 53:3). “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief;. . ..” (Is. 53:10). Like Joseph, “Jesus wept.” (Jo. 11:35). He loved all the people of the world enough to come and die for their sins (Jo. 3:16). He is not a distant and unfeeling God. Your sins grieve Him. Your affliction also grieves Him. If you are sorrowful, He also wants to take that sorrow unto Himself: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; . . .” (Is. 53:4). Will you turn to Him so that He can bear your grief and sorrows?
Joseph’s conviction of sin through kindness. Acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Joseph did not seek to teach his brothers a lesson through vengeance. Instead, he convicted them of their sins through acts of kindness by secretly restoring their money that they used to buy their grain: “24b But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them. 26 So they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed from there. 27 As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. 28 Then he said to his brothers, ‘My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.’ And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’” (Gen. 42:24(b)-28). God wants you to follow in Joseph’s example.
Repay evil with kindness. Like Joseph, believers should repay evil acts with acts of kindness: “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” (Prov. 20:22). “Do not say, ‘Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.”’ (Prov. 24:29). “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;” (Prov. 25:21). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Ro. 12:17). “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” (1 Thess. 5:15). “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3:9). When others hurt you, do you repay their evil acts with love and kindness?
Joseph had Simeon taken captive5
Joseph gave orders to fill the brothers’ bags with food and restore their payment as well6
Leave vengeance to God. God wants you to leave vengeance to Him. ‘“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.”’ (Dt. 32:35; Heb. 10:30). When you leave vengeance to God and show kindness to your enemies, you heap coals upon them when they continue to persecute you: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Ro. 12:19-21). When others wrong you, do you leave vengeance to God?
Love your enemies. Jesus does not want you to show kindness with an ulterior motive. Instead, He wants you to show kindness to your enemies out of love. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44). “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Lk. 6:27). “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Ro. 12:14). Do you love and pray for your enemies?
Jesus’ secret provision for His people. Like Joseph, Jesus also promises to feed you and clothe you: “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” (Matt. 6:30). He also offers to sustain you in heaven with hidden manna: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17). Even if you cannot see His hand, do you trust Him to provide your clothes, your food, and your other needs in secret?
God would rather win people over with kindness, yet most love the darkness too much. Some might wonder why God doesn’t try to win sinners over the way Joseph did with his brothers. Yet, He does try to win sinners over with blessings and kindness. Most do not change their ways in response to His mercy and grace because they love darkness too much to give it up voluntarily. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (Jo. 3:19). Many carnal believers use His grace as a license to sin more. Thus, God is frequently forced to use discipline to win His people back. Are you misusing His mercy and grace to sin more?
God’s testing of Jacob’s lack of faith that God was in control, even in misfortune. When the men returned to Canaan and found their monies restored to them, they feared being accused of being thieves. They felt convicted. But their father Jacob failed to trust that God causes all things to work for good for those who love Him (Ro. 8:28). Instead, he saw himself as a victim. Jacob did not turn to God for comforting in his sorrow: “29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 ‘The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no longer alive, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.’ 33 The man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’ 35 Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed. 36 Their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.’” (Gen. 42:29-36). Because of his faith after leaving Haran, God previously renamed Jacob as “Israel” (Gen. 32:28). But, Jacob then backslid, and God again called him Jacob. Years later, Jacob repented, and God again called him Israel (Gen. 35:10). Here, Jacob had again backslidden in his walk, and God again called him Jacob. Are you living according to your potential in God? Or, like Jacob, are you constantly backsliding in your walk?
Trust God and lean not on your own understanding. Unlike Jacob, God wants you to trust in Him when everything appears to be going wrong: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Ps. 37:5). “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” (Ps. 55:22). “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7). Do you trust that God is in control of your life during both the good times and the bad times? (Ro. 8:28).
The brothers still had to fall further to fully repent. The brothers professed to both Joseph and Jacob: “We are honest men;. . ..” (Gen. 42:11, 32). These were false statements, and they knew they were false. Their affliction and Joseph’s acts of secret kindness convicted them. But they had still not reached a place where they were ready to confess their sins. They would still need to fall lower before God could rehabilitate them. You may regret the consequences of your sins. Yet, unless you are ready to confess and repent of your sins, God may need to cause you to hit rock bottom. Jesus began His ministry by urging people to repent: “‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mk. 1:15). Have you confessed your sins and repented of your carnal ways?
God’s testing of Jacob’s favoritism for Benjamin, and his lack of love for Simeon. Like Abraham, God tested Jacob to see if his faith in Him and his love for his other sons would allow him to part with his youngest and beloved son Benjamin. Unlike Abraham, Jacob failed this test of faith. No matter what assurances Ruben gave him, he would rather see his son Simeon rot in an Egyptian prison than send Benjamin into potential harm in Egypt. “37 Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, ‘You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.’ 38 But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.” (Gen. 42:37-38). Unlike Jacob, God wants you to love everyone.
Love everyone equally. Jacob’s favoritism for the sons of Rachel created resentment within the family. Jacob never loved Leah, Bilhah, Zilpah, or their children. When Jacob felt that he was about to be attacked by Esau and his 400 men, he showed a disregard for them by placing them in front of Rachel and Joseph to protect them in the event of a family massacre (Gen. 33:2). When Leah’s daughter Dinah was raped, he also showed no emotion and did nothing to free her (Gen. 34:5-7). Jacob had experienced the pain of watching his father Isaac favor Esau over him. He then saw Esau’s grudge after Isaac blessed him (Gen. 27:41). Jacob knew better than to favor one child over others. “Rather than run the slightest risk of losing his beloved Benjamin, Jacob would allow Simeon to spend the rest of his life in Pharaoh’s prison and give that Egyptian potentate (Joseph) the impression that his sons’ words were untrue. Joseph’s brothers were truly sons of their father. Jacob could not live without Benjamin, he protested. There was no way that he would ever give him up (verse 38). And yet this was precisely the way God had determined to save Jacob and all his family. Just as Abraham expressed his faith by showing his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac (22:1-19), Jacob must be willing to give up his son Benjamin. The very thing Jacob thought would destroy him was to be the means of his salvation.” (Bob Deffinbaugh, 42. “The Proper Use of Power” (Genesis 42:1-38)).7 Unlike Abraham, Jacob loved the gift more than the Giver. He was not willing to show love for everyone. He loved those sons with whom he shared a mutual love. Jesus warned: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Lk. 6:32).