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Living in Fear

We have been taking an in-depth look at the life of Joseph throughout the summer. And it’s taken us a little while to get through it all… there’s a lot of information to cover – and a lot of good lessons to be learned from Joseph and from his family. However, we are nearing the end, and today, we’ll cover a lot of ground – probably about a chapter & a half.

Now even if you haven’t been with us for the last little while, I’m going to assume that most of you have heard at least the Sunday School version of Joseph’s story – so I’m not going to recap things from the very beginning, but I will just quickly help you get your bearings for where we are today.

Because of a wide-spread famine, Joseph’s brothers have just come to Egypt to buy food, but unknown to them, Joseph (whom they had sold into slavery many years before) had risen to be the second-in-command over all of Egypt – and it was from him that they would have to buy grain. 

Of course, they didn’t recognize him, (it had been about 20 years since they saw him last) but he certainly recognized them and instead of immediately revealing his identity, he decided to take advantage of this opportunity and put them to the test. We don’t fully know his motivations for why he decided to test his brothers, but we kinda assume it was to see what kind of men they had become in the years since they had sold him as a slave. Were they still heartless and cruel (men who would plot to kill their own brother) – or had they changed?

So to find out, this is what he did. First of all, he accused them of being spies and threw them all in prison for three days. (What youngest sibling hasn’t wanted to do that to their older brothers at some pointing their life….?) 

After those three days, he brought them out and told them that he would continue to hold one of them (Simeon) as his prisoner, while the other brothers were to take food home for their starving families. In order to prove their innocence and to prove their story of all being brothers from one family, they would have to bring their youngest brother back to Egypt with them when they returned the next time – or else Simeon would remain in prison and the brothers would not be allowed to buy any more grain in Egypt.

And Joseph comes across as being very harsh with them, but we can tell that he still cared very much about his family – as he sent them home with both the grain they bought for their families, as well as secretly giving them all their money back.

But of course, the brothers had not idea about this money – but when they discovered this it on their way home, they concluded that God was trying to frame them as thieves as punishment for what they had done to Joseph years ago and they were totally terrified about what would happen if the Egyptians though they were not only spies, but thieves too!

When they finally arrived home, and told their father, Jacob, about what had happened and what the governor had said, and Jacob certainly wasn’t happy either – as he had no intentions whatsoever of letting his youngest son Benjamin go with the rest of the brothers to Egypt. You see, Benjamin was Jacob’s favorite son, and he would not allow him to be put in any sort of risky situation.

And that’s about where we left off last time. Simeon is in prison, the famine is still devastating the land, and the food is very limited. But the brothers don’t dare go back to Egypt without Benjamin – and Jacob is absolutely refusing to let Benjamin go. It seem like they’re at a bit of an impasse – but something’s got to give! So we’re going to continue reading today in Genesis chapter 43, verse 1 to see how this all pans out.

But the famine continued to ravage the land of Canaan. 2 When the grain they had brought from Egypt was almost gone, Jacob said to his sons, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”

3 But Judah said, “The man was serious when he warned us, ‘You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send Benjamin with us, we will go down and buy more food. 5 But if you don’t let Benjamin go, we won’t go either. Remember, the man said, ‘You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.’” Genesis 43:1-4

So, here we have Judah, who is the 4th oldest of the brothers, firmly reminding his father that there was no way they were going to get any grain unless Benjamin was allowed to go down to Egypt with them. If Jacob would allow it, they would immediately be on their way to Egypt to buy more food. But if not, then no one was going anywhere.

Judah seems pretty firm in his convictions that there was only one way to resolve this problem – and that was for Jacob to allow Benjamin to go down to Egypt with them.

But look at how Jacob responds. Verse 6.

6 “Why were you so cruel to me?” Jacob moaned. “Why did you tell him you had another brother?”

7 “The man kept asking us questions about our family,” they replied. “He asked, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ So we answered his questions. How could we know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”

Genesis 43:1-7

Clearly, Jacob was still very much opposed to the idea of sending Benjamin to Egypt, even though their grain was almost gone and they were getting dangerously close to starvation. And like we noted last time, Jacob continues to wallow around in self-pity. You’ll remember in chapter 42, when the brothers first returned from Egypt, Jacob declares “You are robbing me of my children! Joseph is gone! Simeon is gone! And now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!”

And now, in a very similar manner, he moans, “Why were you so cruel to me? Why did you tell him you had another brother?”

Of course, the brothers explained that they were simply answering the questions that they were asked. When they were being interrogated as spies, it seemed like a pretty good idea to tell the truth!

