Thousands of years before the Apostle Paul exhorted believers in Philippi to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus, Joseph was displaying through his life what that attitude looked like. Turn in your Bible to Genesis 44 and get ready for an attitude adjustment!
“WHAT AN ATTITUDE!”
(Genesis 44 - 45:15)
(?) He told a story that especially attracted my attention. It was the story of a tough young marine who was 24 years of age. This marine had already survived two years of cruel POW treatment. But he had remained a model prisoner and the reason for that was the camp commander had told him that he would release him if he cooperated. And so he did. In fact, this young marine became a leader in camp reform thought groups. And he did everything that he was told to do until, finally, it dawned on this young man that his captors had lied to him. They had no intention of letting him go. With that new knowledge dawning upon him, he went to his cot and he curled up and refused any encouragement, any food, any offers for help, and he simply laid there sucking on his thumb. Three weeks later, he was dead.
When I read that story, I thought of a young 28-year-old who was imprisoned, betrayed, and forgotten. He was imprisoned because of false accusations. He had had his own family turn their back on him. And if anybody had a right to curl up on a cot, to say, “ No,” to the world, and to say, “Let me die,” it would have been this young man. And yet, if you have been with us, you know and of course are familiar anyhow, with the story of how this boy was finally let out of prison. And, as a 30-year-old, finally stood before the Pharaoh. Now second in command of the entire kingdom. We almost held our breath, didn’t we? Because we wondered, “Now that he is in command, what will his first acts be? Will he make Potiphar swing from the gallows? Will he take that woman, who made a miserable mess of his life, and put her up there too? Will he immediately send for his brothers in Canaan and bring them to Egypt and then torture them to death?” And if he had, we would have said, “Well, they got everything coming to them they deserved.” And yet, you know, how it seemed when he came out of prison, two years of almost solitary confinement, that he had somehow, some way, by the grace of God, forgiven. And now he stood in the court of Pharaoh, a man committed more to God than ever before.
Now we don’t know, in the text, that his paths ever crossed Potiphar or Potiphar’s wife or the cupbearer. Though we would assume that they did. But we do know, from the text, in fact several chapters are given to the fact, that his paths crossed with his brothers, the men who caused it all to happen. And I want us to look more closely, now, at the text and see how he handles his brothers. And let me let you know, as you already know, that he is not out to kill them or to reap vengeance on their lives. In fact, I think, he is trying to see in them whether or not there is an attitude of repentance, whether or not there is an attitude of acknowledgment of God. And that’s, I think, why he brings about this final test. He has given them the test of honor. He has given them the test of honesty. He has given them the test of humility. Now this last test involves silver in the sack and he, in fact, intends to bring Benjamin to the same place that he was 25 years earlier.
Let’s look back at chapter 44, verse 1. He tells the steward, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. And put my cup, the silver cup” - that all of the superstitious rulers had, that they somehow believed in Egypt that by watching the movement of the water, by dipping certain things in it that they could divine the future. Although, we know, that Joseph did not do this, it seems that everyone assumed he did. This was a very special cup. He says, “Take that cup and put it in Benjamin’s sack.” And, you know, he told his steward to follow them and have them search their sacks. And, you remember as Larry read, he finally catches up with these men, and they, of course, admit their innocence. In verse 9, they even go so far as to say, “With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.”
Now, let’s stop here for just a moment, and let’s imagine what they could have done and if they have not changed, what they would do. You see Joseph is trying to discern whether or not these brothers are really different. If, somehow in all of the events that have occurred over the last two years, that they’ve begun to acknowledge God in their lives. You remember that what needs to happen for prophecy to be fulfilled, is the family of Jacob move back to Egypt, as prophecy declared that they would turn from a small tribe into a mighty nation there in the land of Goshen. For that to happen, there needs to be reconciliation among all of these brothers. For that to happen, these brothers have to come to a point where they admit guilt before God. And so Joseph, in all wisdom, I think being directed by God’s Spirit, is providing the arena, is setting the stage to discover whether or not they will, in fact, admit their guilt before God.
