Guilt, Grace, Forgiveness, Restoration; Genesis 43
The event with Judah and Tamar is parallel to what we see in chapter 43 with Judah and Benjamin. He has dealt unrighteously with Tamar but he realizes that. There is an admission of guilt and sin and he was restored to fellowship and moves forward in his spiritual life so that when he has this opportunity to be the protector and pledge for Benjamin he does so with integrity and shows that a tremendous change has taken place. The lesson there is that no matter how much we regress spiritually, no much how we are mired in pagan thought and in sinful activity, there is always hope and the grace of God can always bring about a restoration of growth and advance. One of the interesting things we are going to see is how all of this worked together, and the whole narrative of Genesis, because Judah was in a position where he was just as pagan as any Canaanite, and all of a sudden the next time we see him in chapter 43 he has changed, he has a measure of integrity, he becomes the leader among the brothers, and he stands up for them. He is no longer the sinful self-absorbed coward that we saw earlier and the result is that by the end of Genesis he is the one who receives the blessing from Jacob, that it will be through him that the future ruler of Israel will come, the Lord Jesus Christ. So it is an interesting dynamic here that we have to get to by looking at the whole movement of the text from chapter 37 through 47.
The center of this section is Joseph's fall where he is sent to prison and his elevation to a position of prominence in Egypt, and then the brothers coming down to Egypt. This section in chapters 39-42 are at the very center of this whole narrative because that is where the whole story changes. Remember is it s narrative, it is the writer telling a story and it is filled with drama and all kinds of bizarre behavior of real human beings, and yet it is at the very center of the story. What makes a good story is conflict, and the conflict ultimately is with their own sin nature, and we see the resolution of that, and by the time we finish the book of Genesis we see a change among all of the brothers spiritually. In chapters 47-49 they are quite a bit different from what they were earlier when we first saw them in chapters 35-37.
Last time we saw two basic points in chapter 42. The first was that God works out the greater good through the circumstances of life. God is in control—Romans 8:28. What happened to elevate Joseph ought to tell us that no matter what the circumstances in our past might be if God has a plan for our life then God is the one who is going to promote us and God is the one who is going to use us in His plan, despite whatever blemishes there may be on our record or whatever past failures there may be on our record, or whatever the world may think. In the second part of chapter 42 we saw how Joseph began to test the brothers, and it is God the Holy Spirit ultimately who is working through Joseph to expose the guilt of the brothers. The key conflict in all of this goes back to their sin, their hostility, their treachery, and their betrayal of Joseph and how that has fragmented the family, the chosen race, the descendants of Abraham, and so there has to be a reconciliation and forgiveness for their sin. So first of all God has to raise their sin consciousness. That is the same thing that happens to us when we are out of fellowship. If we are out of fellowship for any length of time then God the Holy Spirit is going to begin to work on us to reveal to us the sin that is in our life that needs to be confessed and brought before God so that it can be dealt with in confession, so that their can be forgiveness and restoration to fellowship, so that we can move forward in our Christian life. That may involve taking us through various stages of divine discipline if we are hard-headed and we don't want to deal with that sin, according to 1 John 1:9, and to admit or acknowledge that that is a sin. This whole issue of dealing with sin is more than simple confession. Confession gets us forgiveness but it doesn't give us growth. Confession simply restores us to fellowship but it is learning the Word of God and applying the Word of God that keeps us in fellowship.
Over the years there have always been people who come along and try to come up with different solutions to the problem of Christians who treat 1 John 1:9 as a licence to sin. There are always going to be Christians who try to take advantage of 1 John 1:9. It is pretty much typical behaviour for an adolescent believer or a baby believer who is given a certain amount of freedom before they have the capacity and the maturity to properly handle it. Freedom also has responsibility. Grace always means there is freedom. We have the freedom to fail and we can only succeed to the degree that we have the freedom to fail. So we have the freedom to fail and we take advantage of it, and one day as we learn the Word, study the Word, we grow up and realize that it is not all about simply confessing our sin and then just committing the same sin over and over again, and just going in and out of fellowship like a yoyo and never going anywhere. Eventually we have to start applying the Word to those areas where there is ongoing sin, the areas where sin easily besets us, as the writer of Hebrews says, so that we can begin to say no to the sin and yes to staying in fellowship and applying doctrine to that area of temptation. That is when growth begins to take place. We see that illustrated throughout this whole section of Genesis.
