God’s Call to the Conscience
Genesis 42 HCBC 12/1/19
With thanks to God for His love letter to us, would you open now with me to Genesis 42?
As you do, I want you to think about your conscience.
Conscience is that God-given warning system designed to keep you from sin.
The Apostle Paul often spoke of this to his protégé Timothy:
I Timothy 1:5 “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Further, he pleads with Timothy to “keep faith and a good conscience which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1:19).
And once more, he urges Timothy (I Tim. 3:9) to “hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” Yet friends, the old saying “Let your conscience be your guide”- that’s a dubious statement. Why? Because your conscience is only reliable when what? When it is ruled by God’s Word. For just like muffling a smoke alarm with a towel, your conscience can be suppressed by sin. And Christian, your conscience can become seared by unconfessed sin (I Tim. 4:2). That’s when the conscience is excusing what it ought to be accusing. Ignoring, covering up, and justifying sin- that hardens the heart and leaves the conscience insensitive to God. The upshot is that believers with guilty consciences end up carting baggage of unresolved sin around with them they were never meant to carry. And that crushes down on the soul. Well, God loves to use extreme measures to awaken the sin-filled conscience. And that’s what he does to Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 42.
Remember, just like Joseph had told Pharaoh in interpreting his dream years earlier what was coming: 7 prosperous years will be followed by 7 years of famine. Glance back at the last 2 verses of chapter 41 which show us how the brutal famine had now hit.
Genesis 41:55–57 “So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, you shall do.” 56 When the famine was spread over all the face of the earth, then Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians; and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 The people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth.”
The U.S. has never experienced a famine like that.
Yet the worst drought in North America in 1,000 years took place between the 1930’s and 40’s. It was called the Dust Bowl. Draught and severe dust storms greatly damaged agriculture of the American Midwest and prairies. It is estimated that approximately two million people became homeless because of the Dust Bowl. And many were forced to head west to escape the massive drought. Watch now how Jacob and his sons respond to the worldwide famine: 1. Commission 1-5
Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, “Why are you staring at one another?” 2 He said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.” 3 Then ten brothers of Joseph went down to buy grain from Egypt.
This scene opens there in Canaan. Jacob and his 11 married sons have now been hit by the famine. Their crops are dying, there’s no food on the table.
And the UN World Food Program doesn’t exist to bring in food rations.
So, what are Jacob’s grown sons doing in the crisis? It almost humorous. They are staring at
each other! And with no doubt much frustration, Jacob asks them why. No answer.
Then he tells them he has both seen and heard that there was surplus grain down south in Egypt.
So, he sends them out, and they with their donkeys make the 450 mile trek. Their goal: to bring back as much grain as those donkeys can carry (which is roughly 150 pounds each making a total of 1500 pounds!).
Since the average speed of a donkey is 3.5 miles an hour, it would have taken them around 2 weeks to reach Egypt.
Yet we are told that not all of Jacob’s sons in Canaan left for Egypt.
4th verse: But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, “I am afraid that harm may befall him.”
We know that Benjamin is Joseph’s full brother and second son of their mom Rachel. He has become Jacob’s favorite child. You think Jacob would have learned his lesson with what happened to Joseph. For he had shown preferential treatment!
Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go for fear of what could happen to his favorite. Parents, grandparents, beware of the danger of playing favorites. It will harm that child and it will hurt your family.
The focus now shifts to that great land of Egypt.
Verse 6: Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land.
We saw from chapter 41 how God so sovereignly elevated Joseph from prison to palace.
Because he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he was made vizier, prime minister over that most powerful nation in the world!
Joseph’s top responsibility was to sell grain to all famished people who came from near and far.
That by the way accounts for much of the wealth accumulated by the Egyptian nation!
Joseph would have been wearing his fine linen garment with a golden necklace around his neck and Pharaoh’s signet ring on his finger.
By the way, there’s an inspired proverb that so aptly describes Joseph at this time:
Proverbs 11:26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.
As Joseph supervises the selling of grain, lo and behold, who ends up standing before him?
His very own brothers! 10 of them!
And their immediate response, so significant: (v. 6b) “And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.”
Joseph’s dream that his brothers once thought was preposterous (of their 11 sheaves of wheat bowing down to Joseph’s sheaf, Gen. 37:7) was becoming reality. And they don’t yet even realize it!
Another proverb put on display in real time: Proverbs 14:19 “The evil will bow down before the good.”
