An aged father in the land of Canaan sat in the doorway of his tent. His mortal frame revealed how heavily the burden of his one hundred and thirty years, as a pilgrim and stranger here below, had weighed down upon him. The fleshly tent or tabernacle in which his soul dwelt () showed definite signs of wear and tear; and he knew that it was but a matter of time, and then that tent would no longer be a fit abode for the soul, and, as Solomon declared, the spirit would return to God Who gave it. His face was lined with evidence of a deep grief and sorrow that had tormented his soul ever since ten of his twelve sons had brought him the blood-stained coat of his most beloved, son, and had led him thereby to believe that this son had been slain by a wild beast.
Far to the south and west, and in the land of Egypt, this son, now thirty years old, was not only very much alive but also very highly exalted in the Egyptian kingdom. He had known slavery, having been sold by his ten brothers for twenty pieces of silver unto the Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him to the captain of the king’s guard to be his slave. He also knew imprisonment, for, being unjustly accused of attempted rape, he was without a hearing cast into the dungeon. But the God of his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob brought him up out of that prison to be so highly exalted in the kingdom that he was answerable only to the king. And the very life of the nation was entrusted to his care and rule. He was now a married man and had two sons. Grandsons these were of that aged father in the land of Canaan, grandsons whom he had never seen and whose very existence he could not have believed to be possible.
From ten to fifteen years had passed since this aged father had been so cruelly deceived and this son had been so wickedly removed from the family circle. Seven of these years were a time of feasting and of greatly satisfying increase in the fields, so that far more grew than could possibly be devoured, and was prudently stored away for future use. Then two years of these ten to fifteen years saw disaster in the fields and crop failures the like of which men in Egypt had never seen before. Before these nine years Joseph had served as that slave in Potiphar’s house, and perhaps a year in prison. We may be sure then that it was ten years later, and the possibility of fifteen is not wholly to be rejected. But the point I wish to make is that although they wanted to do so, these ten brothers were not able all that time to erase from their minds the cruel and wicked thing which they had done to Joseph.
How could they? Daily they saw the grief written on the face of their father; and they knew what caused him all that grief. When they appeared before Joseph in Egypt-not recognizing him as their brother-they said, in Genesis 42:21, 22, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them saying, Spake I not to you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? Therefore his blood is required.” We must not think that this was a sudden thought that now in this predicament suddenly rose before their consciousness. After only ten years, the memory of such evil by men so filled with the fury of anger would have become quite dim and would have dealt only with generalities. But now they speak of a very clear and vivid remembrance of the anguish of their brother’s soul which they saw and would not consider. They had guilty consciences all these years and were fearful that their sins would find them out. And it was not caused simply by that grief which they saw of their father. Indeed God kept this grief there for them to see. But His Spirit and His grace gave them no rest. And His grace is preparing the way for them to confess this great evil.
Memory is a wonderful gift of God which He uses to make His children know the misery of their sinful condition. And as we remember our past sins the knowledge of our sins and misery grows. The years must not dim our awareness of our evil and guilt before God, but must in God’s grace bring us to the point where we cry out with the psalmist, “Mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:4). The Spirit must then bring us in that miserable state to the cross, and so to the only comfort in life and in death, that we with body and soul belong to our faithful Saviour Who fully satisfied for all our sins by His precious blood and delivered us from the power of the devil. The memory, and then the memory of sin is so important in that faith and comfort. And so with consciences that bothered them all these years, with memory of their evil, which God gave them and would not let slip from their minds, and in the dreadful situation in which they found themselves before Joseph, these ten brothers confess that which they had never confessed before. They confessed that they sinned against God and that God had now come to visit them for their sins; that they had manifested not only hatred against Joseph, but against God. We are, however, running ahead of the Scriptural account, and we ought to go back a step or two to understand what is taking place here in Egypt.
Although in his deep grief and sorrow Jacob lost all his appetite, and ate only because his body called for nourishment, he realized also the need of food for his children and their children. And so, having heard that food could be purchased in Egypt, he sent his ten sons to meet the son that they had sold for twenty pieces of silver. He is not aware of that aspect of the mission; and neither were the ten brothers. But God is arranging a confrontation and a fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams. One it is in which the brothers are at once recognized by Joseph; but Joseph’s identity is completely hidden by those years and his Egyptian dress, and perhaps Egyptian goatee and hair style. The brothers have not the slightest inkling of his identity. No one is farther from their minds than Joseph as they bow before him in the land into which they sold him.