In the last section is was pointed out that Joseph was going to test the brothers, and that is similar to the way that God tests us. We grow only through going through these various tests. When the brothers appeared before Joseph he recognized the hand of God in this. When they bowed down before him he remembered the dream and recognized that this was a divine fulfilment. But he was determined to test them first. It is not enough sometimes when people have mistreated you, when they have treated you badly, when they have abused you, they will often superficially and quickly say they are sorry and ask to be forgiven, whatever. So Joseph wanted to make sure that there had been a real change take place in these brothers, and before he exposed himself to them he wanted to make sure that they had indeed changed, and he wanted to find out of they were still the same superficial, arrogant, self-absorbed, self-promoting brothers that he had left. He wants to see if there had been change taken place in their life, and change is at the core of Christian growth. The Christian growth process is all about change: change from being an unrighteous, sinful unbeliever. At the point of salvation we are positionally changed but we have to experientially grow as a believer, and that is that process of taking in the Word of God. Romans 12:2 NASB "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [renovation of thought]…" That is the change that takes place. It doesn't just happen. Some people think that if they just go to Bible class and confess their sins and take a lot of notes that when they get tempted to sin the Holy Spirit is just going to make that decision for them, that eventually the Holy Spirit sort of takes over. That's not how it works at all. That is a sort of quasi-mystical idea that has slipped into certain elements of evangelic Christianity. In the old days it was the Let-go-and-let-God view, that somehow you just sort of reached this position where you put yourself into a position of total passivity and God would take over. But that negates volitional responsibility which is the first divine institution. You have to be responsible for the decisions that you make. So you learn the Word; now you are responsible for it. That means that under the power of the Holy Spirit you still have to make a tough decision not to become angry, not to become bitter, not to become vindictive, not to gossip, not to judge; to make those decisions right there in the heat of the moment. Rather than acting like you always acted as a pagan unbeliever you are going to apply doctrine and not act that way and not think those thoughts. That is the process. So it is all about change, but it is not just a self-imposed change, it is not just self-improvement, not pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, a morality shift; it is the result of the Word plus the Spirit of God working in your life to change the way you think.
Joseph is going to evaluate his brothers and he comes up with a couple of tests. In the first test he decided to put them all in prison and said one of them was to go back and get the other brother. The test related to see how they treated the younger favored brother. Are they still consumed with the mental attitude sins of jealousy? He wants to see if they are still jealous of the younger favored brother. Three days later he decided that maybe that was too rigorous so he decides to let all but one go back and get Benjamin and he is going to keep one as a hostage in Egypt to make sure they would have to return to get that other brother.
1) Guilt has to be acknowledged. Responsibility has to be admitted for any sin in order that fellowship be restored. That is a general principle, whether we are talking about fellowship with God or fellowship with other people. We have to acknowledge our guilt and we have to admit responsibility for failure in order for there to be any restoration of fellowship.
2) On the flip side, if you have been wronged by someone and they confess their sin, acknowledge their guilt toward you, then you as a believer are obliged to forgive them and to move forward.
3) What is guilt? A distinction must be drawn between real guilt and emotional guilt. Real guilt is what takes place when you violate or break a rule or a law. It may be man's law or it may be God's law. Guilt may not involve any emotion whatsoever. Guilt does not necessarily have an emotion attached to it.
