Further In and Deeper Down: God’s Grace is Greater than My Guilt (Gen. 42:1-38)
Pastor and Author Max Lucado tells a story of a Chinese man named “Li Fuyan, who had tried every treatment imaginable to ease his throbbing headaches. Nothing helped. An X-ray finally revealed the culprit. A rusty four-inch knife blade had been lodged in his skull for four years. In an attack by a robber, Fuyan had suffered lacerations on the right side of his jaw. He didn’t know the blade had broken off inside his head. No wonder he suffered from such stabbing pain.” Lucado comments:
We can’t live with foreign objects buried in our bodies. Or our souls. What would an X-ray of your interior reveal? Regrets over an [earlier] relationship? Remorse over a poor choice? Shame about the marriage that [isn’t] working, the habit you couldn’t quit, the temptation you didn’t resist, or the courage you couldn’t find? Guilt lies hidden beneath the surface, festering, irritating. Sometimes so deeply embedded you don’t know the cause.”
Today I want to talk about guilt. I don’t mean the low-level guilt like when you are on a diet and you ate those Cheetos that you should not have. I mean real, true, deep guilt that we might be facing.
By the way, modern psychology will tell you that all guilt is false guilt. As one author put it:
“Guilt” is thought to be harmful to an individual because it lowers self-esteem, degrades personal dignity, adds to emotional stress, physically debilitates, causes depression, and imposes unnecessary dependence on others. Society encourages sin, but it will not tolerate the “guilt” which sin produces.”But not all guilt is bad. We should feel guilty sometimes, because sometimes we are guilty of sin. Author Phillip Yancey says, “Guilt, like physical pain, is directional. Just as the body speaks to us in the language of pain so that we will attend to the injury site, the spirit speaks to us in the language of guilt so that we will take the steps necessary for healing. The goal in both is to restore health.”
Guilt is one of the consequences of sin. It is the condition or state of deserving punishment as a result of violating God’s commands. There is the objective side of guilt, which tells us we broke God’s law. All of us are guilty, whether we feel it or not. If the police officer stops you for running a red light, he’s not going to ask you, “How do you feel? Do you feel guilty? If you do, then you will get a ticket.” There is also subjective guilt, which “is the sense of regret, shame, or condemnation we experience when we believe we have done wrong. These guilt feelings may cause us to face our sin and deal with it.” So this guilt says, “I owe someone something.” We feel obligated to pay something for the hurt we have caused. Thus we say, “I owe ˙her an apology.” The guilty cannot remove his own guilt. Only the offended party can pardon it. But a guilty conscience is a tool in God’s hands, just like pain in our body, to alert us to us find the only thing that can cure us when we are guilty: grace. Grace is, as Andy Stanley says, “what I crave most when my guilt is exposed.” Obviously we will not be able to cover the whole topic of guilt in this message, but we will see what happens when guilt collides with grace as we continue our series in Genesis and Joseph called “Further In and Deeper Down.”
We have seen Joseph go further in and deeper down in his troubles, but we saw through it all, he has been going further in and deeper down into God’s heart and His perfect purposes for him. What has happened to the brothers during this time? Well, they have gone further in and deeper down into guilt and what an awful place to be! But at the same time, God will take these judgment-deserving dysfunctional family into a roller coaster ride, which collides their guilt with God’s grace and as always, we will see that man’s guilt is no match for the amazing grace of God. First of all:
I. Guilt must be confronted and exposed (vv.1-5)
Joseph was 17 when he was sold into slavery (Gen. 37:2) and thirty when he became a ruler in Egypt (Gen. 41:46). We learned that he predicted seven years of abundance, which was to be followed by seven years of famine (Gen. 41:29-30). We see now that the seven years of abundance is over. Now Joseph is 37. 20 years have passed since the brothers sold him. 20 years of covering up the guilt. 20 years of pretending and lying. 20 years of not dealing with the reality of their sins. God loves this family, but He loves them too much to leave them with this festering wound. This is still the right family for the job to be God’s people and His light in a dark world and sometimes God scars us to save us.