The Commission of Joseph’s sons to Egypt leads to the 2. Confrontation 7-17
I love what takes place in their face-to-face meeting. There’s amazing drama at every point.
Verse 7: When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, “Where have you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” 8 But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him.
Now how can it be that Joseph could recognize them, but they couldn’t recognize him?
First, it was 10x easier for Joseph to recognize them since there was 10 of them and since the way their mannerisms and dress as shepherds hadn’t changed that much.
Yet there are multiple reasons why they don’t recognize Joseph.
First, their expectations. They truly thought Joseph was long dead. That becomes clear in what they will say.
Second, a lot of time had passed since they last saw him when he was 17 years old. In fact, nearly 20 years have gone by since they sold him to the Midianite slave traders.
Third, Joseph now dresses in the garb of wealthy Egyptian potentate. He dons a linen garment, gold necklace and signet ring of Pharaoh on his
hand. He may have even worn a decorative Egyptian mask to disguise his appearance.
Fourth, as we read in verse 7. His tone of voice. It’s harsh and severe. That would have been so different than the voice they remembered from Joseph as a shepherd.
Why does Joseph speak to them so harshly? It wasn’t to rub their noses in the dirt. It was to teach them a lesson they would not soon forget.
Our boys used to love to play soccer in our backyard when we lived in the Czech Republic. One afternoon when we had a number of visitors over for a picnic lunch, one of our aspiring strikers shot a soccer ball that smashed through the neighbor’s window.
Mr. Cermak, the owner came over to the fence and spoke far more sternly than any of us had expected at the one who made the goal through his window.
And when I was thinking, “Wow, that neighbor’s reaction was a bit over the top”, he walks up to me and whispers “I just acted upset so he will remember the lesson!”
So too, Joseph purposefully came across harsh to his brothers.
Fifth, Joseph’s disguise works because he speaks not in Hebrew but in Egyptian. And he uses (v. 23) an interpreter who translates what he says to the brothers.
So, Joseph knows who they are. But they have no idea who he is!
Now take special note of what we read in verse 9; it’s vital that we grasp what’s going on here.
At this point we are told, “ 9 Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them.”
Why’s this key? It’s not just so gets full enjoyment of seeing them bow before him.
Here’s what Joseph realizes at this point. Over 2 decades have passed since God showed him those dreams. And now after all the waiting and wondering and even suffering. Now Joseph sees how God is fulfilling that dream, God’s perfect plan in his life!!!
Christian, the seasons of testing and trial may seem unending. But rest assured, in God’s time He will fulfill His great plan in your life. That’s
what He did in Joseph’s life. And that’s what we see Him doing in his brother’s lives.
And that’s what God will do in our lives!
Now the conversation with Joseph’s brothers becomes intense.
After he tells them, (v. 9b), “You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.” 10 Then they said to him, “No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. 11 “We are all sons of one man; we are honest men, your servants are not spies.”
Honest men? Is that why you sold Joseph for 20 pieces of silver?
Honest men? Is that why you lied to your father and said a wild beast killed Joseph?
Joseph could have had a heyday in humiliating them, but he doesn’t
Instead, verse 12:
Yet he said to them, “No, but you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land!” 13 But they said, “Your servants are twelve brothers in all, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.” 14 Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you, you are spies; 15 by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here! 16 “Send one of you that he may get your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. But if not, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.”
So amazing and shrewd what Joseph does.
He makes it clear he is testing them. Either they are telling the truth or not. The first test is, produce your younger brother. If you do, that will settle the matter.
Yet, he continues to conceal his identity. That’s why he makes an oath based on the life of Pharaoh. Why? He doesn’t want them to know who he is so he can see their true colors.
And that’s why he accuses them three times of being spies.
By the way, the frontier guards at Egypt’s northern border checked travelers to be sure they
were not spies seeking to enter their country as enemies
Starving foreign armies would look for weaknesses along the border in order to plunder the grain of Egypt.
Now, I believe the evidence of our text indicates Joseph’s goal is redemptive.
He wants to reconcile with his brothers rather than get retribution.
And that requires transformation. Transformation that starts with dealing with sin of the past. That’s why we are told in verse 17: “So he put them all together in prison for three days.”
That’s likely the same prison Joseph had been stuck in for over 2 years.
It’s there, God has those 10 brothers, right where he wants them to be.
For in that prison they have plenty of time to reflect on their past and wonder about the future.
