Genesis 41:53 – 42:38

Sunday Morning Bible Study

October 7, 2007


We’ve been following the story of Joseph.  Betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave into Egypt, things went from bad to worse as Joseph found himself in prison for something he didn’t do.  But there came a day when the Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dreams, and Joseph was that person.  After spending 13 years as a slave and a prisoner, Joseph suddenly found himself as the Prime Minister of Egypt.  And even more importantly was Pharaoh’s dream.  God was speaking to Pharaoh that there would be a period of seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine.  God used Joseph to allow the Egyptians to prepare for the famine by saving all their excess grain during their years of prosperity.

Genesis 41

:53-57 The Famine Begins

:53 Then the seven years of plenty which were in the land of Egypt ended,

Joseph was 30 years old when he first interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams.  It’s now seven years later, making Joseph 37 years old.

:54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. The famine was in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

:55 So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Then Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, do."

For those of you tracking the similarities between Joseph and Jesus, here’s a couple more items:

Joseph was the one who had bread.  If you wanted bread you needed to go to Joseph.

(John 6:35 NKJV)  And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

What Pharaoh says here is very similar to what Jesus’ mother says at the wedding at Cana.  Pharaoh says it because of a lack of bread.  Mary will say because of a lack of wine:

(John 2:5 NKJV)  His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it."

:56 The famine was over all the face of the earth, and Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians. And the famine became severe in the land of Egypt.

:57 So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all lands.

The famine extends beyond Egypt.  It will also impact the land of Canaan where Joseph’s family is living.

Genesis 42

:1-5 The brothers go to Egypt for grain

:1 When Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, Jacob said to his sons, "Why do you look at one another?"

Why are you just standing there staring at one another?  Get going!

:2 And he said, "Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die."


Learning faith

This is a great picture of what faith is all about.

Jacob has heard that there is food in Egypt.  He hasn’t seen it, he’s just heard about it.
He asks his sons to do something as a result.

This is what saving faith is all about.

The Bible says,
(Acts 16:31 NKJV)  …"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…
(Rom 10:9 NKJV)  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
You hear that Jesus is the answer to life.
And you learn to trust Him.

People say to me, “How can I trust in a God that I can’t see?”

The truth is we trust in things we don’t understand all the time.
I think that most of us don’t understand all the mechanics of how a gasoline engine works, but that doesn’t stop us from filling up the tank and driving. “But wait” you say, “I may not understand it, but there are others who do.  And though I don’t understand it, I see that it works…”

It’s the same with Jesus Christ.  You may not understand why believing in Jesus will save you, but there are others who do.  And there are plenty of people in this room that can show you how Jesus has worked in their lives.

:3 So Joseph's ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt.

:4 But Jacob did not send Joseph's brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, "Lest some calamity befall him."

Perhaps Jacob has come to suspect the older brothers and he doesn’t trust them with Benjamin. Benjamin is the only other son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel.

:5 And the sons of Israel went to buy grain among those who journeyed, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.

:6-17 Joseph meets his brothers

:6 Now Joseph was governor over the land; and it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth.

:7 Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them. Then he said to them, "Where do you come from?" And they said, "From the land of Canaan to buy food."

:8 So Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.

How is it that Joseph recognizes his brothers but they don’t recognize him?

1.     He’s not surprised to see them – he knows they’re alive. But the last thing they expect is to ever see Joseph alive again.

2.     He’s wearing strange Egyptian clothes while they’re wearing their same old Hebrew clothes.

3.     They have the same long hair and beards they had when he last saw them. Joseph has an Egyptian haircut – clean shaven.  If you’ve ever known a person with long hair and one day they get it shaved, it’s hard to recognize them.

4.     They are speaking Hebrew, we’ll see (42:23) that Joseph is speaking Egyptian through an interpreter – they may not even be able to hear his voice.

:9 Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and said to them, "You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!"

Joseph had two dreams (Gen. 37:5-11)

The first dream was about his brothers “sheaves” bowing down before Joseph’s sheaf.

(Gen 37:5-11 NKJV)  Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. {6} So he said to them, "Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: {7} "There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf." {8} And his brothers said to him, "Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

bowed downshachah – to bow down; the same word is used in Gen. 37:7 and 42:6.
What seemed like an audacious, proud dream was actually a prophecy of the future.
The bowing of the sheaves – sheaves are bundles of grain, the brothers are now bowing before Joseph in order to buy grain from him.

The second dream was about the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing before him.

{9} Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, "Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me." {10} So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?" {11} And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Note:  Joseph’s second dream involves all his brothers as well as his parents.  Even though Joseph currently has ten brothers bowing before him, the complete fulfillment hasn’t happened yet and won’t until the entire family comes to Egypt.

