Further In and Deeper Down: God’s Grace is Greater than My Guilt Part 2 (Gen. 43)
In Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, The Tell‑Tale Heart, the main character commits a murder. Unable to escape the haunting guilt of his deed, he begins to hear the heartbeat of the victim he has buried in his basement. A cold sweat covers him as he hears the beat‑beat‑beat of a heart that goes on relentlessly. Ultimately the heartbeat drives the man absolutely mad, not knowing that it was not coming from the body in the basement, but from his own heart within his own chest. The human heart does not know, apart from grace, what to do with guilt. But we all must do something with it. Otherwise, like the man in the story, it will drive us crazy. Like Lady Macbeth incessantly washing her hands, trying to wash away the blood from her conscience, we will never be left alone with our guilt.
Last time in our study of Joseph, we saw that Joseph’s brothers, who 20 years prior, sold of their little brother for 20 shekels of silver, tried very hard to bury their guilt. But buried guilt never stays buried. They had gone further in and deeper down in their guilt, but God was not done with them. He is going to take them further in and deeper down into His heart and His grace. But He would use famine. The brothers had to go to Egypt to get grain, where Joseph was governing, being second to Pharaoh. The Lord, through Joseph of all people, tries to draw them out with a creatively crafted scenario that would expose their guilt and bring them to repentance. We saw that the only thing that can cure our guilty hearts was grace.
Now last time, Joseph demanded that they bring Benjamin back with them. He took Simeon hostage. He also returned the money they used to buy the grain. It may seem vindictive, but it seems to me more like a compassionate, wise, gracious yet truthful brother being used by God to bring this family where they needed to be with God and themselves.
Today we are getting close to the climax of the story. Really Gen. 43-45 is one unit by the way it’s structured, but it is a huge chunk to chew for us, so let us eat with smaller bites and lot of the gravy of grace. These brothers will struggle with more guilt today, but Joseph will not only forgive them, but lavish them with grace, pointing us ultimately to the greater Joseph who does much more than that in our lives. Let’s first look at:
I. God has a way to bring us into our need for Him (vv.1-10)
As our story begins, we find that Jacob and his sons (minus Simeon) are going through a severe famine. Things for a while had gotten back to normal. They go back to burying their guilt. Jacob goes back to holding tightly to Benjamin. But God will not leave them alone. Aren’t you glad God does not leave you alone? When Jonah was running from God and God sent that storm, it was not punishment (Jon. 1:4). It was an intervention. Punishment would have been to let him go. He would have destroyed himself if God let him go. So because of the gospel, God will orchestrate a way to get us back to Him and His purposes. And often it will be traumatic because we lean on everything else before realizing God is strong enough to carry us.
Jacob was willing to starve and die rather than send Benjamin off with the brothers to Egypt. You can almost picture Jacob and Benjamin starving and dying holding each other and years later, archaeologists would dig them up and find their bones clutching to each other.
They have eaten up all the grain and finally Jacob says, “We need food.” Judah, now emerging a new leader of the family sees this as a perfect time to talk about the elephant in the room. He says, “We can’t just waltz in there and expect the ruler to give us grain. He said he wants to see Benjamin.” Unfortunately, no mention is made of Simeon. Poor guy. Sin and guilt always turns you inward. Judah tries him face the reality and gravity of the situation: three generations will die if we don’t do something (Gen. 43:8).
Remember that God has promised this family that they will be numerous than the stars (Gen. 15:5). It looks like the seed of the woman is going to die by one man’s stubbornness. Warren Wiersbe says, “Jacob’s blindness to his unhealthy relationship with Benjamin and his selfish nurturing of grief over Joseph (37:35), plus his hidden suspicions about his sons, all combined to make him a man difficult to deal with.” As if the brothers were not guilty enough, Jacob puts the guilt on them for even mentioning they had a younger brother (Gen. 43:6).
God has a way to bring His people into need. We always feel like we are in the driver’s seat and think that we can manage without God. He will not let things stay the way they are, not because He’s mean and want us to suffer, but because He loves and hates sin that easily blinds us to the best for us. Now through famine, God is working on Jacob’s heart to let Benjamin go and He is working on the brother’s heart to bring them into repentance. The gospel grants Christians one strength over non-Christians: the strength to admit they’re weak.
Judah seems to have changed. Remember this guy who brought terror on Tamar, his daughter-in-law, not caring about anyone but himself? Look at him now in Gen. 43:9. For the first time in his life he has made someone else’s happiness more important than his own. I believe it was Tamar that God used to wake this guy up (Gen. 38:26). What does that tell you? You know those annoying people in your life—the bane of your existence—that spouse, parent, that co-worker, that neighbor or sibling? They are God’s gift to you to help you change. You might think you are God’s gift to them, but you will see over time that God used them for your own growth in ways you never thought would happen
II. We have a way we try to erase our guilt by paying for it (vv.11-15)
Jacob knows a way to quiet down someone who’s angry at you. Taking a play out of his old book, he gathers up some delicacies and treats and tells his sons to buy the ruler’s favor. Remember he tried to do that with Esau back in Gen. 33? Notice the author lists specifically the items Jacob packaged up. Why? Some of these items were what the Ishmaelites had when they were going to Egypt when the brothers tried to sell Joseph! (Gen. 37:25). Coincidence? You can almost picture the brothers, like in Poe’s story, start to hear a beating heart. Ahhh leave me alone! God is working behind the scenes again. Here we go. Deal with your guilt brothers.