“Why did we treat our brother so wickedly? “What is happening to us now, and why?”
There in prison, God awakens their sleeping consciences.
Joseph wasn’t with them in prison. Yet he’s got a heavy heart knowing how he and his brothers have become estranged from each other.
And watch how he so wisely deals with them. It’s not with a spirit of condemnation but
3. Compassion 18-28
Verse 18: “Now Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God:”
We have to pause here. For Joseph offers those 10 sinful brothers hope. He’s making it clear he wants them to live and not die.
And by the way, he could have killed all of them in a heartbeat if he wanted to retaliate for what they had done to him. And that would have ended the 12 tribes of Israel then and there!
The hope he gives goes beyond his desire for them to live. It’s based on 3 words: “I fear God!”
He doesn’t say he fears Pharaoh, nor fortune, nor fate. He fears God.
And that would have made their heads spin in amazement. For this Egyptian ruler before them declares he fears Elohim!
Those 10 brothers may have heard how their grandfather Abraham had used that same expression when standing before Abimelech the foreign king: Genesis 20:11 “I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place.”
What Joseph says would be like some powerful sheik in the Middle East today declaring. “I love and fear the Christian God of the Bible!”
For to fear God was an expression that meant to be rightly related to him by faith.
So, Joseph lives with a functional fear God. It affects the way he lives before God and others.
Here’s an important principle to note.
Reconciliation with God and people beings with fearing God.
For when we truly fear God, we will have humble hearts before him and others.
Now look how Joseph adjusts his plan:
In the 19th verse, he tells them: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for the rest of you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die.” And they did so.
Why does Joseph now only require one brother (rather than10) to stay in prison as a hostage?
That way the other 9 could bring grain to their hungry families.
And Joseph would also be giving them an opportunity to show if they could be trusted.
Look at how those brothers feel the weight of conviction over their sin:
21st verse: Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.” 22 Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.”
They had buried the guilt in their minds and covered it up for years. They had never truly dealt with it.
And now God’s finger points to the guilt in their souls. And that guilt begins to press down on their consciences.
You see, God uses the conscious as a guard dog to bark at the door of the soul.
They relive their cold-hearted dealing with Joseph years before, and they feel the weight of conviction.
They had ignored his pleas for mercy and for 20 pieces of silver watched him drug off as a slave.
So now, they are blaming themselves and one another for what they did to Joseph. And what do they expect? Reuben calls it “the reckoning for his blood.”
That’s what God had told Noah, Genesis 9:6- “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.
They think Joseph is dead and that they have caused that. And now they know before God that they deserve to be killed.
It’s God’s law of sowing and reaping. We hear it in Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”
For the first time in their lives, those 10 brothers know what Joseph felt when they wanted him dead and mistreated him.
So, now with pained hearts, they discuss the evil they had done to Joseph.
And the irony of ironies, verse 23: They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them.
Remember, they don’t think he’s Joseph. He is.
And they don’t think he understands. He does. Every word!
Joseph is overwhelmed by it all. That’s why, verse 24 reports: “He turned away from them and wept.”
Joseph is not cold and callous.
And he’s not an emotional basket case. If he was, Pharaoh never would have promoted him made him second-in-command!
In spite of the fact that Joseph has been sinned against and hurt deeply by his brothers, he has a tender heart. A tender heart toward God. And a tender heart toward his brothers.
So, look what Joseph now does to them.
Continuing in 24: “But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.”
Why did Joseph take Simeon? Joseph knew Reuben the oldest had tried to stop the brothers from selling him into slavery.
Simeon though, second oldest, should then have been responsible to protect Joseph. Yet he doesn’t. He may have been the ringleader for throwing Joseph into the pit.
Putting Simeon into prison wasn’t revenge. His goal is not retributive but redemptive! And there so much amazing color in how he goes about that.
We see, continuing in verse 25: Then Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and to restore every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. And thus it was done for them. 26 So they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed from there. 27 As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money; and behold, it was in the mouth of his sack. 28 Then he said to his brothers, “My money has been returned, and behold, it is even in my sack.” And their hearts sank, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”
Think about it. Evil men would have said, “Those stupid Egyptians. They put my money back in my bag. Well, their loss is my gain!”
Those brothers are crushed. For they are convinced that God’s hand is in this. And they take it as His discipline for what they had done!
Do you see their guilty consciences and how they are now coming clean in their crime?
Why does Joseph have money put into their food sacks?