What’s the connection between remembering the dreams and speaking harshly to the brothers?

Joseph’s harsh words are aimed at fulfilling the second dream, getting the rest of the family down to Egypt.  He’s going to try and get his brother Ben first.

And instead of just telling his brothers who he is, Joseph first has to find out what kind of men they are now.  Can they be trusted?  Are they still murderous, greedy men?  Or could they have changed?

:10 And they said to him, "No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food.

:11 "We are all one man's sons; we are honest men; your servants are not spies."

The accusation is that they are from some foreign invader who is going to try and conquer Egypt and take all their grain.

:12 But he said to them, "No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land."

:13 And they said, "Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more."

I find it interesting that they admit to this “stranger” that they once had a twelfth brother (Joseph).  They have no reason to do so.

:14 But Joseph said to them, "It is as I spoke to you, saying, 'You are spies!'

This is the third time Joseph accuses them of being spies (:9, 12, 14)

:15 "In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here.

testedbachan – to examine, try, prove; I think this gives us a clue as to what Joseph is really up to.

It could be that Joseph is just getting a little revenge on his brothers.  After all, they were responsible for him being a slave and being in Egypt.

I personally think he is testing his brothers.  Not to see if they are spies, but to see what kind of men they are.

Joseph is now 39 years old and hasn’t seen his brothers for 22 years.  The last he knew, his brothers were dirty rotten scoundrels who had sold him for a few bucks as a slave into Egypt.
I think Joseph is concerned about his full brother, Benjamin.  I think initially Joseph is going to try and get his brothers to bring Benjamin to him, where he can protect Benjamin from them.  As far as Joseph is concerned, it’s possible they might have already killed Benjamin.
In the process, Joseph is going to find out if his brothers have changed over the years.


Testing others

I think there is a place for learning the value of testing others in certain situations.

In forgiveness

I think there should be a difference between forgiving people and trusting them.
We are commanded to forgive others.  We need to learn to let go of resentment and bitterness.
But I’m not sure this means that because we forgive a person, that we automatically trust them.

When a person has been abused by another in some way, I think the goal is to learn to forgive.

But this doesn’t mean you give the person the key to your apartment.

I see this in the life of the apostle Paul and a young man named John Mark.  On Paul’s first mission trip, John Mark had bailed and abandoned the team.  Later, Paul had the opportunity to take Mark on another trip:
(Acts 15:37-40 NKJV)  Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. {38} But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. {39} Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; {40} but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.
Yet later, as Paul watched Mark grow in the Lord and grow in faithfulness, his opinion of Mark changed:

(2 Tim 4:11 NKJV)  …Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.

In ministry
Paul tells Timothy that those who want to serve in the church ought to be “tested”,

(1 Tim 3:8-10 NKJV)  Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, {9} holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. {10} But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless.

Paul had already done this in the life of Timothy, as he writes to the Philippians,

(Phil 2:22 NKJV)  But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.

I think sometimes a church can make a mistake of promoting people too quickly within the ministry because they are extra charismatic or good “schmoozers” without giving them a chance to prove themselves in actual serving, in being faithful.

:16 "Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you shall be kept in prison, that your words may be tested to see whether there is any truth in you; or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies!"

:17 So he put them all together in prison three days.

When the brothers kidnapped Joseph, they threw him into a cistern/pit and he eventually ended up in an Egyptian prison.  Joseph gives them just a taste of what they did to him.

:18-24 Simeon kept

:18 Then Joseph said to them the third day, "Do this and live, for I fear God:

:19 "If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined to your prison house; but you, go and carry grain for the famine of your houses.

It appears that after three days Joseph has changed his plans.  He decides to only hold one brother. He exercises a bit of grace in how he tests his brothers.

:20 "And bring your youngest brother to me; so your words will be verified, and you shall not die." And they did so.

:21 Then they said to one another, "We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us."

:22 And Reuben answered them, saying, "Did I not speak to you, saying, 'Do not sin against the boy'; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us."

They don’t know that Joseph is hearing all these things.  They have no reason to be putting on a show of fake repentance.  Joseph must be amazed to hear the change that has happened in his brothers’ lives.


Dealing with guilt

Guilt is something that motivates people

Elizabeth Brinton, thirteen-year-old Girl Scout, explaining how she sold 11,200 boxes of cookies: “You have to look people in the eye and make them feel guilty.”

It’s long been a truth within psychology that the number one major problem in counseling is dealing with guilt.  When people don’t deal with their guilt, they develop neuroses – they do crazy things trying to punish themselves for what they did wrong.
Joseph’s brothers have started to become paranoid and are starting to get to the point where every bad thing that happens is linked back to their sin.
There is a school of psychology that tries to deal with this by simply talking you out of your guilt.
Sometimes we come up with silly ways to deal with our guilt.

