The Return to Egypt

Genesis 43 Now the famine was severe in the land. 2 And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” 3 But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” 6 Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” 7 They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” 8 And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

15 So the men took this present, and they took double the money with them, and Benjamin. They arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” 19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.

26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.

Good morning. I’m Pastor Mike. If you are new here, I’m one of the elders and we’re glad you’re here. If I haven’t had a chance to meet you, I’d love to meet you after service. Many of you know, we took last week off to move into a new house. I just wanted to say thank you to so many of you. It’s been a process, as any move is. So many of you have prayed for us, encouraged us in our search, sent us listings to look at. Many of you helped us pack and move and unpack. We’ve received meals and other offers to help. We are so thankful and feel very loved and supported by the body of Christ. We’re still unpacking, but we really hope to have a big party sometime soon and have all of you over.

Pastor Dave and the VanAckers made a quick trip to Michigan this weekend to celebrate Dave’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Please pray that they would honor his parents well and celebrate God’s gift of marriage. He’ll be back in the office this week.

Father, I thank you for gathering us this morning. Increase our longing to see Christ in his glory. This simple, unassuming service is a taste of more to come. Would you please fill us with joy today. We thank you for Pastor Dave and the VanAcker family. Thank you for the common grace of marriage and the blessings that come through it. I pray that we would see many anniversaries like this at Grace. I pray that we would all long for 25, 50 and 75 years with our spouses.

We come to hear from you. We are not fancy, but neither were Jacob or his sons. Help us to see that despite thousands of years between us, we are not that different than the patriarchs. And above all, you have not changed. You are the same even before time. The ways you provide might change, but you do not. I ask that you would speak through my words this morning. I am not able to do anything useful apart from your Holy Spirit. Father, please speak to us. Strengthen our faith, fill us with love for you and one another. Please do far more abundantly than we can imagine with this sermon. Amen.

Can you think of a time you faced hard circumstances and you were certain you knew how things would go? You look ahead to a looming meeting at work and you know it will go badly. You have to talk with a friend or family member and deal with something hard and contentious, and you expect the worst. The bills outpace your bank account. Maybe you fear that your employer will require certain policies that go against your convictions? You look out at our world and wonder, is there anything to make me hopeful? Is there any possibility that things won’t go well? Maybe you toss and turn all night, running through scenarios of how things might go. And you can’t find the scenario that works out well.

In our story, the sons of Jacob return to Egypt to buy more grain. In their situation it seems like they are entering into certain trouble and even the prospect of death. But by the end of the chapter, in God’s providence-worked out through various people in the story, the brothers experience peace and mercy and grace. They start the journey afraid and expecting death, but they end the chapter dining at Joseph’s table in amazement.

Recap from 42

Let me do a quick recap from last week. If you were here last week or have read chapter 42, there are a lot of similarities between the two journeys to Egypt.

Because of a worldwide famine, Jacob sent ten of his sons, minus the youngest, Benjamin, to Egypt to buy grain. When the brothers arrive, they bow before Joseph without recognizing their brother they had sold into slavery. After speaking roughly and interrogating his brothers, Joseph tells the brothers that they can buy grain and return home, but they must leave one brother, Simeon in prison, and they must return with Benjamin. This was Joseph’s test to prove whether they were honest men. But on the way home they discover that their money was returned to their sacks along with the grain. Just as they were ready to prove their honesty, now it appears like they stole from Egypt. And this is the tension as we look to chapter 43.

This is where we find Jacob and 10 of his sons at the start of chapter 43. The chapter is broken into 3 main scenes: verses 1-15 take place in the House of Israel. It’s a conversation between Jacob/Israel and the brothers led by Judah.

The next two scenes both take place in the house of Joseph. Verses 16-25 show the brothers and Joseph’s steward, and then in the final scene Joseph enters and deals directly with his brothers, particularly Benjamin.

Through the three scenes we get a front row seat into God’s providence. He is always at work accomplishing his purposes and working through various people. Sometimes we see his work in the immediate, like providing food for Israel. And there are other pieces that God works for the larger story of Genesis and beyond.

We will look at each scene and highlight the ways God is at work through the various characters.

In the House of Israel (1-15)

Verse one reminds us that there is still a severe famine. While Jacob initially refused to let the brothers go back to Egypt, the circumstances continue to get worse. The famine is severe and now they have eaten all the grain. If there was any thought that they wouldn’t have to deal with the scenarios in Egypt, the continuing famine forces this issue. The brothers will have to go back if the family is to survive.

Here are the problems facing the family now: If they don’t get more grain the entire family will die. If they don’t bring Benjamin they probably die. And if it’s found out that they have stolen from Pharoah, they will die. Further, if Jacob’s family dies, the line of Abraham dies as well. God’s promise to make a multitude will die out. In the minds of the brothers, all of the scenarios they face end badly. They can’t imagine a happy ending.

