Real Change

Genesis 43One of my professors used to say “change has not taken place until change has taken place.” That might seem like something that is really obvious. However, in counseling, it is not obvious, precisely because many people will say that they have changed, but they have not. Change has not taken place until you can see that change has taken place. We are starting to see here in this chapter of Genesis that the brothers really have changed. They are not the same brothers who sold their brother into slavery many years before. Now, they are compassionate and loving to their father. No longer are they envious of Joseph. But the question is now this: “Will they be envious of Benjamin?” Joseph is going to put the brothers to a severe test to see if they have changed or not.

Verse 1 tells us that the famine was severe in the land. This means that the brothers will indeed have to go back to Egypt. They will simply be compelled to go back, since there is no more food. Joseph knew this, if you recall. That is why he could say that Simeon would be held prisoner until they return with Benjamin. If they do not return with Benjamin, then they will starve. This is something that the brothers know very well. But it is not something that Jacob is willing to accept, until the famine becomes severe.

Even so, Jacob does not want to send Benjamin. He thinks that the brothers would be able to get just enough to tide them over until the next harvest, even if they do not take Benjamin. That is why he says, “Just get us a little food.” In his mind, Benjamin is safe if all they need is a little food to tide them over.

However, the sons of Jacob know better. They know that they absolutely must take Benjamin back with them, and this is for two reasons: firstly, they must take Benjamin back with them because they promised to do so. Secondly, they know that they will not be able to trade for food at all unless they bring Benjamin with them. Hence, Judah takes on himself the task of convincing their father what the truth of the matter is. It takes quite some convincing, doesn’t it? Judah first tells his father that they will not get any food unless they bring Benjamin. Then Jacob replies that his sons should never have mentioned that they had a brother. Judah responds with the quite correct reply that they couldn’t possibly have known what the lord of Egypt was going to do with the knowledge that Benjamin existed. Judah then gives a pledge, a much more believable pledge than Reuben had given. This pledge is simply that he will bear the blame and the responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. Jacob had not believed Reuben’s somewhat similar pledge. Of course, Reuben had uttered it at the wrong time, when they had plenty of food, and Jacob had thought then that he wouldn’t need to send Benjamin. But now that he has to send Benjamin, Judah convinces Jacob that it is necessary.

Jacob responds finally with quite a bit of wisdom. He tells them to take every precaution for a favorable reception. They should take back the money that they had found in their sacks. They should take further presents. And they should take Benjamin. Notice Jacob’s resignation: he says “if I am bereaved, then I am bereaved.” He here gives Benjamin back to the Lord, who had given Benjamin to him in the first place. In the same way, if we are prepared to give up those good things, or those people whom we love the most, then it will certainly be somewhat less painful if they are taken from us.

Then we go to the second part of the chapter, in which the brothers are again before Joseph. Joseph sets them up for a great test. Everything from verse 16 in this chapter clear through the next chapter is designed to test the brothers, specifically with regard to Benjamin. Joseph knew that Benjamin would be Jacob’s favorite, now that Joseph was dead (at least in his mind). So, what would the brothers do if Joseph sets up Benjamin for favoritism? Would they sacrifice Benjamin? It was always Joseph’s intention to get them off their guard, to lull them into thinking that all was well, and then to put the cup into Benjamin’s sack, so that they would be faced with a similar decision as they did with Joseph: would they sacrifice a son to their own self-interest, or would they take responsibility for their actions, and repent of their sin? Everything Joseph does here is out of a motive for reconciliation and repentance on the part of the brothers, not in any way a desire for revenge.

Notice that they talk with the steward of the house, and try to explain their innocence even before they have been charged with anything! That is a fairly sure sign of a guilty conscience. Obviously, what they were really troubled about, as we saw last time, was their sin regarding Joseph. It comes out here. But the steward is very gracious. The steward knows completely what his master is doing. So, he continues the ruse by telling them that God had given it to them. Of course, this was true. But he wants them to feel comfortable and in favor with Joseph, so that the next chapter and the “stolen” cup will be a much more severe crisis. That is also why he restores Simeon to them.