Now, when Benjamin’s sack is opened, the silver cup is discovered. If they had not changed, I think they could have done two things. First of all, they could have repeated what they had done with Joseph. In other words, “We potentially could be slaves of Pharaoh but we’re not guilty. Let Benjamin take the due penalty of what he probably did. I’m sure he must have slipped it in his sack. Let him go back to Egypt. Let him be a slave.” Remember, 25 years earlier, they had sent their brother, Joseph, into Egypt as a slave, because they were so jealous. Now their lives are on the line. Will it make a difference? They could have repeated their error or they could have rationalized. You see, before, they were sending Joseph into Egypt just to get rid of the pesty dreamer. But now, “We’ve got hungry families back in Canaan. We have a helpless father. We have wives and children who are waiting for our return. We’ve got five good reasons to let Benjamin go into slavery.” I think they could have rationalized their way out of it but, hallelujah, they didn’t. Verse 12, it says after they found the cup in Benjamin’s sack that, verse 13, “they tore their clothes”. This was unusual, this was a sign of grief. “And when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city.” In other words, they have changed. Now, we’re brothers. We’re sticking together. We’re part of Jacob’s sons. There’s family identity. We’re going to bear this together. And so they head back to Egypt.
Now, when they get back to Egypt, it’s interesting that Judah steps forward as the spokesman. You remember that 25 years earlier, it was Judah who had said to his brothers, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s sell this little dreamer. Let’s get rid of this beloved son of our partial father. Let’s send him to Egypt by selling him to the Midianites.” It was his idea. But now, 25 years later, he steps forward as the spokesman. Note verse 16, Judah steps forward and says, “What can we say to my lord?” “There’s circumstantial evidence here we can’t deny.” “What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves?” In other words, “We are innocent!” But, note the next phrase, “God has found out the iniquity of your servants”. That’s it! That’s exactly what Joseph has been waiting for. They finally reach the point where they admitted guilt. Not necessarily to man but there was a vertical awakening. There was a realization that they had sinned against GOD. It’s interesting, they said, “We’re innocent but God has discovered our guilt.” What were they referring to? In their minds, they were plagued by their guilty consciences, as we studied in the last week session. How Joseph, by certain circumstances, brought that awake. Now, it’s fully open. It’s now bared. It’s admitting itself. And I think, therein lies part of the cure.
Chuck Colson, who is one of my favorite writers, wrote a story about how he served as a marine lieutenant. And he was brand new to the job and he was filled with the pride of that position. And he was leading a platoon of 40 grimy, sweaty men on a training mission on an island that was part of a satellite of Puerto Rico. And he was leading these men on training and they had been told that when they were on this island among these impoverished, poverty stricken people that they were not to buy nor trade. They were to leave the people alone. But this command was expected to be ignored. And so on the second day of maneuvers, they happened across an old man leading a scrawny donkey and on the back of that donkey were two ice filled sacks of cold drinks. And all of the men headed toward this old fellow, pulling money from their pockets, ready to buy. And about that time, Colson thought, “Here is a chance to really show off.” He said, “Sergeant, arrest that man.” And the Sergeant, kind of looked at him in disbelief but, began to carry out the order. And then Colson, trying to further impress the men, said, “Confiscate the contraband.” And so the men applauded as they took the sacks of ice and cold drinks and they drank them all. And when they were finished drinking, Colson said, “Release our prisoner.” This man, ignorantly and naively, figured his life had been spared and he slunk away with his scrawny donkey. And, although he had lost perhaps his life savings and his livelihood for many months, he was thankful his life had been spared. When Chuck Colson writes of his former life before he found Jesus Christ, he says, “The thing that marks my mind, is not the spectacular crimes of Watergate, it is there on that island, in cruelty, taking from that man what we did not deserve.”
If you line these ten brothers up, you would see: a man involved in an incestuous relationship, you would see a fornicator, you would see a man who is guilty of murder. These brothers were guilty of every heinous crime that you and I are guilty of. But yet when they come to acknowledge guilt before God, what are they thinking? They are thinking, “Oh, God has uncovered, finally, our guilt, when we sold our brother, our father’s favorite son.”
