March 8, 2020
Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Gen 43
This morning I want you to think back to one of the best teachers or coaches you’ve ever had. Can you picture your best teacher or coach? Could be a teacher you had in elementary school, a teacher from high school or a professor in college. Or it could be your basketball coach or volleyball coach or track coach. Maybe it was your band or choir director, your art teacher, dance teacher, etc. But as you’re thinking about your best teacher or coach-I want to take a poll and ask a very important question. Who’s best teacher was someone really easy-little to no homework, maybe no exams, if it was a coach-they made practice easy, you hardly broke a sweat. Who’s best teacher or coach was really easy and that’s why you liked them best? Who’s best teacher or coach was really hard and demanding? Lots of homework, challenging exams, difficult practices-they worked you whether academically or physically. Who’s best teacher or coach was hard?
I can certainly say that for me-my best coach was my cross country coach who we nicknamed Psycho because he made us run psycho amounts of mileage mixed with short sprints. My first year in cross country he wasn’t coaching and we had another coach who was easy-get out there and run. And we loafed along because he wasn’t checking up on us-we barely broke a sweat. I remember spending most of the time joking around with my teammates. And we did alright at our meets-but not great. The next year Psycho became the assistant coach and it was a game-changer! He had us very disciplined in our runs-no more loafing about-time to get serious! Although we were huffing and puffing everyday after practice, stiff and sore at the start of the season, hardly able to walk at school the next day-by the end of the season our team did great and we went on to do really well at the state meet-and we all grew to love Psycho (Coach Roberts) even if we hated the practices. But am I right in saying that what makes a teacher or coach one of the best isn’t if they go easy on us-because who learns or succeeds when it’s easy and you’re not pushed or stretched to the limit? But the best coaches and teachers are those who are hard-who take you from where you are and push you far beyond what you ever thought possible through discipline and hard work. Yes, that coach or teacher might bring pain and challenges into your life, they might be very demanding, forcing you to work harder and study harder and be more disciplined than you ever have before, making you feel like you’ve gone through the ringer-but in the end they bring about a transformation in you that otherwise would have never been possible. Unless we’re wanting to be lazy and take the easy way out (which is often tempting) we have to agree that the best teachers and coaches are always the hardest ones who bring out the best in us. And that’s exactly what God does in our lives. I mentioned that word discipline a few times-for that’s what a rigorous teacher does-and it’s no different with God. Look at Heb 12:5-7a. And this is moving the concept beyond the realm of teacher or coach and into that deeper realm of a parent, as God is our Father. He’s not just trying to rigorously work us and discipline us so we’ll master the subject matter at school and get good grades, or become proficient in sports to win a game or get a scholarship. God is training and shaping us into the sons and daughters He’s called us to be for eternity. Look at how it continues-Heb 12:11. So whether it’s hard work at school, hard practices in your sport, or the discipline of a parent, God is hard with us, He disciplines us, so that we’ll be trained by it. If there’s one thing you an count on it’s that God won’t go easy on you. Have you ever considered that thought before? If you have a personal relationship with Him, God won’t go easy on you. And that’s a good thing! He won’t have you loaf along or skip the homework or make the training a cakewalk. He’ll be hard on you in order to produce a harvest of righteousness in your life, in order to transform you. And that’s what we see Joseph doing with his brothers as we continue our series in Genesis. He’s a great picture of the Lord. Joseph could have been easy with them-he could have been a softie or a pushover-whatever you want guys, just say the word-we’re family! But he didn’t do that. Joseph was hard with his brothers in order to bring about a much needed change in their lives.