4) Today we have to understand how guilt is dealt with in terms of psychology. It is mixed up with shame in a moral culture that believes in absolutes. In a postmodern environment where there is no universal law, there is no real guilt because all these values are just manufactured by the culture. The idea is to get rid of norms and standards so you don't feel shame. Everybody can do whatever they want to and the idea is to legitimize everybody's sins—or some people's sins. Some people have politically correct sins and we can legitimize those but other people have politically incorrect sins and they mustn't be legitimized! Guilt feelings do sometimes accompany real guilt and that is because we recognize the problems, the horrors, the dangers, the consequences of what happens when we break God's laws. So guilt is defined as the breaking of God's law, a guilt feeling may arise when our conscience becomes involved because the conscience is the traffic cop of the soul and where the norms and standards reside, the concepts of right and wrong, and when we violate that then we feel badly about that. When you violate it enough, over and over again, and you begin to rationalize that it is not really that bad then what can happen, the Scripture says, it the conscience becomes seared. In other words, it becomes hardened. Scar tissue grows over the conscience so that it no longer seems as bad to have committed those particular infractions. Sometimes we feel guilty when we are not guilty. We feel so bad about something that we did that even after we confess it to God we still feel guilty and we can't believe God would forgive us. When we do that it is like saying God really doesn't forgive us and 1 John 1:9 is a lie. At that point we become guilty of sinful guilt where we are denying the fact that God actually does forgive us.
5) Biblically there is only a recognition of real or legal guilt. The Bible doesn't address guilt feelings or the emotional aspect, aside from a couple of passages in 2 Corinthians chapter five that deal with what is wrongly translated "Godly sorrow," and it is just remorse. But the emphasis in those passages is that the remorse may or may not accompany sin, what matters is repentance, and that is a totally different dimension that we are going to have to address, that is, what is the relationship of repentance to confession? What is the relationship of repentance to the Christian life? Biblically the issue is recognition of real or legal guilt. First of all we have to realize that we are all guilty because of Adam's original sin, so we all stand in violation of God's absolute standards: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Every human being is born guilty whether they recognize it or not. Jesus Christ went to the cross in order to pay fro that legal guilt, the fact that we broke God's eternal law, we violated His character.
6) Forgiveness, then, is the removal of the guilt and restoration to fellowship. But biblically speaking real forgiveness comes as a result of a recognition of guilt.
7) The biblical word for guilt is the Hebrew asham. In many case this word stands for guilt offerings, for legal guilt. You don't have the idea of guilt feelings though in the Old Testament. Asham indicates the transgression of a law, a norm or a standard. So the biblical word for guilt emphasizes objective guilt, real guilt, the violation or a transgression of a law, norm or standard.
8) Emotion may or may not accompany guilt. When we do things that are wrong sometimes we have remorse that accompanies it, sometimes we don't. It we commit the same infraction over and over again or we consider it in not very serious then we may not have any remorse whatsoever when it comes to doing that, whatever it might be. Remorse, regret and sorrow may legitimately accompany sin. So just because we feel bad about it doesn't mean it is wrong to feel bad about it. What is wrong is to think that the remorse and the regret is what impresses God with the seriousness of your confession. Remorse and regret is not what is important in confession. Confession is simply admitting or acknowledging your wrongdoing to God. It is not how you feel about it that is important, it is the admission of the guilt that is important.
9) Since sin is a violation of God's standard then there must be a recognition of guilt before God for restoration to fellowship. That is where it begins. Psalm 51:4 NASB "Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge." He deceived Bathsheba and entered into a conspiracy to have her husband murdered, so he had hurt all kinds of people. Yes, but sin by definition is a violation of the character of God, the absolute norms and standards of God's character. Therefore you can only sin against God. You may also violate other people in the process but that is different, you can only sin against God. It is only the breech of God's standards that results in sin. And when we admit our guilt to God we call that confession. At the same time we also know that in the process of committing sins against God we hurt those we love, we hurt other people, we do things that wrong them, and we have to make that right as well. There has to be that restoration of fellowship. We have to go to them to admit the wrongdoing and they are also under obligation that when we go to them to seek forgiveness that they forgive us, as believers.
