GENESIS-SERIES NR 42
Genesis 44 : The final test
The breaking-down process that Joseph is subjecting his brothers to is continuing in chapter 44. In fact, it reaches a climax in this chapter.
Joseph is putting his brothers before a final test. Remember: they do not know who he is. To them he is still the prime minister of Egypt. He is preparing their hearts for the big moment before he reveals his true identity as their brother Joseph.
In the dream the Lord gave him when he was still a boy, his father and brothers bowed down before him. That dream still has to be fulfilled.
Although the dream naturally had the Greater Joseph in mind – the Lord Jesus Christ – to whom all His people would bend the knee. It is still being fulfilled in our day, where many people are daily being connected to the Lord and bending the knee to His Dominion through the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The process Joseph is taking his brothers through is therefore a prophetic picture-image of how the Lord – since the day of Pentecost – has been bringing all God’s chosen ones out of all the nations to salvation in Jesus, for the past 2000 years already. Until every knee has bowed, as the Scriptures say.
That is why the treatment that Joseph is subjecting his brothers to is not meant as something we should imitate within our own family relationships! We are not encouraged by this to subject people to tests or to put them through a breaking-down process. Certainly not. It is a picture-image of how the Greater Joseph works with His people. We should however, understand the principle that is taught here.
Verses 1-2 tell of Joseph’s final test for his brothers. A test – not a temptation. Because the Lord does not tempt His people, but He certainly does put them to the test. Like Joseph who wanted to expose his brothers‘ inner heart.
The brothers have – as promised – brought Benjamin back with them to Egypt. Not only did Joseph keep Simeon back, but he also put the money they brought to pay for the corn, back into their bags. He also accused them of being spies. He kept Simeon back to ensure that they would return to Egypt and that they would possibly bring their father with them. This entire process started already in chapter 42. And in chapter 44 Joseph completes his plan.
One important principle to note is that there is no reconciliation possible without repentance. That is why Joseph’s test had to expose the deepest heart of the brothers. Are they still the way they were 20 years ago? How do they feel towards their father now? And towards their brother Benjamin? Will they treat him the same as they treated Joseph all those years before? At that time they did not care at all. The sound of Joseph’s calling and pleading from the well did not make any impression on them. But, are they still the same kind of people? The only way Joseph could ascertain this was to put them under some sort of compulsion.
Once more Joseph had their money put back into their bags. This illustrates the great Biblical theme that God’s gifts can only be received by grace alone. That means: Free and for nothing, based only on His free favour. This absolutely undeserved gift of free corn was also meant to break the inner self of the brothers. That is how it was meant. Because it is so contrary to the way their minds worked. The Prime Minister is truly giving them the corn and food for FREE! It is part of the breaking-down process!
And then Joseph’s silver cup is hidden in Benjamin’s bag. To accuse him later that he had stolen it. To steal a leader’s cup was a very serious offence at that time.
By this time the brothers definitely should’ve smelt a rat and questioned whether someone in the Egyptian government was not perhaps persecuting them. Who would be so dense to steal the Prime Minister’s cup? Certainly not Benjamin! Surely they should have started to have doubts?
However, the question is: How will the brothers react to being unfairly and falsely accused? What is in their hearts? Because to touch Benjamin was like a stab wound in their hearts. Very soon their hearts will break and they will stand exposed for who they truly are: sinners, transgressors, lawless.
You see, temptation has the ability to destroy or badly hurt a believer, but TESTING is for our own good. God does not tempt, He tests. And it is His testing that is taking place and playing out here through Joseph’s dealings with his brothers. The Lord knows how to put His finger on our most vulnerable places. But it is always for our own good – if we are His children.
Verses 3-17 show us that. Look at the dialogue between the brothers and Joseph’s servant, and then again between the brothers and Joseph himself. The stolen cup is found and Benjamin is arrested and the brothers accept responsibility for it. The Lord knows to put his finger on the most vulnerable places. He is doing it here with the brothers. Joseph’s servant catches up to them and accuse them of theft. Initially they deny any guilt. Just the way man is – self-justification and self-righteousness will always be our first reaction. In their own eyes they are honourable men (verse 8). They are honourable, because they brought the money back that had been put into their bags. They are so sure of themselves that they think the person who stole the cup should receive the severest punishment – even the death sentence – and they are quite prepared to become slaves. That is how certain they are of their innocence.
But the servant sets a trap to test their hearts. He says: Oh no, only the person who is found to have the cup is to become a slave. The rest can continue on their journey back home. What is to be done? What are their true feelings towards their brother? And about their father? Will they remain true to Benjamin or fight for their own survival? Or will they throw Benjamin to the wolves and go and spin some story to their father?
One can imagine the tension when bag after bag is opened and searched. Benjamin’s was the last one. From eldest to youngest. The order in which they sat at the table. And then, the cup is found in Benjamin’s bag!
Instantly a miracle takes place. Suddenly all self-righteousness disappears and the brothers recognise the Lord’s hand in everything. They realise that it is the Lord that is laying His finger upon them. They tear their clothes as token of remorse and brokenness. They return to Joseph and Judah is the spokesman. In verse 14 they throw themselves to the ground before Joseph. The exact fulfilment of the dream that the Lord gave Joseph as young boy (in Genesis 37).
