Genesis 43 is an interesting look in to the change that has taken place in Joseph’s brothers. Judah – the one who originally convinced the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery – tells his father that he will bear the blame for Benjamin’s possible harm for the rest of his life if the boy is harmed. Reuben (the oldest) had already offered his two sons to Jacob in the previous chapter as a guarantee for Benjamin’s safety.
Now when they go back, they take not only double the silver (since Joseph had returned their silver to them on the first journey), but also gifts for Joseph, to try to “butter him up” a bit and allow Simeon and Benjamin to return safely with them.
When they arrive at Joseph’s house (taken there after he sees Benjamin), they are afraid that they will become slaves of the brother they sold into slavery (but don’t yet recognize). Ironic isn’t it? How does it feel when the shoe is on the other foot? But they are soon surprised to find themselves seated at a feast – in order from oldest to youngest (how could the Egyptian master know?) – and with the baby brother receiving FIVE times the portions of anyone else. Here’s the logic:
It’s another test. Joseph was originally Daddy’s favorite son, the baby brother who received the favored portions of everything. Joseph sees himself in Benjamin. Benjamin now sits (with FIVE times the food of anyone else) exactly where he once sat. Now, how will the brothers receive him? Will they mutter under their breaths? Will they look at him with jealousy and envy? Will they jump him and try to kill him? Will they offer him to Joseph as slave? What personality twitches, body language, or slight facial expressions would Joseph be able to gather to show him just how unchanged his brothers’ hearts were? But, there were none. As verse 34 declares, “they feasted and drank freely with him.” They celebrated with Benjamin over his massive helpings of food. They clearly enjoyed themselves and enjoyed Benjamin’s haul as well. They praised him for it and loved him. Now, what will Joseph do next?
Chapter 44: Another Test
So, perhaps Joseph thought that the brothers were only nice to Benjamin because they had plenty? A nice big feast, a ton of free wine, what’s not to like? Why would they be displeased with their baby brother at a party? But, what would become of them if tragedy struck? How would they handle it then?
And so, Joseph causes tragedy to strike them. Not only does he place their payment for the grain in the tops of their sacks – to make it look obvious that they stole it, but he also give his prized cup to Benjamin – who would look like the worst thief of them all. The brothers are caught literally red handed (because their brother set them up – funny, what comes around goes around) and brought back to Joseph. He pretends to be a complete non-believer in God, a sorcerer, diviner, of sorts who found out about their thievery through magic. The brothers can’t bear to let Benjamin take the blame for it, and Judah – the one who originally convinced them all to sell Joseph into slavery – steps up and basically says, “Sir, to keep the boy would kill my father, and it would kill me to see him in such grief a second time. It would be better for me to remain here as a living-dead slave, than for my father to literally grieve himself to death over the loss of a second son.”
And with that, Joseph is convinced. He needs no more tests. Now he can see that the brothers’ hearts are truly changed, so he reveals himself to them. In fact, he told the family to move to Egypt because it was obviously God’s will for the brothers to sell him into slavery in order to save them all. He gives them massive gifts to take back to their father, and then warns them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!” (verse 24 – gotta encourage their change of heart to be more than temporary).
So Jacob and their whole family go, and Joseph prepares a place for them.
There are at least three important lessons that can be learned from this story:
- God does not DO evil, but he can USE evil to accomplish his own good purposes (Romans 8:28). He may in fact at times allow evil and suffering in order to bring greater good out of their aftermath. He seeks the greatest glory for himself through all things.
- Testing must come before trusting. You cannot immediately trust someone – first they must pass a series of your own “tests” to determine if they are truly trustworthy. Likewise, someone who breaks your trust cannot immediately be trusted again just because they say, “I’m sorry.” They must also, once again prove that they are trustworthy (again) by passing through another series of “tests” – just as Joseph’s brothers had to. Trust is one of those things that requires time and patience and is difficult to build, but is easily and quickly broken. Therefore, it is not easily, nor quickly mendable once it is broken. Trusting again requires time, healing, and forgiveness.
- Forgiveness must come before forgetting. In fact, in this story, Joseph likely forgave his brothers for their sin against him long before he met them again in Egypt. Possibly when God blessed him – even in Potiphar’s house – Joseph may have forgiven them. But he did not forget. And it is obvious he did not forget what they did through all the testing he put them through. It is only in chapter 45, after he witnesses a fully repentant heart in his brothers that he truly forgives AND forgets.
Forgiving Doesn’t Mean Forgetting
And in order to help break the misconception that forgiveness means forgetting (which it doesn’t), Mark Driscoll has a list of 7 things that forgiveness is NOT, and 7 things that forgiveness IS:
Forgiveness is NOT:
- Forgiveness is not approving of the wrong that was done.
- It’s not excusing what was done.
- It’s not denying it.
- It’s not overlooking it.
- It’s not forgetting.
- It’s not diminishing the hurt.
- It’s not pretending it doesn’t hurt.
- Forgiveness is loving, in spite of what they’ve said and done – because that’s how God loves us.
- It’s choosing not to punish them for what they’ve done.
- It’s choosingnot to keep a record of wrongs (no grudges).
- It’s choosingto give mercy – one sinner giving another sinner mercy.
- It’s not a one-time event. Sometimes the issue comes back, the hurt comes back, you have to forgive over and over.
- It’s not necessarily reconciliation – you don’t automatically need to take them back.
- It’s not a restoration of full trust.
Three Dangerous Questions
In closing, Mark Driscoll has three dangerous questions:
- Where’s your sin? Where’s your unconfessed sin? Habitual sin? Secret sin? Hidden sin? Unrepentant sin?
- Where’s your bitterness? Who have you never forgiven?
- What does repentance and forgiveness look like for you?