Fears and Tears in the Providence of God
Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Genesis 43:1–34
“FEARS AND TEARS IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD”
1 Now the famine was severe in the land. 2 And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” 3 But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.’” 6 Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” 7 They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” 8 And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”
11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits from the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and rise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your older brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”
15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.
16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sack the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” 19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, ‘Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came back to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 And when the man had brought the men into Jacob’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.
26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with them by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.
It has been said that “The problem with trying to dig your way out of a hole is that, the more you dig, the deeper the hole gets.” Most of us have probably found ourselves in that dilemma at some point in our lives. Not only do our trials exist and persist, but many times when we try to do something about them, they only get worse.
As Christians, we know from the Scriptures that trials work for our “good” (cf. Romans 8:28). In fact, we read in 2 Corinthians 4:17 that “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” It isn’t that we don’t believe such promises of God...we would just like to see some of that fulfillment in the “here-and-now.”
Our Lord, however, offers no such assurances. When relief doesn’t come to us in what would consider a reasonable amount of time, we may question God and wonder if our faith has failed us or whether He has abandoned us altogether. In reality, the divine purpose behind the testing is to expose to us our need for Him, to drive us to Him, and to find Him as our all-sufficient Savior and Lord.
In one of her earlier books, entitled A Step Further, Joni Eareckson Tada—who, even by that time was suffering from a paralytic ordeal from which she would never recover—wrote, “God gives us grace to doubt and yet believe that He is really there.” “Grace to doubt”....Joseph’s family was on its way to learning that same truth.
As we arrive at Genesis 43 today, we are greeted by the words, “Now the famine was severe in the land.” You will recall that entire region of the world was gripped by a food shortage that would bring hardship upon the inhabitants of that land for seven years. Thanks to the foresight of Joseph—God’s man in God’s place at God’s time, and there as the result of a divinely-orchestrated set of circumstances—Egypt had prepared ahead of time, producing such a bountiful crop in the preceding years that it was able to sell grain to other nations when the famine hit.
Included among the needy were Joseph’s father, brothers, and their families—those whom he had not seen, by no fault of his own, for two decades. As far as they knew, Joseph was dead. His brothers, after all, had sold him into slavery and had lied to their father about his tragic disappearance.
With nowhere else to turn, the brothers themselves had been forced to journey southward in order to purchase food for the saving of their families. And as Providence would have it, “the man” from whom they must make their request was none other the brother whom they had hated and betrayed. Standing face-to-face with Joseph for the first time in twenty years, they no longer recognized him. But he recognized them. Inwardly, he longed to reveal himself to them and be reunited with them. But before he would do that, he must first test them to determine if their hearts were still as depraved as when he last saw them.
After two interviews with them in which Joseph stipulated that one of them must remain behind in Egypt, the brothers were given grain to take back with them to Canaan. The provision included that they return, bringing with them their youngest brother, who had not accompanied them on the first trip.
As we saw at the end of chapter 42, it was a condition that the aged Jacob was not willing to meet. He had lost one beloved son, and was not about to lose another. The brothers could return to Egypt when the grain ran out but it would be without Benjamin. Jacob was adamant about that. Period. End of discussion.
The matter was laid to rest for a time but eventually, when the food was gone, the question would be raised again. In the first ten verses of chapter 43 we are exposed to...
The rift between father and sons (Genesis 43:1-10).
As the famine persisted, the days came when Jacob had to send his sons back to Egypt to buy more grain. He said to his sons, “Go again, buy us a little food.” Judah, who seems to have taken over as spokesman for the brothers, quickly reminded his father that “the man” with whom they had previously dealt had made it clear that if Benjamin was not with them on their return visit, there would be no more provision of food.
Jacob’s response is one of fear masked as blame. Lashing out at his sons, he asked why they had even mentioned to “the man” that they had a younger brother in the first place. The brothers collectively explained that they had been pressed into giving the details regarding their family situation. How else could they have answered?
Like doubt, fear can at times be a blessing of divine grace. It serves to remind us that we are neither independent nor indestructible. In fact, the Bible speaks often of “the fear of the Lord” and tells us on more than one occasion that Godly fear is “the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10).
Again it is Judah who speaks up and makes a pledge to his father. In verses 8 and 9 we read, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge for his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.”