God is going to use everything to providentially bring them to repentance and reconciliation and to make them usable as His covenant family. First He will use famine. It is interesting that these brothers do nothing when they are running out of grain. Famine is everywhere. Each time the family sat down to eat, the portions were getting smaller and smaller. And this famine means death. But there was a good source of food: Egypt. But Jacob in Gen. 42:1 is amazed that his sons don’t seem to care about going to Egypt. I’m sure everyone knew about Egypt’s supply.
Why do you think they’re just sitting around twiddling their thumbs? Why the hesitation? They know the need and potential provision? Why sit down and do nothing? When was the last time they came in contact with Egypt? It was when they sold their brother. Is it possible that they don’t want anything to do with Egypt because of their guilt? Guilt has enslaved them. Is that why they’re not doing anything? The last the brothers saw of Joseph was his anguished face as he was led away in chains with the caravan. Egypt? … Egypt? Judah must have looked at Reuben, and Reuben at Simeon. Levi must have thrown anguished glances at Zebulun. “Why do you keep looking at each other?” Jacob asked. Egypt? As Shakespeare said, “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.”
So God first uses famine. God often uses external brokenness of the world to collide with the internal brokenness of our soul to confront our guilt and awaken us to grace and repentance. We see in Gen. 42:1-3 that this family is still very dysfunctional. Jacob hasn’t changed. His functional love and trust has shifted from Rachel to Joseph and now to Benjamin. He has idolized them. Favoritism had always poisoned Jacob’s life and it is still destroying his family. Jacob has not changed. Jacob will be a big problem in the next few chapters. But still no match for God and His grace. Jacob will not let Benjamin go: “I will not risk that much pain again!” Idols always break our hearts. It has been 20 years and his life has now been identified by his son’s deceit. A father is terrified by grief. Ten brothers are traumatized by guilt. Both situations will not be a match for God’s grace. But first, God is a God of grace and truth. He will confront anything that hurts His children.
Late Pastor James Boice says, “For in a certain sense the story of Genesis ceases to be merely Joseph’s story at this point and becomes largely the story of Joseph’s ten brothers as God works through many devices to awaken their nearly dead consciences and bring them to repentance and cleansing.” There’s a foreign object lodged deep inside this family that will destroy it and God the skillful surgeon is going to open the wound, not to simply hurt it, but to heal it. Why all the confrontation?
II. Confrontation of guilt is to lead us into repentance, not drive us into condemnation (vv.6-20).
The journey probably took two-three weeks. And finally they arrive and out of respect, they “bowed themselves before him.” Can you imagine this scene? Joseph sees these 10 tired, dusty old bearded Jewish men walk into his presence. It must have been a wave of emotions to wash over Joseph. Twenty years have passed. He probably stopped in his mind to count them all. Only 10? He must have wondered where the other one was. Hamilton asks, “One can only imagine how difficult it would be for Joseph to restrain himself, to control his emotions, at this point. What is he thinking on the inside? Is he relieved and ecstatic to know his family is alive? Does the brothers’ unannounced and unexpected appearance open the floodgates of a lot of bitter memories?”
Why didn’t they recognize him? Well, for one thing, Joseph is now clean-shaven, without hair, wearing Egyptian clothing and jewelry and speaking Egyptian (there is a translator) and everyone calls Joseph, Zaphenath-Paneah. And there is no way they could have expected him here, after selling him off to slavery. They have no clue. But Joseph knows who they are.
Joseph then accuses them of espionage. These brothers have come to scope out the land of Egypt and find out where there are holes in their security (this is what is meant by the “nakedness of the land’). Notice their reply: “we are honest men.” Spies wouldn’t travel as a group would they? And spies would surely not travel together and risk the whole family by one of them being caught would they? What is Joseph doing here? Is this revenge? We will talk about that in a second.
Whatever he’s doing, one thing is sure. This whole scenario is drawing out the brothers’ memory. Look at Gen. 42:13. Why did they blurt out all of this info? Twenty years later, it seems that guilt is still weighing them down. God is trying to draw them out. This is just like God in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve hid from their sin and God doesn’t come in a tractor and mow them down in the bush they were hiding or take a hose and flush them out. He first drew the couple out of hiding. I see Joseph doing the same here. He might seem harsh, but we know his heart is tender, just like God. The Spirit of God will always bring conviction, but Satan will bring condemnation. That’s how you can tell if it is God or Satan. The Spirit of God will be very specific, but Satan will be vague and deal with generalities. And the Spirit of God convicts us to lead us to repentance and the way we repent is through confession of sin.
