We now proceed into the next phase of Joseph’s life, overseeing the fulfillment of everything which he had prophesied to Pharaoh in the context of interpreting the Egyptian ruler’s dream. Keep in mind that Joseph’s interpretation was very specific and the Pharaoh’s response was equally specific. He put everything on the line to support Joseph’s interpretation and implement his advice. If Joseph had been wrong, Pharaoh would have been in big trouble!
But Joseph wasn’t wrong because the LORD had given him the interpretation, a fact to which he himself testified. During the first seven years of abundance, Joseph gathered up food and stored it in large silos in the various cities of Egypt. He gathered so much corn that after awhile he stopped keeping records of how much it was for it was beyond measure. Gen. 41: 49 puts it this way: Joseph collected so much grain – it was like the sand of the ocean – that he finally quit keeping track!
The seven years of plenty came to an end and the seven years of famine began. The earth would not produce; there was no rain for the crops. The famine spread throughout the entire Middle East but ‘in all the land of Egypt there was bread.’ Gen. 41:54 The seven years of abundance were a demonstration of God’s mercy; the seven years of famine to follow were a demonstration of God’s faithfulness. Those under Pharaoh’s charge did not suffer hunger because the king had trusted the prophetic word, listened to wise counsel and implemented what he heard. This reminds me of a verse in Proverbs: A prudent man foresees evil coming and prepares himself; but the foolish ignore to their own peril. Proverbs 22:3 Pharaoh had shown himself to be a prudent man and his entire nation benefited. He had also exhibited the humility necessary to any good leader: he was willing to listen to advice, recognize its wisdom and put it into action. Joseph was given absolute authority over the entire land of Egypt.
Meanwhile, God was about the business of bringing Joseph’s brothers face to face with their sin and calling them to account. Neither they nor Joseph realized what God was up to until much later.
It is a great blessing when God uncovers our sin. Yes it’s very painful for the last thing we want is to get caught for having done wrong. We think it’s a “blessing” to get away without getting caught. The truth is that it would be utterly horrible for God to let us go our own way and do nothing about it! Despite any discomfort at ‘getting caught’, we must thank God for doing so. Far better to deal with our issues in the here and now than later before the Judgment Seat. Now we have time to repent, be forgiven and make things right and by so doing avoid being ashamed before the Throne of God.
It had been twenty two years since his brothers betrayed him. Joseph had been waiting a long time for vindication but those were not wasted years for it was during that time that Joseph had gotten right with himself. He’d gotten over any personal grudges and learned to forgive – his brothers who betrayed him, Potiphar’s wife who lied about him, Potiphar for throwing him into prison though he was innocent and even the butler who forgot all about him.
During those same twenty two years, it seemed as if ten of his brothers had gotten away with a heinous act of betrayal, selling their own brother into slavery. That sin had led to another one: they deceived their father by dipping Joseph’s cloak in goat’s blood which caused Jacob to conclude that a wild animal had killed his beloved son. When Jacob said, ‘I will go to my grave in mourning’, did the ten breathe a sigh of relief? Did they actually believe that their father would never know? They may well have. For years, their sin went unpunished, unconfessed and unnoticed. That was about to change.
The famine had reached Canaan where Jacob and his family lived. As things got progressively worse, and news spread abroad that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob sent his sons to buy food for his large family. Their journey culminated in the presence of the Prime Minister of Egypt who was in charge of all of Egypt’s provisions.
They didn’t recognize him. He was twenty-two years older, dressed in Egyptian clothing, clearly the Governor of all that went on in Egypt and speaking to them through an interpreter. And all the while, God was very much involved in what was happening though the brothers had no clue that He was!
We humans have a defense mechanism called repression; we sometimes do it voluntarily, more often involuntarily. We push down into our subconscious what we don’t want to think about – like a major failure or sin of which we are deeply ashamed but which we’ve never resolved with God. At the time of His choosing, God will bring it up again in His inimitable way, not to harass us but to give us opportunity to repent and be set free of the guilt and shame. This is exactly what God was doing with the ten brothers.
Though they didn’t recognize him, Joseph recognized his brothers. Holding his own emotions in check, he accused them of being spies, to which they protested, ‘No, Master, we have only come to buy food.’ (Gen. 42:10) Joseph continued pressing them and finally said, ‘This is how I’ll test you.’ (42:15) He commanded them to send one of the brothers back to fetch their only brother left at home with Jacob and threw the rest of them in jail for three days. Can you imagine the discussions those men had during those three days??? Do you see the wisdom of Joseph in giving the brothers time to think?
On the third day, Joseph brought them out with this proposition. One of the them was to stay in prison while the rest took food back for their hungry families and then return again bringing their youngest brother with them. That would prove that they were telling him the truth.
Of course, the youngest brother was none other than Benjamin, the only other son of Jacob born of the same mother as Joseph. The rest of them were his half-brothers from different mothers. At that point, the brothers started talking among themselves, thinking that the ‘Egyptian’ before them wouldn’t understand what they were saying.
‘Now we’re paying for what we did to our brother – we saw how terrified he was when he was begging us for mercy. We wouldn’t listen to him and now we are the ones in trouble.’ (42:21)
Joseph had been speaking to them through an interpreter but understood perfectly what they were saying. When he heard their words, he turned away and wept. After composing himself, he made Simeon stay behind as a prisoner and sent the others off.
We’ll pick up the story here next week.
Before God created the heavens and the earth, He created Repentance. Before He ever made man, knowing we would need mercy, He had already provided the means for forgiveness, mercy and relief from the burden and shame of sin. He never intended that we should live under the heavy load of shame and guilt but that we would turn to Him in sincere repentance and receive His forgiveness. Psalm 103:12 tells us As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. What an amazing and thrilling promise from God.
If you’ve carried hidden guilt and shame, the good news to you today is that forgiveness and freedom from that burden is available to you – right now, this moment. Confess that failure to Him, receive His forgiveness , forgive yourself and let Him remove it from you as far as the east is from the west so you can go on and live your life in peace.