Genesis 42 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:57 mins 16 secs

Exposing Guilt for Forward Momentum; Genesis 42


As we go through this section of Genesis we are faced with something that is a little bit different from what we have been faced with before in terms of the structure of the text. The text really is an ongoing narrative, whereas when we think back to instances in Abraham's life, or instances in Jacob's life, they were incidents that went almost chapter by chapter, and each chapter was an isolated incident. What we have starting in chapter 42, even though it stretches out over a long period of time, is an ongoing narrative that covers about four or five chapters. It can't be taken all in one chunk, there are a lot of interesting things here, but it all fits under one basic umbrella. It is not as though we were coming into this and there are five or six different doctrines in every paragraph but the entirety of this section of Genesis really illustrates just a couple of basic doctrines, and they are very important to understand. Part of it has to do with God's plan for Israel and part of it has to do with important principles in the spiritual life. The overriding principle that is illustrated in this section of Genesis, from the initial events of Joseph being given the coat of many colors, all the way through his death at the end of chapter fifty, is the principle that is laid out in the promise of Romans 8:28 NASB "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose." The point is that even though we don't see the pattern, even though God doesn't tell us ahead of time what He is doing, there is a pattern and purpose to history. And not only the mega history in terms of what is happening with nations and peoples and the large trends of the age, but what is happening in the history of our individual lives. That is what we see in Joseph, that God is involved in the details of Joseph's life. But Joseph doesn't see what we see. We have the divine perspective because we know where Scripture is headed, we know what eventually happens, we see and know how God has already worked all of these details together toward the ultimate good of His plan and His purposes. When we look at this from Joseph's perspective, from the perspective of being down in the mire, or in the position of being Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph doesn't necessarily see how the details are fitting together. But when we get into chapter 42 it is probable that things are beginning to become clear to him.


One of the things we learn from a study of any Old Testament narrative book is that history is important, and not only the large trends of history but also the history of our lives, and that God has a plan and purpose. In the outworking of His plan and purpose we always run into that great challenge of trying to deal with the sovereignty of God on the one hand and His control over history to bring history to the conclusion that He desires, and on the other hand, the individual responsibility and human volition. These things work together in history in such a way that God's sovereignty is never compromised because He is the absolute and ultimate ruler in the universe. But under the umbrella of His sovereignty and power God is able to allow men the freedom to make decisions, to introduce chaos and violence into history, but His power, and omniscience, His knowledge of all the details down to the most microscopic and seemingly inconsequential details, is such that He is still able to orchestrate everything to bring about that which He desires in history, yet without violating the principle of human volition and human responsibility.


This comes under the umbrella doctrine of divine providence and we see how this works in a lot of ways in the life of Joseph. First of all, we see that God chose Joseph of the twelve brothers, not for salvation but to be the path of blessing through whom He would bless not only the rest of the family but all of mankind during this time of famine. So we see that God chooses Joseph to be the path of the promised blessing. That takes us back to the Abrahamic covenant. God promised Abraham land, seed, and that he would be a world wide blessing. So Joseph is going to be the path of the promised blessing and this is consistent with the principle that has been followed with Isaac and with Jacob that the older will serve the younger, and Joseph is the younger that the brothers will serve.


God prepares Joseph for this in one sense by giving him some special revelation—the two dreams in chapter thirty-seven. In those dreams God shows Joseph that some time in the future his family will bow down before him. That comes to fulfilment in this chapter 42. But He prepares Joseph through that dream and that, then, comes back in this chapter. Following that, even though God shows Joseph what the future will hold, that indeed he will be in this position, God has to prepare him for that. It is not just going to happen. And even though God has a plan for all of us to serve in the Millennial kingdom as priests and kings, it is not just going to happen. He has to take us through a training process that includes the same kinds of things that Joseph went through, that before we are going to be put in a position of responsibility we have to be prepared for that responsibility. So God takes Joseph through a specially designed leadership training institute and he starts off being the object of his brothers' hatred.