So take a look at it-turn to Gen 42. And we’re literally picking up right where we left off last week. If you were here, we saw how Joseph’s brothers left their homeland and traveled to Egypt in order to buy food because of the severe famine that had plagued the land. No food was to be found anywhere. The shelves at the grocery store were all empty. The restaurants and cafes were closed. There was nothing to eat-expect in Egypt where Joseph had interpreted Pharaoh’s dream of the famine and wisely devised a plan to set aside food and grain for when it happened. So the brothers, like lots of other people, travel to Egypt to get food-and unbeknownst to them they come face to face with Joseph their brother. Right away he recognizes them-the same 10 bad brothers from before-but they don’t recognize him. As we said, Joseph is clean-shaven and all decked out in the sophisticated style of Egypt-while his brothers look like a bunch of lumberjacks in flannels. So it wasn’t hard for Joseph to spot them-and what does he do? He plays hardball and deals harshly with them-v. 29-30. I find this rather amusing that these rough and tough brothers who’ve destroyed villages, threw their brother in a pit, and made life miserable for people, are now running home to their father whining and crying that someone spoke roughly to them. He was mean, Dad. We didn’t like his tone of voice. You should have seen it-this guy was hard with us and spoke harshly! We felt threatened! And they go on to explain it-v. 31a-forgetting the fact that they’ve lied to their father for over 20 years that Joseph is dead. Other than that gigantic lie-they’re honest men! But v. 31-34. So this harshness from Joseph wasn’t just his tone of voice-but what he was telling them to do. As the guy in charge, Joseph was forcing them to leave one brother behind so that they would return with their youngest brother Benjamin-and if you remember Benjamin was his other brother from the same mother Rachel. Joseph really wanted to see him, have that connection and be reunited with his long lost family. But in the process, he also wanted to see God work in the hearts of his other brothers. We’ve stated nearly every week of this series that Joseph didn’t want vengeance for how they treated him. He didn’t want to get even or say I told you so. He wasn’t after paybacks, he was after restoration.
But the road to restoration wasn’t being Mr Nice Guy-at least not yet. Joseph’s brothers needed some tough love, they needed some serious course correction in their lives which required being very firm and very hard with them. You can see how Joseph treated them roughly throughout this exchange-v. 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 20. Joseph is saying-There’s no negotiating here, no sitting down to discuss it-this goes one way. You bring your younger brother back here so I can see him-or else you’re not getting any more food and will end up dying in the famine. So you guys choose. Joseph’s playing hardball with them. He’s not gushing his tears or instantly saying-Hey guys, it’s me your long lost brother! His emotions are there-but notice where they show up-v. 24. Joseph keeps his heart and the depth of his compassion hidden from his brothers at the moment-because what they need right now isn’t a big group hug or a bunch of chest bumps; they need someone who’s hard with them, they need discipline. Pt1:Joseph reveals: Sometimes we need a God who’s hard and firm with us-but who’s always gracious. These rough and tough guys needed someone who’s going to be rough and tough with them-just like we do. If God goes easy on us-what do we learn? How is our character shaped and our faith deepened? If God takes us down easy street how do we grow? We don’t. I wish we grew when life was easy and smooth sailing. I wish I grew when there was no challenges in my life. That I could become the person God wants me to be without any struggles or difficulties. But it doesn’t work that way. We don’t grow when God goes easy on us-at least not with the depth of growth He knows we need. Think back to Job from a couple of weeks ago. If God was ever hard on anybody it was certainly Job. Everything was taken from him, his life was in shambles. And so when God finally approached him and answered Job-what did He say? Did God show up with a bowl of ice cream and box of tissues and say-Job, let’s have a good cry together. No-most surprising-God was hard and firm with Job-look at what He says-Job 38:1-4. God goes into an amazing but firm speech about how He knows what He’s doing because He made the world-and Job can either get on board with that and trust God-or stay in a state of misery. God was hard and firm with Job-and it brought him to a place of beautiful trust and repentance.
