Joseph had his reason for putting and keeping Simeon in prison and demanding that the other nine brothers bring Benjamin along when they would return for food. He knew that they would return in the near future since the famine had been in the land only two of the seven years that God revealed to him the famine would prevail. And he is insistent that when they return they give undeniable evidence of a radical and complete change as far as their spiritual lives are concerned.
They had sold him into .Egypt as a slave because of their envy and hatred towards him. But they had also robbed their father of the fellowship of this his most beloved son and brought him untold grief. Now that deep affection their father had transferred to Benjamin, who was the other of the two sons, and the younger one, of Jacob’s most beloved wife. What Joseph is determined to find out now is whether these brothers would again subject their father to the grief of losing a most beloved son, or whether they would do all in their power to spare him more grief and sorrow. They must show whether they are envious of this youngest and most beloved son, and hate him because his father treats him with such tender love and favor. Will they, and do they, not bow before his choice—whether he is right in it or not—and walk in love with this favored son, and with their father? This is the question in Joseph’s mind. And behind it all is that basic question: Do these brothers love God?
And, of course, it was God Who put all this in Joseph’s mind and Who intends through this trial to show Joseph whether a radical and complete change has come over his brothers. Joseph was amazingly wise and showed tremendous skill in conducting this whole trial. But all this he has only because God gave it to him for the purpose of restoring these brothers from their erring ways. When considering the events in The Day of Shadows we must be sure to see the Almighty and All-wise God behind all that which takes place in history. We have here no mere historical event. These incidents are not written to entertain us. Always the hand of God must be seen and His purpose in that which takes place must be discovered. Always we must see how these events relate to and serve our salvation. God’s purpose and work in Christ must become plain to us, or we do not understand the incident and the purpose for its inclusion in the Scriptures.
Even the unbeliever has to reckon with the fact that central in history is Christ and His cross. God does not leave Himself without a witness, and so the whole world must and does reckon time by B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (In the year of our Lord). All history leads up to that birth and cross of Christ, and all that follows His resurrection and ascension takes place because He is Lord, and all power is given Him in heaven and on earth to prepare the way for His glorious return. All happens in order that He may be born and dies for our sins, rise the third day, and become Lord of all lords and King of all kings. And all that happens after His coronation is in order that He may return with full salvation for all His people. In this hour of the day of shadows we are dealing with the salvation of covenant children, the seed of Abraham who had erred so greatly. Seeing the hand of God in their salvation we are led to see His hand in our own salvation.
Now thus far, in what he observed of his brothers, Joseph learned two facts. He had heard his brothers confess that they were guilty of selling him into Egypt and were being punished by God now for that deed. This was a revelation that was in their favor and did show the beginning of a radical and spiritual change in them. The joy of finding this out caused Joseph to weep after leaving the room. But there was another fact revealed that did not positively give evidence of a change toward their father, or a lack of envy for their youngest brother. It is true, as Judah revealed, when they stood before Joseph on their second visit, that they had said to Joseph, “The lad cannot leave his father; for if he should leave his father, his father would die” (Genesis 44:22). It is also true that they spoke of a distress that came upon them because of their guilt in selling him as a slave. Yet these are not definite, conclusive evidences of love for Benjamin or for their father Jacob. Their own lives were in danger. They were in a desperate situation, accused of being spies, and thus of deserving death, and told that the only thing that will save them from death is that Simeon be held as hostage, and that they bring Benjamin along next time. In such a situation men will resort to whatever strategem for survival comes to their minds. Instead of showing true love for their younger brother and father, it could, as far as Joseph could detect, be nothing more than love for life and a play upon his emotions, as a father, to get themselves free.
In fact their quickness to agree—after saying that it would kill their father to have Benjamin come along next time—to do as Joseph suggested did not speak well for them. They admitted guilt, but not to him—only in his hearing, thinking that he did not understand their language. They did not admit any guilt over against their father. And they did promise to bring Benjamin along. Joseph had said, “This do” and “they did so,” that is, they agreed (Genesis 42:18, 20). It all could mean that they were willing to risk his life in order to save their own. Their father shows favoritism. This is not their full brother. And is he any better than they? If their lives are in danger, should they die at the hand of him who-accused them of being spies just to spare the life of a step-brother, when there is that possibility that bringing him could save their lives?
