We have in our reading today the children of Israel’s second trip to Egypt to purchase grain from the second-in-command to Pharaoh, who is actually their long-lost brother Joseph. Last week we explored the first interaction between the brothers from the perspective of Joseph, who, over the past 20 years in Egypt had come to a mature understanding of God’s providence. This mature understanding of God and his ways enabled Joseph to keep his composure when he had to be wanting payback against his brothers who had sold him into slavery decades ago. Joseph did not take immediate retribution for his brothers’ many sins against him, but allowed God time to work in their lives. Yet he did not immediately entrust himself back to his brothers who had hurt him, but tested them to see if they truly had changed.
And that’s the question that lingers over these chapters, have the brothers changed? More broadly, do people change? How do people change? What does it take before people actually change? I have a five year old, meaning, we watch Frozen. A lot. And they sing a song, the wise rock dwarf people, the fixer-upper song, and there’s a line in it that drives my wife crazy, We’re not saying you can change him/’Cause people don’t really change. But that’s not true, is it? People do change. People change all the time, and while sometimes people may change for mysterious reasons, sometimes we can see patterns in the whys and the hows of personal transformation. It is good news, that people change. Its good for us, because we know we need it. It’s good for us, because we are impacted by the people around us, and their growth is often good, good for us, good for them, good for our relationships. And here in these chapters the brothers stand before Joseph, and this is the crucial moment - have they changed?
Change Is Possible When Perceived Desperation > Anticipated Difficulty
Change is difficult. It is hard. And ofter people don’t change until the perceived desperation of their circumstance overwhelms the anticipated difficulty of the change. If the anticipated difficulties I will encounter loom larger than my desperation to change, I won’t. Yet if the perceived desperation of my circumstance overwhelms the anticipated difficulty of the change, that might be enough to get me started.
Joseph may have been surprised to see the brothers back in Egypt. Remember, he had made it difficult for them to return before him. He had accused them of being spies and had held their brother Simeon prisoner. Beyond that, by placing their money in their bags on their return home the last time, he knew that the brothers would fear him even more, as they knew they would be open to the charge of theft as well.
Yet they return to Egypt because they are desperate. They’ve run out of food for the second time. This is what Judah said to his father in 43:8 “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.” Judah perceives the desperation of their situation - that if they do not return to Egypt, they will all die, and so he is ready to face the difficulties that await in Egypt.
Joseph surprises them by sending message to them that they are to dine with him, and this terrifies them as they think that it is a set-up. Yet the servant assures them that it is not a set-up, but that they had nothing to fear for God had placed the money in their sacks. Even more, he brings Simeon out so that all the brothers are reunited together. Even more shows great hospitality to the travellers by offering them water for their feet and feeding their animals. They are being treated as esteemed guests, and they must have been laughing at themselves over how difficult they had thought this was going to be, however, the most difficult tests were yet to come.
At that point Joseph arrives, and still concealing his identity from them, plays the part of the Egyptian host, asking them about their father. Joseph can’t contain himself as he sees Benjamin and actually has to leave the room so that he does not break character while emotion overwhelms him and he goes into another room to weep. But again, the question is, have they changed?
So Joseph has them seated at a separate table from himself, and to their surprise he seats them by their birth order, Reuben first, all the way down to Benjamin, the youngest. This was shocking enough, for how would he know their birth order? Yet even more provocative is that Benjamin, the youngest, the only supposed remaining son of Rachel, is given five times the amount of food from Joseph’s table than any of his brothers. I don’t think this can be understood in any way other than Joseph testing his brothers here, trying to provoke their jealousy by showing similar favouritism to Benjamin than that which provoked their jealousy toward himself. Yet, perhaps surprisingly to Joseph, the brothers display not a hint of jealousy at this time, but continue to drink and be merry.