So if you are following in your notes, let me give you three obvious developments. The first is admission of guilt. And that is guilt before God. There is a vertical awakening. But there is also a horizontal awareness where he begins to say things that cause Joseph to begin to tremble with excitement and emotion. Look at verses 18 to 20. “Judah approached him, and said, ‘Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word’”. Verse 19, “My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child’” - notice how tenderly he refers to Benjamin - “a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.” Before, it was, “His father loves him. Joseph, the favored son, how we hate him.” And now, with compassion, he says, “Oh, that young lad, how his father loves him so.” Verse 27, “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons”. Now here for the first time, Joseph is going to hear the alibi. You note, he hasn’t known for 25 years what his brothers told his father. He’s never known what his father thought happened to him and I’m sure he must have wondered what was going on in Canaan. And, for the first time, he’s hears, verse 28, “I said, ‘Surely he is torn in pieces,’ and I have not seen him since.” Imagine being Joseph there hearing the account of your demise, knowing that you’re still alive. And I think it’s at that point that Joseph begins to tremble with emotion. His emotions are rising to the surface. All this time, he’s kept that stony face. When he has had to weep, he has run out of the room. But now, it boils to the surface. There is respect for their father’s feelings, secondly. Thirdly, there is compassion for their younger brother. And, oh, what a difference this is in their lives. Look at verse 32, “For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ Now, therefore” - “I’ve got a better idea. I’m not going home to bear the blame before my father. This is the plan. Let me take my brother’s place. Let me be” - “a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers.” What a change! What an awakening on the horizontal level! Where now, ten stubborn, selfish brothers are concerned about their father’s feelings. And Judah, who was the mastermind behind Joseph, now says, “Let me take Benjamin’s place. I’ll live as a slave for the rest of my life.”
This is exactly what Joseph has been hoping to hear. And now he can’t stand it any longer. He says, “Send everyone away.” - Chapter 45 - “Get all of the Egyptians out of the room.” And then he weeps so loudly that the Egyptians heard it. He just breaks down right there in front of these bewildered men. “Then Joseph said to his brothers,” - in chapter 45, verse 3 - “I am Joseph!” - “Ana Yhowceph,” he cries it out, “Ana Yhowceph!” in Hebrew. And these guys probably stepped back, “Where did this man learn Hebrew? And he says he’s Joseph!” Joseph, through the tears, says, “Ana Yhowceph.” I happen to believe that these men were so terrified, from what the text says, that they probably came near to fainting. It says in verse 3, “they were dismayed,” - or terrified - “at his presence.” And, I think, involved here was skepticism, there with their rough beards and their Hebrew clothing, they were looking at a clean shaven Egyptian man with a headdress of a Egyptian prime minister. He was decked with jewels and all of the fine raiment. He was soft and they were rough. “This couldn’t be our brother. This can’t be Joseph. It’s another trick. He has found out somehow.” I want to suggest to you that something happens here, as others have suggested before me. Verse 4, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come closer”. “Come closer” is the Hebrew word “nagash,” which is not just “come closer” geographically, it refers to “come closer,” it’s used in the sense of kissing, it’s used in the sense of intimacy. He says, “Come close.” And I think it was there that Joseph revealed to his brothers the sign of the covenant. I think he pulled back his garment and he revealed to his brothers that he was circumcised. That was the proof! No Egyptian would go through that right. Only the Jew. This was the symbol that they were sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Joseph says, “Come closer. I am Joseph! I’m a son of Jacob.”
But at that point, I think now, they turned white because they recognized the truth. And Joseph will now go on to relieve their minds. He will give repeated references to God. Look at verse 5 and just underline the words as I rapidly read them. Verse 5, right in the middle, “God sent me”. Verse 7, the beginning of the verse, “God sent me”. Verse 8, beginning, “it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me”. Verse 9, middle part of the verse, “God has made me lord of all Egypt”. All of the obvious references to the fact that God was involved. Ladies and gentlemen, Joseph is giving us tremendous practical theology. And it is this: believing, “I am who I am,” believing, “I am where I am,” gives a tremendous sense of security. He says, “It wasn’t you who sent me here. God did. God put me in Egypt. And although it looked as if you were the ones behind it all, if you took a step back now and looked back over all of the events, you’d see the hand of Elohim.” Great security. “I am where I am because of God.”
But it not only produces great security, ladies and gentlemen, it produces tremendous humility. Because Joseph goes on in the next two phrases to say, “God made me”. Nowhere in the text do you get the idea that Joseph steps back and he says, “ Hey guys, let me tell you how I did it. You thought you sold me here as a slave. But I’m prime minister! Let me tell you all of the steps that I took.” No. Because believing, “I am what I am because of God,” will not only produce security when things are rough but humility when everything is going well.
