Benjamin, Joseph’s little brother, had not come with the other ten brothers to Egypt. As nine of them returned home, leaving Simeon in the Egyptian prison as a guarantee that they would return, the conversations on the way must have been intense. They were returning to their father with food, but also with a heavy heart. Things had not gone so well in Egypt. What started out as a simple journey to find food – they thought – had turned into a nightmare they could not understand. The Egyptian Governor had accused them of being spies, imprisoned them for three days and then insisted they return with their youngest brother in tow. How would they ever explain this to their aged father?
Joseph had overheard his brother, Reuben’s conversation with the other. ‘Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? And you would not listen?’ he berated them. Reuben being the eldest son had tried to exert his influence over the others but to no avail. Now he was saying, ‘I told you so.’ But it did no good. It was too late, in their opinion. And all the while that conversation was going on, Joseph understood them but said nothing. He couldn’t without giving himself away. So instead he turned away from them and wept.
I wonder how often we have been the Reubens who said to others, ‘I told you so.’ Adding guilt to someone who is already feeling the shame of what they’ve done accomplishes nothing positive; it only makes things worse. It is our ego that wants to be recognized as being ‘right’. In this regard, I am so often reminded of my late husband who frequently said, ‘It is better to be kind than right.’ How true!
The real issue going on here is that their consciences were finally getting to them. Some people seem to be able to go years with being troubled by their conscience. Sooner or later covered up sins for which we have not repented catch up with us, if not in this life, certainly when we stand before God at our death. Better to deal with it now.
That’s where Joseph’s brothers find themselves, having to come to terms with their 22 year old sin. Can you imagine how Joseph felt listening to his brothers say, ‘We are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the terror in his face when he besought us and we would not listen. Therefore this distress has now come upon us.‘ Gen. 42:41
It is to their credit that these men, guilty though they be, had the good sense to understand that they were reaping the consequences of their own sin. Do you realize that’s quite admirable? How many times have people fallen on hard times or suffered some sudden misfortune and it never occurs to them to question if their present circumstance is a result of some ungodly deed in their past? There is a firm principle in the scripture that serves us well if we abide by it. Whatever a man sows, that will he reap. It’s another way of saying, ‘Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.’
God is amazingly merciful and generous in giving us time to repent for our misdeeds. That’s why sometimes we fail to recognize the connection between our present misfortune and our previous failures. This is not to say that every misfortune is a direct result of some sin or failing in our past, but we need to face the fact that many of them are! When we don’t understand that, we resort to finger pointing, accusation, blaming others and not taking responsibility for our own problems.
One of the greatest lessons we learn from Joseph’s brothers is their maturity in recognizing their responsibility for the ill treatment they received at this “stranger’s” hands. Their betrayal of their brother had come back to haunt them and they knew it.
What are the signs of a troubled conscience? The first is the revival of the memory, then fear of being exposed. The one thing they did not want was to be found out; the one person they did not want to know about it was their father.
Joseph commanded that their sacks be filled with corn and told the workers to put every man’s money back into the sacks and to give them provisions for their journey. (Gen. 42:45) Why in the world did he do that?
Sometimes God puts the man or woman he wants to use in the perfect situation to vindicate themselves as a test. Joseph could have done so but he didn’t. He passed the test; he would wait for God to vindicate him at the perfect time.
The first evening of their journey back the brothers discover the money they had paid for the grain back in their sacks. They panic. You might think they would have been delighted.
The nine brothers conclude that God is the only explanation. “What is this that God has done to us?” they lament. (42:48) God was boxing them in and they were getting closer and closer to being exposed. When they returned home, they were extremely careful in their choice of words. ‘The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us and took us for spies. And we said to him, ‘We are true men and not spies’, but he demanded that we bring our youngest brother to him as proof that we are not spies. That was the worst thing their father wanted to hear but they had to say it. There was no way out.
These brothers speak across centuries to us: learn to repent quickly for what you have done. The longer you hide your sin the worst it is. God knows already when we have failed; better to run to Him, confess our sin and ask forgiveness; then go make it right if we have sinned against a fellow human being. To leave it festering in a troubled conscience brings all manner of physical and emotional distress, such as we now see in Joseph’s brothers.
How will Jacob handle the news they bring? We’ll take an in depth look at Jacob next week.