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The Lord's Loving Discipline | Genesis 42:1-46:27

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

"We don't need to copy Joseph's process; we need to trust God's providence."

In tests and trials...

1) The Lord reveals and forms the hearts of his people.

-He reveals sin

-He reveals the object of hope

-He forms Christ

2) The Lord meets the needs of his people.

-He provides peace

-He provides what is needed for life

The Discipline and Provision of God

Genesis 42:1-46:27

January 28, 2024

I was at a low spot when I was 19. Running out of money, I was preparing to live out of my car when a couple found out about it. While I had not been a believer for long, a couple from my church had befriended me. When they found out about my situation, they offered to let me live with them for free as long as I put 90% of my paycheck into a savings account. I was going to college at the time and working a part-time job. 

After a while, I felt relief from money pressure. So much so, that I told them that I was going to quit my job and focus on school. After all, I had saved up a lot of money that I could live on since I was living with them for free. But they sat me down and said that this was not acceptable. Not only could I not quit my job, but they told me that I was wasting too much time and that I should work at least 30 hours a week while staying in school. They would not, as they said, enable my adolescence. 

If I didn’t like this plan, they told me I could move out. Being that if I moved out I would need to get a full-time job anyway, I stayed. And do you know what happened? I learned to work a lot harder in that season, saved a lot of money, and passed all of my classes. 

Yes, it was hard. Yes, I grumbled and complained. But now I look back at that season and thank God for it. While I did not recognize it at the time, God was compassionate toward me by putting that couple in my life. They disciplined me and opened my eyes to what I was able to do by putting me through such a test. 

Turning to Genesis

Perhaps the word compassion does not come to your mind when you think of discipline, but discipline really is compassionate. In discipline, we are being acted upon either to correct or form us into who we should be. As we read in Hebrews 12, discipline, while unpleasant at the time, is an act of love. While earthly parents make mistakes in discipline, we can trust that God does not. 

This is something that Joseph understands. When he is sold into slavery, he does not despair because God remains with him. When he is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown in prison, he does not give up hope because he knows that God is good and that God is with him. When he is forgotten in prison, he does not grow bitter but continues to entrust himself to God because he knows that God is good and that God is with him. When he rises to prominence after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, he does not forget God because he knows that God is good and that God is with him. 

That’s what we saw last week when we looked at Genesis 39-41. In Genesis 42-46:27, Joseph’s brothers actually come to Egypt because of the famine. Because God sent Joseph ahead and raised him to prominence in Egypt, that land is now the only one with food because the famine is so great. When his brothers come to him, they do not recognize Joseph. It has been a couple of decades since they last saw him and he is in a position that they could not have imagined. 

What follows in Genesis 42-46:27 is a narrative in which God is not in the foreground. That is to say, he is not mentioned as acting by the narrator until 46:2 when God speaks to Jacob about what he should do. 

But that does not mean the Lord is inactive. He is working through what we could call ordinary circumstances. These chapters show us that what may seem random or merely the plans of man are actually under God’s careful direction. 

In these chapters, Joseph puts his brothers through tests, but these are not acts of malice on Joseph’s part. He trusts the Lord and, as we will see, stands ready to forgive and be reconciled. Anger, then, is not his motivation. Rather, he is being used in the Lord’s hand to compassionately discipline and refine God’s people. 

The primary message we should get out of these chapters is not to copy Joseph’s methods but to trust God in his process. What is that process? God uses trials in order to compassionately provide for his people.

Let’s look at these chapters and see how the Lord uses tests and trials toward his good ends.

First, in tests and trials, the Lord reveals and forms the hearts of his people. 

Wider context of the whole section: Joseph encounters his brother; God brings about his planned end of bringing Israel safely into Egypt. But along the way he reveals and forms the heart of his people. It isn’t just doing something with his people, but doing something in and through his people. What is he doing?

He reveals sin

Genesis 42:1-28 captures this category. In these verses, Jacob sends 10 of his sons to Egypt in order to buy food. This shows us how severe the famine really was, as even Jacob and his family are in need, with verse 2 making the severity clear by saying life was in the balance. 

So Jacob sent his sons, but he did not send Benjamin, the other child of Rachel, Joseph’s brother, because he was afraid something would happen to him (v4). As Jacob favored Rachel over Leah, and then Joseph over his other sons, now he favors Benjamin above the other sons as well. 

