Christ Covenant Church
Series — Joseph: Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Text – Genesis 42
The Bread of Life
I’m going to tell you a story, a story that you’ve all most likely heard many times, and then hopefully we’ll be able to worship in a new and fuller way by hearing this old story again, maybe for the first time, so sit back, and hear a tale of old.
Once upon a time there was a father who had entrusted his children to care for all he had, but his sons were wayward and had a habit of halfhearted obedience, all his sons that is but one. He had one beloved son, his favored son, the son whom he especially loved. He had given this son a beautiful robe, with long sleeves, a robe fit for a king. The father commissioned this son to go to his wayward brothers, and his son joyfully went to find them.
The son searched to and fro to find his brothers, but they did not want to be found. They conspired against their brother and sought to destroy him, but even their worst laid plans couldn’t keep the father’s beloved son from fulfilling his calling – to rule over the entire known world; indeed the sun, moon, and stars all bowed before him for he was a wise man and a good provider.
There was a time when thousands upon thousands of hungry people would come to see him, and because of his giftedness, he had enough food to feed any and everyone that came. Because he was a kind ruler, he turned no one away that came to him – even the wicked, even the lazy.
His brothers even came before him, but they were so foolish and blind they didn’t recognize their father’s son. In his wisdom however, he recognized them, and after a while he would reveal himself to them, but first there were some important matters that needed to be dealt with. He had to change their hearts.
If he would have been like most rulers, he would have turned them straight away, but he didn’t. He took compassion on them and fed them, even though they didn’t deserve it. Though they had sinned grievously against him, he forgave them and disciplined them with the hope that one day their broken family would be reconciled to one another and live happily ever after.
I know some of you may have heard that story hundreds of times, but it’s a story that hopefully never ceases to take your breath away.
How many of you, by a show of hands, thought I was talking about Joseph?
How many of you thought I was talking about Jesus?
How many of you thought I was talking about you?
It’s good to see that a few of you remember the trickeration from last time. I’m hoping by now, our eighth Lord’s Day in the life of Joseph, that you are starting to see that though you do have contact points and threads into this story, it is not a story that is primarily about you as an individual, and it is not even a story that begins and ends with Joseph, but this story, like every other story, is meant to draw us deeper into Jesus as we get to know him and God’s workings through history.
Now, I know it’s been four weeks since I tried to convince you of something that some of you acknowledged you’d never considered, that you were meant to identify, not primarily with Joseph, but with his brothers, so since they’re making their appearance again, in case you’re like me and have a hard time remembering last week let alone last month, let’s do a quick run through of what we learned about them and ourselves a few weeks ago to jog some of our memories.
In Genesis 37 we learn that Joseph was the only obedient son Jacob had, and he sent Joseph to find his missing, disobedient brothers. We saw that we too were and are disobedient, and Jesus, the true obedient Son, was sent to find us in the midst of our waywardness.
We saw that Joseph’s brothers had distanced themselves from their father because they resented the love their father had for Joseph. They thought their works had earned their father’s favor, but in reality, their works were done out of a love for themselves, not out of love for their father. We saw that we too have a tendency to be proud of our works; we try to substitute our standard of good behavior for a genuine, joyful love for God; we are prone to wander, and we are prone to distance ourselves from Him.
We saw that Joseph’s brothers, after betraying him, sought to cover up their wickedness by distracting their father with the blood soaked rags and hypocritically drew near to him as a mask for their sin. We saw that we too have that tendency to hide behind the blood soaked rags of Jesus and hypocritically draw near to God while refusing to repent of our sin.
Ultimately we saw that Jesus had to fulfill the story of Joseph, seeking and saving the lost; only the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ, who had gone down into a pit and was brought out again could offer anyone any hope.
Well, hopefully we saw all that. If not, the Lord has been gracious to give us yet another morning to come and see that He is good, and He has seen fit to bring the brothers back into this story and back into our story, so that hopefully our faith and dependence on Jesus will be nourished and strengthened.
