“Faithful in Adversity”
October 26, 2008
When we’re finally a little faithful, God reveals his great faithfulness.
I. The Final Test (Genesis 44:1-13)
II. The Brothers Faithful (Genesis 44:14-34)
III. God’s Faithfulness Revealed (Genesis 45:1-15)
It’s been more than twenty years since we started the story of Joseph back in September. A few long months for us, twenty-two long years for Joseph and his family back in Canaan. Joseph, of course, has gone from slavery to mastery in Egypt. And his brothers have gone from mastery in Canaan to famine and obeisance in Egypt.
When we pick up our story in Genesis 44 the brothers have already come to Egypt twice. The first time Joseph accused them of being slaves, threatened to imprison them all until they brought down their brother Benjamin as proof of their honesty. In the end he kept Simeon, but allowed the others to return to Jacob with grain. As the family continued to starve they finally persuaded Jacob to let Benjamin go with them. They found a much less stern Joseph, who released Simeon and feasted them at his table.
I. The Final Test (Genesis 44:1-13)
Part of the reason was that they passed a test, by returning with Benjamin, and returning the silver hidden in their bags. But the silver was not the final test. That comes in Genesis 44:1-13: Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: "Fill the men's sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man's silver in the mouth of his sack. 2Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one's sack, along with the silver for his grain." And he did as Joseph said.
3As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, "Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, 'Why have you repaid good with evil? 5Isn't this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.'" 6When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. 7But they said to him, "Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master's house? 9If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord's slaves."
10"Very well, then," he said, "let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame." 11Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. 13At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.
Joseph has been testing his brothers on God’s behalf in order to bring the family back together again in righteousness, to make them a family who will have compassion for each other and sacrifice for each other.
The silver cup is the vehicle of a final test. The brothers are told it’s the cup Joseph drinks from and also uses for divination. The latter is probably fabricated for the sake of the story: it justifies to the brothers why this man is so upset about the cup. We already know Joseph attributes his ability to interpret dreams to God alone. But in Egypt there was extensive use of divination, looking at objects as varied as animal entrails, the stars and the way wine mixes with oil in a cup to determine the will of some god or other. It would make sense that this man would prize such a cup.
Notice that the steward tries to separate the brothers. Convinced of their innocence, the brothers say “If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord's slaves.” But the steward reinterprets this as “Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame,” free to go. This may be the crux of the test: will they abandon a favored brother again as they abandoned Joseph, or will they show family loyalty? In verse 13 they pass the initial test. Rather than letting the servant take Benjamin back alone, they tear their clothes, pack up their donkeys and return to Joseph.
So that’s the set-up: Judah and his brothers are given one last test in which they can show they are faithful to each other and to their family and ultimately to the calling and covenant God has made with their family. What we’re going to see is a wonderful truth: when we’re finally a little faithful, God reveals his great faithfulness. God’s faithfulness has been going on the whole time, but only Joseph has been able to see it. Now, as the family shows a little faithfulness, the greatness of God’s faithfulness to his covenant over this twenty year story will be revealed for all to see.
I wanted to illustrate this from real life, so I googled ‘God’s faithfulness over twenty years’. The web site that caught my attention was srom.org, Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries. This organization takes young adults into the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado on wilderness adventure and training trips designed to introduce the young people to Christ, to faithful Christian living and to Christian leadership.
The ministry’s founder is Drew Arnold. His ministry vision goes back more than twenty years. He says “I came from a dysfunctional family. Mountaineering and spending time in God’s creation had been my way of escape. I loved the beauty and the truth I found there. After I became a Christian I found others enjoyed it as much as I did. Earlier that summer I’d taken my youth group into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The kids loved it and the parents gave good feedback.”
But by 1978 Drew was a student at Fuller Seminary, headed toward full time pastoring. He says “It looked like this love of mine was soon to be over. But as I prayed that day, asking the Lord for grace to pass a Hebrew exam, I asked the question, "Lord, what would you have me to do with my love for outdoor ministry now that I’m to become a pastor?"
The next moments were the clearest in my life. I was no longer alone by my desk. Instead, I was in the Spirit, high above everything as if viewing the earth from space. Lights began to glow from various places in the United States and in the world. The Lord said, "Do you see all these places? There will be outdoor schools in each one of them." I was speechless. It was the answer to a question I’d not asked him. I think I know how Abraham must have felt when God showed him the stars in the sky.
The first Solid Rock Outdoor Ministries course went out in the summer of 1984 and was an instant success. But because Drew was a full time pastor, for the next 14 years he did the ministry part-time out of his garage. He continues the story: “In 1987 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was able to cope with the disease for about 10 years before I knew my health was failing me. If the vision God had given me was going to come to pass, then I must act quickly while I still had strength.