In essence, Judah was willing be disowned by the family if he did not fulfill this pledge. Unlike his brother Reuben, who had volunteered to put up his two sons as collateral for bringing Benjamin back safely (cf. Genesis 42:37), Judah is now willing to put his own neck on the line at the risk of dishonor and loss of inheritance.
Although Judah was the fourth-born son of Jacob’s wife, Leah, his leadership among the brothers was becoming evident. As long as twenty years earlier when the other brothers were for putting Joseph to death, Judah had argued for and protected Joseph’s life (cf. Genesis 37:26). Yes, his unwitting sin with Tamar had both humbled and stained his reputation, but even with that his moral character surpassed that of his older brothers. Reuben, the firstborn, had forfeited his preeminent position by incest (cf. Genesis 35:22). Simeon and Levi had brought disgrace to the family when they took impulsive revenge following the defilement of their sister (cf. Genesis 34:1-31). Judah was becoming the leader of the group.
While it remains still dim, we can begin to see the portrait of salvation beginning to be sketched on the canvas of these concluding chapters of Genesis. Judah, from whom Jesus Himself would be descended (cf. Matthew 1:1-3) is here stepping forward in the role of “champion,” previewing the role that Christ Himself would one day fulfill on a far grander scale. In the scene before us, Judah would be the “sacrificial substitute”...the “imputation” of any debt would be placed on his account. He is the one making the pledge to put himself on the line for the safety and preservation of the family. It was no empty impulsive gesture on his part...but there must not be any further delay.
Maybe there was something in way Judah spoke that the others hadn’t which now persuaded Jacob to relent. Another southward trek to purchase food would be made, and this time Benjamin would be included.
Verses 11 through 15 prepare us for...
The return of the brothers to Egypt (Genesis 43:11-15).
Throughout this chapter, beginning with verse 8, Jacob is referred to as “Israel.” Perhaps the most reasonable explanation given as to why the two names are used interchangeably is the one suggested by H.C. Leupold, who has written,
Where “Jacob” is used the man is represented as characterized more by his older nature which overlooked his theocratic destiny; and when “Israel” is used the man is represented as actually acting in the consciousness of his higher calling.
Today we might say, while functioning “in the flesh,” he was called “Jacob.” But while operating “in the Spirit,” he was referred to as “Israel.”
If that interpretation holds true, then by relenting and agreeing to permit Benjamin to accompany his brothers on their return trip to Egypt, Jacob—or Israel—was attuned with and was consciously following the prescribed plan of God. In fact, we find that to be the case by the time we get to the end of Joseph’s story.
While hesitancy remains, Jacob maps out a three-part plan before sending his sons on their way. First, they would take a gift with them to present to “the man,” which would include some of Canaan’s best produce. In addition, they would not only return the yet-unexplainable money they had each found in their sacks upon their return from the first journey, but take an additional amount to purchase more food. Finally—and one can almost hear his words slowing—he added, “Take also your brother, and rise, go again to the man.”
How unsuspecting Jacob was that “the man” who is referred to repeatedly throughout this chapter was the very son for whom his heart had grieved for two decades. Before conceding his feelings of uncertainty, Jacob actually makes an amazing statement in verse 14. It is really an expression of faith in the form of a prayer: “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your older brother (Simeon) and Benjamin.”
The name of God that Jacob invokes in verse 14 is “El Shaddai.” It was the name by which the Lord identified Himself when He appeared to Abraham and established His covenant with Him in Genesis 17(:1-2). It is also the name by which He was known to Isaac, Abraham’s son and Jacob’s father (cf. Genesis 28:1-4). And just as significantly, it was the name by which the Lord had earlier revealed Himself to Jacob (cf. Genesis 35:9-11), a name that Jacob appears to have relegated to the “back burner” of his mind until now. This acknowledgment marks a turning point in the life of this patriarch. Perhaps at last he is beginning to perceive his covenant-role in the fulfillment of God’s redemptive program.
The paragraph concludes with a statement of summary and transition: “So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.”
The stage is now set for their return visit. How much time had passed between visits, we cannot say. One would suspect a few months at most. It is interesting that Joseph appears to have been awaiting and even anticipating their arrival. In other words he was looking for them. When they arrived, he sent an emissary to greet them. The brothers were intimidated at the welcome they received, and began to explain themselves. In verses 16 through 25, we next read of...