This morning we will hopefully do that in Genesis 42, so if you have your Bibles, turn there with me, and as has become our custom, please stand to hear God’s Word. Don’t worry, we won’t read all 6 minutes worth of the chapter; I wouldn’t want to tempt you to fall asleep any more than is necessary so we’ll just read verses 1-22, and that’s where we’ll spend most of our time.
Genesis 42 – Hear the Word of the Lord
When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.
Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.”
He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in custody for three days.
On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”
May God bless the reading, hearing, and preaching of His Word, and may He grant us all the grace to trust and obey it. Be seated.
Like we mentioned earlier, it’s been four weeks since we’ve seen or heard from Jacob’s sons, but here they are again, doing what they do best. Jacob’s words in verse 1 are worded in such a way that implies they are neglecting their duties once again. Jacob says, “Why do you look at one another?” They are unconcerned that their families are in the midst of a famine, or if they are concerned, they aren’t doing anything about it. They are idle, slothful, lazy, however you want to put it. My grandfather would have asked me, “Why are you standing there like a bump on a log,” which meant, “Don’t just stand there, do something.” That’s the gist of what Jacob is saying to his sons.
Now we might be tempted to read the words “Jacob’s sons” and think of them as children, but these are grown men. Reuben, the oldest, is probably between 50-60, and Zebulun, the youngest of those not born of Rachel, is probably in his 40’s, all plenty old enough that you’d think someone would have been man enough to take initiative to care for their family without their father getting on their case, but alas they are not.
Jacob tells his sons to go down to Egypt so that they might buy grain in order that they might live and not die, and no doubt reluctantly ten of Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt. It’s no coincidence that Jacob doesn’t send Benjamin, the only other son he has from his favorite wife, Rachel, for, even though he’s almost 30, the last time Jacob sent his youngest son somewhere with his brothers, he never returned.
Verse 5 tell us, not that Jacob’s sons came to buy, and not that Joseph’s brothers were among the others, but that the sons of Israel came from Canaan to Egypt because of the famine.
Now I want us to stop and think about that. Genesis was written by Moses, after Israel was delivered from their slavery, in Egypt. God’s people were on their way to the promised land, where? Canaan. They were grumbling and complaining that Egypt had what they needed, but if they’d gone back, they’d be starting their story all over again, and they’d find themselves right where they’d just left, slavery. In a bit we’ll touch on why that is important to remember, but for now, let’s get back to this story.
Look at verse 6. Joseph was ruler over the land; he was the one who sold grain to all the people of the land, and his brothers came and prostrated themselves before him; they bowed before him, faces to the ground.
Joseph saw them and knew them, but they didn’t know him. Now, if you’re like me, you might find this hard to believe, but if you come back in a couple weeks, you’ll find out what we don’t have time to address today. For now, it’s enough to say that something supernatural is going on here, and we shouldn’t forget that.
When Joseph asks a rather obvious question of his brothers as to why they’ve come, and they reply they’ve come to buy food, verse 8 repeats that Joseph knew them and remembered the dreams he had dreamed of them.
We shouldn’t be surprised that it took a bit for Joseph to remember a twenty-year-old dream, but when he does it had to stir up all sorts of emotion. It was that dream and his proclaiming of it that ultimately gave his brothers the excuse to turn on him. At 17 he told them all that one day they’d bow before him, and here they were, doing just that.
Joseph shows incredible restraint. He has the “I told you so” of “I told you so’s,” and he withholds it. If anything tells you that Joseph isn’t your main point of contact it should be that – I would have dropped the hammer, but he doesn’t; he loves them too much to be okay with just proving that he was right and they were wrong. He wants them to be right with the Lord, so he keeps quiet, and begins to break them down in a better way.
He begins to unsettle their hearts and work on their conscience. He firmly and wisely accuses them of being spies, an accusation which they adamantly deny. They call him, not ruler, not governor, but lord, and they profess their servitude and their desire to buy food. They say they aren’t spies, but brothers, and then they lie by saying they are honest peaceable men, which Joseph knows to be untrue.