The church we had planted had grown to the point where I had decent salary and benefits. Understandably, my faithful wife Mary, was reluctant to abandon this security and start over with nothing. Then, at an Easter sunrise service, our youth pastor asked each of us to write on a slip of paper a thing that might be holding us back from the will of God and pin the paper to a cross. I wrote that I would resign as pastor and begin SROM full time. My wife wrote that she would let me begin full-time if that is what God wanted for me. What we didn't know was that each of us walked out from that Easter sunrise service in agreement with God's will for our lives.”
II. The Brothers Faithful (Genesis 44:14-34)
That was a fairly major decision, an act of faithfulness to each other and God. In the same way Joseph’s brothers are faced with an opportunity to show a little faithfulness. And they do so - through Judah. Listen to the story, verses 14 to 34: 14Joseph was in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15Joseph said to them, "What is this you have done? Don't you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?" 16"What can we say to my lord?" Judah replied. "What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants' guilt. We are now my lord's slaves--we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup." 17But Joseph said, "Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace."
18Then Judah went up to him and said: "Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19My lord asked his servants, 'Do you have a father or a brother?' 20And we answered, 'We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother's sons left, and his father loves him.' 21"Then you said to your servants, 'Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.' 22And we said to my lord, 'The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.' 23But you told your servants, 'Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.'
24When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said. 25"Then our father said, 'Go back and buy a little more food.' 26But we said, 'We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man's face unless our youngest brother is with us.' 27"Your servant my father said to us, 'You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28One of them went away from me, and I said, "He has surely been torn to pieces." And I have not seen him since. 29If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.'
30"So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy's life, 31sees that the boy isn't there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32Your servant guaranteed the boy's safety to my father. I said, 'If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!' 33"Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father."
On behalf of his brothers, Judah passes the test. Don’t miss that this is Judah: this is the one who had initially suggested that they sell Joseph into slavery. This is the one who had behaved so horribly in chapter 38 until he finally began to recognize his own unrighteousness and God’s hand at work in his life. Judah stands for all the brothers in his repentance and transformation, in his change from self-centeredness to other-centeredness, to compassion and self-sacrifice.
That’s what we hear him say to to Joseph. He starts by asserting both innocence and guilt: “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants' guilt." He implies they’re innocent of the charge of stealing the cup, but that the circumstantial evidence is hard to avoid. Then he says they are guilty of something: he’s probably thinking of their sin in selling Joseph into slavery. God had convicted them of this in chapter 42, and Joseph knows it. But he’s still testing, not convinced of the family’s unity. He says “Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace."
But Judah knows there will be no peace if they go back without Benjamin. So he gives his longest speech yet, showing his newfound steadfastness and faithfulness and maturity. He rehearses the story of their previous stay, with a strong emphasis on Joseph’s demand for Benjamin and the impact of that on his father: “If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.' In verse 30 Judah uses a strong phrase to describe this “If my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy's life, 31sees that the boy isn't there, he will die.” He recognizes the strength of his father’s attachment to Benjamin and feels real compassion for the pain losing Benjamin will cause Jacob.
Judah has become family to his family. He tells Joseph he himself guaranteed the boy’s safety, and he is willing to sacrifice himself for Benjamin and his father. “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father." One commentator says “Judah so feels for his father that he begs to sacrifice himself for a brother more loved than himself” Wow. The same commentator says “That Judah should see his father’s favoritism as the ground for self-sacrifice is such an irresistable proof of devotion that it breaks down Joseph’s last defenses.”
So Judah, on behalf of his brothers has shown faithfulness. They are now faithful to God and faithful to each other, and faithful to their father. And God loves to see this faithfulness in his children; that’s what he’s been seeing in Joseph all along.
The SROM web site tells a story of faithfulness that begins with the human faithfulness Drew and Mary showed in responding at that Easter service. He continues: “The Lord spoke to me that the vision he gave me 20 years ago was coming to pass. He said Solid Rock needed to leave our small garage and acquire its own property. He gave me a vision of some land across from the old Greyhound bus station. So I went and looked around but there was no land or property for sale.
In the fall of 1998 Mary and I went to a concert in Jackson. During the intermission James Watt approached us about some land he had in Laramie. He hadn’t been able to sell it and wanted to know if Solid Rock would be interested. We went to visit Jim's attorney who drew up a quit claim deed. And just like that we had raw land.
During the winter my son Andrew told me we had to go weekly and pray at the property. We simply asked God to rise up something on that ground. One day Mary came home and said that her boss had purchased a lot with an old Dairy Gold building on it. It measured 50 x 100 feet. He needed the lot for parking and had to get rid of the building. I went and told him we’d move the building for free if he would let us have it. And so early one August morning we drove this huge hunk of metal down Grand Avenue, across the interstate, and onto the property. By the way, the site of the Dairy Gold building was across the street from the Greyhound bus station.
III. God’s Faithfulness Revealed (Genesis 45:1-15)
When we’re a little faithful, God shows great faithfulness: that’s his glorious way of working. And that truth is revealed in Joseph’s response to his brothers. Chapter 45:1-15 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it. 3Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still living?" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
9Now hurry back to my father and say to him, 'This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay. 10You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me--you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.'