But Jacob doesn’t seem to be concerned with any of that – all he is concerned about is how cruel his sons have been to him!

I don’t know about you, but Jacob certainly doesn’t strike me a great leader. Even though he is the patriarch of the family, we really don’t see him provide any real leadership to his sons. All we see from him is moaning and complaining. His favouritism and selfishness seem to be his distinguishing character traits.

Every negative thing in his life is someone else’s fault – and everyone and everything is against him. His sons have ruined his life. They were the one’s robbing him of his children. They were so stupid to have told the truth to the governor…. 

You know, we could almost look at Jacob as an example of what not to do when it comes to leading your family. 

In fact, Jacob’s actions and attitudes are a stark contrast to Paul’s instructions to fathers in the book of Ephesians and the book of Colossians. In both books, Paul begins by telling children to obey their parents, (we always remember those verses) but then Paul immediately follows that with instructions for fathers. In Ephesians 6:4 we read:

4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

Speaking from experience, I know that it is so easy to provoke our children to anger if we’re not careful. When we act selfishly, when we have double standards, when we lash out at them because we’re frustrated – we’re going to end up raising angry, frustrated kids. We’re going to provoke them to anger.

I think that’s just what Jacob did. His favouritism, the double standards he held for his different sons, blaming his kids for all his troubles, lashing out at them, his selfishness and self-pity….

If that was my dad, I think I’d grow up pretty angry and frustrated too.

As dads, (and as moms too), we’ve got to realize what an impact we make on our kids. Our attitudes, our actions, our character – it all plays a major role in shaping who our kids become – for better or for worse.

If only Jacob could have taken to heart Paul’s instructions:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

But unfortunately, that didn’t seem to the the case for Jacob. 

However, in the absence of Jacob’s leadership in his family, interestingly enough, we see Judah step up and take on some responsibility. Look at verse 8…

8 Judah said to his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will be on our way. Otherwise we will all die of starvation—and not only we, but you and our little ones. 9 I personally guarantee his safety. You may hold me responsible if I don’t bring him back to you. Then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we hadn’t wasted all this time, we could have gone and returned twice by now.”  Genesis 43:8-10

This almost comes across as a reprimand to Jacob. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I kinda get the sense that Judah is frustrated with his father’s favouritism, selfishness, and stubbornness. The need for food has been obvious for weeks – and the way to get the food was equally as obvious. But Jacob’s refusal to send Benjamin with the rest of the brothers to Egypt had put the whole family in danger of starvation. And so finally, Judah says, “Send the boy with me and I’ll guarantee his safety. If we hadn’t wasted all this time, we could have gone and returned twice by now! As it is, we’re all in danger of starvation.”

And so really, with no other options, Jacob finally relents. In verse 11 we read:

11 So their father, Jacob, finally said to them, “If it can’t be avoided, then at least do this. Pack your bags with the best products of this land. Take them down to the man as gifts—balm, honey, gum, aromatic resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Also take double the money that was put back in your sacks, as it was probably someone’s mistake. 13 Then take your brother, and go back to the man. 14 May God Almighty give you mercy as you go before the man, so that he will release Simeon and let Benjamin return. But if I must lose my children, so be it.” Genesis 43:11-14

Jacob finally resigned himself to the fact that Benjamin would have to go down to Egypt. But he wouldn’t go empty handed. Not only did they take back double the money that they found in their sacks, but they also loaded up their bags with gifts of the finest quality for the governor. Perhaps, Jacob thought, the gifts would soften the Egyptian’s harsh attitude towards them. So in verse 15 we read:

15 So the men packed Jacob’s gifts and double the money and headed off with Benjamin. They finally arrived in Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the manager of his household, “These men will eat with me this noon. Take them inside the palace. Then go slaughter an animal, and prepare a big feast.” 17 So the man did as Joseph told him and took them into Joseph’s palace.

18 The brothers were terrified when they saw that they were being taken into Joseph’s house. “It’s because of the money someone put in our sacks last time we were here,” they said. “He plans to pretend that we stole it. Then he will seize us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys.” Genesis 43:15-18

And I always have to laugh here! I love how, of all their concerns, they fear that Jospeh will take their donkeys! That all of this had just been an elaborate scheme by the second-in-command of all of Egypt …to steal their donkeys! I suppose donkeys were a lot more valuable back then, but still…. They may be thrown into prison – they may be sold as slaves – but heaven forbid that Jospeh would take their donkeys! It’s just funny to me!

But I guess it wasn’t funny for them. They were terrified! And so, the first thing they wanted to do was to clear up the whole ‘finding money in their bags of grain’ thing… It says in verse 19.