The rationale of the brothers with Joseph’s steward (Genesis 43:16-25).
Let’s not rush past verse 16 too hastily. I am struck by the fact that Joseph seems to have seen his brothers before they saw him. Most notably, as the text points out, he “saw Benjamin,” his own mother’s son. Although the circumstances differed, one cannot help but find parallels between this event and Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. In both instances, the waiting one is watching and preparing a great meal upon the arrival of the one from whom he has been for so long separated. In one story, as in the other, we see a picture of the heart of God for those whom He loves. Perhaps He is waiting and looking for You this morning.
While remaining behind the scenes, Joseph instructed his steward to prepare a noon-day banquet and invite the brothers to join him. When they were brought into Joseph’s house, the text says that they were “afraid,” and began reasoning among themselves that they were going to be called into account regarding the money that had been found in their sacks after their first visit. They just knew that they were going to be apprehended, assaulted, and turned into slaves. Ironic, isn’t it? They unknowingly feared that the one they had sold into slavery was about to make slaves of them!
Out of their fear, they began nervously answering questions that they had not been asked. Shakespeare wrote that “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.” Indeed to the blemished conscience, the most sincere act of kindness can seem ominous.
Whether or not Joseph’s steward was fully aware of what was taking place, we cannot say with certainty. I suspect that he knew enough to have known—because Joseph had likely told him—that these men were his brothers. The steward listened patiently to their explanation in verses 20 through 22, before answering. And his response to them was enlightening: “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks.”
“Peace” is, of course, “shalom,” which denotes “fullness, security, and soundness of mind.” The New Living Translation renders the steward’s response, “Relax! Don’t worry about it.” And, with amazement, he makes reference to “Your God and the God of your father.” There would seem to have been only one source for his knowledge of the God of the Hebrews, and that was Joseph. This steward appears to have been quite aware who these men were and the ruse that Joseph was carrying out.
One more observation from verse 23: the word for “treasure” (“matmon”) actually means “hidden treasure.” It’s the same root-term that is found in Proverbs 2:4, where we are urged to search for wisdom as for “hidden treasures.” The implication is that much that remains “hidden” yet awaits these brothers in terms of what they will soon discover.
It’s interesting that the steward adds, “I received your money.” In other words, any debt that was owed by them had been paid in full for them. In a similar way and through His death in our place, Christ would cancel “the record of debt that stood against us...nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:14). When Jesus died, He paid the debt of our sins...and He paid it in full.
Without further ado, their oldest brother Simeon was released from his confinement, and they were all made ready for the meal that awaited them. They had initially feared that they were to be made into servants, but now astonishingly they were the ones being served! This gracious gesture on the part of Joseph foreshadowed that of Jesus, of whom it was said that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). In fact, Jesus would model such humble service even before the cross when he took a basin and a towel, knelt before His disciples, and washed their feet (cf. John 13:3-5).
So with the stage having been set, we at last arrive at the place where this chapter has been heading since it began. Verses 26 through 34 give us...
The response of Joseph to his brothers (Genesis 43:26-34).
We read that “When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground.” How interesting that there is no further mention of the gifts their father had told them to take to “the man” before whom they must stand. The significance of the brothers’ action is their bowing before Joseph. This is the second time they had done so (cf. Genesis 42:6), and again we are reminded of the dream Joseph had some twenty years earlier...the dream for which they hated him (cf. Genesis 37:8).
What follows is a brief conversation in which the still unrecognized Joseph inquires of his brothers as to the well-being of their father. In disclosing that Jacob was still alive and well, they again “bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.” Looking upon them, Joseph cast his gaze upon Benjamin and asked, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?” Without waiting for a reply, he pronounced a blessing upon him, saying, “God be gracious to you my son!” Remarkably, the first word out of his mouth in speaking to his younger brother for the first time in twenty years was “God.”
So caught up was he in seeing the only son of his own mother, Rachel, that Joseph rushed out of the room in order to find a place to weep privately. The text says that “his compassion grew warmer for his brother,” or, literally, “his emotions boiled over.” Returning from his chamber after having washed his face and composed himself, he ordered his servants to “Serve the food.”
