God’s Sovereign Grace – Genesis 42-45

The Unlikely Rescue SQUAREYou may have seen in the news this week the story of a Canadian cyclist who had her bike stolen. She reported it to police, then the next day her friend saw an online ad for a bike that looked suspiciously like hers. She rang up, pretending to be interested in buying and organised to meet the man in a McDonalds car park. When she saw the bike she recognised by the stickers that it was definitely hers. She asked whether she could ride it around the car park. When the guy said yes, she got on the bike and just rode off, successfully stealing back her own bike.[1]

The police aren’t recommending others follow her method, but the story got worldwide coverage, in part I think because of the sense of justice that’s there. As we come to Genesis 42-45 we might expect a sense of justice as Joseph comes face to face with the brothers who heartlessly sold him into slavery over 20 years before. Yet what strikes you most about this passage is not the justice that comes to the brothers, but the grace that Joseph shows to them. There are things Joseph does in these chapters that appear harsh to the brothers, but overall as we’ll see Joseph’s attitude towards them is gracious.

The grace Joseph shows here is a picture of God’s grace towards all his children. In Jesus, God doesn’t treat us as we deserve, he shows us his grace, even when things may appear harsh to us. William Cowper put it this way, in his famous hymn, God moves in a mysterious way:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace,
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face

Even in the midst of terrible circumstances, God is always Sovereign, and gracious towards his children. As we look at these four chapters today, let’s notice three practical ways that God’s sovereign grace helps his people:

1. Hope as we struggle with grief

These four chapters describe two journeys to Egypt. There’s a lot of details, so let’s put up this brief overview to help us. It’s possible to see these two journeys as having 7 simple elements in common.

1st Journey 2nd Journey
1 Jacob sends sons to Egypt 42:1-4 43:1-14
2 Arrival in Egypt 42:5 43:15-25
3 First audience with Joseph 42:6-16 43:26-34
4 Brothers arrested 42:17 44:1-13
5 Second audience with Joseph 42:18-24 44:14-45:15
6 Departure from Egypt 42:25-28 45:16-24
7 Sons report back to Jacob 42:29-38 45:25-28

One obvious point as you look at this structure is that although Jacob goes on neither journey, both begin and end with him speaking. Jacob is the main father figure throughout this whole section of Genesis 37-50. Both journeys start with Jacob sending the brothers to Egypt and both end with his words as they report back to him.

Yet the words Jacob speaks at the end of the two journeys couldn’t be more different. At the end of the first journey he is full of grief when his sons report back, look at what he says in 42:36: You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me! Jacob has been grieving for over 20 years for Joseph, now he feels in total despair. Do you ever feel like that? Everything is against me! There is an element of self-pity here, he’s trying to blame his sons for everything. He doesn’t mention his own favouritism which also had a role, you can see it even as he continues in his grief, look what he says in v38 My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my grey head down to the grave in sorrow. He treats Benjamin as the only son he has left, when he has 10 other sons. There’s favouritism, there’s self-pity, there’s clearly troubled family relationships, but there’s also real grief. For all his imperfections, here is a father who has lost a son that he loves, and he’s struggling with grief.

What a contrast to Jacob’s words at the end of the second journey. Turn over to 45:27-28. It says But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, Im convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die. The first journey ends in despair, sorrow and grief but the second journey ends with hope as this old grieving man is revived, by God’s grace and looks forward to seeing his son again.

For some of you Father’s Day is a great day, you’re thankful for the father you have, for all his failings, imperfections, and his bad dad jokes, he’s loved you and provided you and cared for you, and you’re grateful. Yet for many of us today’s a hard day. Some of you were treated terribly by your father. For some of you, your family is fractured. Some of you are reminded of a family member you’ve lost and the grief is still real. Grief is a reality we will all struggle with.

A friend of mine was at a funeral with a family where the mother had tragically died. The children asked the father where their mother was now. The father was an atheist, he said to the children: Mummy isnt anywhere anymore, she just doesnt exist, thats all there is to it. He was at least being honest about the hopelessness of an atheist worldview. If that view is true, there’s nothing of real value you can say to bring hope in your grief.

Yet if that view is true, why do we grieve so much when we lose someone? Why do we yearn and long to see our loved ones who’ve died? The longing or yearning of grief points us to a reality that is there. Through Jesus that yearning and longing can one day be filled.