And so he gives the news to his brothers that he is, in fact, Joseph. He tells them the plan. He says, verse 10, “You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have. There I will also provide for you, for there are still five years of famine to come, lest you and your household and all that you have be impoverished. And behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth which is speaking to you. Now you must tell my father” - “go back and tell our father that I’m alive.” What happens next is beautiful. It’s an expression of forgiveness from Joseph. Verses 14 and 15. He then, with his brothers there in that room, with the Egyptians with their ears to the wall outside wondering what in the world is going on in there, there’s weeping, there’s laughing, he now, he hears the shuffling of feet as Joseph goes from one brother to the next, weeping on them and embracing them. You don’t hug an enemy. You don’t get close to someone you despise. You don’t embrace someone you hate. And Joseph started with Benjamin and he took him in his arms and they wept on each other’s shoulders. They hadn’t seen each other, “Oh this is my kid brother.” And they wept and cried. And then he moves to Judah. Imagine that. And he probably says, “Judah, I know that you sold me and it was your idea but I forgive you.” And he embraces him And he moves to Simeon. And he goes on down the line to Zebulun and Levi and all of the brothers. And he weeps and he hugs them and he says, “You are forgiven.” I can’t imagine.
He kisses them, verse 15, and afterward, after all of that’s over, they sit down and his brothers talk with him. It’s a sign that they are together again. “Boy, we’ve got 25 years to catch up on. This is all that’s happened back in Canaan.” And Joseph is intensely concerned about his father, “Is he still alive? Is he well?” And he tells them of all of the things, perhaps, it’s at that time he calls his wife and he says, “Honey, come on in here. And here are my two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. God has been good to me.” And then, with the news, he sends them back and tells them to go get Dad.
If you were to ask why Joseph was a great man. Was it because he was prime minister? No. Was it because that Joseph somehow created an incredible administrative feat that would save a nation from starvation? No. Joseph was great because his attitude revealed two very special things. Let me give you the first, if you’re taking notes, by way of application. First of all, he was very forgiving of those who had deeply hurt him. And a sub-thought under that is: forgiveness is an ability directly related to seeing God at work through people. In other words, we live, you and I, in adopting Joseph’s attitude, we throw that black list away and it’s always wanting to creep into our lives. And we come up with names and we think of that individual. We imagine their face on the wall and we speak to them, we preach to them, we tell them what we would like them to do and how they wronged us. Joseph threw the black list away. My boss, who overlooked me, his name is erased. My spouse, who has done me so wrong, their name is erased. That child, who didn’t turn out as I wished, their name is erased. An ability to forgive those is directly related to seeing God at work in and through people. They are the tool that God is using in your life and mine.
Secondly, Joseph was capable of loving God regardless of circumstances. This attitude is directly resulting from seeing God at work through events. Turn over to chapter 50. Jacob dies and the brothers start to get squeamish again thinking, “Well, now that he’s dead, perhaps Joseph is not sincere.” And they send a messenger to Joseph saying, “Joseph, you remember now, Dad said, ‘Don’t hurt us when I die.’” And Joseph sends a message back to them, in fact, he weeps before them, he actually, I believe, speaks to them personally. Verse 18, they say, “’Behold, we are your servants.’ And Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good’”. What a position to live in! What an attitude to have! All of this that’s happened, you meant it for evil. This happened for my detriment but now, as I step back, I can see God is meaning all of this for my spiritual good.
Harold Kushner wrote a book, that was an instant best seller, entitled, When Bad Things Happen To Good People. It was on the New York best selling list for 52 straight weeks. It sold a half a million copies hardback before going into paperback edition. This man had lost a son in death. He was a rabbi. And the basic premise of this book is that God is all-loving but He isn’t all-powerful. He’s good but He’s not sovereign. And this is a big universe and sometimes things get out of control. His solution is, that we need to love God anyhow and forgive Him for His limitations. We say, “I’d never think that way.” But yet don’t we live like that at times? “God, where’d you go? How could this have happened if you had been involved in my life?” Our real estate dealings have led me across the path of a man who has lost three children. But yet you speak to him and he never refers to God, for he is a believer, in anything less than terms of sovereignty and love. That’s a great man.
I wonder how much like Joseph we really are. Able to forgive those who hurt us deeply. Able to translate in events of our lives and through people in our lives that God is at work. How much like Joseph are you?