The writer goes to some length in describing the scene in verses 32 through 34. The meal was served to three different groups: Joseph, the brothers, and Joseph’s Egyptian guests. Apparently they were not seated that far apart, because Joseph was close enough to share food with them from his table. Still, the separation of the groups revealed cultural taboos that forbade Egyptians from eating with foreigners. Historians from as long ago as Herodotus (5th-century BC) have commented on the exclusiveness of the Egyptians. As our text reveals, it was particularly abhorrent for Egyptians to eat at the same table with Hebrews, and especially Hebrew shepherds (cf. Genesis 46:34).
Verse 33 gives us a further glimpse into the providence of God, something that did not elude the brothers’ recognition. We read, “As they sat before him, the firstborn (that would have been Simeon) according to his birthright and the youngest (Benjamin) according to his youth.” In other words, the eleven brothers were seated according to their birth...precisely! “And the men looked at each other in amazement.”
Random chance? I did the math this week. The probability of randomly placing all eleven according to their birth order roughly computes to somewhere in the neighborhood of one in nearly forty million! No wonder the brothers were “amazed.” What an understatement!
As they were processing the odds of such a random occurrence, their portions of the meal—delivered straight from Joseph’s table—were being set before them. They couldn’t help but notice and wonder why “Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs.” And while no one expressed himself at that moment, you and I can imagine what must have going on in not only their minds, but in Joseph’s mind as well. Benjamin was being marked off as the honored guest. Would jealousy again surface in the hearts of these brothers as it had two decades earlier? Joseph had to find out. His “testing” of them was not yet complete. Before he could identify himself to them, He had to know whether the God who had been so actively working in his life until this time had been at work in theirs as well.
The day of feasting and merriment would soon conclude, but the examination of their character would not. In fact, it would soon intensify. Joseph was being extremely cautious...and for a very good reason.
From Romans 5(:3-5) we as Christians know that “We (can) rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” These brothers did not yet possess that confidence...and, for that matter, neither did Joseph. For them a few more pages of the story were left to be written
I don’t know how well you were listening to the words of the hymn that was played at the beginning of this service. It was an old hymn written by John Newton, the same man who wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace.” Unless you are going through an especially challenging time in your life, then the message of that hymn may just pass you by. But if by chance you happen to be here and you find yourself in the throes of a hard-to-explain time of testing and trial, then I urge you to listen as I again share these words with you:
I ask’d the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust has answer’d prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.
I hop’d that in some favor’d hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.
Yea more with His own hand He seem’d
Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schem’d,
Humbled my heart and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this,” I trembling cried;
“Will Thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“‘Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.
“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set you free,
And break Thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou may’st find your all in Me.”
In light of what we have heard this morning, I would propose to you that...
- as Christians, we should expect trials times of testing. It is through such times that our faith is refined and the will of God made more clear. Although we never come to understand it fully this side of heaven, as we lean upon the Lord we find Him to be more than sufficient for our every need.
- as Christians, we should exult in our times of testing. To an unbeliever this makes no sense at all, but for the believer there are at least three reasons that we can rejoice in our trials. First, they lead us into deeper fellowship with Christ because we share in His sufferings (cf. Romans 8:17, Philippians 3:10, 1 Peter 4:13). Second, they will lead us to a deeper level of joy when Christ returns (cf. Romans 8:18, 1 John 2:28-3:3). And third, they lead us to a deeper experience with God’s Spirit (cf. 1 Peter 4:14).
- as Christians, we should examine ourselves in our times of testing. In other words, we should make sure that we are not suffering because of some sin in our lives or on our part (cf. 1 Peter 4:16). If we find that we are, then we must confess the sin, turn from it, and claim God’s forgiveness (cf. 1 John 1:9).
- as Christians, we should entrust ourselves to God in our times of testing. “Therefore,” writes (1) Peter (4:19), “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” “Entrust” is a banking term that means to deposit one’s valuables to another for safe keeping. The Lord is our “Safe-keeper” to those who will entrust themselves to Him.
Trusting God has fallen on hard times in our day. It is considered neither reasonable nor expedient to cast one’s cares or trust one’s fate to a God who refuses to reveal His every move or to explain himself to us at every turn. What that implies is a misunderstanding—and perhaps even a denial—of Divine sovereignty. But for those who have committed themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Exodus 3:16)—the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 15:6)—there is no more practical way to live.
Keep in mind that the path God has marked out for us may be unclear, but His plan is never uncertain.