12"You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly." 14Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Judah’s speech has convinced Joseph’s heart that the formerly hateful, selfish brothers are now motivated by love and faithfulness toward one another. And he can’t contain the emotion that wells up in him as he recognizes this truth. He empties the room, but weeps so loudly that the whole palace can hear it. Then he reveals himself to his bothers “I am Joseph”. His next words are “is my father still living?” This question doesn’t make any sense unless you notice the little change of pronoun. As ruler of Egypt this man had asked “Is your father still living”. But it’s as a brother and son that Joseph is now asking. Perhaps Judah’s passionate concern for their father opened Joseph’s eyes to see his own long suppressed longing for his father.
At first the brothers are terrified - a very strong word, not the usual word even for fearing God, but a word used of the terror of battlefield or disaster. Joseph has to allay that fear. He calls them even closer to himself and says again “I am your brother Joseph,” and he adds “the one you sold into Egypt!” This is not a rebuke but a proof; only Joseph could know this secret. Moreover, now that the secret is out the last barrier of their guilt can be removed by his forgiveness.
And now Joseph focuses his testimony on God’s faithfulness; God’s great faithfulness that uses every circumstance for our good and for his glory: “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”
This statement, repeated three times is the theological heart of all that we have seen and studied in these eight chapters: God was at work to save lives: God sent me ahead of you. Joseph explains about the five more years of famine, and then he says it again “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” A third time, verse 8: “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” God has been faithful. He has been at work to prepare a great rescue for his people, to save them out of a disaster.
Then Joseph the planner lays out the plan: Go back to my father and say to him “This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay. 10You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me--you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have.” God is using Joseph to preserve the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Then Joseph embraces Benjamin, his own beloved younger brother who was probably only a toddler when he last held him. He embraces all the brothers, breaking down the last vestiges of distance between them. The section closes with the simple phrase “afterward his brothers talked with him.” This is the narrator’s signal that the rift has been bridged. In Genesis 37, before Joseph was sold into slavery, we were told that they “could not speak peaceably to him,” could not speak shalom to him. But now they can. Shalom has been restored through the faithfulness of God.
Drew Arnold also reflects on God’s faithfulness. After the building was donated it took years of God’s provision to repair and finish the outside, then remodel and finish the inside. God sent helper after helper to accomplish this goal. Arnold calls the Lord “A most faithful God” and says “It took five years to go from my vision of the Greyhound bus station to a beautiful building with a paved parking lot. When I look back I see the faces of countless people who made this possible. And when I look forward I see the faces of countless more that will come here to be blessed.”
“As I write these words, my physical strength is failing due to my battle with multiple sclerosis. Yet in the midst of this I can say that I have come to know God in an intimate and personal way. I've grown to love him more and looking back on the vision that he gave me in 1977 I can say, "the dream was from God."” Joseph could now say the same thing with absolute certainty.
Let's reflect a little on what we've been learning. First, this scene exposes the radical nature of reconciliation. It is about loyalty to a family member, even what he or she looks guilty; giving glory to God by owning up to sin and its consequences; overlooking favoritism; offering up oneself to save another; demonstrating true love by concrete acts of mercy; embracing deep compassion, tender feelings, sensitivity and forgiveness; and talking to one another. A dysfunctional family that allows these virtues to characterize it will become a light to the world.
Furthermore, both Joseph and Judah prefigured Jesus Christ. In Joseph the father's favorite son is sent to his brothers. They sell their guiltless brother for 20 pieces of silver, and yet he becomes their Lord. The Joseph story also provides a remarkable parallel of Christ's death. God decides beforehand that through wicked hands he will nail Christ to the cross and so save the world, all who believe.
Judah, on the other hand, is the first person in Scripture who willingly offers his own life for another. His self-sacrificing love for his brother for the sake of this father, prefigures the atonement of Christ, who by his voluntary suffering heals the breach between God and human beings. Judah is the first picture of this willing sacrifice.
Finally, we've seen over and over that in trial and testing and affliction God is faithfully at work. Commentator John Wenham says "All the episodes in the Joseph story contribute to demonstrating how God's purposes are ultimately fulfilled through and in spite of human deeds, whether or not those deeds are morally right.”
From a worm's eye view Joseph's narrative reads like a nightmare, a cacaphony of outrageous excesses unjustly inflicted. A rational conclusion from this perspective would have been that it’s all hopeless and meaningless. But he chooses the heavenly perspective that God is working through him to bring about what is good. This enables him to forgive and encourages his brothers to do the same. Sin must be seen within the context of God’s set and eternal purpose. The believer can count on God to bring to pass his good pleasure regardless of what people intend. So, through Joseph's sufferings, the Lord saves Abraham's promise and his own covenant.