Or look back at how the passage continues in Heb 12:6-10. That’s saying we need God’s tough love in our lives and that it happens for our good-just like Joseph’s brothers needed his tough love in their lives for their good. If you want God to go easy on you-than you’re following the wrong God. God disciplines those he loves-just like Joseph did for the brothers he loved. Joseph wanted his brothers to share in his goodness-but the road to get there wasn’t an easy road. And yet, Joseph gives glimpses of his goodness along the way, just like God does for us. Because while Jospeh is being hard with them-what’s he still doing? Bringing them face to face with grace, blessing them far beyond what they’ve asked for. To the brothers great dismay he just bound Simeon in handcuffs and hauled him away. There goes another brother! Instead of returning home to their Dad as 10, they’re down to 9-another missing son-things couldn’t be more difficult-but what does Joseph also do behind the scenes? v. 25 There’s an abundance of undeserved grace. These guys are getting the food they need, but are also overflowing with extra blessings for the journey home. Joseph’s grace goes right along with his harshness and discipline-just like it is with God. Back to Pt1.
And it doesn’t go unnoticed by their Dad, Jacob-v. 35-trembling at grace. Scared because this harsh ruler of Egypt might just wipe them out-v. 36. Their Dad, Jacob, is in a state of misery. I want you to underline that phrase in your Bibles-All this has come against me. Or if you have the NIV it says it so well-Everything is against me! I want you to underline that because isn’t this what we say all the time? Isn’t this how our hearts cry out? Isn’t this what our fears and frustrations say-That was the last straw. This has been taken from my life, and then this was removed-and now this is gone! It’s all falling apart! Everything is against me! Who hasn’t thought that or said that at some point in life-maybe even this week. Most likely your son hasn’t been locked up or lost in an Egyptian prison like Jacob’s son, but maybe you feel like you’ve lost out at work, lost with your family, you’re losing your reputation, losing your identity, losing your finances, losing all you’ve saved up for and hoped for in life, it’s all crumbling around your feet. So you look at your life and draw the same conclusion as Jacob All this has come against me! Nothing’s going my way or working in my favor-there’s a roadblock at every turn-everything is against me! But let me ask the most important question of the morning-is this true? Is Jacob’s statement in v. 36 a true statement? Has all this really come against him? No-not in the least because this is all being wisely and graciously orchestrated by Joseph who loves them and wants the best for them. Joseph is doing all of this-trying to get Benjamin to come to Egypt-which may seem hard to them in the moment-but he’s doing it in order to bring them to a wonderful place of restoration and healing as a family. Joseph isn’t being mean for mean’s sake, he’s not being needlessly cruel or harsh in order to get back at his family-it’s all done purposely and out of love. Benjamin isn’t going to encounter trouble in Egypt-he’s going to experience a reunion with his brother. It’s not all against their father, Jacob-as he complains-it’s all working for his good.
And it’s no different with how God works in our lives. Pt2:Jacob remarks: Sometimes it seems like everything’s against us-but God is always for us. We can see that principle so clearly here in how Joseph is relating to his family-everything is not against them-it’s all working for them-they just can’t see that in the moment-but do we see that in our lives as it relates to God? Do you see how God is working all things out for your good-or do you just see Him stacking the deck against you? Do you see God slowly but wisely bringing you to a place of blessing and healing? Or do you just assume He’s put you on the road to calamity and disaster? That there’s no hope ahead, no light at the end of the tunnel-all is lost, everything is against you? Ask yourself-do you spend more time quoting v. 26 from Gen 42-All this has come against me-is that your life verse-the one you’ve worked hard to memorize and recite everyday? All this has come against me-or do you spend more time quoting Rom 8:31. What is it you say to yourself more often? Everything is against me-or If God is for me, who can be against me? Because just as Joseph was in control of Egypt and nothing was going to spiral out of control without his knowledge, so God is control of your life-and the entire universe-and nothing is going to spiral out of control without His knowledge. Do you know what the answer to that question in Rom 8 is? It’s no one. It’s nothing. Not your greatest worries, not your deepest fears, not your worst enemies or strongest struggles. Nothing is against you, if God is for you-and He is for you 100%! Back to Pt2.
