As the ten brothers finally have to face the music of their unconfessed sins against Joseph, "the cat comes out of the bag, the elephant in the living room is crushing the furniture and the brothers' skeleton in Egypt's closet is no less than their "missing" brother who now is a powerful world leader. This is an emotional zoo." (Beth Moore) It is one of the most heart-rending sections of Scripture as we see Joseph, a type of Christ, as he tests his brothers to bring them to repentance and then forgives and restores them to be used by God. In the twenty-plus years since they had sold him into slavery it seems that none of Joseph's brothers had come to repentance over what they had done to him so God hits them in the face with it. Often deep pain is needed to make us own our sins and say to God and those we hurt: "I was wrong – please forgive me."
Some commentators think that if the brothers had not repented God would not have used them for building the Jewish nation in Egypt but would have turned to Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, instead. God (providential circumstances, i.e., the famine) brings them face to face with their "hidden" sin. He uses Joseph to awaken their guilt. There are numbers of events/statements in this chapter alone that probably caused them to recall their sin: see vv. 1, 4, 6, 9, v. 11 ("we are honest men" – many of them had a checkered past), vv. 13 & 32 ("one of our brothers is no more" i.e., dead); v.17 (three days in prison with not knowing what may happen to them gave them a lot of time to think), vv. 21-24, finally the confession of a twenty-plus years "hidden" sin: "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 upon us. 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." They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes." The oldest, Reuben, had tried to stop them so Joseph held the next oldest hostage.
We don't know all of Joseph's feelings (shock, confusion, and anger) or motives for his actions as he is hit with this out of the blue. It seems he had tried to put this behind him and move on with his new life (wife, 2 children, and second in command of the world's most powerful nation keeps you busy). In fact, he had named his first son "Forgetfulness" (Manasseh). Twice, he accused them of being spies. The brothers must have been overcome with fear. They were standing before a man who had absolute, autocratic power. At his word they could be executed. So maybe he did exact a few pounds of flesh in the way he treated them but then we hear him say this: "Do this and you will live, for I fear God:" For all of his more than twenty years in Egypt, a nation of idol worshipers, Joseph had not lost his belief in the One true God. He released all but one of them from prison and though he continued to test them, it seems he was seeking to get them to confess their guilt. Also he probably wanted to make sure Benjamin was still alive and that they had not killed him as they had tried to kill him.
Later we see more on how the Lord used Joseph, the plight of the ten brothers with Simeon in prison, the ongoing famine and the pain of their father Jacob to bring their unconfessed sin and guilt to their attention. "Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man's silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left. 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. "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?" When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, "The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. But we said to him, 'We are honest men; we are not spies. We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, (i.e., Joseph) and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.' "Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, 'This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.' " As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man's sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 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. "
Time does not heal things as is seen in this account. The brothers had been carrying a load of guilt for twenty years and only these deep trials brought it to the surface. Confession is good for the soul. We must tell it all to God first and foremost, then to the people we have wronged, and to a trusted friend or two. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."(James 5:16)
And may we learn this lesson from Joseph: If we don't fear God we may continue to punish the people who have hurt us (family, friends, others) the rest of our lives.
"If believers have unresolved guilt in their lives, God will stir up their consciences to see if they are spiritually sensitive enough to share in His program (His on-going purposes for His kingdom). If people are fit for His service they will have to prove that they are sensitive to their guilty consciences, that they have changed to become honest people, and that if put in similar circumstances, they can be trusted to act righteously." A. Ross – Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND APPLICATION:
What spoke to you through this message?
What kept Joseph from taking full revenge on his brothers? It is stated in the text.
Ask the Lord if there is someone you may be "punishing" in your mind or in other ways for past wrongs against you?
True or false: (A) Time heals things. (B) Confession is good for the soul. (See James 5:16)
Is there a buried sin in your life that you need to confess to God and someone you may have wronged in the past?
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen