Joseph’s Four Tests

Genesis 44

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
December 2015

We have been studying the Joseph story in the Book of Genesis.  It is one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible. Joseph was the favorite son of the favorite wife of Jacob.  His brothers hated him.  They despised him and, when they got a chance, they him sold into slavery.

In Egypt, he went as far down as he could possibly go.  He was an immigrant turned slave turned prisoner.  He was put in prison on a rape charge.  Then, after going down as far as he could go, he went up as high as he could go.  He became the Prime Minister of the country.  Over twenty years went by since he was sold into slavery by his brothers and then they show up in Egypt.

They went to buy food in Egypt.  This is now their second trip to Egypt.  They received nine surprises and in this chapter they received a tenth surprise.  Their father did not want to send Benjamin with them but he had no choice.  Joseph told them that they would not get any food unless he comes with them, so he sent them reluctantly.  During this second trip to Egypt, another unexpected thing happens.  Benjamin gets arrested.

There is also an incredible type of Christ in this chapter.  It is not Joseph.  It is Judah.  In fact, Judah is an even greater type of Christ than Joseph was.  In this chapter, you will see why Jesus became a descendant of Judah.  He was just like him.  Jesus is our Judah.  Jesus did something that Judah does in this chapter.

Last week, everything went great for Joseph’s brothers.  They came to Egypt looking to buy food.  They offered the return the money that was in their sacks but didn’t have to.  Nobody wanted their money.  Joseph was nice to them.  He did not speak rough to them.

In fact, he invited them to his house for a banquet.  While everyone else was struggling in a time of famine, Joseph was feasting with his brothers.  Instead of throwing them into prison, he throws a party for them. Then we come to Genesis 44 and everything seems to go wrong.

On the way out of town, they are stopped and searched.  Joseph’s steward caught up with them and confronted them. “As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done’” (44:3-5 NIV).

This is the old Joseph at work.  His brothers must think that he has two personalities.  He is really mean and then he is really nice and then he goes back to being mean.  He accuses them of doing evil when they did nothing wrong.  He accuses one of them of stealing.  He wants to know why they have returned evil for good.  On the first trip, he accused them of spying.  Now, he accuses them of spying and he does not seem to be open to any reason.

Notice what the brothers said.  They said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? (44:7-8 NIV).  They protested their innocence.  They said that they had no intention of stealing anything from him.  They were so honest that they returned the extra money they found.  They had integrity.  You feel sorry for them.

They said, “If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves” (44:9).  Joseph’s steward said, “Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.”  No one will die but the culprit will become a slave.

“Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack” (44:11-12).

Now what is going on here?  This is strange.  It seems to make absolutely no sense.  For the longest time, I never understood why he did this.  It does not seem right.  He does not seem to be an innocent angel here.  What Joseph does in this chapter is not necessarily something that we should do today.  It is not normative.  What are some of the things he does?

Joseph spoke roughly to his brothers.  He deliberately slandered his brothers.  He accused them of things that they never did (stealing, spying).  In fact, Joseph went beyond this.  He did not merely accuse Benjamin of being a thief; he framed him for the crime. How did he do that?  He planted evidence.  He put his silver cup in his sack and accused him of stealing it.  That does not seem fair.  He planted evidence on Benjamin to make him look guilty.

We get upset if a police officer plants evidence on someone to make them guilty of a crime they did not commit. Joseph did the same thing. Joseph does exactly what Potiphar’s wife did.  She framed him for a crime he did not commit.  She framed him for rape.  She had the physical evidence in her hand (his robe).

Now Joseph frames Benjamin for a stealing. Joseph also used deception with them.  He claimed to have a cup that he used for divination.  That wasn’t true.  There is no evidence that Joseph was involved in the occult or that he was superstitious.  He rejected Egyptian religious practices and worshipped the true God.

Why did he do it?  It was all an act.  Joseph was just playing a role.  That is why he talked about divination.  He was playing the role of a pagan Egyptian.  It was a disguise, like dressing and speaking like an Egyptian.  This was a test.  It was the final test that Joseph gives his brothers.  It was the greatest test of them all.  Joseph gives his brothers several specific tests.  They all had a clear purpose.  Let’s look at these tests.

The First Test – The Missing Brother Test

His first test was this: Is Benjamin still alive and can you prove it? Benjamin did not come to Egypt with his ten brothers.  Joseph wanted to make sure that he was still alive.  He wants to make sure that they did not kill him off.  He tested them to see if they did the same thing to his little brother who was the only other son of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel.