Joseph starts to question them. One wonders why he says that he uses the cup for divination. That is something he certainly did NOT do. Earlier he clearly told the Pharaoh that he is led by the Lord and that he was not a soothsayer. But part of his guile towards his brothers was to hide his true identity from them. The brothers had to realise that it was not just another drinking cup that was stolen, but an instrument that Joseph used in his very important position to obtain higher knowledge. He wants the burden of guilt upon their conscience to be severe.
Judah is heartbroken. Compare this Judah with the Judah we got to know in the previous chapters. They are two different people. Can a person change and renew yourself like that? The obvious answer is NO!
Listen how Judah is pleading (on behalf of all the brothers). “What can we say to my lord? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves – we ourselves, and the one who was found to have the cup”.
It is clear that the great lie they have kept hidden for so many years – is now beginning to surface. And it is the Lord who is doing this. They acknowledge it. Their guilt of Joseph’s blood – that is what they are now paying for. Not the so-called theft of the cup – because they did not steal it. But the sin against Joseph – THAT is what is now coming into the open. That was their vulnerable area. And that is exactly where the Lord is putting His finger. Is it not too wonderful that Judah suddenly comes to the realisation that it was the LORD HIMSELF who is at work here and who is bringing them face to face with their sins of the past.
However Joseph is going a little deeper to test them further. He says: “Benjamin must stay behind as my slave, but you can return home in peace”. Now look, if Joseph knew how to bring his brothers to a soul-searching point, how much more does the Lord not know how to bring us to the point of soul-searching? You can always be assured that He will lay His finger on your most vulnerable and defenceless places. With the purpose of preventing our utter destruction and that we may be healed and restored and may turn back and be embraced in His grace. That was Joseph’s precise aim with his brothers.
Observe this: Previously they sold their brother Joseph for 20 pieces of silver. Joseph was removed from sight and they were free. That is what they thought. This time they could leave Egypt with freedom, but it would cost them their brother Benjamin. And what will they tell their father Jacob? Will they betray Benjamin? No, the Lord is busy doing something very profound in their lives. They unanimously decided NO! Rather slaves in Egypt than to betray Benjamin. One can just imagine how emotional Joseph must have been when he heard that. They were not aware that he understood every word they were saying. When Joseph realised how deep the change in his brothers was, how the Lord has transformed them, how deeply they realized their utter dependance on God’s unmerited favour … that caused Joseph’s emotions to run sky high.
The lost person always thinks that he deserves mercy in some way. But not the man or woman who has been transformed by the Lord. Look at verses 18-34. Listen to Judah’s heart-rending plea. Then you see what the living God can achieve in a sinner’s life.
Judah is emotionally prepared to suffer in the place of his brother Benjamin. Listen to this: Judah says that he is not even going to try to plead for mercy, because he does not deserve any. Therefore he will not ask for mercy. That in itself is showing so clearly how the Lord’s mercy has already done something in his heart.
Judah beggs Joseph to be patient with him. Then he tells Joseph their family history in verses 19-34. Joseph’s heart must have ached while listening to this. The way the Lord also weeps and mourns when I – pathetic sinner – come to Him with all of my past. He who already knows everything. Joseph knows everything that Judah is telling him. Is it not too wonderful to see the Lord’s heartbeat in Joseph’s compassionate emotions? How HE feels when a sinner falls at His feet. GONE is all the bravado and self-justification and self-righteousness that are so characteristic of an unsaved person.
Judah mainly has two concerns:
1 He makes it clear that he will do everything in his power to prevent his father from getting hurt again. He is ready to move heaven and earth in order to prevent that his father’s heart is getting broken again.
2 He explains that he has given his father a guarantee concerning Benjamin. He gave him his word and cursed himself should he not bring Benjamin back home safely.
Judah is pleading with the Egyptian Prime Minister concerning these two issues – without knowing that it is in fact Joseph standing in front of him.
In Judah’s plea there are about ten things that could have broken Joseph’s heart into pieces. But particularly verses 20 and 28.
How for example would Joseph react hearing the following out of Judah’s mouth:
“We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him”.
It is significant that Judah does not do a complete confession. That comes later – after Joseph’s revelation of his true identity. It is almost as if confession works like peeling an onion. When the Lord God lay His hand on someone, it sometimes starts a process. Repentance does not always come all at once. Calvin said that the Christian life as such is continued repentance. It is as if the Lord – through Joseph – pursued these men until they eventually acknowledged and confessed their guilt completely.
But that the Lord is already very busy working with Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 44, is undeniable. Wow, just listen to Judah. He is not pleading for Joseph’s forgiveness. But he himself is ready to suffer and to be Joseph’s slave – as long as Benjamin is safe. He is prepared to suffer in Benjamin’s place. It is very clearly a drastic change of heart. In previous years he was hardened towards his brother Joseph and his father. Heart of stone. Now he regards it as a privilege to become a slave in the place of his brother Benjamin. The guilty one now sacrifices himself as substitute for the innocent.
But many years later there would – from the descendants of this very same Judah – come a Man who was innocent, but sacrificed Himself as substitute for the guilty. And that substitute would be accepted by God the Father and He would live and die in their place in order to enable them to experience His glory.
It is only THIS Substitute who has the power and authority to change and transform your life permanently. Resulting in a drastic change in our view of God and our opinion of our neighbour.
Now the table is set for the great moment, for Joseph to reveal his true identity to his brothers.
But more of that in our next message!
Translated by Marthie Wilson