The stage is all set for Joseph to find out just what their attitude is towards this younger brother, and toward their father who is showing to him the same partiality that he, Joseph, had enjoyed and had made the brothers envious. The brothers are completely unaware of the test to which they are being subjected. In their minds it is only a case of proving that they are not spies, but true men who are not worthy of death.
Even then it was with heavy steps that they approached Joseph this second time. That money which they found in their sacks was on their minds, and at the earliest moment they try to explain it to the steward of Joseph’s house. Yet before they can explain, and to their consternation, they are brought to Joseph’s house! And we read that this made them afraid and that they consider the inclusion of their money in their sacks as seeking an occasion to fall on them and make them bondmen.
A bit of respite comes their way. The steward assures them that he has their money and that they have no reason to fear about that matter. He speaks words of peace and performs a deed of peace. For he brings Simeon to them from out of the prison. They were given water to drink, and water to wash their feet. There is even provender given to their asses. Things are looking up once again. However the apprehension returns and, already uncomfortable in Joseph’s house, they get a very eerie feeling when they are all seated according to their ages. Now Joseph had promised them that if they brought their youngest brother, he would restore Simeon to them—a promise already kept—and that they would be free to traffic in the land. But to be guests in his house, to enjoy a meal with this most powerful man in Egypt, whom the brothers inGenesis 44:18 say is “even as Pharaoh,” is wholly unexpected and perplexing. The kind, friendly attitude and look on the face of this “man” who had spoken so roughly to them on their first trip likewise makes them uneasy. But since the clouds have parted and the sun has broken through, they find it possible to relax. In fact we even read that “they drank, and were merry with him” (Genesis 43:34). Ill prepared are these brothers for the events of the following day. Apparently they got away with their evil deed of selling Joseph as a slave into Egypt. They could go home with Simeon, and, more important, with Benjamin. They had given proof that they were not spies, and their distress has come to an end. Simeon is with them. Benjamin they may take home with them to their anxious father. They have food to bring home; and they have the money that they brought back and found in their sacks.
Little do they realize that tomorrow the distress that they had on that first visit was as nothing compared to what they will experience before the day is more than a few hours old. The thought that the drinking cup of this ruler in Egypt would be found in Benjamin’s sack is far from their thoughts. They had told Joseph that they were true men, and not only did they think that they had proved this point to him, but they convinced themselves that they were true men. Indeed, they had admitted guilt in regard to their brother Joseph. But that sin was ten to fifteen years ago; and since that day they had walked uprightly. Had they not obeyed their father when he sent them to Egypt for food? And now they had not under cover of dark and with stealth taken Benjamin to Egypt so that they would have food and would prove to this “man” that they were not spies.
That one evil deed performed so long ago must not be held against them anymore, must it? Did they not suffer enough? And did not Joseph’s steward tell them, “Your God, and the God of your father, hath given you treasure in your sacks”? Maybe God had visited them with that distress; but He was now blessing them, was He not? And to tell their father what had happened to Joseph would not take away his grief now. They could not restore him. Better leave the secret a secret. All things are working together now for their good. With what light feet and happy hearts they leave Egypt to show their father that they have both Simeon and Benjamin with them! All eleven sons will appear before their father. How greatly God is blessing them! Surely He is a merciful God to prosper their way so wonderfully and to forgive the evil they did to Joseph and to their father! What a God of love He is!
This is a mistake that men often make. When all goes well, when they have success, and prosperity is their lot, men will call it all a blessing from God Himself. How often do we not hear men speak of how greatly God is blessing us here in America?
But we do well to wait until God’s work is finished.Genesis 44 does follow Genesis 42 and Genesis 43. The whole story has not yet been told. And the lull in the storm, the breaking through of a little sunshine, this apparent success which the ten brothers have had does not mean that fiercer storms cannot come tomorrow.
Let us today realize and live in the consciousness that there is a judgment day coming; and the apparent limited removal of the curse from off the earth by all our labor—saving devices, advances in medicine, inventions of men, and high standard of living—in our land the highest that man has ever known—is to be followed by a day of accounting for what we did with what God gave us. Let us wait until then to see whether these were really blessings or whether America had been better off without them, and without the added woe in the lake of fire because America misused them.
Better for these brothers is what happens next than the relief they now are enjoying. In God’s next work they will be brought to repentance, which is a blessing and a treasure that goes along into the new Jerusalem. The psalmist said it, and we wisely repeat and confess his words in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted: that I might learn Thy statutes.”