Neither Jacob nor his sons could have anticipated what God had in store for them as they encountered multiple hardships—famine, loss, accusations, and threats. God’s greatest work in us, however, often takes place in our times of greatest distress.
In our last Wisdom Journey, we saw that Joseph’s brothers have come to Egypt to buy grain during the famine and they don’t recognize Egypt’s prime minister. But Joseph recognizes them and immediately begins testing them. He’s probing to discern their attitude toward their father, Jacob, and their own conscience in selling him into slavery some twenty years earlier.
When Joseph accuses them of being spies, they respond in Genesis 42:13:
“We . . . are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.”
Joseph is probably thinking, Is that so?
After holding them for a few days, Joseph allows nine of his brothers to return home with instructions to return to Egypt with their little brother, Benjamin.
Then in verse 27 they discover that the money they used to buy grain is in their bags of grain. They panic! Now what do they do? They look at each other and cry out in terror, “What is this that God has done to us?” (verse 28).
Simeon is being held hostage until they return to Egypt. Benjamin has to be brought back to Egypt, or Simeon will essentially rot in jail. And now it looks like they have stolen the grain. All their lives are now in danger.
When the brothers tell their father what happened, Jacob lashes out at them:
“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.” (verse 36).
“All these things are against me!” Jacob has shown glimpses of faith, but here he’s become a faithless man again. The circumstances outweigh his confidence that God is in control.
I think we’re all a lot like Jacob. One of the most repeated mistakes we make is interpreting the troubling events of our lives as meaning that God doesn’t care—that life is a dead end, and we’re all alone.
Jacob isn’t at a dead end; he’s in a cul-de-sac. God is using all these circumstances to turn his life around like he couldn’t imagine!
God already promised to bless Jacob, provide for him, give him children, and multiply his family into a great nation, a nation from whom the Savior of the world would come. Those are some pretty big promises.
And God has made some pretty big promises to you. God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And He promises to exalt you if you humble yourself, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
As we move into chapter 43 of Genesis, the famine is growing worse, and the grain these boys got down in Egypt is running out. Jacob insists that his sons go back to Egypt and buy more grain. But Judah reminds Jacob that they can’t go back without Benjamin, or Simeon will die in that Egyptian prison.
Jacob then musters up what I believe to be an amazing statement of faith:
“Take . . . your brother, and arise, go again to the man. 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.” (verses 13-14)
It’s in the hands of “God Almighty.” Here the name for God Jacob uses is El Shaddai. He is the Great Provider. Jacob is backed into a corner, yet he makes up his mind to trust in El Shaddai, essentially saying, “Only our Great God can get us out of this mess.”
When Jacob’s sons arrive back in Egypt, they are immediately taken to Joseph’s house by Joseph’s steward, who evidently knows the Hebrew language. The brothers explain to him they had no idea how their money ended up back in their sacks of grain.
He tells them not to be afraid and gives them water to wash up from their long journey because they’re going to eat dinner that night in the home of the prime minister. I can’t imagine what they must have been thinking now. Their heads must have been spinning.
Joseph comes home, and his brothers bow down before him. But when he sees his younger brother, Benjamin, Joseph is overwhelmed. This is his blood brother, the only other son from his mother Rachel. And all Joseph can get out of his mouth—and it seems he speaks to Benjamin in Hebrew in verse 29—is, “God be gracious to you, my son!”
And with that Joseph rushes out of the room to weep. Why weep? I would assume he was overwhelmed with over twenty years of loss. He hadn’t chosen Egypt. He had stayed there because somewhere between the prison cell and the office of prime minister, God had made it very clear, “Joseph, I brought you here. This is My will for your life to save your family—and the future nation of Israel—from starvation.” This is a good reminder that the will of God often includes difficulty and pain and tears.
Chapter 44 opens with the brothers preparing to return home with more grain. But Joseph has one more test up his sleeve: he wants to know if they will abandon Benjamin like they had abandoned him. So, he has his special silver cup secretly placed in Benjamin’s sack of grain.
In verse 6 the servant catches up with the brothers and accuses them of stealing the cup. They deny the charge and even insist that the thief should be put to death. To their horror, verse 12 says, “And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.”
But instead of leaving Benjamin behind and running for their own lives, the brothers all return to Joseph. And Judah makes a plea for mercy that reveals their hearts have been changed over these many years:
“What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants.” (verse 16)
He goes on to remind Joseph in verse 20:
“We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.”
There’s no jealousy now over their younger brother. Judah pleads with Joseph in verse 33: “Please let [me] remain instead of the boy, as [your slave], and let the boy go back with his brothers.”
With this final proof of their loyalty and repentance, Joseph starts crying so loudly his weeping is heard all through the palace. And then he stuns his brothers, telling them in Genesis 45:3, “I am Joseph!”
They’re speechless, but Joseph goes on to say to his brothers:
“Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . God sent me . . . to preserve for you a remnant on earth . . . it was not you who sent me here, but God.”(verses 5, 7-8)
What do you know? All these things weren’t against Jacob; they were for Jacob and his family. It just took twenty years to find out.
I wonder, What’s God doing in your life? You may not know yet. There may be unanswered questions and unexplainable trials. But He is El Shaddai –God Almighty. He has plans for you; He’s made promises to you; He has a future for you.
Perhaps your greatest statement of faith right now is that you believe that—and you are trusting the Lord.