a sermon from Sunday 9th September, Read Genesis 42:1-29, 36-38
It’s time to wrap up our story of Joseph for the time being. Much has changed in his life as we have journeyed with him, we have been challenged by this story to examine our relationships, with family and friends, and God. We’ve been reminded of the ways temptation can whisper to us and the need to stand firm, and we’ve seen how God can use us when we wait faithfully for his time, and are spiritually centred in Him. And now today we catch up with the family again, reunited after about 25 years apart.
I’m not sure what you would expect to happen in a situation like this – but I guess we can understand a little of how it was for this family; it is soon apparent that they have not left their past behind, rather their past now is seen in:
- Guilt (42:21, 22)
- Grief (42:4, 36, 38)
- Guile (42:7)
And for a while it is these that threaten to dominate the relationships within this family – except that there are within the tensions little opportunities for grace appear. And as we see it is these small opportunities that God uses so that by grace He will win the day.
Likewise guilt destroys their future – for what is there to look forward to. Every time they look forward their guilt stares back at them – squashing hope into mere existence.
Every day they see their father torn by grief. His beloved wife, Rachel, died while she gave birth to Benjamin, and if that wasn’t enough Joseph, his favourite son, in whom all his hope was placed, had also been taken from him: dead he believed. Every day the brothers saw this, every day their guilt was before them.
They probably encouraged each other initially – tried to justify their actions – told each other that in time their memory would be healed. And yes at times they could almost forget – they’d go for days, sometimes even weeks and hardly give a thought to Joseph – until somebody would say something, or one of the children would innocently ask about their uncle. And their guilt would pour in on top of them.
Nothing good seems ever to come their way these days and everything bad was seen as a sign, as a punishment for their evil – note their reaction in verse 21, chapter 42 when they instinctively said: ‘surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.” — try as they might they couldn’t shake their guilty past.
And face facts there is some truth in this. There are consequences for our actions, in the spiritual and human sense. Those who think they can walk away from evil scot-free often find their past catching up on them. It can become like a road block and deny life to us. And then the only way forward is to stop denying our sin and to face up to it.
The only way forward for the brothers was to face their guilt, as it is for us. Guilt is actually a gift of God to draw us to him. There is such a thing as bad or inappropriate guilt – when we blame ourselves for something that we had no control over, or when we experience guilt based on false criteria, or when we fail to receive the forgiveness and healing that is offered by God.
However in the main guilt provides the opportunity God needs to help us face our past, to admit our sin, and to experience God’s forgiveness and that of others.
Guilt may have been a factor in Jacob’s life also – and in some ways that would be very appropriate as his handling of his love for his sons has not always been great – however Grief is the main emotion that bedevils him.
For Jacob life offers only loss. Over twenty years on since he lost his beloved son Joseph and he is still locked in grief. His grief affects all those around him, who tiptoe around him for fear of upsetting him further.
His grief has blinded him to the many other blessing he has been given, to the goodness of life, and the beauty of the day.
Having lost his precious son he now clings to Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother, in desperate suffocating embrace.
All his hope in Ben is founded he doth still his God ignore may well have been his hymn and it would be a long time before he would sing the true version.
You see Jacob appears to have allowed his grief to so consume him that he had lost all sight of God – desperate not to suffer further loss he had poured all his remaining energy into Benjamin.
It’s only when Jacob is finally forced to let go of Benjamin that God is given another opportunity. In letting Benjamin go Jacob had nothing left to cling to: except that is for God.
Finally it appears that Jacob has accepted his loss and in doing so gives God room to move. So often it’s true for us: grief locks us in hopelessness but acceptance of our loss provides the opportunity for God to restore our hope.
Jesus reiterated this principle in Luke 9:24
To receive we must first give up, Jacob needed to let go and let God, we must accept loss to receive hope.
Joseph had a whole different reality to deal with. And if we’re looking for a ‘G’ word to describe his actions it might be guile. The brothers were consumed by guilt, the father by grief, and Joseph by guile. An uncommon word but one that I think describes Josephs thought pattern, because a large part of his thoughts display a certain cunning, almost malicious pattern.
I’m sure in reality for him his thoughts on seeing his brothers were very conflicted. He seems to want to inflict pain on them – somehow he restrains physically punishing them – something that was well within his power, but he is clearly struggling with thoughts of revenge.
In a desperate attempt to maintain control he becomes cold and calculating – while all the time I suspect he is breaking up inside. It’s probably only the thought of his kid-brother and father at home that stops him losing control.
And it’s this thought, this reminder of his love that stops him punishing evil for evil, and gives God an opportunity to restore this family.
Seemingly battling with himself Joseph focuses on a fragment of love for his family and chooses good over further evil.
It can be easy to focus on the bitterness and hate in life – but these things won’t bring healing and hope, but love can. Like Joseph we need to focus on the glimmers of love because it’s those glimmers that will overcome the bitterness of life.
Guilt, Grief, Guile – will all pull us down and away from God but by his awesome grace our lives can be turned around and renewed.
God used the opportunities that the guilt of the brothers provided, He worked within the grief-filled life of Jacob and began to restore his hope when he began to let go and trust God, and he worked with the twisted thought-patterns of Joseph to bring restoration to this family.
Seemingly out of nowhere hope was restored – Grace won the day, joy overflowed and peace reigned. Indeed life was better than ever before.
Such is the way of God.Arohanui Ian