The brothers had this profound hatred toward Joseph that they conspired together to murder him. Instead we see that through the intervention of Reuben and Judah, in two different ways, God is at work to foil the murder plot but He doesn't impose himself on their volition; they make choices. Reuben makes the choice to do something to hide Joseph and to protect him, and then Judah makes another choice to sell him into slavery and make some money. But we see the unseen hand of God working behind the scenes to not only protect Joseph's life but also to move him in the direction that he needs to be in order to provide a future protection for the people. So in that conspiracy the brothers hate him, yet God takes all of that evil and works it together for good. Joseph is sold as a slave to the Midianite traders and taken to Egypt and sold into slavery to the house of Potiphar. What a coincidence! Potiphar is the commandant of the elite troops who guard and protect the life of the Pharaoh, so he is in a position in the highest places of government in Egypt. So that over the ten or so years that Joseph is serving Potiphar he gets to know who is who, and this was invaluable training for Joseph—to be exposed to this and to observe and to see all of the inner workings within the court of the Pharaoh. God blesses him throughout this time and Potiphar raises him to the highest position in his household. But God doesn't bless Joseph because Joseph is so obedient to God. There are all kinds of believers in the world who work hard, are diligent, and are dedicated, faithful believers who don't get promoted to positions of influence and power like Joseph is promoted. Not everybody gets that, and it is not because of Joseph's obedience that puts him in that position, it is God's sovereignty.  Joseph's responsibility is to work hard, to be faithful, to do his work as unto the Lord. It is so clear that he has mastered that because when Potiphar's wife attempts to seduce him Joseph just cries out that this would be a great sin against God. His focus is that he is there is Potiphar's house not to serve Potiphar but God, and he is consistently faithful. But God isn't promoting him because he is faithful, He is promoting him because that is God's plan for preserving the seed. So we have to always understand that grace is operative. Not only is Joseph blessed but Potiphar is blessed. Potiphar realizes that his blessing comes from Joseph. So again it is the outworking of the principle that other nations and peoples were to be blessed through the descendants of Abraham.


In this same context Joseph is learning leadership and responsibility, he is learning how to handle situations and how to handle people, and he learns all the inner workings of the government. Then he is tested again with another type of undeserved suffering. Potiphar's wife attempts to seduce him, and he performs perfectly in the test. He gets put into prison. They way we think things ought to go is that if we do right God is going to bless us and if we do wrong God is going to discipline us and lower the boom. But it doesn't always happen that way because God knows more than we do. This is what the book of Job is all about. Joseph goes into prison but God promotes him in the prison. While he is there, there is the episode of the two dreams, the dream of the cupbearer and the dream of the butcher. When Pharaoh later had his two dreams the cupbearer remembered Joseph. So Joseph is doing what he is supposed to do and God is working to bring about that which He has planned. As a result Pharaoh promoted Joseph to be the second person in the land. He is prospered and blessed by God again, not because of what he has done but because that is God's plan within the broader structure of what God is doing to bring the descendants of Abraham out of Canaan and down to Egypt to build a protective womb around them so that they can grow to a large nation and not be threatened by the assimilation of the Jews to the paganism of the Canaanites.


In chapter 42 we start seeing how this is brought to bear. Remember that God has been setting the stage for this for twenty years. Remember also that Joseph could have been nursing a mental attitude of vindictiveness and anger for twenty years because of what the brothers had done, but because he is grace oriented, because he is doctrinally oriented, because he is oriented to the plan and the purpose of God he understood what God was doing. Even though he may not know all the details yet, when the brothers appear in his court to ask for grain, it is at that point he begins to put everything together and to realize what God was doing. Joseph also understood that before the plan could go to the next level the sin and the guilt of the brothers had to be dealt with. And that is the same principle we see over and over again in all history and in our individual lives—sin has to be dealt with and there has to be forgiveness and reconciliation before the plan can go forward. If the brothers were still mired in their petty jealousies and their self-serving attitudes that that had when Joseph was sold into slavery, then the plan couldn't go forward; he couldn't trust them. So there had to be this testing. That is the focus of this first major episode here.


There are three scenes in this chapter. In the first scene we are back in Canaan with Jacob, the father, and the brothers. They are beginning to experience the full impact of this massive famine that is affecting the Middle East. The second scene begins in verse 6 and goes down to verse 26, and this involves the brothers and Joseph in Egypt. The third scene is when the brothers return to Canaan and to Jacob with the grain that they have brought, but they are absent a brother. And once again these boys have to come home to Dad minus one of his sons, and with extra money. Jacob is no fool; he doesn't trust them after the loss of Joseph.


In the first five verses we see how God is working out the greater good, which is His plan for Israel, through the normal circumstances of life. But who controls the circumstances of life? God does. 


Genesis 42:1, 2 NASB "Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, "Why are you staring at one another? He said, "Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy {some} for us from that place, so that we may live and not die." Jacob commissions them to go down to Egypt. The brothers go down, they don't take Benjamin with them.


Genesis 42:6 NASB "Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with {their} faces to the ground." Here we are reminded of Joseph's position, and we see that God is working through Joseph to test the brothers. As part of this test what God is doing is that He wants to expose the guilt that they have for what they did to Joseph. He is not making them feel guilty but He wants to expose their real legal guilt so that they can deal with it in terms of confession, restoration and reconciliation so that the plan of God will then go forward. In verse 15 Joseph explains the test.