Joseph, being put in charge by Pharaoh, was handling all of the various posts that gave away food. In God’s providence, he was present at the very one to which his brothers came. In fulfillment of his dreams in chapter 37, his brothers bow down to him. In Joseph’s dreams, his brothers bowed down to him three times. In these chapters, his brothers will bow down to him three times, as recorded in 42:6, 43:26, 28. 

In seeing his brothers, Joseph recognized them but they did not recognize him. And in seeing them bow, he remembered his dreams (v9). I think this shows us two things:

First, Joseph is reminded that God has fulfilled what he foretold in his dream. It has happened in a way that no one predicted, but here he is.

Second, Joseph is also reminded of what his brothers did to him because of his dreams. The question that this brings up, then, is if these men are the same as they used to be if they have also hurt Benjamin, and if Jacob his father is still alive. What he remembers of his brothers is, after all, not favorable. 

As he asks them questions about Jacob and Benjamin, he accuses them of being spies. When they deny this, he says he will only believe it if they bring to him the absent brother, Benjamin. After making this demand, he puts them in custody for three days. After three days in custody, Joseph gets the first glimpse of the current state of his brothers' hearts. He comes to them and tells them that he fears God—meaning that he will be fair and give them a chance to prove their claims. He will keep only one of them and send the rest to get Benjamin to prove their story. 

And this suffering reveals contrition for sin in the hearts of his brothers. They acknowledge their sin and God’s justice. They say in verse 21, “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.” Over the past three days, they have begged and pleaded, but they have remained in the pit. This draws their minds back to the fact that they threw Joseph into the pit and, even though he begged and pleaded, they turned a deaf ear to him. 

While this kind of conviction of sin is painful, it is a merciful gift from God. Outward chastisement is used by the Spirit to awaken you to sin and to convict you of that sin, and this is a gift. While sin promises freedom, it is a shackle. The wages of sin is death. While it may give you temporary joy, the bill will come due. Conviction that drives us to confession and repentance is a gift that we should quickly embrace, not ignore.

Whenever you are in a trial, it is appropriate to examine your heart to see if God is getting your attention because you have unconfessed sin in your life. Do you notice, though, that the brothers did not simply think about sin in recent history? They remember the sin against their brother from over 20 years ago. No doubt this comes to their mind because they see their situation as comparable and because it was such a heinous sin. 

Is there anything in your life like that? Something that you let time numb your heart to? A sin that you want to just lock up and ignore? If that happens, don’t consider that a mercy. Instead, tremble that God would leave you alone. He will not leave his saints alone but will mercifully reveal, convict, and forgive.

He reveals the object of hope.

After returning from Egypt, the 9 brothers relate all that took place and tell Jacob that they have to return to Egypt with Benjamin in order to retrieve Simeon. This is a non-starter for Jacob and becomes even more so when he sees that all of the money is in their sacks. Upon seeing this, they were afraid and Jacob said, in verse 36, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” 

Jacob responds by refusing to send Benjamin. He says that since Joseph is dead, only Benjamin is left (42:38); likewise, he is worried that something will happen to him on the journey (42:38). What this reveals is that Benjamin is not the only son of his favored wife, so now he is the favored son. He prefers him over the others. But the comment about the journey is also revealing. While he has not accused his sons of what happened to Joseph, this comment betrays a distrust of them. This distrust is not helped by the fact that Reuben tries to comfort and convince Jacob to send Benjamin by offering to kill his two sons if he does not return with him.

While sometimes we suffer and we can think of sin that God is graciously making us deal with, other times we cannot see sin to confess. Jacob is looking at his situation, considering the promise of God, and is simply confused. God had said to him in Genesis 35:11-12,

“I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” 

But now, his children are dying and the land is in a famine. He looks around and can only ask, “Why?” His focus is also so much on Benjamin that I think he is looking at his other sons and saying, “Which one of these is really suitable to carry on your covenant promises? Joseph seemed like the one, but now he is dead. How could he send Benjamin and risk losing him, too? 

What does this trial reveal about Jacob? The object of his hope had become Benjamin, not the Lord himself. But he is shaken out of this way of thinking. When they run out of food, Jacob tells his sons to go again, but they remind him that they cannot return without Benjamin. The situation remains unchanged, but Jacob changes. Why Judah: instead of offering children, like Reuben, he presents himself as a pledge, and the word pledge should catch our eye. In Genesis 38, Judah had given personal items to Tamar, who he thought was a prostitute, in order to secure the satisfaction of his personal desires. But, as we saw at the end of Genesis 38, that event made Judah a changed man. Now he offers himself as a pledge, not seeking to gratify his own desires but to secure life for his family. 