Joseph should have said, “Oh one is no more? Why is he no-more?” in Gen. 42:14, but he holds it in and keeps on accusing them. I think he’s helping them come to a point of confession. Joseph gives them a test where he demands one brother stay behind until they can prove the youngest brother is alive. He then puts them in jail for three days. What are you doing Joseph? This makes no sense. Is he being vindictive?
Look at what’s happened. Hmm, the brothers are forced to abandon a brother? Does this ring a bell boys? Does it remind you about a carefully concealed 20-year-old secret? Regardless of Joseph’s motives, God is exposing and confronting their guilt and the sin that produced the guilt. What has been bottled down for two decades now all comes pouring out. What is God and Joseph looking for? A confession. Notice even Joseph saying that he fears God! (Gen. 42:18). Implication? A supposedly pagan Egyptian does, but do you covenant family? Wake up dead conscience! Be exposed guilt and sin!
Guilt has to be confronted and exposed to bring us to confession and healing. God will always draw you out of hiding to lead us to repentance through confession. Sometimes we think if we just forget about it, distract ourselves, and let time pass, we’re fine. Time does not cancel sin, as C.S. Lewis says. The guilt is not washed out by time, but by the repentance and the blood of Christ. When I grew up in New York City, my family and I shared an apartment with what seemed to be like a million cockroaches. No matter what we tried to do, with the sticky tape and sprays, etc. they never died. I would rarely see them during the day. But every night, they come out and lurk around and scatter as soon as you turned on the light. Unconfronted and unexposed and unrepentant guilt is like that. It will keep showing up if you don’t deal with it. In fact, if we don’t confess:
II. The consequences of buried guilt (vv.21-38)
Sin always compounds itself and grows like an avalanche. Their hatred of Joseph has caused them to sell him and then deceive their father about the whole thing for 20 years. It’s a mess. It’s a cancer. They need to confess and receive forgiveness. But look at what happens.
The ten brothers then get together and for the first time in 20 years, they talk about what they did openly back in Gen. 37. Isn’t God gracious to allow this to happen? But of course, they don’t see it as gracious. They are freaking out! You can kill and bury Joseph, but you cannot kill and bury your grief without the Lord. A bad conscience has a very good memory doesn’t it? Here is a good reason to confess our guilt and repent of our sin:
a) Buried, unrepentant guilt never stays buried
They left Joseph in the well and were eating lunch remember? (Gen. 37:25). Reuben speaks up and for the first time, Joseph learns that Reuben did try to save him 13 years prior. But notice how Reuben ends his speech: “This is a reckoning for his blood.” This is eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. A brother for a brother. A distress for a distress. I see them pacing back and forth in panic. They are feeling a sense of, “We are in deep debt here and now it’s time to pay the Piper.” Unrepentant guilt will haunt us in our dreams. It will never leave you alone. It will mess with your personality. It will make you suspicious of others. It will be an internal corrosive that mars everything in your life until you confess it.
John Ortberg writes, “Time magazine profiled a new phone service some time ago. It was an “apology sound off line,” a service that would receive two hundred phone calls a day from people who call up just to get something off their chest. It has featured confessions of everything from marital infidelity to murder. They have a second number—more costly—that people can dial and pay to listen to confessions. They have received up to 10,000 calls a day. Why would people pay to call up and confess? Because the human heart can’t deal with the guilt of secret shame. It’s the one place they know they can confess their guilt with a guarantee they will not be judged. They crave some relief from the truth about themselves.”
Rick Warren said this week, “If the Director of the CIA can’t hide and cover up an affair, no one can. Be sure your sin WILL find you out Num. 32:23.” Burying your guilt is like trying to submerge a beach ball in the swimming pool. It will always come back up. It is the worst form of punishment! Haunting these brothers in their nightmares are the screams of their little brother screaming for his life. I bet you that they could still hear it.
