Have you ever wondered, in the midst of some difficulty, “Is this a test?” Does God, actually, test His people and, if so, are tests punishments or something else? What does God do when we fail those tests?
As we continue the Genesis story, Joseph will be faced with a test. How would he respond to the brothers who thought about killing him before they sold him into slavery? And his brothers will face some tests of their own, including the fear that God was punishing them for what they did to Joseph and how he might retaliate.
Genesis 43 & 44
Is this a test?
From Prison to Leadership
If you’ve been following along in Genesis, you know that Joseph had been thrown into prison after he was falsely accused of sexual assault, as if being sold into slavery was not enough. While there, God gave him the interpretation of two men’s dreams. Joseph asks the one that was released to remember him and his plight, but he, apparently, never did.
Two years later Pharaoh had two disturbing dreams (Gen. 41):
8 In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard.11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.”
14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
God warned that seven years of abundance would be followed by seven years of famine. He, not only, revealed the interpretation to Joseph, but gave him so much wisdom that Pharaoh put him in charge of managing a program to prepare for the famine. His plan was so successful that people from surrounding areas came to buy grain, including Jacob’s brothers (Gen. 42).
You are spies!
6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.
“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”
8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”
12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
13 But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”
14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested …
I don’t know what was, actually, in Joseph’s heart when he first saw his brothers after so many years. The text says he remembered his dreams, but he, also, had to remember the hurt and the wrong they had done? He was faced with a test of sorts. How would he respond to the brothers who thought about killing him before they sold him into slavery.
His brothers would face the fear that God was punishing them for what they did to Joseph and, later, the fear of how Joseph might retaliate.
18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.
21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”
22 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.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
Back to Egypt
Time passed. Simeon was sitting in jail, probably wondering if anyone was coming back for him.
Jacob had not been willing to deal with the situation. The thought of losing Benjamin was too great for him, but his hand had been forced by continued famine.
God & Famine
God often uses famine and lack to move us or test us. Sometimes, because we have become too content in our comfort zones, fearing failure or change. Other times, there are selfish desires, hidden idolatries, or sinful patterns that need to be exposed and dealt with. There are, also, times when we may not know the strength and ability we have in Christ until it is tested.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt 400 years later, they would be tested repeatedly: by being caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, by thirst and later hunger, by the time Moses spent on the mountain, by the temptation to take material goods they had been commanded to destroy, and by the size of the giants when they prepared to enter the Promised Land just to name a few. Sadly, they often failed miserably just as we sometimes do.
But if we belong to Him, God will keep working with us, though it may require another lap around Mount Sinai, another trip to Egypt, another opportunity to act sacrificially, another hardship, another opportunity to speak the truth, or another chance to confess sin and make restitution.
Beginning in verse 15 we find the brothers have returned with Benjamin. They have pleaded their case, and strangely, have been brought to the home of this high ranking Egyptian official for lunch! And things are getting really weird!
The steward brings Simeon out to them and, incredibly, they’re seated from the oldest to the youngest. When they’re served lunch, Benjamin is served five times what the others receive. I love the last sentence of Genesis 43.34, “So they drank and were merry with him.”
Have you ever had someone take you out to dinner and wine you and dine you when you didn’t really have a relationship with them? Perhaps you found yourself wondering what it was all about? Wondering what they really wanted? I imagine the brothers trying to smile and enjoy themselves, all the while wondering what would happen next, wondering if they were all about to be arrested and accused of something?
And Joseph was, indeed, up to something. According to John MacArthur, Joseph was testing his brothers’ devotion to Benjamin and to see how they responded to all of this.
Then in chapter 44 Joseph sends the brothers off again, but this time he hides his cup in Benjamin’s sack. When it’s “discovered” Benjamin is arrested and brought back. Though they were free to go, all the brothers return with him.
Judah comes before Joseph and after explaining about his father, offers to take Benjamin’s place as a slave. Judah, whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery, is now offering himself as a slave. Judah, who was originally so quick to condemn his daughter-in-law (Gen. 38.24) a few chapters ago, is selflessly offering himself.
In tomorrow’s reading the brothers will learn that the “Egyptian” official is really the brother they sold into slavery so many years earlier.
God’s testings are not punishment. They are moments of decision that can propel us deeper and closer to God or reveal those areas where we are not like Christ. Judah and the other brothers had passed a great test, but they would struggle to embrace God’s grace shown them through Joseph for the rest of their lives.
Today’s Other Readings:
Jesus is Still on the Throne
With everything going on in our nation and the world, verse 4 is a great verse to remember:
“The LORD is in His holy temple, The LORD’s throne is in heaven …”
I have a friend who, when something difficult happened, would say “Well, Jesus is still on the throne!”
Whatever you’re going through, whether it’s the loss of a job, the violence in the world, a teenager who’s rebelling, or a marriage that’s difficult, remember, the Lord is still in His Holy temple. Jesus is still on the throne!
And He is not up there wringing His hands wondering what He’s going to do or how He’s going to take care of His children. He’s on His throne whether your child is rebelling or not. He’s on His throne even if your marriage is difficult. He’s on His throne whether the economy is weak or strong, no matter what political party is in power, and no matter what happens. Trust Him. He is trustworthy and He is in control.
Take Firm Hold of Instruction
Verse 13, “Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.”
How can we know God’s Word and still fall into sin?
“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (Jas. 1.14-15)
Brent Aucoin says, “We do what we do because we want what we want.” While not all desires are sinful, we must be careful not to allow our desires to rule in place of God’s principles. As the writer of Proverbs said, take firm hold of instruction, do not let go!
There are two points illustrated here that have been made many times before, but are worth remembering. The first is in verse 23 where we see one of the many occasions where Jesus sent the crowds, and even His disciples away, and spent time alone with His Heavenly Father. If He needed time with His Father, how much more do you and I!
Look to God Not the Circumstances
The second point concerns Peter’s walking on the water. Most of you know the story. As long as he kept His eyes on the Lord, he was able to walk on water. When he began to look at the waves, he began to sink!
Instead of reading the unemployment statistics or rushing to watch the evening news, perhaps our time would be better spent meditating on God’s truths. While we live in the world and are affected by circumstances (Matt. 5.45), we can still trust the faithfulness of our God. He has promised to provide food, shelter and clothing, and with these we can and should be content (1 Tim. 6.8).
He has promised to never forsake us:
“He will be with you He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31.8).
But there is another interesting thing that happened in this passage. Notice it says Peter began to sink. When did you ever see anyone step into the water and merely begin to sink? Even when Peter’s faith faltered, God was still in control!
Is there some area of life where you need to trust God more?
Are you spending more time rejoicing over the promises of God or commiserating over the state of our nation, your health, the economy, your family, your marriage, or whatever might be troubling you?
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11.28-30).
Are you being tested in some area? What is God revealing? What step of faith or trust or obedience do you need to take?
Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You and not the circumstances of life, in Jesus name, amen.
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