And so Joseph sends them off the next morning. He has his servants fill their bags and send them off once more, again with their own money in their sacks, but this time they put a silver cup belonging to Joseph in Benjamin’s sack. After the brothers travel a short distance from the city, Joseph’s servant tracks them down and accuses on of them of stealing the cup. The brothers are so convinced of their innocence in the matter that they say that if the cup is found among them, “Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” Catch that - they pronounce the death penalty upon whichever one of them among whom the cup is found. And they are dismayed when the cup in found is Benjamin’s possession, they all tear their clothes, a sign of their grief and horror. They return to Jospeh’s house, and this time, they do not merely bow before Joseph, “they fell before him to the ground.” Now, both Joseph’s servant and Joseph inform the brothers that Benjamin will be taken as a servant the rest of the brothers are free to go. Before we get to the surprising speech from Judah, notice what Joseph has done here. He has placed his brothers in nearly the same position that they were in 20 years before. He seeks to provoke them to jealousy by favouring their younger brother right in front of them. He gives them opportunity to gain their own freedom by leaving that brother behind as a slave in Egypt. The most likely outcome, especially if people don’t really change, is that the brothers will return back to Canaan and that Benjamin will stay with Joseph, and he and Benjamin will live happily together in Egypt, freed of their terrible family.
Yet to everyone’s surprise, Judah steps up and delivers the longest and most impassioned speech in the book of Genesis, in his speech really gets to the heart of this amazing change that has happened first in Judah and in the other brothers as well.
Truly Owning All Of Your Sin: The first part about Judah’s amazing response in that he makes no excuses: 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.”
Judah makes no excuses. He could make excuses, he could have defended himself - after all, we know that the brothers were actually innocent of stealing the cup. Yet look what Judah says, “God has found out the guilt of your servants.” Now what is Judah doing here? Is he confessing to a crime neither he nor his brother committed? No, I don’t think so. I think Judah understands that even though they did not perhaps steal the cup, God is nevertheless holding them accountable for their many sins. It is as the brothers had said when Joseph first threw them in prison, 42:21, “Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” Judah is recognizing that he and his brothers had been living on borrowed time, that the depths of their sins against God and their brother Joseph were now being called into account. Though they may not have stolen the cup, they were guilty nonetheless.
This is the the first true step to change: truly owning all of your sin. Not sugar coating it, or minimizing your mess, or downplaying your depravity. Not shifting the blame on circumstances or others. Not blaming bad luck or your biology.
Understanding How You Have Hurt Others The second thing that Judah reveals in his speech is that he has finally understood how much his actions have impacted others around him, particularly his father. Judah mentions his father 13 times in his speech, specifically noting how much his father loved Benjamin and how much it would destroy his father if Benjamin is lost to him.
Gen. 44:30 “Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol.
In the jealousy of their younger days, neither Judah nor his brothers cared about the sorrow they would put their father through when they took Joseph from him. At that time, Jacob “tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.” Did you catch that all his sons … rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. Perhaps that is where they truly understood that they had gone too far. Regardless of when it was precisely that Judah first understood how his sinful actions had hurt those around him, he now understands how the actions he takes will impact his father. Yet Judah goes beyond pleading with Joseph for the sake of his dad, he actually offers that he himself be taken in Benjamin’s place.
Make Every Effort to Set Right What You have Wronged Judah, truly owning the full extent of his sin, and understanding how his actions have hurt his father, offers himself to Joseph in place of the boy.
33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”
This is the point at which it is evident to Joseph that at least Judah has truly changed, that he truly has learned to love his father and his brother with a selfless love. That he is willing to put himself on the line, to actually lay down his own life and freedom for the sake of others whom he has wronged. In John 15:13 Jesus said this: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” and Judah is truly demonstrating that sort of love for his brother and his father. This is what moves Joseph to one of the most climactic displays of emotion in the Bible:
Gen. 45:1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.
Joseph has witnessed true repentance in his brothers, true change, and it totally breaks him. And I’ll tell you, when change happens in a persons life, it is truly a powerful thing. People who have had falling outs can be reconciled. People that used to be sources of pain now bring you joy. And everything I told you is true, that if you truly come to a place in which your desperation is greater than the difficulty you anticipate that change will be, and if you truly acknowledge and own your sin, and understand how you’ve hurt others, and make every effort to right all of your wrongs, those are some good principles that can begin the process of change, but they do not go far enough. If we stop here we do no justice to the text or to the gospel. If we stop here, we are no better than a secular 12 step program, in fact, the steps I gave you you’ll find in every one of those programs.