19 The brothers approached the manager of Joseph’s household and spoke to him at the entrance to the palace. 20 “Sir,” they said, “we came to Egypt once before to buy food. 21 But as we were returning home, we stopped for the night and opened our sacks. Then we discovered that each man’s money—the exact amount paid—was in the top of his sack! Here it is; we have brought it back with us. 22 We also have additional money to buy more food. We have no idea who put our money in our sacks.” Genesis 43:19-22

And this must have been a tense moment for these brothers – as they confess to having the money that was supposed to have been paid for their grain. And really, their story about just ‘finding the money in their bags’ probably didn’t seem very believable even to them, so I imagine the brothers were fully prepared to find themselves thrown into Joseph’s prison with their brother Simeon. But surprisingly to them, that’s not what happened. verse 23

23 “Relax. Don’t be afraid,” the household manager told them. “Your God, the God of your father, must have put this treasure into your sacks. I know I received your payment.” Then he released Simeon and brought him out to them. Genesis 43:23

What an incredible relief these men must have felt! Not only were they not accused of stealing, but the Egyptian attributed this bonus money as a gift from their God – which it really was. While they had been fearing that God had set them up for disaster, the reality was that God was generously providing and taking care of them.

I wonder how often we confuse our circumstances the same way? What may seem like a complete disaster to us, can often be God’s way of providing and caring for us. We just don’t realize it at the time! I know we talked about this a few weeks ago, so I won’t rehash all of that again, but I do think this is a great example of why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16…

16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The circumstances that we’re inclined to moan and complain about, to fret and to fear about, are often the very circumstances that God uses to do incredible good. It turns out that we are pretty terrible judges of own circumstances! But when we remember how good God is – and how wise He is – we can look at any of our circumstances and be thankful for them – knowing that our good God is at work. Remembering God’s goodness is what allows us to…

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for [us] who belong to Christ Jesus.

And even though I don’t think they were thankful for their circumstances, what Joseph’s brother’s feared would be their undoing, actually ended up being a great blessing from God. 

Well, with that weight off their chest and with their brother Simeon being reunited with them, the men followed the manger into Joseph’s house.

24 The manager then led the men into Joseph’s palace. He gave them water to wash their feet and provided food for their donkeys. 25 They were told they would be eating there, so they prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon.

26 When Joseph came home, they gave him the gifts they had brought him, then bowed low to the ground before him. 27 After greeting them, he asked, “How is your father, the old man you spoke about? Is he still alive?”

28 “Yes,” they replied. “Our father, your servant, is alive and well.” And they bowed low again.

29 Then Joseph looked at his brother Benjamin, the son of his own mother. “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” Joseph asked. “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. Genesis 43:24-30

You know, I think if I were Joseph, I’d have ended the facade right there. Joseph was obviously very moved to see his younger brother (and really, his only full brother, as the others were half brothers), so I’m sure Joseph very much wanted to reveal who he really was and be reunited with at least his younger brother Benjamin, if not all the others too.

But Joseph wasn’t quite ready to do that. And again, we’re not specifically told why, but Joseph had one more test for his brothers. 

31 After washing his face, he came back out, keeping himself under control. Then he ordered, “Bring out the food!”

32 The waiters served Joseph at his own table, and his brothers were served at a separate table. The Egyptians who ate with Joseph sat at their own table, because Egyptians despise Hebrews and refuse to eat with them. 33 Joseph told each of his brothers where to sit, and to their amazement, he seated them according to age, from oldest to youngest. 34 And Joseph filled their plates with food from his own table, giving Benjamin five times as much as he gave the others. So they feasted and drank freely with him. Genesis 43:31-34

 And you would think that here would be another great opportunity for Joseph to reveal himself – but not yet. Let’s flip over to the next chapter, chapter 44, to see Joseph setup the final test for his brothers.

When his brothers were ready to leave, Joseph gave these instructions to his palace manager: “Fill each of their sacks with as much grain as they can carry, and put each man’s money back into his sack. 2 Then put my personal silver cup at the top of the youngest brother’s sack, along with the money for his grain.” So the manager did as Joseph instructed him. Genesis 44:1-2

Just like the first time they bought grain from him, Joseph once again secretly returned all their money and placed it in their sacks of grain. But this time, he also had his personal silver cup placed in the top of Benjamin’s sack. And this wasn’t just a generous gift like the money – Joseph was setting them up to truly test their character.