They said that he was alive and was home in Canaan but he wanted to make sure that they were telling the truth.  They were not known for their honesty in the past.  They passed that test.  They brought Benjamin back with them.  He was perfectly safe.

The Second Test – The Jealousy Test

The second test was this: Are you jealous of Benjamin?  He was their dad’s favorite son.  Bringing Benjamin back with them did not tell him how they treated him, so another test was needed.  Joseph invited them over to his house and deliberately gave him five times the amount of food that he gave to the other brothers to see if they would get jealous.  They passed that test.  There was no sign of jealousy among the brothers.  They all had plenty to eat, even if Benjamin got more.

The Third Test – The Guilt Test 

The third test was this:  Do you feel any regret for your actions twenty years ago?  Do they feel guilty about what they have done?  Many people do all kinds of bad things to people and seem to have no conscience.  They do not feel bad about what they have done.  They have no sorrow or regret.  Joseph wanted to know how they felt about what they did to him over twenty years ago.

They passed this test.  Reuben said, “And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” (42:22). Reuben has clear regret here and he said now they were suffering for what they did.  That caused Joseph to weep in another room.

Judah said the same thing.  He said, “And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants” (44:16).  He is not confessing to stealing.  He is saying that God has caught them and once again held them accountable for what they did to Joseph. He saw God in the situation.

The Fourth Test – The Repentance Test

This was the biggest test of them all.  Joseph wants to see if they have changed in over twenty years.  Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional family.  He suffered abuse from his own family. His brothers used to be jealous of him.  They were jealous of his special coat his dad gave to him and to no one else.  They thought he was arrogant.

He had these dreams about ruling over his brothers.  They wanted to kill him. They threw him into a pit.  He was completely helpless.  They ganged up on him.  It was ten against one.  They laughed at him when he cried for help.  He wanted to know if they changed.

They showed guilty feelings for what they did but that is not the same thing as repentance.  Many people feel guilty for what they have done but do not repent.  They may even confess their sin but still not repent. King Saul in the OT said, “I have sinned” (I Samuel 15:24, 30).  He was given a command and deliberately disobeyed and then tries to justify his disobedience.  In fact, after saying “I have sinned,” he said “honor me now” (I Samuel 15:30).

Judas betrayed Jesus with thirty pieces of silver.  He turned him over to the Jewish leaders who turned him over to the Romans and crucified him.  He later confessed his sin.  He said the words “I have sinned” (Matthew 27:4) but Judas was not saved.  He never genuinely repented. He went off and killed himself.  How do you know if you have really repented?  The Apostle Paul answers this question.

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:19-20).  You demonstrate your repentance by your life, not by your words.  Actions speak louder than words.  You can say “I am sorry” and then go do the same thing and prove that you are not sorry.

That is the test that Joseph gave them in this chapter.  He wants to know if they would do the same thing again if they were given the chance.  That is the only way to really tell if they have changed.  Guess what he does in this chapter?  He recreates the crime scene.  Joseph recreated the moment at which they sold Joseph into slavery.

Once again, they have a chance to sell another brother into slavery.  This time, it is Benjamin.  Like Joseph, he was not just a brother, he was the favorite brother.  He was Jacob’s new favorite son.  He was a son of Rachel, his favorite wife.  Now was their chance.  They had a chance to get rid of the favorite son once and for all.  Joseph was actually giving them an opportunity to sin to see if they would take it.  Will they give Benjamin away or try to free him?

They passed this test with flying colors. What was their response when the silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack?  How did they respond? “At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city” (44:13).  Three things happened.  First, they tore their clothes.  That was one of the ways that people in the Ancient Near East expressed grief.  It happens all through the Bible.

Second, they all went back into the city.  They went back to Joseph’s house.  They did not have to do that.  They could have all gone home but they had no intention of going back home without Benjamin.  They go back to the house and fall down before Joseph.  The brothers stuck together in this chapter.  They were not going to go anywhere without Benjamin.

Third, Judah gives a speech.  He becomes the spokesman for the group and speaks up for Benjamin.  By doing this, he was keeping the promise he made to his dad to be responsible for Benjamin.  He stands up for Benjamin.  This speech of Judah was one of the greatest speeches found in ancient literature.

It was a long speech, the longest speech in the Book of Genesis. That is interesting.  The longest speech was not one made by Abraham or Isaac or Jacob.  It was not even one made by Joseph.  It was one made by Judah.  It was an eloquent speech (44:19-34).  It was passionate. It was from the heart. It was moving.  What he said completely pierced Joseph’s heart.

