We're looking at what was necessary to bring Joseph's brothers to true repentance and I was reminded of an amazing chapter on repentance that Brian Chapell includes in his great book, Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That is our Strength (Crossway 2001, pg. 74). He writes,
True repentance must include awareness of the magnitude of our spiritual destitution; therefore real repentance must begin with recognition of God's incomparable and unachievable holiness.
When we do not apprehend the true nature of our wrongdoing, we do not hate it sufficiently to seek its expulsion. True repentance requires grief and remorse that cries out,"How could I have done such a thing? Please, God, take the guilt and presence of this evil from my life!"
The brothers come closer to that because they experience similar heart-ache that Joseph experienced. They see and feel what they caused in Joseph's life. Without that, they would only have a shallow grief and remorse. They would not know the level of pain they caused. We can apply this to ourselves when we see God allowing circumstances in our lives that help us know and feel the grief we've given to others.
We saw last time that the brothers experienced fear and confusion when they heard the word "Egypt" from their father. But the kick in the pants works (and hunger must contribute) and they leave for Egypt. Genesis 42:3 tells us, "But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, 'I am afraid that harm may befall him.'”
Ooohh! What a stab in their hearts. Isn't Jacob really saying, "The last time I sent a brother to see you, he didn't come back. You don't provide a safe place where I can entrust my beloved son to you. And oh, by the way, I'm not as concerned about your safety. You can go and risk yourselves. But I'm not going to risk my beloved Benjamin like I did my beloved Joseph. I will prevent harm from coming to him and I can't trust you to do that."
What rejection. What favoritism! The brothers are experiencing a similar rejection (from their father) that Joseph experienced from them.
Jacob is so guilty of favoritism. Parents, let's be aware of the pain that favoritism causes. It actually caused the whole situation within Jacob's family. God, of course, used it, but God would prefer favoritism isn't a part of our families at all. It's a harmful strategy that creates grief and pain.
So the brothers leave, reach Egypt, stand in line to buy food, and without knowing it, encounter Joseph. Now I have to pause to ask, was Joseph so involved that he was at the sale of every bit of food? Is that what being in charge meant? There have to be literally thousands of people coming through the food line because there is no food elsewhere! Everyone for hundreds of miles is hungry and coming to Egypt for food.
I'm asking because I'm really wondering if Joseph's intention was to be there when the brothers arrived. If everyone is coming to Egypt because there is no food elsewhere, isn't it inevitable that the brothers will come? Is Joseph waiting for this moment? Has he been at his post day after day after day anticipating it? Or is this just happenstance that he's there on the actual day the brothers arrive?
We know there is no "happenstance" with God. Whether God's sovereignty puts Joseph there on the day they arrive or Joseph has been there waiting every day, we don't know, but they are there together! That's the point. And God is working!
This is a good reminder that everything that happens in our lives is not happenstance. Everything reaches us after going through God's love filter. He is the great orchestrator and choreographer that directs our paths. Everything is intended to draw us closer to God's loving heart and develop our holiness through repentance and surrender.
So now after maybe more than 20 years, Joseph recognizes his brothers but they don't recognize him. And the brothers bow before this man who is in control of their hunger! How Joseph's heart must flip within him. After so long, his dreams are coming true! Genesis 42:9-10 tells us Joseph's response: "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.' Then they said to him, 'No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food.'"
I just have to wonder. Has Joseph planned this whole thing out? "When my brothers come, I'm going to say this and they are going to say that. And then I'm going to....etc etc." Did he fashion the plan beforehand or is he reacting in the spur of the moment? Is his heart feeling at least a little revengeful? We'll never know but thinking about it challenges us to ask how much or often we rehearse bitterness or revenge.
Personally, I'm great at writing scripts! I'm excellent at pre-judging how a challenging conversation will go! I'm almost perfect at pre-determining the motives of those I'm trying to figure out! And it's all intended to protect me from pain. To protect myself from responding like a bozo and from being misunderstood. To protect myself from appearing stupid and from responding in such a way that my image will be tarnished. And also to make others look bad so I'll look good. Oh, it's all so...self-protective.
Thankfully, the Lord has convicted me of those things and I'm trusting Him better; thus, not needing to write scripts as often. In fact, I just recently knew I would be having a conversation with someone and I didn't know why they wanted to have the conversation. It was possibly to confront me about something. I had overnight to be tempted to write the scripts.
I slept like a baby. I didn't obsess. I didn't write scripts in my sleep. I trusted God for the conversation and it turned out well. I was so grateful.
Did Joseph write some scripts? We don't know. But he is trusting God and God is using him to expose his brothers to what he experienced at their hand or because of them. The brothers are now feeling falsely accused, fearful, misunderstood, and voiceless--all how Joseph felt.
And remember, all this is happening to bring them to a sincere repentance and surrender. It is intended by God for their good. He wants them to be freed of the guilt that has burdened them all these years and been an obstacle to drawing closer to His loving heart.
Does that put a different light on our own difficulties? Even if God is allowing difficulties in order to discipline us and bring us to repentance and surrender, can we see them as beneficial and purposeful for our holiness? That is our choice to do so. He intends it all for our good.
Next time we'll continue to see the repentance process in the brothers.
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