Jacob should have known that-and been the first to say it to his sons. Listen to how Swindoll phrases it-Joseph, 105. Are you the same way? All negative and horizontal? Total worst-case scenario? Anybody ever read that book-Worst Case Scenario Handbook or even played the board game where you had to guess what the worst cases were-and some of them were rather alarming. How to survive an elephant stampede-1) take cover, 2) if no cover climb a tree, or 3) if no trees lie down and protect your face-pg. 49. Anybody brave enough to do that? Lie still while an elephant is trying to bury you? Or how to escape from a mountain lion-1) try to make yourself appear bigger by opening your coat. Again-anybody brave enough to do that? 2) If the lion still behaves aggressively throw stones at it, 3) if you are attacked, fight back. I don’t think any of those options sound good-so first off, we all need to avoid mountain lions and elephant stampedes-because those really are worst case scenarios! But in reality-the stuff we think of as worst-case scenarios aren’t that when God is in control. Things may be hard, they may be difficult, God might be taking us down a deep and dark path-but what does it say in Ps 23:4-5. And Jacob should have been the first to recognize that-their bags were overflowing with money and provisions. God had not abandoned them at all-quite the opposite-this was the beginning of His incredible and elaborate plan to reunite them and bless them as a family. But Jacob didn’t have the eyes of faith to see it-and I wonder if we often miss having the eyes of faith too. That instead of remembering how God is for us, instead of remembering to look up vertically in faith, trusting in what He’s going to do; we look horizontally at our circumstances, we imagine and replay in our minds the worst case scenario-that everything’s against us-and we become full of fear and dismay? Where do you tend to look when things get hard-vertically or horizontally?
And here’s what’s so interesting about this passage-who are we talking about that should have looked vertically in faith-but instead looked horizontally in fear? Jacob-one of the patriarchs, the one who God remanded Israel, one of the great Bible heroes and people of the faith. Remember his dream-inspired a classic rock song-Stairway to Heaven-Gen 28:12-15. Talk about an incredible, vertically-oriented dream-as he sees this stairway going straight up to heaven and hearing God’s promise to be with him wherever he goes! Do you think God, in 1 generation-with Jacob’s own son-is going to break that promise and go back on His word? Hardly! If anybody had the assurance that God is for Him and with Him and will work all things out for good-it would be Jacob. He’s the one guy on planet earth who knows this better than anybody else. And yet, years later as an old man, he’s forgotten it completely and resorted to fear and worst-case scenarios. Listen to how he describes it-v. 37-38. I would die an old, depressed gray-haired man. Jacob’s immediately said no and resigned himself to the worst-case scenario that harm will befall Benjamin and he’ll never see him again if he goes to Egypt-whether it’s charging rhinos on the way, mountain lions or that mean rough-talking man working for Pharaoh! No way, no how-Benjamin stays here. There’s zero faith being exhibited from Jacob. And that brings us to the final point this morning-Pt3:Jacob reminds us: Sometimes we start off strong in our walk with God-but it’s how we finish that matters. And right now-he’s not finishing well. He’s ready to die scared and faithless. Quite honestly, the oldest son Reuben is exhibiting more faith than Jacob at this point. Or even son #4 Judah is definitely showing more faith. Look at the next chapter-Gen 43:2-6. Poor me, woe is me. All Jacob cares about is himself and losing the comfort of his youngest son. What about stepping out in faith and doing what’s necessary to feed your family? But all too often when we have a negative and horizontal perspective it quickly turns inward and becomes a self-absorbed perspective. That’s Jacob. All he can see is his own fears and worries, his own needs and concerns are all that matters to him-much to the detriment of his children who want to go get food, who want to step out in faith and journey back to Egypt.
