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The goodness of God (Genesis 43)

The previous time we saw how Joseph took his brothers through a long breaking-down process to get them to the point where they would stop to justify themselves, acknowledge their sin and bow down. Joseph could not reveal himself to them before they have reached that point. He could not give them the abundance of food supply and provision before they have not knelt before him in brokenness. In that we recognize the breaking-down process by which the Lord takes a sinner until the knee finally bends before Christ (the Greater Joseph).
This breaking-down process is not described in chapter 42 only, but it runs through a good few chapters. It includes chapter 43! Last time we saw over a couple of chapters a kind of overview, and all of it forms the background for today’s study of chapter 43. Still, today we want to move the focus a little and look specifically at how the goodness of God comes to the fore and what it means for us today. We know from Romans 2:4 that it is indeed the GOODNESS of God that brings us to repentance. But how does it play out in chapter 43 of the Joseph-story ? In verses 1-14 we see a picture of surrender to the Lord and in verses 15-34 a picture of how essential the peace and compassion of God is.

Judah is the first one in the family to show signs of self-sacrifice. The food has run out and the brothers must again go to Egypt to fetch more food supplies, but Joseph (whom they did not recognise) warned them in no uncertain terms that they must bring Benjamin with them on their return. Or else…

Now Judah comes and takes a kind of oath that he himself will take responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. The Lord is undoubtedly busy working in the life of Judah. We know how self-centered and hardened in sin he always used to be. Now suddenly he is putting others first. In further chapters we will see how Judah’s leadership and sacrificial qualities increase and develop. That is what the Holy Spirit can do in a person’s life. Nothing is impossible for God. There is hope for you and me! The only hope for us is with the living God.

Judah’s talk with his father Jacob, convinces Jacob to allow Benjamin to go along to Egypt. Judah is prepared to put himself at risk. It is serious!

But Judah’s about-turn is undoubtedly an example – which are numerous in the Bible – of the extremity of the transforming power with which the Holy Spirit operates. Judah’s hardened heart is softened so that he could become convinced of his sin and wrongdoings. His thoughts are enlightened in the knowledge of God and in that way his will is changed to start to will as God wills that he must will. In this way Judah becomes a leader among his brothers.

But when we look at Jacob, we see a man whose name was changed to Israel – that was an indication that there had been a great turn around in his life. And that there indeed was a turn, we cannot deny. But there are still remnants of the old Jacob visible in his behaviour. Perhaps that is why he is still called “Jacob” and only occasionally “Israel “.

For example: Jacob’s one weakness was always to soften and bribe others with gifts. Well, here he is again, sending a gift to Joseph. And the money with which they were to pay for the corn, and that Joseph had put back in their bags, must be doubled and given to Joseph. Because, perhaps it was a mistake that they received the corn as a free gift (verse 12).

The human’s fallen nature and heart are always inclined to think that God’s grace in Christ is a mistake. It has to be a mistake that the eternal life is a free gift, a gift from God. How can it be free? How can God return my money back to me? Meaning: How can He give my well-meaning efforts and good works back to me, and then give redemption (the corn) without any payment to me as a free gift? It cannot be! Everything that is free is worthless. That is how it works in the world. And yet, Jacob and his sons had to be prepared to receive the corn free of charge, otherwise they would starve to death. Free did not mean that it was cheap. Because remember: Joseph himself paid a high price to be able to give them the corn as a gift. The many years of suffering and rejection were the price that he paid.

The Lord Jesus is the Greater Joseph. And we know that God’s forgiveness and redemption and atonement are a gift because Jesus paid for it at a very high price. The price of Golgotha. Because we cannot pay for it! Thanks to Calvary, we must also be prepared to live from grace alone. That means to receive the corn as a gift.

In Jacob’s lingering weaknesses and his inability to understand grace, we recognize ourselves once more, is that not true? That is exactly how the reborn person – in whom the Holy Spirit came to live – is in practice. The growing process never ends. And the Lord perseveres with His child. God persevered with Jacob – without a doubt.

The prayer Jacob prayed in verse 14, is central to this chapter. It is of central interest. It is again saying something about Jacob who is Israel – the new man in the Lord. It is also saying something of how small Jacob (and we) often pray, without any consideration as to how much we will receive in the end.

Jacob is calling on God as “El-Shaddai” – the Name with which the Lord God made Himself known to Abraham when He gave him the covenant-promises (Gen 17:1). It means literally: God the Almighty. Actually the meaning of it is that God is ENOUGH. More than Him nobody needs.

Jacob is also praying that “the man” in Egypt would be compassionate towards them and that Benjamin and Simeon would return home unharmed.