Such an action is a reminder to Jacob that God can change hearts and that with his power he shows mercy. Thus, he prepares a gift to send with them and then prays in verse 14 for God’s mercy. In sending Benjamin, he entrusts his fears to the mercy of God, praying in verse 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.” 

That’s our answer and that is the goal of this test: trust in the mercy of God. When we are in sorrow, all we want to do is escape. We want to control and manipulate the situation in order to get the exact outcome that we want. But we are never in control. 

Tests and trials reveal the fact that you are not in control and thus reveal where your hope lies. We can think that we are in control, but trials reveal what is always true: we are not in control and are dependent on the Lord’s mercy. This is hard until we see how good God is and learn to trust him.

He forms Christ in Us

When his brothers arrive, Joseph sends his steward to tell the brothers that they will dine with Joseph at noon. Being brought to the house, the brothers were afraid that they were about to be attacked and made slaves. So they wanted to get ahead of the possible charges against them and give the money that they found in their sacks to the steward. But upon telling him about the money, the steward simply says that God put the money in their sacks; he received their money (43:23). 

After this, Simeon is brought to them. Then they come into Joseph’s house, are given water to wash their feet and refresh, and prepared the present that they brought for Joseph. 

Upon seeing Joseph, the brothers bow to him twice, fulfilling the oracle in his dream of having them bow to him three times. Upon seeing Benjamin, Joseph is so moved that he says over him, “God be gracious to you, my son!” Before he has to flee the room on account of being overwhelmed by emotion. 

Expecting harsh treatment, this must have felt like an incredible relief thus far.

Upon his return, he called for the food to be served. The brothers were seated in order of their age and were given food from Joseph’s table. Being ordered by age, the expectation is that Reuben, the oldest, would be shown favor. But instead Benjamin, the youngest receives 5 times the amount of everyone else (v34). 

Why do this? To see how the brothers would react. After being put at ease and feeling as if they were welcome, they get to watch their youngest brother receive favoritism. Joseph remembered how, when he was favored, his brothers were jealous of him and could not speak a word of peace to him. What would they do with Benjamin?

The end of verse 34 tells us: they drank and were merry with him,” thus revealing a real change in them.

The final test takes place in Genesis 44. After enjoying themselves, they set out with more food and returned to Canaan. But, in a final test, Joseph has his steward place his brother's money back in their sacks along with his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. 

After setting out, Joseph instructs his steward to stop them and ask why they took his silver cup that Joseph uses for divination. This is a ruse. Joseph doesn’t actually use this cup for divination. The point is that the brothers will be tested in regard to Benjamin. They were jealous of Joseph because he was favored and he had dreams of future greatness. Now, Benjamin would look like he had stolen a cup that would supposedly give him the ability to see the future

After denying that any of them had the cup, the brothers say that if one of them has it, then that person will die and the rest of the brothers will be servants. The steward, in verse 10, takes up a variation of this offer and says, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” They search the bags and Benjamin’s bag is found to have the cup.

In response, all of the brothers are grieved and tore their robes in sorrow (v13), each returning to the city. Even at this stage, something new is revealed about their hearts. Once they sent Joseph away alone, only tearing his robe. Now they go with Benjamin, tearing their own. 

Once before Joseph, Judah takes the lead. In verse 14, Judah leads the brothers in falling before Joseph in submission. And in verse 16, he does not try to make an excuse. He does not understand how the cup has come into Benjamin’s possession, but he does not deny that they have the cup, thus he offers himself and his brothers as servants. Joseph, though, interjects and says he will only take Benjamin. 

This is the final test. In excusing his brothers from the penalty, Joseph put them to the greatest test yet. Would they leave another brother to slavery in Egypt in order to escape hardship that they did not think they deserved? 

Judah responds in verses 18 and following that he could not leave Benjamin. In these verses, he rehearses the history of his conversation with Jacob about bringing Benjamin. 

Then, Judah does what must have been astounding to Joseph: he substituted himself for Benjamin. In Genesis 37, Judah was the one who talked his brothers into selling Joseph, claiming that simply killing him would not gain them anything. Now he offers himself up in exchange for Benjamin.