He told him how much his dad loved Benjamin and how much he did not want him to come to Egypt because he was worried something bad might happen to him and if anything bad did happen to him, it would kill him.  Notice what Judah said, “Jacob’s life is bound up in the lad’s life. When he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow” (44:30-31).

Judah’s Transformation

Judah went through a transformation and I want us to look at it.  Judah has changed and Joseph sees it.  It was obvious.  He used to be cold and merciless.  He used to have no sympathy for his younger brother as he was thrown into the pit and cried for help. He was the one who came up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery (37:26-27), not because he loved his brother but because he was greedy.  His greed actually saved Joseph’s life.  He went from being cold to being compassionate. Now, he cares about his father and young brother.

Judah used to be self indulgent and self-centered.  He was out visiting prostitutes.  He was not too sensitive to the needs of the widow Tamar in Genesis 38.  Now he is selfless.  He thinks of others, not himself.  He puts Benjamin’s needs above his own needs. He regards him as more important than himself (Philippians 2:4).

He was arrogant and judgmental, condemning Tamar to death for doing the same thing he did.  Now he is completely humble.  Judah says, “What can we say to my lord? What can we say? How can we prove our innocence?” (44:16). He did not say, “How dare you accuse us of doing anything like this”.  Judah knew that Benjamin did not doing anything wrong but he does not even try to prove Benjamin is innocent, just like Joseph did not try to prove that he was not guilty of rape.

He couldn’t.  He was in a foreign country and the deck was stacked against them.  He was just a slave and it was his word against Potiphar’s wife and she had some physical evidence.  Benjamin had the evidence on him.  He also did not try to blame someone else.

Before, Judah sold Joseph, who was the son of Rachel, as a slave.  Now he offers himself as a slave so another son of Rachel does not become a slave.  He offers himself up as a substitute.  He sacrifices himself.  This shows us how much Judah has changed. He went from being a slave trader to offering himself as a slave.

He was the one who came up with the idea of selling one of his brothers, a son of Rachel, into slavery and now he pleads for another brother, another son of Rachel, NOT to be sold into slavery.  Judah becomes a man of character.

It also shows us a great example of substitution, which is the heart of the gospel message.  Judah offers himself as a substitute.  He offers to bear Benjamin’s punishment himself so Benjamin can go free.  Jesus died as out substitute on the cross.  The gospel message is that Christ died for our sins.  He died in our place “the just for the unjust”.  We see that here.  That is why Judah is such a great type of Jesus.

Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” (44:33-34)

Lessons in Conflict Resolution 

1) Forgiveness is not based on confession

Forgiveness is not easy.  If someone asks you to forgive them, you should forgive them.  “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them”  (Luke 17:3-4 NIV).

What if they do not ask for forgiveness?  The only one who might do that is a fellow Christian and they do not always do that.  Unbelievers are not going to ask for your forgiveness if they sin against you.  Are we still obligate to forgive anyway? Yes.  Even If they never repent, we still have to forgive that person, even if they never say they are sorry for what they have done to you.

Mark 11:25 says. “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (ESV).  Notice that Jesus did not say “forgive them if they come to you and ask for it”.

That is what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.  He did not say “Father forgive them.  They know what they are doing and they feel really bad about it.”  Joseph forgave his brothers.  We will see that next week.

2) Forgiveness is not the same thing as trust

We talked about this last week.  Joseph forgave his brothers but he did not immediately trust them, and for good reason.  The brothers that he knew were violent men.  You can forgive someone who abused you but that does not mean that you have to trust them.  Joseph’s brothers abused him.  Forgiveness is letting go of all of the anger, bitterness and resentment that you feel about something.

Forgiveness is for you, not for them.  The other person may not accept your forgiveness or not even believe that he or she did anything wrong. Forgiveness is a choice.  It is a decision to let go of the past.  We can forgive someone, even if we never can get along with that person again.

3) Forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation

Reconciliation restores a broken relationship but there is a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  What is the difference? Forgiveness involves one person but reconciliation involves two people.  Forgiveness is in our power.  Reconciliation is not.  There is another person involved.  If both people are not willing, there is no reconciliation.

The relationship cannot be restored, if one of the parties refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. You have to have repentance to have reconciliation but you do not have to have repentance to have forgiveness.  One other difference is that forgiveness is not earned.  It is given.  Reconciliation is earned.








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