A friend of mine is quite young, he’s roughly my age, so he’s very young! Yet sadly this year he lost his wife to cancer. Like the atheist I just mentioned he is left to raise children on his own, but the difference between them in terms of hope couldn’t be greater. My friend and his wife as she was dying both found great hope in Revelation 21, God’s promise of the new heavens and the new earth, where God will wipe away all tears, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying of pain. His grief is real, yet in Jesus his hope is real.  God’s Sovereign Grace gives us hope, as we struggle with grief.

2. Transformation as we struggle with guilt

Throughout these chapters you see the brothers showing signs of the guilt they feel about what they had done to Joseph over 20 years before. Look what they say to each other in 42:21 Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; thats why this distress has come on us. They are struggling with guilt, over 20 years later they can still remember his distress as he pleaded with them, it’s still etched into their minds. They’re so plagued with guilt that they see everything bad that happens to them now as God’s punishment .  They start to blame each other, look at v22 Reuben replied, Didnt I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldnt listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood. Reuben tries to blame the others, yet though he may have planned to save him, he was just as much in on the 20 year cover up as the rest of them were.

Their feeling of guilt leads to fear. Look at 45:3 where Joseph finally reveals himself.  Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph! Is my father still living? But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. These brothers are full of fear and guilt, because of what they had done.

Christian counsellor, Ed Welch says in his estimation around 85% of the population feels guilty right now.[2] Across our planet, people try a whole variety of ways to deal with our feelings of guilt. Millions dip in sacred rivers, or go on pilgrimages, or do penance, or visit various counsellors, or resort to various substances to try to escape the feelings of guilt.

Of course there are different types of guilt. There is false guilt, feeling guilty about things we don’t need to, because of the wrong expectations or pressures others place on us, or we wrongly place on ourselves. Yet there is also real guilt, like that the brothers feel here, because we have done wrong, we have acted selfishly, harmed others and sinned against God. In God’s grace there is hope for our real guilt.

Notice how by God’s grace, the brothers in this chapter are not only forgiven by Joseph, but also slowly transformed. Joseph tests his brothers throughout these chapters to see if there’s any change. The tests all lead to this final test where he puts his silver cup into Benjamin’s sack then brings his brothers back and tells them they can all go free, except for Benjamin. It’s as though he’s testing them to see whether they’ll leave Benjamin in slavery to save themselves, just like they abandoned Joseph to slavery many years before.

Judah responds on behalf of the brothers, notice two remarkable things, about what he does. First look at 44:16 What can we say to my lord? Judah replied. What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants guilt. This the exact opposite of what we’ve sen previously, there’s no hiding or deceiving or blaming others, there’s an acknowledgement of guilt. Secondly he offers himself in the place of his brother Benjamin, 44:33, Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lords slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. We read those words and we think, is this the same Judah? The Judah, who back in 37 was the ringleader in selling Joseph to slavery, the Judah who in chapter 38 left his father’s family, and treated so terribly his daughter-in-law Tamar. Now this selfish Judah is selflessly offering himself in place of his younger brother. Judah is showing here, signs of repentance, of wanting to live God’s way instead of his ways, he’s honouring here the commitment he’d made to his father to personally guarantee Benjamin’s safety.

It’s clear that God in his grace, is slowly transforming these brothers. They aren’t perfect, there are still issues, yet God has used the testings and the hardships that he’s brought them through to bring about real transformation.

In selflessly offering himself as a substitute here, Judah unknowingly pointed forward to his descendent Jesus, the ultimate substitute. Unlike Judah, Jesus had no guilt, yet offered himself to take the place of all who would trust in him. Just as God in his grace slowly transformed these selfish brothers, so God in his grace can transform us as we bring our guilt to Jesus.

3. Power as we struggle to forgive

As you know one of the great things about serving with Rog, is that when we tease him, he laughs louder than all of us. He’s very happy to laugh at himself, which is good because it gives us plenty of things to laugh about it in the office. BikeOfficeOne of the things we like to tease Rog about is the time he rode his bike to the office. I took a picture of it. If you know Rog, you’ll know he doesn’t really place much value on exercise, but if you would have gone into the office any day over a two-week period last year, you would have seen Roger’s bike there in the hallway, and could have thought, wow our senior pastor rides his bike to work every day. But things aren’t always what they seem. The reality is that others from the office occasionally ride their bikes, and one day Rog joined in and rode his bike. Of course it is mostly downhill from Morpeth manor to East Maitland, so it’s not exactly that hard a ride, but it obviously took its toll because that afternoon he said, I don’t think I’ll ride back today, could someone give me a lift home? Each day after that we were waiting for the day when Rog would ride his bike home, but he never did and the bike just remained there in the office, finally after two weeks of his bike being in the office, one day he drove his LandCruiser to work, and that afternoon, loaded his bike in and drove home, we’ve never seen it since.