There is a a greater love, a greater substitution, a greater salvation, to whom Judah points
See, the Bible is not just a collection of stories about these people who lived long ago that we are to just take moral lessons from. The Bible is one story, about God and our relationship with him, how we have failed him and destroyed our relationship with him and what he is doing to restore a relationship with us.
See, the Bible would tell us that there is a Father in heaven who loves us infinitely more than Jacob loved Benjamin. The book of Genesis promised that although we had been condemned for our sins, God would send a deliverer to come and rescue us. This deliverer would be unashamed to be called our brother, coming forth from the seed of the woman, a son of Abraham in whom the nations would be blessed. As we continue in Genesis and in the story of the scriptures, we will soon come to learn that the deliverer will actually be a descendant of Judah. And just as Judah, for the sake of his father’s love, offered himself as a substitute on behalf of his condemned brother, so this deliverer, the son of Judah, for the sake of his Father’s love, has offered himself as a substitute on behalf of we who were condemned in our sins before God. Judah is a picture of this deliverer for us, but Jesus Christ, the lion of the tribe of Judah, is the true deliverer.
See that’s what so many people miss when they are trying to change their lives through self-help programs or 12-step programs. Let’s revisit some of the previous points, and see how the revelation of our Deliver an truly bring about change.
Change Is Possible When Perceived Desperation > Anticipated Difficulty Here we realize that what we thought was our pit of desperation was not nearly desperate enough, for the carnal man looks at his physical circumstances, like time and place, and thinks he’s desperate, yet if we were to truly perceive our desperation before a holy God, it would completely break us, and what is worse is that the gospel proclaims that true and lasting eternal change in not merely difficult, but that we in ourselves are utterly unable to bring it about. That we need resources and a spiritual power that is not found in our will, but in the power of God himself.
Truly Owning All Of Your Sin: And when we truly own all of our sin, we often start with taking inventory of our sinful actions, but it can’t stop there. You can trace the pathways of those sinful actions back deeper into the thoughts you had, and that’s even scarier, because then you find that the sin was not just something you did, but that it was something you intended to do. But you keep on tracing the pathways of your sin, and you realize it was not just something you did, or something you thought, but something you desired. You truly desired that which was wicked. And then that ought to shock you because then the problem is not just something you did, or something you thought, but something you are, something that emanated from your core, your heart.
This is what Jesus was getting at when he took the law, for example today we prayed the sixth commandment, though shall not murder, but then he traced the action back to the thoughts, and then all the way back to the desire, and then taught that if we hated our brother or called him fool, we were guilty of violating the commandment. If we look at another in lust, at the heart level we are guilty, as if we had committed sexual immorality. Once that exploration is completed, when you trace the pathways of sin from your actions all the way back to your heart, then you realize what a desperate situation you are in.
Understanding How You Have Hurt Others A self-help program or 12-step programs will often take us through a process in which we will grow in our consideration for how we have hurt others, yet truly the one who we have offended most in our sin is God himself. David prayed in Psalm 51, “Against you and you only have i sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Joseph himself fended off Potaphar’s wife by understanding that the evil she was enticing him to do would be a dreadful sin against God. See, true and lasting - eternal change only begins to happen when the Holy Spirit searches your conscience and opens the eyes of your heart to understand how your sin has offended God, and when you see it, you understand that you need a Deliverer and you begin to cry out for him, because you realize that there is no effort you can make, to set right what you have wronged.
Make Every Effort to Set Right What You have Wronged You cannot atone for, to right what you have set so wrong, and you realize that you need a saviour to stand in your place like Judah did, and take the punishment for you that you have deserved on account of your sins. And that is why Jesus, for the sake fo the love of His Father, has laid himself down for us, dying in our place for our sins, that God would raise him up from the dead and offer salvation to us.