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Date: Feb. 17, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 44:1-34

Key Verse: Genesis 44:33-34

Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.

Have you ever met someone that you knew a long time ago? You haven’t seen them for a very long time and, when you see them, you have either one of two reactions. You either think that they are exactly the same as you remember them, like they never changed at all. Or you are so surprised at how much they have changed, like you are not sure if they are the same person that you knew. In my college days, I was as light as 135 pounds, now I am over 80 pounds heavier. The physical difference between then and now is striking. I look at old pictures and just see the changes over time. I got a little more in the cheeks and more around the chin. Even though physical changes can be striking, they are not the most surprising. We can expect some of the physical changes, like the scar on the face or the nose job. The weight gain and the graying of the hair are all expected, but the changes to a personality are most surprising. When the boastful becomes humble and the shy become powerful, we tend to remember those changes even more. In today’s passage, we see a change in all the brothers, but one in particular has a dramatic change.

Today’s passage is the third part on the narrative about the famine. Two chapters ago, we saw the famine hit Jacob and his family, and he sent his sons to Egypt to buy food, because the Egyptians had stored up an immense amount of food before the famine hit. When the brothers arrived in Egypt, they didn’t realize that the man in charge was the very brother they sold into slavery, Joseph. Joseph was a bit hard on them and called them spies, but they told him that they were all brothers, sons of the same man. They told him about their younger brother at home, and Joseph demanded to see that brother. He had Simeon bound and imprisoned and sent the rest to go get their youngest brother. They wouldn’t be able to see him again without their brother in tow. When they ran out of food again, Jacob told his sons to go back to Egypt to get more food, but his boys reminded him that they couldn’t return without their youngest brother Benjamin. Jacob was hesitant. Benjamin was all that he had left from his wife Rachel, but he let him go because they could all die from hunger. Those boys went back to Egypt with Benjamin and to their surprise, they were taken to the Joseph’s house. They thought that they were going to be lynched and robbed, but instead they were treated to a feast, with Benjamin receiving a quintuple portion.

Our passage today picks up at the end of the last passage, “Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: ‘Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack.’” (1) Joseph had his household steward fill their sacks completely full of food and to give their silver back to them. It was just as he did the first time they came to Egypt. Even though, Joseph still didn’t reveal his identity to his brothers, he was providing for them from the wealth he now possessed. But that wasn’t the only thing Joseph told his steward. “‘Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.’ And he did as Joseph said.” (2) Well that is a little different. If you stop here, it looks like Joseph is giving Benjamin a little gift, a silver cup. That seems pretty generous until we read the next few verses.

They say, “As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, ‘Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, “Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.”’” (3-5) So he orders his steward to put the cup in Benjamin’s sack and after they leave, he instructs him to chase them down and accuse them of stealing the cup. That doesn’t make much sense at all. That just sounds mean. Why would he do something like that? Does Joseph enjoy seeing his brothers writhe and squirm? Was he trying to get back at his brothers for selling him to the Midianites? If he was, Benjamin wasn’t even a part of it. So why does he do it? As we have heard previously, Joseph may have been concerned about Benjamin’s welfare. The other brothers were all jealous of Joseph and that led them to do horrible things. Were they the same or had they changed? With Jacob keeping Benjamin close, there was still a possibility that his other brothers would feel the same jealousy toward Benjamin. So, Joseph may have been setting up a situation to see how the other brothers responded. He was going to put the other ten in a position where they could easily sacrifice Benjamin to save their own lives.

The steward carried out his master’s wishes. Now, if I were the steward, I would have been wondering what was going on. Joseph told him to put the cup in Benjamin’s sack and the next morning, Joseph is telling him to go and accuse them of stealing the very cup that was put in the sack. The brothers are taken aback at the accusations. “But they said to him, ‘Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house?’” (7-8) The brothers had no idea why the steward was accusing them of stealing a silver cup. They even tried to show their innocence by reminding the steward that they brought back the silver that found the first time. Unfortunately, they were so sure of themselves that they made a rash decision. They then said, “If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” (9) They were so sure of themselves that they said that if anyone had the cup, they would die, and the rest would become slaves. They seemed to forget that their silver magically appeared in their sacks, so a silver cup could do the same. Now, we know that there was nothing magical about the silver the last time or the silver cup this time. Both were put in the sacks at Joseph’s direction.

The steward responded, “Very well, then, let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.” (10) He agrees with them, sort of. The brothers said the person with the cup would die and the rest would become slaves, but the steward says that the person with the cup would become a slave and the rest would be let go. That is not exactly the same thing. The brothers then begin to lower their sacks and prepare to have them searched. The steward must have had a bit of knowledge as to why he was supposed to accuse the brothers. When he begins searching, he does so by searching the oldest first and continuing on down to the youngest. He knew where the cup was, but he drew out the search to increase the intrigue. The brothers must have felt vindicated with each sack searched, knowing their innocence. However, when the steward searched Benjamin’s sack, there was the cup.