3 The brothers were up at dawn and were sent on their journey with their loaded donkeys. 4 But when they had gone only a short distance and were barely out of the city, Joseph said to his palace manager, “Chase after them and stop them. When you catch up with them, ask them, ‘Why have you repaid my kindness with such evil? 5 Why have you stolen my master’s silver cup, which he uses to predict the future? What a wicked thing you have done!’”

6 When the palace manager caught up with the men, he spoke to them as he had been instructed.

7 “What are you talking about?” the brothers responded. “We are your servants and would never do such a thing! 8 Didn’t we return the money we found in our sacks? We brought it back all the way from the land of Canaan. Why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If you find his cup with any one of us, let that man die. And all the rest of us, my lord, will be your slaves.” Genesis 44:3-9

I’m a little surprised that the brothers were so confident that the silver cup would not be found among them – after last time when all their money mysteriously show up in their bags. But I guess they knew that none of them would never dare to do such a thing, and so they said with confidence, that if the silver cup was found with any of them, then that person would die and the rest of them would be Joseph’s slaves! The manager then response in verse 10…

10 “That’s fair,” the man replied. “But only the one who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go free.”

11 They all quickly took their sacks from the backs of their donkeys and opened them. 12 The palace manager searched the brothers’ sacks, from the oldest to the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack! 13 When the brothers saw this, they tore their clothing in despair. Then they loaded their donkeys again and returned to the city.

Genesis 44:10-13

Boy, you know, if these brothers had thought God had set them up for disaster last time they were in Egypt, I’m sure they were absolutely convinced of it now!

I’m sure they thought that God had lulled them into a false sense of security by giving them such a pleasant visit with the governor – even having a meal with him – and all just to set them up for this final blow!

With that silver cup in their possession, they would be certainly be thrown into prison as Joseph’s slaves, none of them would ever return to their families – and worst of all, just as they feared, Joseph would take their donkeys!

And I think we’ll leave it here for today – we’ll end on a bit of a cliff hanger so you’ll have to come back next week. But I will leave you with a sneak peak of the end – and that is that none of the brother’s fears and worries will actually come to pass.

They don’t get thrown into prison. They don’t become Joseph’s slaves. And Joseph doesn’t even take their donkeys! None of their fears actually come to pass.

In fact, none of Jacob’s fears come to pass either. His son Joseph isn’t actually dead. His other son Simeon isn’t stuck in prison for life. And his son Benjamin will safely return home.

None of his fears come to pass either.

And hopefully, you can take some encouragement from that today.

Like Jacob and his sons, far too often we live our lives in fear – worrying about all the terrible things that MAY happen – but probably won’t! 

We create all these worse case scenarios in our minds – and far more often than not – they never come to pass.

No wonder the Bible tells us over 80 times not to be afraid.

Fear steals our joy, it cripples our decision making, it hinders our faith, it keeps us from being who God created us to be.

And I think probably most of us struggle with fear in some way or another. Maybe we’re not fearful that someone will make us slaves and take our donkeys, but we probably all have fears of failure, fears of rejection, fears of losing someone we care about. I’m sure we could make quite a list if we tried.

But the bottom line is that we don’t have to live our lives in fear.

There is a God in heaven who loves us more than we can imagine. He is sovereign over the universe and is infinitely powerful and absolutely good! And at the same time, he knows you intimately. In fact, He knows the number of hairs on your head! And he wants nothing more than to give you true joy and peace – and for you to have that for eternity!

That’s why he was willing to die on a cross – taking your punishment – and freeing you from the grip of death. It was so that you could experience joy and peace with Him forever!

And if that sovereign, all-powerful God of the universe loves you that much – what can we possibly be afraid of?

I want to close today by reading through a few verses in Isaiah 43. These are written to the nation of Israel, but I think they very much apply to you and I as well. If you put yourself in Isreal’s place, you could read this as God speaking to you very personally. So just imagine God speaking these words to you this morning.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.

    O Israel, the one who formed you says,

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

    I have called you by name; you are mine.

2 When you go through deep waters,

    I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,

    you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

    you will not be burned up;

    the flames will not consume you.

3 For I am the Lord, your God,

    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;

    I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.

4 Others were given in exchange for you.

    I traded their lives for yours

because you are precious to me.

    You are honored, and I love you.

5 “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

Isaiah 43:1-5a

Isn’t that a great encouragement? I love how in very 3 &4, it says…

I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;

    I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.

4 Others were given in exchange for you.

    I traded their lives for yours

That so obviously reminds us of how God gave his Son Jesus as a ransom for our freedom. God sent Jesus to take our place on that cross. And his life was given in exchange for ours.

And why did He do it? He tells us in the very next verse.

because you are precious to me.

    You are honored, and I love you.

5 “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

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