Genesis 42:15 NASB "by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here!" Joseph really gives them two tests because in these tests he wants to see if they have changed over the last twenty years and, furthermore God is using the tests to peel back the years where they have just insulated themselves to this sin and it hasn't been dealt with yet. It has to be dealt with the right way, not by just by going out with some kind of emotional experience or anything but by dealing with it with God and with Joseph. That is a major part of this whole story with Joseph: Joseph's forgiveness of the brothers and their reconciliation which is crucial to the unity of the nation as they go forward. A couple of principles come out of this: When we sin we are guilty. We need to make a distinction between psychological guilt, which is remorse, and legal guilt. Guilt has to be acknowledged and responsibility admitted, and then there is restoration of fellowship. This happens on a vertical plane in terms of our relationship to God, but it also has to happen on a horizontal plane in our relationship to other people. We are to forgive one another. The second principle is that forgiveness must follow admitted guilt or responsibility. Joseph is going to recognize and state at the end of the book: You meant it for evil but God meant it for good. He understood that God's sovereignty was overriding their carnality, and so he has a relaxed mental attitude about all the wrong that they had done him because he was oriented to God's grace.


So we are introduced to Egypt in verse 6: "Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with {their} faces to the ground." This is the fulfilment of the dream.


Genesis 42:7 NASB "When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, 'Where have you come from?' And they said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food." At least nineteen years has gone by, maybe twenty, and Joseph has changed a lot and they don't recognize him at all. He begins to interrogate them. Verse 8: "But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him."


Genesis 42:9 NASB "Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, 'You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.'" He remembers the dream and then falsely accuses them, just as he had been falsely accused by them, but he is not accusing them out of malice. There is no sense of hatred or vengeance or bitterness on the part of Joseph here. He is evaluating them.


Genesis 42:13 NASB "But they said, 'Your servants are twelve brothers {in all,} the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and behold, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no longer alive.'" As Joseph puts the pressure on them the guilt of the way they had treated him, that past sin, now pops up to the surface in their memory because it has to be dealt with. So Joseph tests them, v. 15.


Genesis 42:15 NASB "by this you will be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here!"

Genesis 42:18, 19 NASB "Now Joseph said to them on the third day, "Do this and live, for I fear God." What did he just say to them? He is communicating to them that he is not into this idolatrous system of the Egyptians. He fears Elohim. "…if you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined in your prison; but as for {the rest of} you, go, carry grain for the famine of your households." Notice what is happening now. First of all we saw the remembrance of Joseph, that he was no more back in verses 13. Now in verse 21 they say to one another (they are speaking Hebrew and don't know that Joseph can understand them), "Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us." Joseph is listening in on their conversation. They are recognizing their true guilt and they also realize that maybe God is finally dealing with them. God always deals with us. It may not always be where we can see it and it may take twenty or thirty or more years, but God deals with us one way or another. In the Hebrew there is an interesting play on words here which brings out the emphasis on the anguish of Joseph's soul on the one hand and the anguish that they are going through right now on the other. And there is no one to listen to them, they think.


Genesis 42:22 NASB "Reuben answered them, saying, 'Did I not tell you, 'Do not sin against the boy'; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood.'" I told you so! Now Joseph learns that it was Reuben who was trying to protect him. Then verse 23 tells us that they did not know that Joseph understood them because he spoke to them through an interpreter. But when he returned he turned himself away from them and wept. He has a real love for these brothers. As hurtful and as shameful as their behaviour has been to him he has a real love for them, and as he hears them talking he realizes that they have recognized their sin and have admitted and acknowledged it, and that that is genuine. As a result he is overcome with emotion and has to turn his back on them and hide his face so they don't see him weeping in joy because of their recognition of sin. When he turns back to them he talks to them and he decides on a course of action, to take Simeon and keep him back, and send the rest of them back to Canaan.


A big issue in this chapter is dealing with their guilt, their legal guilt. Guilt existentially for us as human beings is the violation of the standard of God. God has a universal law, and when we violate that law, His holy character, when we sin we become guilty. Man is born in the state of guilt because we have received the imputation of Adam's original sin, so we are born with a legal guilt for sin, and that legal issue has to be resolved. One of the problems that we run into today is that the culture which most of us grew up in no longer exists. If you are younger than 40 then you don't know what this is talking about because you grew up with a different mindset. In our history we have moved through a major shit historically through most of the twentieth century where the thought forms shifted from a moral/legal framework to a psychological therapeutic framework, and it changed the way people look at life, relationships, ethics, morals and guilt. The view that dominated for centuries actually, was the product of a theistic world view that came from the Bible. Up until the 19th century nearly everyone believed in an absolute creator—not necessarily a biblical view of God, but at least an absolute creator and that man was a creature. Even though they may not have been Christians or biblical in their thinking they were in a general sense, just as most Christians in our world today think in terms of a postmodern or secular humanistic framework because that is the culture in which they grew up. Most do not realize the depths to which they have been impacted in their thinking as a Christian by the cultural water they swam in from the day they were born. If they grew up in a solid Christian home it may not be as extreme, but they didn't, then they will manifest that. A Christian today has grown up in a culture that is secular-humanistic or now postmodern. An unbeliever in the early 1800s or 1700s were in a theistic, biblically informed Judeo-Christian worldview and so thought within that format, even though he may not have been a Christian. Everything changed as history moved into the 1900s. There was a move from a legal based view of life, a view of law; not law in terms of national law but law in terms of a universal law that governed life. There was a creator who was holy and righteous and there were absolute universal standards. As a result the universe was governed by laws on morality. What happened in the shift into the 20th century was that the universe began to be viewed in a psychological-therapeutic framework.