These chapters are all really one piece. We cannot understand any of them without seeing what comes before and what comes after. All of this is to see if the brothers have repented of their sin. Their sin is recorded in chapter 37. Chapter 38 is about Judah and Tamar, which forms a contrast to Joseph resisting Potiphar’s wife. Chapters 40-42 tell us how God was with Joseph, despite those setbacks, and tell us how he came to power in Egypt in order to save the whole family. Chapters 43-45 show us how Joseph goes about reconciling the brothers to God, and to himself, proving that they had indeed repented and turned away from their sin. So that is where we are in the Joseph story, looking at the big picture.

Notice that Joseph loves his brother Benjamin so much that he cannot even see him without losing it. He has to leave the room, so that the brothers might not suspect who he was. He cannot blow his cover just yet, because there remains the final test, which we see in the next chapter with the cup put in Benjamin’s sack.

So, Joseph brings them to a meal. It is ironic, since the brothers sat down to a meal after they had put Joseph in the pit. Now, it is they who are in the pit, though they don’t know it, but all the brothers are again eating together. Notice in verse 33 that Joseph nearly gives himself away. They are all seated in order of birth. If one were to try to do this by mere chance, the odds of doing it correctly are 1 in 39,916,800. No wonder they were surprised that they were thus seated! Of course, these odds are lessened somewhat by the fact that some must have looked older than others. Still, the chances were very slim indeed.

Verse 34 prepares us for the next chapter very well. The reason that Joseph gives Benjamin five times as much as the other brothers is so that he can see whether they have changed or not. Will they envy Benjamin as they envied Joseph? The answer is that the brothers really have changed.

The brothers did not change themselves. It was God’s grace that changed them. This is vitally important for us to remember, since it concerns us as well. We do not change ourselves from being non-believers to being believers. God only can change us. He uses means, such as the Word preached, and the Word read, and prayer, and other people ministering to us. That is true. However, it is the Holy Spirit who really changes us. Jesus tells us this much in John 3, where he is talking to Nicodemus about the new birth. If you think about birth, you will realize that babies do not give birth to themselves. They cannot. It is the mother who gives birth. Then Jesus talked in that same passage about the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the new birth. Has the Holy Spirit changed you?

If He has, then has change really taken place? You cannot claim to be a Christian and yet live like the world does. That is not change. If God changes you, then He also changes how you live. Now, God changes you, but yet you must hear and obey the call to change. This is the mystery of how God works, and yet we are still responsible. We are called to change. We can only change by God’s strength and power, and yet we can change in that power.

Have you changed? Have you become more loving to your spouse? More loving to your neighbor? More loving to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Have you stopped envying the good of other people? This was Joseph’s brothers’ problem. They envied Joseph. They thought that if they couldn’t have the good will of Jacob their father, then no one would. It was pure envy that motivated the brothers to do what they did to Joseph. And so, do you envy other people? Here, we must look at the example of Christ. Rather than envy his brothers and sisters, He gave up His own life for them. That is the very opposite of envy. Jesus, being now exalted to the Father’s throne, tests us in much the same way that Joseph tested his brothers. Jesus tests us to see if we will be faithful to Him. He tests us to see if we will envy our brothers and sisters, especially their good fortune. Jesus tests us. Jesus is testing us constantly. Do you recognize that test? Have you really changed? Or are you like the woman in this story, refusing to change? “You,” said the doctor to the patient, “are in terrible shape. You’ve got to do something about it. First, tell your wife to cook more nutritious meals. Stop working like a dog. Also, inform your wife you’re going to make a budget, and she has to stick to it. And have her keep the kids off your back so you can relax. Unless there are some changes like that in your life, you’ll probably be dead in a month.” “Doc,” the patient said, “this would sound more official coming from you. Could you please call my wife and give her those instructions?” When the fellow got home, his wife rushed to him. “I talked to your doctor,” she wailed. “Poor man, you’ve only got thirty days to live.” Has change really taken place, or are you so stiff-necked, like the Israelites, that you cannot change? We should always be changing from glory into glory. We should always be changing to be more like Jesus Christ. We are never done changing. So change.

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