What does he gain by doing this? Simply the pleasure and love of his father. He lays down his life so that his father may regain the son he has lost. He loves his father so much that he gives his life away when he does not have to. That Jacob is at the center of Judah’s decision is apparent in that through verses 18-34, Judah speaks of his father 14 times.

Do you see how in this he is like Christ? Jesus laid down his life because he loved his Father in heaven. Love for his Father caused him to say in prayer, “Father, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done.” Judah is a picture of Christ to come, but by the power of the Spirit, he is only a picture because Christ is already being formed in him. This is what trials do to God’s people: they make us like Christ. 

But Judah is not the only one formed into Christlikeness through trials.

After hearing this statement from Judah, Joseph calls for everyone to leave the room except his brothers. Then he reveals his identity to them. If you thought they were concerned before, now we see in verse 3 that they are absolutely terrified. Not only are they at this man’s mercy, but now it turns out that they have also sold this man into slavery, ignoring his pleas for mercy. Yet the one who was sinned against becomes the comforter of sinners. He calls his brothers to come to him and not be afraid or angry at themselves (44:5). Why? Because he sees God’s objective and interprets all of his suffering through the lens of his good purposes. Notice how God is sovereign over all that has taken place in what Joseph says…

He does not merely say that they sent him, he says that God sent him.

Verse 5, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Verse 7, “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth…”

Verse 8, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Joseph is able to forgive and comfort his brothers because he sees what God is doing. Forgiveness is impossible if your eyes are not on God. Joseph knows that God is in control and God sent him, so he is able to forgive. In this, he is like Christ: he is both wronged but also the comforter of sinners. He absorbs sin in order to provide for God’s people. 

In this moment, Judah and Joseph serve as types of Christ—a picture of the Savior. They point forward to show us what the Savior will be like, but the reason they are like Jesus is because Jesus has already claimed them as his own. 

God’s intention is to form all of his people into the likeness of Christ. Man was made in God’s image, but sin has marred that image. Colossians 1:15 says of Jesus that he is the image of the invisible God. John 1:18, in speaking of God the Son, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” In other words, when we are conformed into the image of Jesus, we are being transformed into who we are supposed to be: God’s image bearers. 

This is what tests and trials are meant to do. While they are unpleasant, God is disciplining his children so that we may look like Jesus, his Son. 

The question is, “Do you want that?” Or would you rather have temporary luxury and comfort? I hope you want to be formed into the image of Christ, for it is far better, as our second and last point shows us.

Second, in tests and trials, the Lord meets the needs of his people. 

Through trials, God has revealed and formed the hearts of his people and, as we see in the rest of our passage, this provides what his people need. We can sum it up as reconciliation and provision of what is needed for life. 

Peace and Reconciliation

Genesis 45:15 comes across as an odd statement. We read there, “After that, his brothers talked to him.” Why mention this? I think it looks back to the animosity experienced between him and his brothers in Genesis 37:4. There we read, “They hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” Through these trials, God has brought real peace and reconciliation to these brothers. 

This is the reconciliation that Christ works among his people. He himself absorbs the hostility developed by sin so that we can have peace with God and each other. He walked through the greatest trial to give this to us and he conforms our hearts to his own as we walk through trials of various kinds. 

Provision of What is Needed for Life

After they are reconciled, Joseph is able to invite and provide for all of the needs of Israel and his family. God preserves his covenant promise through Joseph and they have all that is needed for life.

In the same way, Christ meets all of our spiritual needs through his provision that he procured by his suffering. In his seat of authority, he invites his church to be nourished by his provision as we await the real promised land of the new heavens and earth. 

What will you do?

Perhaps, in considering how God compassionately uses trials, you think this news is sugarcoating things or simply too good to be true. This is probably what Jacob thought when he was told by his sons that Joseph was alive. Yet, he believes. In faith, he seeks the Lord’s permission to travel to Egypt and receives it in 46:3-4. 

This news seems unbelievable because Joseph, who was dead, is now alive. Everything that once grieved Jacob is no longer true.

Let me assure you that the gospel proclaims something similar. Because Jesus really died for sin and really rose again from the grave, everything that now grieves you will one day not be true. Sin will be no more; sorrow will be no more; death will be no more. That may sound too good to be true, yet true it is. 

While we wait to receive all of these promises, do not discount God’s compassion and mercy that will come to you now in the form of tests and trials. If Jesus embraced such things, we, who are empowered by his Spirit, can as well.


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