And listen to how Judah articulates that faith-Gen 43:8-9. And then he adds a very important detail-v. 10. Dad, we could have been there and back again a couple of times with lots of food to feed our families. Quit being a fearful, self-centered old man and let’s get going. So Pt3. And I would add to that Judah didn’t start off too well in life. Just go to Genesis 38 and you’ll read about a horrendous chapter in his life where he made awful decisions. But Judah reveals the exact opposite-sometimes we start off badly in life-but it’s how we finish and walk by faith that matters. When it came to the decisive moment in their family-and a lot was converging here-Judah stepped up and walked by faith. Joseph wanted them to come and bring Benjamin so they could be reunited, Jacob wanted them to stay huddled at home where no harm would befall them, and they all needed food lest they die. Judah was the one who had to stand up and take action. He called out his dad’s faithlessness and fear-enough’s enough-and then he followed Joseph’s request. This is on me-I’ll step out in faith, take Benjamin, make the journey-and if it goes badly and the worst-case scenario happens and you need someone to blame-I’ll bear the blame forever! What a moment of faith from Judah-when Dad was utterly faithless. And look at the response-v. 11a. Trust God and go out in the power of His strength, knowing that God will be with you and watch over wherever you go. Jacob reminded them of his dream and God’s promises, right? Jacob said let’s commit this to prayer and trust in God’s protection? Nope-v. 11b. Let’s go with bribery, let’s go with a little flattery-who doesn’t love pistachios and almonds? There is still zero trust and zero faith in the Lord that this is part of His plan-v. 12-14. Talk about being resigned to misery! Talk about no hope in the Lord-just woe is me, this is terrible, I’m doomed. He’s still only concerned about himself-not once thinking about the greater blessings of his family and what God might be doing. Back to Pt3. He’s not finishing strong-not at all.
What about you? Are you finishing strong? Are you right now in a place of faith, trusting in what God’s doing in your life-even though it might look bleak or challenging? Are you relying on God even though it might be hard, and maybe the deck seems stacked against you? That even though you’d rather give up and stay home-are you remembering that God’s promise to Jacob is no different from His promise to you and me as His followers-I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. Are you in a place of faith remembering that? Willing to step up when it’s hard, willing to make the journey God is calling you to make, willing to do what He’s asking you to do? Or is your faith something from the past? That you were somebody of great faith and great trust in God years ago. Back then you were His and any fear you may have had was conquered by a great faith. But now, lately…well that’s not where you’re at anymore. Fear has somehow reclaimed a greater part of your heart. Your once vertical perspective and eyes fixed on God have been eclipsed by a horizontal perspective with eyes fixed on yourself and all of your problems. That the worst case scenario looms far bigger in your mind than the God who made you and saved you. If that’s where you’re at right now-don’t let it continue. Don’t look back at who you used to be and say that’s good enough. Don’t think that yesterday’s faith is adequate for today. That your trust in God from the past will carry you through the present. Remind yourself that God isn’t interested in how you started-whether it was a good start like Jacob or a bad start like Judah. He cares about how you’re finishing. He cares about how you’re trusting Him now and walking with Him today. There’s lots of people across the pages of God’s Word who started off great-but ended dismally. That doesn’t have to be you. Likewise, there’s lot of people who started off badly-who didn’t do things very well, who got off to rocky starts-and yet they trusted God when it mattered. And that can be you! Ask yourself-are you more like Jacob-resigned to ruin, lacking in faith and only seeing the worst-case scenario? Or are you like Judah-saying let’s arise and go-that we may live and not die? God promises to be with you. When you say let’s arise and go, you’re not going alone. You’re going with a God who will never leave you nor forsake you! That if God is with you, who can be against you? That even if it’s hard-and most likely whatever you’re going through is hard-God is with you in the hard stuff and He’s using it for your good.
I talked about my hard cross-country coach in school-anybody ever run a race where you started off strong-you were doing great-going so fast-but then you quickly died out-everybody past you and you barely limped across the finish line-if you even made it there? We all know in a race, it’s not about starting well-they don’t award the winner at the starting line-it’s about finishing well. So no matter how you started-good or bad-how are you finishing? Heb 12:1-3 Jacob had lost heart and wasn’t finishing well-that doesn’t have to be you. Fix your eyes on Jesus and run that race set before you! Run with perseverance. Finish well-there’s something great at the end!