And now, take note, this brother, who had been abused and maltreated so shamefully, speaks to these ten instruments of cruelty through an interpreter though he knew their language and spoke to them in it at a later date—and speaks roughly to them, both as far as tone of voice and as to content are concerned. For he accused them of being spies, that is, deceitful men, men of fraud, men who hide the truth, persons who pose to be what they are not.
But let me caution you not to misunderstand Joseph in his actions and accusation. Let me warn you not to entertain evil thoughts concerning him. Carefully analyze the whole situation before you make any judgment. And by all means strive to see the divine principle behind his handling of the matter.
It is true that what is rough hurts, or at least is unpleasant. The word may also be translated as sharp or hard. In either instance it stands contrasted with what is pleasant and enjoyable, and speaks of what brings suffering to one degree or another, in one way or another. And Joseph’s words therefore were designed to make his brothers suffer, not through physical violence but by pricking them in their hearts.
Now whether we are speaking of punishment as giving one that which one deserves because of one’s evil deeds, or as chastisement, that is, as a deed of love to seek to correct and save, let us get it straight: IT MUST HURT! If it does not hurt either physically or psychically, the treatment loses its power and has no effect, either to correct or to teach that crime does not pay. Our whole penal system here in our country fails so miserably so often for that very reason. Criminals, lawbreakers, injurious persons, those who commit violence and immoral deeds, thieves and even traitors of the country dare to complain that their accommodations in prison are not luxurious enough, and are too confining. Though they illegally made life miserable for others, they dare to say that the authorities may not make life miserable for them. In some instances they live in more comfort and luxury, with more delicious and expensive meals than many law abiding citizens. Yet they claim that these should supply them with what is smooth, comfortable, and a joy to the flesh. And then when they have served their sentences they have to go back to stealing and murder to seek to obtain the higher standard of living they had while “incarcerated.” In jail they had color TV sets. Returning home to their black and white sets they are not satisfied. They had it better in some respects in prison and must go out to change things by theft, even if it requires murder. Accustomed to well-prepared, many-course meals on holidays while “paying for their crime,” they cannot adjust to less upon returning home; and they violate the law again to maintain the joys and pleasures of the well equipped athletic facilities and gear that were theirs during the time when they should have had rough treatment to teach them that crime does not pay. And they who trampled on the rights of others are supposed to have rights to defend themselves in living outside the law. A man caught in the act of attempted or even real murder is only a suspect, not a murderer!
But look at yourself, as I had to do just before writing these lines, after experiencing for four weeks unrelenting, constant, severe pain, and while flat on my back. Do you hear the Word of God in each pain? He speaks in it. And rather than complain, rather than ask, “Why am I thus? Why did this have to happen to me?” we do well to ask, “And what does God say in EVERY pain? Why is our way so rough here below?” And the answer is not simply that our light affliction works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. It is not to be glossed over with the statement that all things work together for good to those that love God.
All the above is true, but to see this and to appreciate it we have to go back and deeper into the matter. We are so often too carnal, too unspiritual to hear it, or even to link the two together. But every bit of rough treatment that God gives us should at once remind us of sin, should bring us back to paradise and make us hear God say, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life: Thorns and thistles (and how rough and sharp they are) shall it bring forth to thee…In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.. . . ” Sin and pain are inseparable. Every pain should at once bring us to the remembrance that in Adam we are all guilty and deserving of far more severe pains than those that we at the moment suffer. By one man sin entered the world and death by sin (). Death we deserve above all the temporal pains; and death for the unpardoned sinner opens the door to hell for him. And that man or woman who has suffered the most excruciating pains for the longest time in this life has only scratched the surface of the torments of hell where the awful pain never ends.
And God uses our miseries to bring us to the cross where alone there is hope of the wiping away of our tears and the complete removal of the curse. And He uses pain and a rough way to bring us to this knowledge of our sin and guilt, to confession of it, and so to the cross for deliverance from it. For only in the way of knowing our sins as sins against God does He show His Son as the Deliverer. And to know our sins we must know the pain and penalty which God metes out and sends upon sin.
Joseph, therefore, rather than being a cruel, vindictive seeker of vengeance, is an instrument in God’s hand to bring his brothers to this knowledge and confession. It was love that moved him, and then spiritual love. That is why he had to turn from them and weep. Genesis 42:24. That is why he put their money in their sacks. These were not deeds of revenge but of love. Rough sandpaper makes a smooth surface. When God uses rough sandpaper upon you, do not pray that He will change it for smooth silk and satin. Pray that He may first smooth out your life and make you see His correcting love in Christ.