Among these brothers are Simeon and Levi, who deceived and slaughtered an entire village full of men incapable of fighting back. After killing the men, they stole their wives, children, and livestock. Another of the brothers, Judah, slept with his daughter-in-law, but don’t worry, he thought it was okay because he thought she was a prostitute. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he hypocritically demanded that she be burned for her sins, that is until he found out that she had evidence of what he’d done, in which case he decided he’d let it all slide. That’s all in addition to the fact that they were co-conspirators in the attempted murder and betrayal of their half-brother, but yeah…they want Joseph to believe they are honest men, which he doesn’t.
Wisely he pushes them even further, undoubtedly making them even more uncomfortable, and they begin to repeat themselves and offer up information that Joseph isn’t requesting. They again profess his lordship, their servitude, their relationship with one another, and their land of origin, but they add the fact that they have two other brothers, one at home and one they’re not sure where.
Sensing he is getting closer to the truth, he pushes them again, and offers them an opportunity to prove themselves. He tells them that one of them will be sent to fetch their one remaining brother while the rest are held captive, and he puts them in confinement, not to be vengeful but to continue to humble them. There is no evidence that Joseph is acting out of spite or hatred or anything but a desire for reconciliation.
If he had desired vengeance, he could have put them in prison much longer than three days, but verse 18 shows that Joseph does what God would demand from all Israel’s sons many years later in Leviticus 25.43, “You shall not rule over [your brothers] ruthlessly, but shall fear your God.”
Joseph says he fears God, so he will not be ruthless toward his brothers. He keeps one brother and allows the rest to go home and prove their words by their works. They are to take grain back to their households and bring their brother back to them so they might live. If they don’t trust and obey Joseph’s words, they will surely die, but if they do trust and obey him, they will not.
This culmination of events seems to have a dramatic effect on the brothers, for they finally seem to admit they might deserve everything that is happening to them, Reuben does anyway.
Not knowing that Joseph can understand him, he says to his brothers, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw his suffering, heard his cries, and did not listen.” He knew what every son of Israel should have known, the blood of goats could not hide their wrongdoing; they still deserved punishment for their wrongs, and that God avenges the blood of His people and does not forget the cry of the afflicted (Psalm 9:9-10).
Once Joseph hears his brothers admit wrongdoing and confess they deserve punishment, once their hearts seem to break, so does Joseph’s. He leaves their presence and weeps, presumably heavy tears. Finally, he returns, and permits Reuben, the first born and moral leader of the bunch, to return with the brothers, and takes Simeon instead.
Before they go, Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain and return their silver, the same word that was used for what they received when selling Joseph into slavery. So they loaded their donkeys with grain and departed for what must have felt like a dreadful journey – out of Egypt, back to Canaan.
On the way, one of the brothers opened his sack to find Joseph’s gift, and when they saw it, their hearts failed. They probably felt like they’d barely escaped Egypt the first time, but if they were to be found out having not paid for their grain, surely they’d not escape a second time. They cry out in despair, acknowledging that God is in control of this whole process; the hound of heaven, as CS Lewis described God, was after them, and they knew it.
When they get home they tell the whole story to their father, well almost the whole story. They don’t mention the conversation they had with one another about what they’d done to Joseph, but Jacob has to be wondering what’s going on, especially given what happens next.
They all open their bags and find, not that just one brother had his money returned, but that they all had had their money returned! Obviously when they saw this, the father and sons were all afraid – perhaps for different reasons.
Maybe, just maybe the sons would have gotten away with only one brothers money being found missing by Joseph, but the brothers had to know that there is no way Joseph wouldn’t miss all that money. Jacob, on the other hand, is probably starting to ask other questions – last time one of his sons went missing, the brothers showed up with some money; this time another brother is missing and they’ve got even more money; there’s no way he’s giving them Benjamin now.
Reuben, perhaps fueled by fear, is finally willing to take some initiative and put something on the line to do what is right. Perhaps knowing he may not come back alive himself, he offers up, not one, but two of his sons as collateral, making up for the two Jacob lost. I’m sure Reuben’s two sons would have felt pretty loved had they known their dad offered them up so quickly – probably like all of Joseph’s sons felt when he denied that request.