The passage describes their response, “At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.” (13) The brothers were filled with anguish. They were so sure of their innocence that they made a rash promise. They tore their clothes in anguish and returned to the city, to Joseph. I find it interesting that the brothers never try to proclaim their innocence. They don’t try to make an excuse for the cup, they simply accept what they saw and went back to Joseph. They could have exclaimed that they didn’t know how the cup got there. They could have blamed Benjamin, demanding him to make an account for the cup. There were no accusations, but merely resignation at what was going on. Both these trips to Egypt made no sense to the brothers. This was no different.

When the brothers returned to the city, Joseph was waiting for them. He wanted it to appear like this whole situation was a big deal, so he stayed in his house waiting for the brothers’ return. The passage says, “Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. Joseph said to them, ‘What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?’” (14-15) The brothers knew that their situation was dire, and they threw themselves at Joseph’s feet. Joseph, then, made it sound like he used supernatural means to determine what happened to the cup. Joseph was a devoted follower of God, but the brothers didn’t know that. So, he continued to play up his Egyptian-ness by alluding to the fact that some Egyptians practiced divination. It was a way to intimidate the brothers, but it was just a ruse used to maintain control over the brothers.

One of the brothers spoke up on behalf of the others, “‘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. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.’” (16) Judah was the one to speak up. He wasn’t the firstborn, or even the second. Judah was fourth in line, but he took the role of leader this time and spoke up. He wants to prove their innocence but doesn’t know how. He says that God has uncovered their guilt. This wasn’t the guilt of stealing the cup, but the guilt of selling their brother years earlier. Judah saw what was happening as recompense for their deeds in selling Joseph. They were getting what they deserved and were now slaves themselves because of their reckless words.

But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.” (17) Joseph was not having all the brothers becoming his slave. His test was to see what his brothers would do, so he sets them free but tries to keep Benjamin, since he was the one found with the cup. This echoes what the steward said earlier. The point was to see whether his brothers would selfishly turn on Benjamin, or had they truly changed over the years.

Judah remembered what he told his father about Benjamin. He made himself responsible for Benjamin’s return and now this Egyptian wanted to keep him as a slave. So, Judah was the one to take responsibility for his brother in front of Joseph. “Then Judah went up to him and said: ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself.’” (18) Judah was humble before Joseph. He knew that Joseph was as powerful as Pharaoh and to approach him without humility would certainly mean his own death. He took a chance and began to plead his case to Joseph. Judah was desperate and poured out everything to Joseph, in order to curry some sort of favor. Judah begins the longest single speech recorded in Genesis and it is a very important one.

Judah begins by recounting what transpired the first time they visited. Joseph asked about their father and brother and they simply responded in truth, that their father was truly bonded to the youngest son because he was all that he had left of Rachel, his beloved wife. Judah, then reminded Joseph that he demanded that the youngest brother be brought to him, but they told him that if Benjamin leaves, their father will die. That didn’t seem to matter to Joseph, because he demanded that the brother come if they wanted to see Joseph again. Judah, then, recounted that they returned to their father and told him all the transpired. When the food ran out again, their father told them to return and get more food. Unfortunately, to do so, they needed to bring Benjamin. Judah recounted, “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’” (27-29) Judah quotes what his father said to show the severity of the situation. Jacob’s fate was tied to Benjamin. If Benjamin didn’t return, Jacob’s heart would be broken to the point of death.

So, Judah finally gets to the point, “So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’” (30-32) Because of Jacob’s reaction to sending Benjamin, Judah stepped up and took responsibility for Benjamin. He guaranteed the boy’s safety and said the he would take the blame if Benjamin could not come back to him. Judah was stepping up taking the mantle of leader by taking responsibility.

It wasn’t just some empty boastful words. When the rubber met the road, Judah was ready to do what was necessary. He concluded, “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” (33-34) Judah offers himself in place of Benjamin. He was willing to take the place of his brother because he could not bear to see his father broken with the knowledge that Benjamin was gone, too. Judah offers his life in exchange for his brother’s. It was a marked change from the man Judah used to be.

Judah was so selfish. He only thought of himself. He hated Joseph because of the attention he received from their father, just like the others. When the others wanted to kill Joseph because of it, it was Judah who wanted to profit from Joseph. It was Judah who suggested that they sell their brother Joseph to the Midianites. He only thought of his own life, and what he could gain. He never took into consideration what his actions would do to his father. Joseph’s disappearance and presumed death broke Jacob and he was never the same. Judah selfishly ran away afterwards and started a family among the Canaanites. Two of his sons died because they were wicked, but they never had children. The first married Tamar, but since he died without children, she was given to the second son to have children for the first. However, he was wicked too and was put to death. Judah selfishly assumed that Tamar was like a praying mantis killing her mates. Judah had a third son that he promised to Tamar, but he had no intention of keeping that promise. When the time came for that son to be given to her, it didn’t happen. Tamar was living a life of scorn, cast aside selfishly. When she saw what was going on, she dressed up like a prostitute and found a way to entice Judah. Selfishly, Judah had sex with her and got her pregnant. She returned to her father’s house and resumed her widow’s lifestyle. When her pregnancy became public knowledge. Judah selfishly demanded that she be killed for her infidelity, but she proved that is was Judah who was the father. It was at that point that, I believe, that Judah first took a good look at himself. He called Tamar more righteous than him. It was the beginning of a change in Judah.