Gentlemen: Enclosed you will find a check for $150.  I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since.  If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest. Sincerely, A Tax Payer

Some folks feel they need to “pay off” God and they’ll do things like put an extra big check in the offering to make up for what they’ve done.  Now I don’t necessarily want you to stop doing that … J
What do you do with your guilt?
The Bible teaches us what to do with our guilt.

(Psa 32:1-5 NKJV)  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. {2} Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit. {3} When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. {4} For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah {5} I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

If we confess our sin to God, we will find forgiveness.

:23 But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter.

:24 And he turned himself away from them and wept. Then he returned to them again, and talked with them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.

turned away … and wept – Joseph seems quite touched at his brothers’ sense of remorse.

Why does Joseph take Simeon? Simeon was one of the brothers known for his temper.  Perhaps Simeon was one of the brothers who wanted to kill Joseph.

:25-28 The brothers return to Canaan

:25 Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man's money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. Thus he did for them.

:26 So they loaded their donkeys with the grain and departed from there.

:27 But as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey feed at the encampment, he saw his money; and there it was, in the mouth of his sack.

There are two different words that are translated “sack”.  The main part of the grain shipment is being stored in large sacks, but the money and the day to day feed for the donkeys were kept in smaller sacks.

:28 So he said to his brothers, "My money has been restored, and there it is, in my sack!" Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, "What is this that God has done to us?"

I find it interesting that they are worried about receiving their money back.

Wouldn’t you love to go to the grocery store, load up a couple of carts full of food, and when you get home find all your money in one of the bags of groceries?  Would you consider it a terrible thing?

Yet their guilt over Joseph has turned what others may consider a blessing into something that they are worried about.

NOTE:  Again, Joseph does something good towards his brothers.

Perhaps he’s again testing them to see how they’ll handle the money.  But I see a picture of grace here.

(Rom 2:4 NKJV)  Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
This is the way that God deals with us.  Giving us wonderful things that we don’t deserve.  Joseph may be testing them, but here he’s testing them with kindness.

:29-38 The report to Jacob

:29 Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying:

:30 "The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country.

:31 "But we said to him, 'We are honest men; we are not spies.

:32 'We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father this day in the land of Canaan.'

:33 "Then the man, the lord of the country, said to us, 'By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone.

:34 'And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.'"

:35 Then it happened as they emptied their sacks, that surprisingly each man's bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.

:36 And Jacob their father said to them, "You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me."

The world is against me.

Yet what he doesn’t know is that he doesn’t see the bigger picture.

Joseph is not dead.  It is not a bad thing for Benjamin to go.

Be careful about taking the ultimate pessimistic view of life.  You don’t see the end of the book yet.

The Bible says,

(Rom 8:28 NKJV)  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

:37 Then Reuben spoke to his father, saying, "Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you; put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you."

I find it interesting that later when Judah makes about the same offer, Jacob will finally give in and let Benjamin go.  But when Reuben makes this offer, Jacob rejects it.

Reuben has already been guilty of adultery, sleeping with one of Jacob’s concubines.

(Gen 49:4 NKJV)  Unstable as water, you shall not excel, Because you went up to your father's bed; Then you defiled it; He went up to my couch.
Jacob saw Reuben as being “unstable”.  He doesn’t accept his offer.

:38 But he said, "My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave."


Fear and delay

Sometimes fear is a healthy thing.
It’s a healthy thing to be afraid of fire, to be afraid of burning yourself.
Fear of heights can be a handy thing if you don’t want to find yourself in a position of falling from a high place.
But sometimes fear is what keeps us from doing something we need to be doing.
If we track the chronology of the story, it will take two years for Jacob to get his family to Egypt, and the majority of this delay was due to Jacob’s fear.
The irony is that the thing Jacob is afraid of is the least of his fears.  He’s afraid of losing Benjamin, yet every day he delays allowing Benjamin to go to Egypt takes him closer to losing the entire family to the famine.
Be careful with your fears.
It’s hard to know the line of when I’m being cautious and careful and when I’m simply being faithless and paranoid.
Most good things from God are going to come with challenges and difficulties.  The enemy doesn’t want you following after God.
Most good things from God are going to require faith.  They are going to require that you be willing to step out and trust Him.
I could talk to you about the great faith it took the team to go to Russia this year.  And indeed it took faith.  But it also takes faith to pull off some of the things that each of us face from day to day.

It might be taking that step to ask the girl to marry you.

It might be holding on to a job that’s killing you but you feel God wants you in that place.  It might be letting go of that job and finding another.

You might make mistakes in some of the choices you make, but that too is all part of growing up as a Christian.  It’s learning to make the mistakes, fall on your face, get back up, and continue to follow Jesus.