Some people say it was to test them and make them look like a bunch of thieves
But far more importantly, this shows the gracious heart of Joseph.
He loves his brothers and has a forgiving heart to them. And since he knows they and their families have no food, he wants to give that to them at no charge.
For the money he put in the sack was the money that had been given to pay for the grain.
What he does illustrates the wisdom and kindness of Solomon. Proverbs 25:21 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”
O the character of Joseph shines here!
He is not paying back evil for evil to those brothers (Rom. 12:17) but rather doing good to them.
Child of God, there have been people who have spoken bad about you, who have taken advantage of you.
What is to be your response? Get back at them? No, God says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom. 12:21
And in Eph. 4:32 God tells us, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
The Commission, Confrontation, Compassion and now the 4. Consternation 29-38
Those brothers now minus Simeon make it back home to Canaan.
They have quite the story to tell! Verse 29: When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30 “The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly with us, and took us for spies of the country. 31 “But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 ‘We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no longer alive, and the youngest is with our father today in the land of Canaan.’
Notice how they still think Joseph is dead… and Jacob does too. Again, the brothers at this point don’t offer more details!
Yet what they then share, Jacob takes as bad news:
33 “The man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me and take grain for the famine of your households, and go. 34 ‘But bring your youngest brother to me that I may know that you are not spies, but honest men. I will give your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’ ”
Before Jacob can even reply, there’s another shocker (v. 35): Now it came about as they were emptying their sacks, that behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed.
Now the brothers and their father are really scared. For all the money they had paid for the grain and been secretly returned to them in their grain sacks.
It appears that they had taken the grain without paying for it. What will now happen to them?
So their dad speaks up. v. 36: Their father Jacob said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.”
Two of Jacob’s sons have already been taken from him, Joseph and Simeon. And he can’t bear the thought of losing Benjamin.
His reasoning may make sense. Yet here’s the problem: first, his focus is self-centered not God-centered. He says, “all these things are against me.”
Friends, when you have the “it’s all about me” focus you miss seeing the hand of God at work.
Second problem with Joseph, he’s filled with fear not faith.
He’s not trusting God but his own limited senses. He fails to see what God is accomplishing. For the reality of the situation is that he has lost none of his sons.
Friends, Jacob in many ways had been a spiritual failure. That true when he was a son, father, and grandfather.
And God raises up his son Joseph to function as the spiritual head of the
Well, what are we to make of Reuben’s remark:
V. 37 Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, “You may put my two sons to death if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my care, and I will return him to you.”
“Dad, be encouraged. I’ll kill my two sons if something happens to your son?” How foolish!
That’s not the kind of guy you trust your son to, one who would considers killing his own sons as a guarantee. Hardly!
38 But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.”
Jacob adamantly refuses to let them take Benjamin down to Egypt.
And by the way, Jacob could have gone along with the brothers and Benjamin to Egypt.
But his refusal to let Benjamin go shows a willingness to let Simeon be killed in Egypt.
Clearly, Jacob is not living by faith.
And friends that’s sin. For Scripture tells us, “whatever is not from faith is sin.” Rom. 14:23
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Heb. 11:6
God would continue to work in Jacob’s life grow his faith.
And God was working in Joseph’s life to show mercy and forgiveness.
And God had worked in his brother’s lives to awaken their consciences and cause them to own up to their sins. His kindness led them to repentance.
Beloved, if you belong to God, He is at work in your life. He is in you to will and to work for His good pleasure.
He calls you to submit to what He wants to teach you.
Will you walk by faith and trust Him though you can’t see what’s ahead?
Will you be gracious and forgiving toward those who have wronged you?
And will you agree with God about any present or past sins in your life and turn from them in full repentance?
God promises you, from Proverbs 28:13 that if you conceal your transgressions you will not prosper. But if confess and forsake those hidden sins you will find compassion.
Our merciful and compassionate God…
God’s Call to the Conscience
Genesis 42 HCBC 12/1/19
Intro. I Tim. 1:5,19; 4:2
1. Commission 1-6
Prov. 11:26; Prov. 14:19
2. Confrontation 7-17
3. Compassion 18-28
Gen. 20:11; Gen. 9:6; Gal. 6:7;
Prov. 25:21; Rom. 12:21; Eph. 4:32
4. Consternation 29-38
Heb. 11:6; Prov. 28:13
How would God have me respond as a blessed and obedient doer of His Word?