What happened? Sigmund Freud popped up in the late 19th century. There were Freud, Marx and Darwin who all lived at the same time, and they fed off of each others' ideas. The result was that it laid the foundation for a totally new worldview for western civilization in the 20th century. Once this legal based view of life and a moral based view of life shifted to a psychological-therapeutic model and lot of other things happened. One was that prior to the 1900 all viewed human beings as a collective whole, that generally man was viewed as created in the image of God if you were a Christian. Human nature was viewed as special and the focus was on humanity as a whole. But once the shift was to a therapeutic model the shift was no longer on mankind as a whole and serving mankind as a whole, but it went to the self. It is all about me, not about the human race or mankind anymore.


Prior to this shift mankind was important in and of itself, but now the emphasis is on the individual. Now, no longer is man a creation of God in His image but man is an accident of the cosmos; he is just a product of evolution, so the human race isn't important, just whatever it is I am experiencing. Before the shift occurred, when there was a moral/legal view of life, and when mankind was important, what else was important was that character was important. So the emphasis was on character, and to develop character one had to develop virtue. Virtue was related to universal absolutes and standards of behaviour. And if one who lived before the 20th century picked up a self-help book it would sound like the motivational self-help teachers today, the emphasis was on character. The vocabulary of character emphasized words like morality and integrity and words that related to a solid work ethic. Character was important. But in the 20th century there was a shift from character to personality. So we look at celebrities and leaders and what is important is their personality. What is important is what is on the surface, not what is behind, then character, the integrity. When there is an emphasis on personality the vocabulary sifts. What is important is words like "dynamic, forceful, flamboyant, exciting, creative." That is the vocabulary of personality. Personality emphasizes self-fulfilment and self-realization. So there is a huge transformation that takes place. We live now in a psychological-therapeutic world, and a psychological therapeutic world is going to view guilt and shame differently from a legal-moral world.


This is very important because the average persona doesn't understand what real guilt is anymore. They no longer think of guilt as the violation of an absolute standard. Under the moral model guilt and shame could be used interchangeably because they were related. But now guilt is psychological and shame is just the fact something has happened in my life that I am embarrassed about, and what has to be resolved is this problem of embarrassment. When you shift from character and integrity and the promotion of virtue, what you go to in a psychological model is the promotion of values. Values become relative, they are personal choices so that you have your values and I have my values and somebody else has their values; the values are no longer related to absolute virtues. The vocabulary shift in all this but it attacks the very notions of absolute standards of behaviour. So now we live in a world where vocabulary related to purpose and function in life is very different from the old model where there was the vocabulary of salvation, justification, forgiveness. All these terms relate to understanding moral absolutes in a legal framework in the universe, but now the vocabulary of the therapeutic age is self-realization, psychological healing, salvation is often presented in the sense of just kind of getting a regenerated, psychological, new self-image. There is no real guilt, there is only guilt feelings and so the idea is to do away with all standards so there is no guilt feeling and everything is okay, and nobody has any standards anymore.


That wasn't the problem with Joseph's brothers but that has always been a problem in history as people want to minimize the real guilt. So God has to work in their life to expose that guilt so that they can then apply the biblical solution which is admission of sin, resulting in forgiveness, and then it is forgotten and then they can move forward.


So they go home, and on the way home they run into another test. Joseph had commanded for all the brothers to take the sacks of grain but he told the servants to put money back in with the grain. On the way home one of the brothers discovers the money and their heart just fails: "And their hearts sank, and they {turned} trembling to one another, saying, 'What is this that God has done to us?'" There is a true guilty conscience there because the conscience is the moral compass of the soul and it is informed with absolutes. They know they have violated God's standard and there is punishment. They haven't realized divine forgiveness yet so they think God is after them. They go home to their father in Canaan and when they get back they discover that there is money in everybody's sack. Now they are really concerned. They come back and stay with Jacob until the food runs out.