Chapter 42 ends with Jacob’s words, “My son will not go down with you, for his brother, Joseph, is dead and Benjamin is the only one left.”
By not being willing to send his son, Jacob could very well be sentencing all his other sons to death. Joseph told them to return with their brother to save their lives, and this was before, in their minds, they had found all the money that they would have surely been accused of stealing. To them, it was only a matter of time before Joseph comes after them, but Jacob is having none of it. In his mind he has lost enough sons, so it was going to take something extraordinary for him to sacrifice another one.
Now I know that is a lot, and there are probably tons of life lessons that could be taken from this story. Some might choose to talk about Jacob’s bad parenting and how it’s damaging to show favoritism among your children. Others may be more drawn to talk about how bad Joseph’s brothers are and how your sin will always find you out. Still others might focus on Joseph and whether he did or didn’t act like a Christian in the way he treated his brothers. Or, if they’re really Reformed, they may talk about God’s sovereignty and how He’s orchestrating His great plan over all of history to bring about His foreordained purpose for Jews and Gentiles alike.
And to be honest, if we had thirty nine weeks to spend on the life of Joseph, all of those might be worthwhile topics to spend some time on, even just in chapter 42, but since apparently we don’t have 39 weeks and we can’t just read the story out loud, take communion and spend the rest of the day talking about the chapter, here’s what I want us to see today, and surprise, surprise, it’s Jesus.
Plus, I’m not smart enough to give you anything or anyone else. When people ask why I worship where I do, I tell them because I’m too wretched to go anywhere that will give me less Jesus. I would shrivel up and die if I left here week in and week out with nothing but good parenting advice or good moral counsel or a good turn or burn sermon or even decent theology; I need Jesus and so do you and so does everyone.
We need to hear that we too are sons of Israel. Like them, we don’t even know what we need half the time, and even when we do, we’re too prone to sloth and laziness to do what needs to be done. Those of us who do work and work hard get confused about what we’re really pursuing. We think our greatest need is a little grain, and if we just had a little more we’d have enough to make it through. We’re willing to chase after it, all the way to a place of slavery. We allow this constant pursuit of security to blind us from another, even greater need. We need reconciliation – peace with God, and peace with one another, but that’s the beauty of the gospel; in Jesus we have both. He brings us to a place of dependences to that our earthly needs and spiritual needs might both be met in Him.
He gives us the story of Joseph so that we might be drawn into a deeper knowledge of who He is and what He’s done for us.
Think about it. Jacob sent his sons from the Promised Land into Egypt. He sent the many to go to the one. He sent them to get grain for their family. He sent them from a place of famine to a place of plenty, but Israel’s sons would hunger again.
The true Father sent the true Son, Jesus, from His home in Heaven to the world. He sent the one to the many. He sent Jesus, not to get bread, but to be the bread that would feed His brethren. Jesus left a place of plenty and came to a place of famine, but the bread he offered would be a bread that would bring eternal life.
If you remember the story from the Gospels, Jesus saw God’s children as sheep without a shepherd, and He had compassion on them. He filled thousands upon thousands hearts and mouths, not with grain stored for 7 years to make it through a famine, but with a mere 5 loaves of bread that happened to be on hand at the time, and He didn’t just fill their stomachs.
In John 6 He shows them that He’s a greater ruler and greater provider than they could ever imagine, for the bread He offers endures forever. The seal Pharaoh had placed on Joseph was nothing like the seal God had placed on Jesus. Joseph stored up grain so that people could survive a 7-year famine, but no matter how much grain he stored up, those people would hunger again. Not so with Jesus. He says the He Himself is the bread of life, and that whoever comes to him shall not hunger, and not only that but whoever believes in him will never thirst.
Like the brothers from Canaan, and like the thousands in Capernaum, we too must seek Jesus, not just to fill our pockets with bread but to fill our souls with life. We are not Joseph, and we are not Jesus; we cannot save and we cannot offer our life as a ransom for many, but we can bring people to the only who can.
So let’s come together week after week, the slothful, the zealous, and the broken in need of reconciliation and feed on Christ, and let’s invite others to do the same.