That change continued to happen until we reach this passage. For the first time, we see Judah think about someone else besides himself. He offers his life in exchange for Benjamin not because of Benjamin but because Judah is thinking about this father. He can’t bear to think what would happen to his father if Benjamin did not return. He finally showed love to his father by caring about him. Judah was willing to sacrifice everything for the love of his father. Judah was changed from his selfish self to someone who had empathy at least for his father. Judah offered to take the guilty Benjamin’s place. He willingly took that guilt upon himself if it meant salvation for Benjamin.

This is what full repentance looks like. It is not merely regret, but a change. When we feel bad about something we did, we might regret it. We honestly think that we have done a bad thing, but without repentance, our regret causes us to try to hide or drown out the guilt we feel. We can never hide it from ourselves, but we try to drown out the guilt. We try to run away from our problems like Judah did after selling Joseph. Or we try to make ourselves feel numb through alcohol, pleasure or drugs. If those don’t really work, which they don’t, there are some people who just want to stop feeling the pain and guilt that they take their own life. Suicide is on the rise because people cannot cope with the sorrow, pain and guilt that they feel. Our society is filled with people who know no way out of their despair, so they try to distract themselves with sex or partying or drinking or drugs. Those are not solutions to any problem. The guilt remains, as do the sorrow and pain, and they come back harder and greater than ever. Regret keeps us from changing, from overcoming, from thriving and ends in our demise. Judas Iscariot regretting his betrayal of Jesus, but that led him to kill himself.

Repentance is not merely feeling bad about what we did, but it’s a desire to live changed from this point forward. We can’t change what happened in the past. Judah could not change the fact that he sold his brother into slavery, but he could choose to protect the brother he still has. Repentance means that, when presented with a nearly identical situation, we choose a different path, a better path, than we did before. We, as humans, have a tendency to keep doing the same things over and over no matter how harmful they are to us. Have you ever craved some sort of food only to regret eating it moments after finishing it? Do you learn from your regret or do you go through it all over again then next time you get a craving? I heard this one story of a small dog that ate a pretty large chocolate egg that was almost the size of the dog. That dog became so sick that it nearly died. The vet had to pump the dog’s stomach and do so much to keep the dog alive. Afterwards, the owner was recounting the story and had a picture of her carrying the dog and another one of those chocolate eggs. In that picture, that dog was staring at that egg, like it wanted to eat it all over again, not caring about the repercussions. The dog nearly died, but it didn’t care. That is us in regret. A repentant person would remember the consequences of our actions and not do it again but to live differently.

Unfortunately, we are unable to do so on our own. To truly repent requires for us to overcome ourselves and become a new creation. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In order for us to truly be changed we have to be in Christ. It is only through Jesus that we can be changed. Jesus was the one who died on the cross for our sins. That death is finally what broke the pattern, that endless cycle of regret. And it is his resurrection that allows us to have a new life in him. It is through that death and resurrection that we are able to become a new creation in Christ. We are new and are finally able to turn away from all the things that we regretted. We have to own up to the fact that we are broken, that we are sinful and need salvation. Jesus died for us and rose from the dead for us to find a new life. Only Jesus can produce a change like this.

We can see it even in Judah. When it mattered, he wasn’t selfish, but selfless. He wasn’t acting because he was afraid of anything. He wasn’t afraid of what his father would do to him if Benjamin didn’t return. He was concerned for his father’s wellbeing if Benjamin didn’t return. He cared about his father. Likewise, in our repentance, we start to follow God’s ways not because we are afraid of God’s punishment, but because we don’t want to grieve God. We start to do what is right because we want to please God. We turn to God because we want to be with him. We want to have a relationship with him.

We can live our lives filled with regret, but that will ultimately lead to our own demise. In regret, we try to cover up our guilt or just try to forget it. We try to distract ourselves in movies, games, partying or binge watching. We get drunk or high just to make the pain and sorry stop even for a little while. But none of those solve any problems. We need to be changed, like Judah was. He did horrible things and was very selfish, but he finally changed to become a more humble and empathic man who cared about others more than himself. He chose to lay down his life for his brother, which is the best definition of love. In Christ, we find change through repentance. In Christ, we have a new life a new existence, one free from the pattern of our past selves. It is a life free of sin, free of pain and sorrow. We get a life renewed and able to live with peace and to be the people we were meant to be, free of our sinful nature.

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