When the brothers first returned from Egypt, Jacob refused to let them return with Benjamin. He has already lost Joseph and then Simeon. Benjamin is the only son left of Rachel, Jacob’s favored wife. He will not let Benjamin be lost too. But as the famine prevails, Jacob tells them to go and get more grain, but leave Benjamin back.

At this point, we see the first glimpse of God’s work through the first of our characters, Judah.

Judah (through sacrifice and offering security)

The fourth-oldest son now emerges as the head of brothers. Until now, the oldest son, Reuben, has often spoken on behalf of the brothers. Reuben even offered a half-hearted promise to bring Benjamin back. Look at chapter 42 verse 37 he says, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you.” It sounds noble, but he’s willing to sacrifice his sons instead of his own life. What gain is that for Jacob? How would you feel if you hear dad make this offer? Jacob refused Reuben’s offer, but that allows Judah to step to the forefront. Judah appeals to allow him to take Benjamin with. This is the only way The Man, who we know as Joseph, would allow the brothers to return. After some back and forth, Judah makes this bold promise in verse 8:

8 And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.”

This is especially interesting considering the last time we saw Judah in Genesis. Do you remember? We haven’t heard from Judah since chapters 37 and 38. In 37 he takes an active role in selling Joseph into slavery. Then in 38, we get a whole chapter telling of his atrocious sinful acts with his daughter in-law, Tamar. It’s there in chapter 38 where we even see Judah making another kind of pledge. Only in that case, it was a dishonorable pledge that was essentially payment for sleeping with Tamar.

But over time, it seems that Judah has been changed by God. This began in the first trip to Egypt as the brothers recognize their guilt from selling Joseph into slavery. Now Judah acts in an honorable way to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sake of his family. He makes a pledge on behalf of Benjamin’s life. It’s not only for the sake of Judah, or even Jacob or his other brothers, but he also recognizes that the future generations will not survive without action. And if he fails, he assumes the blame.

While this action displays hints of change in Judah’s character, it also serves as a shadow of something even greater. Judah is the kingly line that the Messiah will come from. Jesus is the one who ultimately pledges security for all of his people, taking the blame for the sins of God’s people for all time. Only God can make a pledge like this. The New testament mentions several places where Father, Son and Spirit are our guarantee. The triune God has pledged on behalf of the saints to save and protect them.

Hebrews 6 is just one example:

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Grace, the triune God has pledged security for your life. Faith in Christ comes with a guarantee that you will live forever.

As a side note, it’s interesting that Jacob is referred to as Israel in this chapter. It’s not clear exactly why, but as Judah begins to take a more prominent role in the family and the story begins to focus on Judah’s generation, it seems that the Israel now represents the clan rather than simply as Jacob the individual as he has been to this point. This will become more significant later on in Genesis. For ease, I’m going to refer to Jacob as Jacob for the sermon, even when the text uses Israel.

Back to the story. After some back and forth, Judah prevails and Jacob allows the 10 brothers to go. It’s clear Jacob is not sure about this plan, but he also seems to realize the direness of the situation. If they can’t get more grain, none of the family will survive, so even if Jacob fears losing more sons he lets them go.

Jacob instructs the brothers to bring three things. Take a gift and take twice the money from last time and last and most crucially, bring your brother, Benjamin. The gift, a selection of fruits and nuts echoes back to a few things from Genesis. In chapter 33, when Jacob was preparing to meet his brother, Esau, he prepared a gift to ensure peace. Even more relevant to this passage, when the brothers sold Joseph, they sold them to the Ishmaelites. The text in Genesis 37:25 notes that the Ishmaelites carried gum, balm and myrrh on their way to Egypt. Now, in an ironic twist, the brothers will carry the same gift to Egypt and give it to the very brother they sold. And from Jacob’s perspective he imagines a similar thing will happen. He will lose his other son from Rachel and it will cause him great grief.

After the instructions, Jacob turns and prays in verse 14:

Jacob/Israel (through prayer): May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

Despite his apprehensions, despite anticipating more loss and grief in his family, Jacob entrusts this journey to God. He uses the name God Almighty. This is the name God himself used when he spoke to Abraham when he made his covenant. This is the name Isaac used to bless Jacob. And in both cases the promise was that God would make him fruitful and multiply. God promised a company of people and then a nation, numbering more than the sands of the sea. But in the current situation, this promise looks unlikely. There’s a famine! The man in charge of Egypt might refuse to give them grain! Benjamin or all of Jacob’s children might die!