Notice that Joseph weeps. This won’t be the first time. What a different guy from Genesis 37! What makes a person weep is a good test of character. He is reliving those moments all over again. I wonder also if he is also saddened by the fact that the brothers have been living with guilt for so long. Buried guilt never stays buried. Nevertheless, he chooses Simeon to stay behind. Why Simeon? Perhaps it is because he is the second of Leah’s sons kept behind as he waits for the second of Rachel’s sons? We are not sure. Another hard consequence:
b) Buried guilt keeps us from enjoy blessing
Notice what happens. Joseph returns their money. What an act of generosity! But what do they do? Well one of them finds it and freaks out. Instead of seeing this as grace, they see this as further accusation that not only are they spies, but they are also thieves. But are they? No, of course not! It’s a misunderstanding right? So why panic? Literally their heart “went out of them” (Gen. 42:28). They’re innocent right? They are innocent of stealing money, but they are not innocent of selling Joseph for twenty shekels of silver. This is so irrational right? This is what guilt does.
A guilty person cannot enjoy blessing. You can’t ever really relax. You’re always panicking. “Did someone see me?” “Does he know? I think he knows!” “What’s that sound on the phone?” “Why did she look at me like that?” Here they’re thinking, “Is this how God gets us back for the wrong I have done?” Now they are interpreting everything under the grid of their sin and the just punishment they deserve. What a miserable way to live! Guilt limits your capacity to be intimate. John Calvin says, “The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul.”
They get home in Gen. 42:29-34 and tell Jacob everything that happens. But when Jacob sees money in their sacks and one less son, what do you think the brothers’ think he’s thinking? Did you sell your brother for cash? Hmm. And is that what really happened to Joseph too? This is why the brothers are afraid. Remember when you are guilty, you are always suspicious of everything. Reuben tries to be the hero again by responding impulsively, by offering his sons to Benjamin back to Egypt, but Jacob will not have it (Gen. 42:37-38). It looks like the family is going to starve to death and Simeon is lost forever.
Everything is actually looking up for this family, but sin has its consequences, sometimes lasting a lifetime. The path to reconciliation will be a painful process, but we see again and again that God must do the impossible. Guilt and grief multiplied and continuing to destroy us if not confessed. This is a cliffhanger here!
I want to go back to Joseph. Joseph seems like a vindictive man. He speaks harshly to them. He refuses to reveal himself to them. He accuses them as spies which, he knows is not true. Keeping them in prison for three days and now keeping Simeon behind. What is he doing? Has he lost his mind?
The key to Joseph here is in Gen. 42:9. He remembers the dreams he had of them and him in Gen. 37. The first dream was about sheaves of grain bowing down to one sheaf. Sheaves of grain meant provision and food. Joseph has now seen this dream come true: All of the brothers are bowing down to him and looking to him to provide for them. This is the fulfillment!
But there was a second dream right? In that dream, 11 brothers and his father and mother all bow down to him. Here Joseph only counts 10 brothers. Last chapter, Pharaoh had a dream right? And based on that dream, Joseph devises a strategy to save Egypt. He’s doing the same thing here. He’s devising a strategy where all of them will be back in Egypt and getting them all there and thus, saving all of them.
I think Joseph knew this way before the brothers showed up. He knew the famine extended to Canaan and the brothers would have to go to Egypt to get grain. He knew they would show up. But he also knows that with all the guilt these brothers are carrying, he must slowly draw them out. I can see all of the brothers run like the wind if Joseph revealed himself prematurely. They know they’re guilty and guilt consumes them. There is no way they can see Joseph forgiving them. So Joseph needs to keep this charade up until the right time.
So is this a vengeful man? I don’t think so. I see a man who upon hearing his brothers’ guilt, weeping and leaving the room to compose himself. I see a man in a gesture of grace, giving grain and their money back. If he was vengeful, he should have taken their money, filled their sacks with rocks and sent them home. Instead of keeping nine brothers, he keeps only one. Why? Because one man could not have carried enough food to feed all their families back in Canaan starving to death. No I see a man who so believes the Word of God—the dream—that he is willing to temporarily hurt those he loves for a far greater purpose that he himself does not know he’s doing. I see a man transformed by grace who will soon become a dispenser of grace. And that will be the only hope to reconcile this family, provide for their welfare, silence their haunting guilt and heal a father’s broken heart.