One of the best verses to illustrate the meaning of confession is Psalm 32:5: NASB "I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin." Psalm 32 is a post-confession praise psalm to God for having forgiven David for his sin. Psalm 51 is the confession, or the psalm that is written as a psalm describing his confession of sin to God. In Psalm 32:5 he reflects back on how God forgave him and what was going on in his life at the time of the sin. There is no mention there of repentance. There is no mention of, "Lord, I'm never going to commit adultery again." The word in this verse for "acknowledge" is the hiphil imperfect of the Hebrew verb yada, and the hiphil stem is causative. So yada basically means to know something. But this isn't simply the idea of knowing or being aware of something, it is the idea of letting someone know something, causing them to become aware or informed about something. It is accurately translated in the English, I acknowledge, I admit, or I make know to you God the sin that I have committed. So the idea of confession is to make known or to admit something to God. None of that conveys the idea of emotion or remorse or even repentance. Repentance in both the Hebrew and Greek is the idea of change. Sometimes that takes process. Changing our thinking about something doesn't happen in a one-shot decision. Sometimes it takes years of the influence of the Word of God and the Spirit of God to see real change take hold in our thinking and in our living. So repentance is sometimes a process that is part of our spiritual growth, whereas in order for that to have any value spiritually we have to repent in fellowship. If we are out of fellowship when we are trying to change we are just doing it in the energy of the flesh. We have to be in fellowship before we can repent under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. So confession always precedes repentance.
"And my iniquity I did not hide…" The parallel of acknowledging is to not conceal. This is the Hebrew word kasah, which in the piel means to cover, to clothe, to hide or to conceal. He has prior to confession tried to conceal the sin. Now he openly admits it to God. He then says what his confession statement was: "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." The word there for confess is the same word n the Hebrew that we have for acknowledge. It is a hiphil stem of yada. And want is the result? "And You forgave the guilt [iniquity]of my sin." That forgiveness isn't conditioned upon repentance, it isn't conditioned on dealing with any other sin, it is conditioned solely on the act of confession.
Repentance is the act of change, and the illustration that we are going to see in this section of Genesis is what has happened in the life of Judah. What happens in the next chapter is that when the brothers return to Canaan and have left Simeon behind they eat up all the grain eventually, the famine continues to be severe, and finally Jacob says it is time to go back and buy some more food. The person who speaks up and is the spokesman and the leader for the group is Judah, indicating that he is not in a self-serving position, as he was seen in chapter 38, but he has changed. Judah reminds Jacob that they have to take Benjamin back with them, Jacob doesn't want Benjamin out of his sight because he doesn't trust these boys at all. They are the ones who took Joseph away from him and now Simeon has gone, and he thinks that if Benjamin is out of sight he will lose him as well. But what happens is that Judah, rather than being that self-absorbed manipulator, he says he will be the surety for his life. He stands up as a substitute for Benjamin and he is gong to put his own life on the line. He shows that he is in a position of leadership, he has a level of integrity and responsibility, and he is no longer self-absorbed. There has been a change in Judah's life. And this continues throughout the rest of this narrative until we get to the end, and then at the end it is Judah who receives the blessing. The birthright is going to go to Joseph, and Joseph gets the double portion. It is his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh who replace him, there is no tribe of Joseph. But the blessing doesn't go to Joseph, it goes to Judah. It is a great lesson in learning that grace means that no matter how badly you have screwed up there is still room for recovery and still room for realizing that blessing that God has for you because there is real forgiveness. Not only has there been confession in Judah's life but there is change. Change is what comes as the result of the genuine biblical concept of repentance, because as he takes in the Word of God there is that transformation that takes place and he grows and matures. It shows that people can and do change, but it is real change only when it is the result of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.