TRAPPED BY THEIR PAST
Holy God, move me to hear Your voice today. I want to honor You by paying attention, by listening carefully to Your voice.
Read GENESIS 42:1–24
Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt
42 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” 2 He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”
3 Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. 5 So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.
6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.
“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”
8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”
12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
13 But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”
14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 And he put them all in custody for three days.
18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.
21 They said to one another, “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; that’s why this distress has come on us.”
22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘… as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.’1
Like any masterly story, the initial encounter between Joseph and his brothers leaves more questions than it answers. Is Jacob exercising decisive leadership or resigned defeat in sending his ten sons to Egypt? Is Joseph deceitful, vengeful, or merciful in his treatment of his brothers? Did he realize that this is his earlier dream coming true, or is he simply exercising naked power? How would Joseph’s demand to see Benjamin prove they were not spies? Have the brothers really changed and learned to be honest, or are they merely trying to get out of the predicament they are in? There’s room for different interpretations.
It’s clear, however, that the brothers see themselves as trapped by their past (vs 21,22). Their guilty consciences have eaten away at them for years. Now they believe they’re confronting the consequences of their past actions. Their ‘eye-for-an-eye’ view of life means that their past treatment of Joseph is about to rebound on them. If only they’d shown Joseph compassion, they might now receive compassion. But they didn’t. Many people still feel trapped by their past, often with practical consequences of earlier wrong habits or behavior that need working through. Jesus’ Gospel, however, is altogether different, promising a new beginning, a total removal of our guilt – and freedom from past sins.
We know with hindsight that this is a major step forward in Joseph’s dreams being fulfilled. This isn’t merely another episode in the story of a complicated, wounded family, but the arena in which God will bring about the fulfillment of His plan, foretold in Joseph’s dream. In all the muddle of life – of family life – God is at work.
What is it in your past from which you seek freedom? Have you found this in Christ? Are there still practical consequences to work through?
Lord, I ask for wisdom and patience as I wait for a situation to be resolved.
1 Ps 103:12