Even if he isn’t confident in prayer, he is appealing to the right source of help. In the past Jacob the Cheater trusted in his own cleverness or the cleverness of others to get what he needed or wanted. Now he is bringing his needs to God Almighty. That is the most important thing. DA Carson says that it is not the intensity of our faith, but the object of it that matters. Not the intensity of our faith, but the object of our faith.

Let’s say you and I are dealing with the same situation and you could measure the amount or intensity of our faith on a scale. If you could put faith on a scale, maybe my faith is a 95 on the faith scale. On the other hand, maybe your faith is a 45 on the faith scale. My intensity might be greater, but what if I am placing my trust to get me out of this hard circumstance is in my own cleverness and skill? But you are putting your faith in the God of the Bible, maker of heaven and earth. Whose faith is placed in the right object? I might have more faith-more intensity-but it’s aimed at the wrong object. Even if it’s a weak and wavering faith like Jacob’s, the object is crucial.

Even if it’s just groans and we don’t fully believe, seek God Almighty’s help. This is the picture of faith we get from Jacob. He asks God for mercy and that the man would send back Simeon and Benjamin.

Grace, you might feel like things are hopeless. You might have a situation that the math doesn’t work out in your favor. You’ve ran the scenarios and in your mind they all lead to doom. You might not genuinely believe that prayer is effective, but Psalm 55 tells us, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you;”

Here we follow the brothers to Egypt for the second half of the story. They make their way to the House of Joseph. In this section we will look at the steward and Joseph as characters working out God’s provision. Joseph sees them and gives instructions to his steward for a meal.

In the House of Joseph (16-34)

As the brothers come to Egypt and the house of Joseph, we see more of the change that began on their first encounter with Joseph. Joseph sees them and instructs his steward to prepare a meal. It’s less clear whether the brothers have seen Joseph yet. That seems to play into their response. Look at verses 17 and 18:

The man did as Joseph told him and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.”

The brothers, probably with good reason, are afraid that Joseph is going to have a meal and then cause them harm. They are imagining something out of a mafia movie where the boss has a fancy meal and then knocks his enemies off. Maybe this man is going to fatten us up only to kill us.

Despite their fears, the brothers are honest with the steward. They bring Benjamin like Joseph instructed, and they tell the truth about the money in their sacks. And bracing for the worst, we see instead, the steward’s kind answer in verse 23:

Steward (peace): He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

The steward has been in on Joseph’s plan from the start. How much the steward understands about the Joseph’s God isn’t clear, but it’s likely he’s at least witnessed some things via Joseph. Pharoah recognized Joseph had the Spirit of God after interpreting Pharoah’s dreams. Then when Joseph questioned his brothers in chapter 42, Joseph said that he feared the LORD. The steward has probably at least heard about Joseph’s God.

Whether the steward recognizes and acknowledges the true God of Israel or whether he is speaking what Joseph instructed him to say, his words help explain God’s providence to the brothers. We get another hint when the steward tells the brothers that it was your God and the God of your father that has taken care of them. Their money is no good here. God has settled their accounts. God uses the steward to bestow peace on the brothers. Where the brothers feared retribution, they instead received peace. Where they feared wrath, and deserved wrath, they receive reconciliation.

So far, the brothers’ honesty is being rewarded. They haven’t been killed yet, they are reconciled financially with Egypt and now they get their brother Simeon back. More, they get fodder for their animals, have their feet washed and brought into Joseph’s for a feast. This brings us to the final scene where Joseph enters and encounters his brothers again and we again see God’s providence through the Joseph.

Joseph (mercy and grace)

The brothers offer their gift and bow down. This again fulfills Joseph’s dream as a boy. After asking about Jacob’s status, Joseph sees his full-brother Benjamin for the first time in 20 years.

29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!”

Joseph offers a blessing of grace to his younger brother, Benjamin. This seems to be part of the plan. As we’ll see in a few verses. Joseph intends to be the agent that shows grace to Benjamin.

30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.

Joseph is overwhelmed by his emotions, but for some reason isn’t ready to reveal his true identity. So he leaves to recover and maintain his status as the master before his brothers. In verse 30 your Bible might read that Joseph had ‘compassion’ or that he was ‘deeply moved’. The word is actually the same word for mercy that Jacob prayed for in verse 14. Jacob asked God Almighty to show mercy to Benjamin, and here we see that prayer answered through Joseph’s merciful emotions and actions.

God answered Jacob’s prayer. Benjamin received mercy, and as we’ll see in future chapters Jacob will be reunited with his sons. He won’t be bereaved. Don’t miss recognizing that God answers prayers. Do you think that if you are able to see prayers answered, it would make you want to pray more?