But the Lord’s answer and blessing to Jacob’s prayer would be far more and greater than anything he could think of or pray for. Yes, Benjamin and Simeon will be safe, but Jacob could never dream that Joseph is still living, that he is Prime Minister in Egypt and that he would be re-united with his son Joseph – 22 years after his brothers had sold him as a slave.

We therefore see in these 14 verses a picture-image of exactly how the Lord still works in the lives of His people today. While the new life is already present, the old life is reluctantly dying. The devotion to the Lord is not something that takes place only once, it is a lifelong repentance. Calvin said that the Christian life IS a life of repentance.

The Holy Spirit was doing a work of renewal in Jacob’s life. He clinged to his children almost more than clinging to El-Shaddai. One can understand it: He had lost Joseph. If he would also lose Benjamin and Simeon – it would be devastating. And yet we get the impression that should Benjamin be lost, the foundation of Jacob’s life would have been destroyed. If Benjamin is gone, what is left?

In this we see what the Lord was busy doing. The Lord put Jacob in a gymnasium where he was learning what pure faith-trust is. To open his hand and to let Benjamin go! To see as one who sees the Unseen – as Hebrews 11 puts it. That is the essence of Jacob’s surrender. His hand opens and he releases that which he is clinging to and he trusts the Lord with trust that sees the unseen.

And what was the result of that…. ?

This section is overshadowed by Joseph’s compassion. The brothers received what they could never foresee. And what they did not deserve.

The word “compassion “ is used twice in this passage. It is the Hebrew word “ragamim”. The word is used 39 times in the OT and most of the time it refers to the compassion of God himself.

The other word “shalom” appears three times in this passage and means “peace” or “prosperity”. As we would say “go well”.

The Lord was busy bringing peace/shalom to a house that had been torn apart by corruption and division.

However, the brothers‘ consciences were still wounded by sin and guilt and haunted by lies from the past. And a guilty conscience always interprets everything wrong. A guilty conscience looks at the goodness of the Lord and all it can see is judgment and punishment. Look at these brothers. Al they can think of that is happening now is that the Lord is punishing them for what they did to their father and Joseph 22 years ago. Behind everything they can only see God’s judgment over them. While the Lord is actually busy preparing them to taste some compassion and peace! Is not the living God inexpressibly wonderful?!

Only Joseph’s steward understood something of God as the God of the covenant. Look what he said in verse 23: “Your God, and the God of your father” (that’s Jacob!). Something of Joseph’s faith-trust must have made an impression on this servant. Joseph’s faithfulness to the Lord through all his successes and sufferings. His servant came to understand something of who the Lord God is.

A true believer always influences those around him/her concerning the Gospel-message. And in that way others also discover the Truth. This servant came from an idolatrous background. He was a born Egyptian. A pagan. Until Joseph crossed his path. A man who lived within the covenant of his God. And kept alive the true religion in the circle of his household.

One can see in Joseph’s compassionate behaviour towards his brothers something of the Greater Joseph, Jesus Christ. The tears when His enemies – complete sinners – broke down and bowed down. Often Joseph had to excuse himself from their presence to weep in another room. After 22 years the dream he had as a young man was literally fulfilled – all eleven brothers were bowing down to him. But he did not display a hard rigorist heart towards them. He wept. He was compassionate. And full of sympathy. He was blessing them. He was blessing Benjamin in particular. He arranged a feast for them. Like the father of the prodigal son in the parable (Luke 15). And there at Joseph’s table, the eleven brothers experienced common peace (shalom) – perhaps for the very first time.

Joseph’s brothers received the benefit of his compassion while they did not even know who he really was. The way lost humanity receives countless of blessings from the Lord without knowing who He really is. They receive and receive from Him, but are ignorant of the Source. It is pure GRACE when the Lord opens the eyes of a sinner to see that all the goodness comes from the LORD and that He wants to lead you to repentance by His goodness (Rom 2). The enemy tells people: “The Lord is good to you because you are already saved”. But Scripture teaches that the Lord is good to people so that they can be saved! A huge difference. We must allow the Scriptures to guide our thoughts and not human wisdom.

There are two truths that we must see:
1 Joseph’s brothers did not deserve his goodness towards them – not at all. They were not worthy of it. They deserved to starve to death. But instead they received food supplies out of Joseph’s stockpile. They sit down to a feast. It is a clear picture of the heartbeat of God towards His enemies, sinners who do not deserve any grace. GRACE clinches everything.
2 Joseph’s tears for his brothers flows directly over to the New Testament when we see Jesus weeping for Jerusalem (Luke 19) about the children of Israel who are not interested in the compassion and the shalom of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who became flesh and blood under their noses and lived among them in the person of the Son of God.

Have YOU already experienced something of God’s compassion and peace?

Translated by Marthie Wilson

Category Genesis Series

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