Things aren’t always what they appear . We see that here across these four chapters. Joseph who’s risen to great power in Egypt, appears to his brothers, who don’t yet recognise him to be quite harsh, he accuses them of being spies, he locks them up, he demands they bring Benjamin back, he appears harsh,  and yet things aren’t what they appear, we see things here, that the brothers don’t see, look at 42v24 Joseph turned away from them and began to weep. A number of times Joseph goes away in private to weep. His tears show that behind Joseph’s harsh exterior is a man with a deep affection for his family. As we look more closely we see that Joseph is treating his brothers across the chapters with grace and forgiveness. They’d left him to starve in a pit, but he gives them a huge feast in his home and twice gives them food to take home, so they don’t starve. They’d made money by selling him into slavery for silver, he doesn’t try to make any silver from them, instead he gives them back all their silver each time they come to buy food. They’d left him in slavery separating him from his father, Joseph has the power to do the same to them, but he twice sends them home in freedom to their father.

Can you imagine how difficult it would be to be so gracious towards people who had so mistreated you, it can be even harder to take when it comes from people close to you like your own family. How is Joseph, able to be so gracious and forgiving towards his brothers? Turn to chapter 45 and look at v4-5, Joseph has finally revealed himself to his brothers, and at the moment where you think he could get stuck into them, he shows his concern for them: Look what he says, v4-5 Then Joseph said to his brothers, Come close to me. When they had done so, he said, I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.

Notice it’s Joseph’s view of God that is enabling him to be so gracious to his brothers. Some people view humans as doing what they want and God as a kind of bystander letting things happen and helpless to do anything about it, other people have an opposite view which sees humans as just puppets who can’t be held responsible because they are just being manipulated by God, but notice the Bible’s view is more sophisticated than either of those.

Joseph doesn’t say to them – don’t worry it’s not your fault, you can’t be held responsible, he says – v4 you sold me into slavery, they are responsible for their own actions, yet at the same time he says, v5 God sent me here. He says it again in v7-8 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.  

Notice two things about God that are motivating Joseph here: God’s Sovereignty: Humans are responsible for their own actions, but God is so powerful, so Sovereign, that even humans making wrong choices can’t stop him working out his purposes. Secondly God’s grace – God sent me here he says to preserve for you a remnant, to save your lives. His brothers have acted terribly, yet God in his grace is saving them. Joseph is gracious to his brothers because he trusts in a God who is Sovereign and gracious.

When Steve Saint was 5 years old, he was anxiously waiting for his dad, a pilot to return from a trip he’d gone on with four other missionaries. He can remember looking waiting for the speck of the plane to appear in the sky as it always had previously, but it never came. His father, Nate Saint, was killed along with four other men by the Waodoni tribe, or Aucas they had tried to make contact with to share the gospel of Jesus.

It was difficult for Steve growing up without his father, yet he also says he had a front row seat to see some of the good God has done through that tragedy including the conversion of the man who killed his father. He says: I have personally paid a high price for what happened on Palm Beach. But…If I could go back now and rewrite the script, I would not change a single scene. I have come to understand that life is too complex and much too short to let amateurs direct the story. I would rather let the Master Storyteller do the writing.[3]

It would be easy you’d think for him to be bitter and angry towards those who killed his father, but instead he shows them forgiveness and love, because he sees God’s Sovereignty and his grace, his hand at work in all of this.

When Peter is preaching to the Jews in Jerusalem about Jesus, he says: This man was handed over to you by Gods deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23) He’s giving us the same view as Joseph – humans are responsible – you put him to death he says, yet God was still working through it, according to his deliberate plan and foreknowledge.  It’s there in the cross that we see God’s Sovereignty and his grace most clearly displayed.

What are you struggling with today? Are you struggling with grief, come to Jesus, come to the cross, there we find Jesus, going through grief, being separated from his Father, so that our grief will one day end. Are you struggling with guilt? Come to the cross, where you hear Jesus saying, it is finished. In Jesus there is nothing more that needs to be done for your sin to be completely forgiven. Ask God to grow your trust in what Jesus has done for you. Are you struggling to forgive? Come to the cross, see there God’s Sovereignty, his grace, his forgiveness offered to you, and find there the power to forgive those who have wronged you.

Transcript of Sermon preached at MEC on 1 September 2013. Audio here


[3] Steve Saint, End of the Spear, 59-60

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