One of the simplest, but powerful ways to grow your faith is to write your prayers down and then note when they are answered. I learned this practice from one of my mentors in Portland named Bill. During his quiet times Bill would write down his prayer requests in his journal. He had a whole system of writing different thoughts or prayers in different colored pens. With prayer he would write the request in one color and then when it was answered, he would go back and highlight answered prayers. Over time, he could easily flip through his journals and find lots of highlighted pages that showed all of the ways God had faithfully answered prayer. I have done this from time to time and it is such a tangible reminder and faith strengthening practice.

So God used Joseph to answer Jacob’s prayer, but Joseph goes further. He has bestowed blessing, we see his deep affection for his brother and it continues as the brothers sit down for a meal. Joseph seats the brothers according to their birth order, oldest to youngest. The brothers are astonished at this. This is not their Last Supper after all. Then we see Benjamin getting five times the food of his other brothers.

What does this mean? Why does Joseph seem to favor Benjamin? There’s a couple of reasons, I think. First, Benjamin shares the same mother, Rachel. Second, Benjamin probably also had nothing to do with selling Joseph into slavery. Joseph was 17 and Benjamin was likely a few years younger than that and probably wasn’t in the field with his other brothers when Joseph was sold. And three, Joseph is not finished testing his brothers. When Jacob gave Joseph the coat of many colors, the brothers responded with jealousy. Has anything truly changed with the brothers? Will they begrudge Benjamin’s extra helpings?

Instead of jealousy, they all feasted. There’s hints at the story of the Prodigal Son. Here is Joseph’s beloved brother of the same mother, now he sees him for the first time in 20 years. He kills the fattened calf and they all ate, drank and were merry together. Again, instead of wrath, the brothers receive mercy and grace. Instead of buying a little grain to fend off starvation, they are eating meat in the house of the governor of Egypt. God has turned their fortunes from dread into grace. None of the brothers deserved the kindness they received. And neither do we.

As large as our troubles might appear, remember that if you are in Christ you have received the greatest form of mercy. Your sins have been forgiven. As the song goes, “our sins they are many, his mercy is more”.

Just as Joseph put away any wrath towards the brothers, God’s wrath no longer sits over your head because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. We must have this perspective. All of our other troubles, as real as they are, pale in comparison to sitting under God’s wrath.

If you are trusting that Christ’s death on the cross has brought you peace with God, then your everyday troubles aren’t as bad as they could be. If you are not yet trusting in Christ, whatever earthly troubles you have are nowhere near as bad as they really are. You are under condemnation of a holy God.

But there’s good news for you too. Just as the brothers received mercy instead of judgment, you too can repent of your sins and put your trust in the only object to save you: Jesus Christ, the one who atoned for sin by dying on the cross. But that’s not all Jesus did. He didn’t just live and die on the cross. He rose victoriously from the grave. Our God is a God of resurrection.

This is one of the themes of the Joseph narrative that will continue to develop in the coming weeks: this theme of resurrection. Things look bleak, people appear to face death, only for God to turn the tables and raise them up. It’s true of Joseph. It was true of the brothers who faced doom only to wind up at a feast at the table of Joseph. It all points to resurrection. Grace, remember that the living God is a God of Resurrection. If we only view things from an earthly perspective, things will look bleak. Like Jacob and the brothers, we will only see bad endings to our circumstances.

In our world things are increasingly virtual and fake. We can make up identities online, we can pretend that who we are is separated from our physical nature. People can make things up and assert that they are true. That might work for a time, but this world is God’s and it’s real. God is actually at work. Prayers are really answered. We really receive provision and blessing from God. God is actually working out all things according to his sovereign decree. God really does uphold all things and bless us in specific ways. It’s not just a vague whiff of blessing, but tangible ways we can see God’s provision and blessing. It’s not self-help, talking positivity to yourself. It’s not simply going through religious motions. It is placing our faith in the Creator of the Universe who is pleased to show mercy to his children and give them good things that they don’t deserve. Remind yourself of this. As we pray, know that he answers us. As we sing, know that he hears us. When you get what you need, it’s God who gives it. As we fellowship after the service, know that he is present and at work. So that we will receive blessing and he will get all the glory. Amen.

Father in heaven, you are the only true God. All others will fail us and betray our trust. You are Creator and Sustainer and it’s you who will get all glory from this world. You don’t change. You don’t waver. We waver, we are weak and are prone to getting tossed about. Please strengthen our faith through your Holy Spirit. Help us to know and have confidence that Christ’s work on the cross is finished and we don’t have to fear the things of this world. Help us to remember that you are a God of optimism and you delight in turning bad into good. I pray as we face many different situations this week that you would turn our hearts and our prayers toward you. Strengthen our resolve and give us courage. Help us to have joy as we sing and fellowship this morning. Cause us to increase our love for you and to recognize your work in our lives. You are steadily carrying out your plans. Help us to walk in faith this week we pray. Amen.