This story points us to another one who came to His own. His own did not receive Him. He had no guilt, but He was falsely accused. He was mistreated. We owed the world to Him, but He came generously giving Himself. The Bible says all of us are guilty. We are all guilty. For all our guilt, God says, “You owe me.” The wages of sin is death.
But we have a greater Joseph. Though we have hurt God, He refuses to hurt us back. Why? God placed upon Him all of our sin. He paid the debt He did not owe and the debt we could never pay. And not only did Jesus carry our sins. He carried them away…forever.
John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He doesn’t say, “Behold the Lamb of God who just sweeps sin under the rug!” He takes it away. Remember the Old Testament Israelite would lay his hands on the head of a “scapegoat,” symbolically transferring his sins onto the animal, then he’d banish it to the desert, never to be seen again. But God literally laid our sins on Jesus, and banished them from us forever. Our guilt was transferred to the head of the great Substitute. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he REMOVE our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:12). On Calvary, Jesus loaded our offenses onto his mighty shoulders and carried them an infinite distance from us. And not only that, He has become our ultimate provider, one greater than Joseph. His hands always open when we come with our empty sacks. His granaries of grace overflowing and overwhelming us. One who may seem like He’s dealing harsh with us, but His heart always tender toward us, because His heart was hard toward His Son for our sins. No more guilt. No more shame. It’s banished!
Is God confronting your guilt and the sin that caused it today? Confess it to Him. Don’t ignore it. Don’t hide from it. Don’t immerse yourself in work and distract yourself in pleasure to run from it. That’s tiring, loved ones. Confess it. 1 John 1:9 is for believers. He will forgive and cleanse you. If you let it stay buried, it will not leave you alone. It will keep you from enjoying blessing.
Perhaps you confessed your sin and it still haunts you. If there is persistent, nagging guilt, that usually means that there is something we are not believing about the Gospel. But don’t ignore it. Expose it and confront it with the Lord and with someone you trust. Sin always thrives in the dark. There is a Gospel Gap happening in your heart that the Lord has to show you why. As J.I. Packer says, “There are two sorts of sick consciences, those that are not aware enough of sin and those that are not aware enough of pardon.”The Good News of the Gospel is that not only did Jesus carry our sins, but He carried them away. You will need to keep preaching that to your heart. Let the vastness of your sins provoke praise for the vastness of God’s grace to you. But be sure to shine the light of the gospel on the condemning cockroaches of guilt.” The Enemy always brings condemnation with our guilt, but the Lord brings conviction. He has already forgiven you on the cross. Why confront? Why confess? Because confession breaks the power, exposes the cancer so you can see it and get cleansing.
If the Lord is shining the light on guilt in your heart right now, it may feel harsh, but it is to save you from it. It is so that you can confess it and let Him show you that He has taken our sins far away. He has thrown them into the depths of the sea and put up a sign that says, “No Fishing Allowed!” Confrontation is only to lead us to confession and cleansing.
There is One far greater than Joseph who extends a much greater grace to the very people that Has sinned against Him. Jesus Christ is the One who alone who can put to death forever your guilt and your shame. There is far more grace in His heart than guilt in ours. His grace can conquer our guilt. His grace is what we crave when our guilt is exposed. Come to Him. He is not out to get you, but to restore you, fill you up and reconcile you. Let Him smother to death your guilt in the warm blanket of His grace.
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Yancey, Phillip. “Guilt Good and Bad: The Early Warning Signs,” written 18 November 2002, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/november18/36.112.html?paging=off accessed 15 November 2012.
Adapted from Gulan, Ibid.
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As quoted in http://thekingpin68.blogspot.com/2012/11/lewis-time-cannot-cancel-sin.html accessed 16 November 2012.
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This section is adapted from a sermon by Azardia, A. “Is Reconciliation Possible?” http://spiritempoweredpreaching.com/downloads/Genesis_42.MP3 accessed 16 November 2012.
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Adapted from Altrogge, S. “Cockroaches, Guilt and the Gospel,” written March 11, 2009 http://www.theblazingcenter.com/2009/03/cockroaches-guilt-and-the-gospel.html accessed 15 November 2012.
Azardia, A. Ibid.