Jacob interestingly and unknowingly prays that God Almighty—El Shaddai—“grant you mercy.” They do need mercy, but more than that, they need grace. Has he changed? He’s come to another place of surrender. Benjamin is his idol, where he finds his heart’s functional trust. He is willing to let him go. I wonder if he is reminded of the wrestling match back in Gen. 32. God is God Almighty. It is useless to fight against Him.
But isn’t this how we often we try to deal with our guilt too? We try to pay for it. One way is to impress God with our gifts. When we didn’t have any time with the Lord one day or read the Word and then the guilt sets in and the thought might come, “Let me redouble my efforts next time!” I will prove to you Lord that I was worth saving. If we don’t think that, we beat ourselves up. “Let me show you how bad I feel about this sin I committed.” And we suck on the guilt.
Eric Durso writes of a time he visited the Philippines during Passion Week:
When I was a senior in high school I got the opportunity to travel to the Philippines with my church for a mission trip. We went around Easter time, which meant that there were going to be a lot of Easter rituals going on in this nation drenched in Catholicism. I wasn’t ready for what I saw.
In the middle of the city there was a road, about a mile long, that stretched from one end of the city to the other. As we were walking through some of the shopping areas we came to this road. And walking along the road were two men. They were shirtless, with bags on their heads covering their faces, and in their hands…a whip with nine strands. They were walking the mile-long road and with every step that they took, they would whip themselves.
When we arrived on the scene, their backs were raw flesh and their shorts were so drenched with blood they were dripping on the road as they walked. I was so amazed by what was happening that I got too close, and it wasn’t until later that I looked down at my shirt and noticed the crimson red splatter of blood. In their system of belief, they had to pay for the guilt of their sins by flogging themselves bloody.”
This is horrible, we say, but we do the same thing psychologically and emotionally? As Dane Ortlund asks, “What’s your response when you are aware of your sin? If you’re like me, you know Christ died for that, and you’re grateful. But just to show how grateful you are, or to seal the deal, you do a bit of psychological self-inflicted pain to top it off. Not, of course, to self-consciously add to Christ’s work. Heaven forbid. Just to let him know how much you care. Make it clear that you’re a serious Christian.” Whether we try to double our efforts and offer our gifts to Him to appease Him or beat ourselves up and wallow in guilt, both are an insult to Christ’s work on the cross. Both says, “I got it God. I will pay for my sin.”
Durso adds, “Listen—if people had to pay for their own sins, we’d all be damned. If you had to pay for your sins, let me tell you it’d cost a whole lot more than the skin on your back. There’s only one way to pay for your own sins: go to hell for eternity. That’s how you pay for your sins. You can’t pay for your sins by flogging yourself…” The gospel says, “When you are united to Christ, no amount of good work can earn God’s favor and no amount of bad work can forfeit God’s favor.” Jesus paid it all. As Durso says, “The gospel of grace is the better option, right? We are justified by faith. Faith. Not works. Not penance. Not attempts at self-righteousness. Not money. Not status. Not being nice. Not being well-behaved. None of those things has every power to save. We are completely justified by faith. Not partially justified. Completely, utterly, absolutely, totally justified when we take Jesus as our Lord.”
III. Guilt has a way to magnify our anxieties (vv.16-22)
The brothers are going to taste this grace in a moment, but how will they respond? So two-three weeks later, they arrive in Egypt once again. It almost seems like Joseph has been staring out the window since they left. And lo and behold, who comes with the other brothers? His full brother, Benjamin. How Joseph’s heart must have pounded in his throat when he saw this man who had been just a lad when Joseph was wrenched from his family. Joseph decides to plan his best by preparing for them a feast, but what does guilty men do with that? Gen. 43:18: “the men were afraid.” Unresolved guilt always magnifies anxiety. “It must be about the money! Oh no! Oh no! He’s going to find out.” They assume this was a ploy to “assault us and make us into slaves,” which is exactly what they did to Joseph right? What are they saying? “Karma is out to bite us back.” And take our donkeys too!
They go up to the steward and remember without the steward asking, they give this speech about what happened. Paralyzed by guilt, they feared the worst, when Joseph dominated by grace, was planning the best. They confess to the steward because they don’t want karma. In one sense, they are getting better at confessing their heart. They are confessing without any prompting, but not confessing the actual sin of 20+ years ago.
I am noticing more and more how Americans really believe in karma. Sometimes I hear Christians think that way as well Pastor Tullian Tchividjian has some good thoughts on this. What do I mean? It is this thinking: Good people get good stuff. Bad people get bad stuff. If you are a bad person and things are going well for you, it is only a matter of time before karma catches up with you and “you get yours.” If you are good person, the inverse is true: just be patient and your good deeds will come back to you.
That is often at the center of our anxieties. We feel like things are going to go wrong all the time. Somewhere sometime we are going to get punished for not walking with the Lord close enough or reading the Word diligently enough or evangelizing enough. Sure, sin has consequences. If you blow all of your money on alcohol, you will likely reap poverty, loneliness, and cirrhosis of the liver. Simple cause and effect and we reap what we sow right? But then to constantly think that God has some book or ledger He’s keeping of all that you have done wrong and in time, it’s going to come and get you, is not Christianity, but a form of Hinduism.
The lab results come back positive, we may be tempted to think it is punishment. The ledger is full and now we have to pay. Or think about when someone hurts you. You hurt me and I’m going to hurt you back the same way. I’m going to make you pay for it. You did your quiet time, so you are going to have a good day. No one is going to cut you off in traffic. Your boss says you can leave early. You get a raise. You paid for the goods, God gives you the services. Somewhere in our heart, we might really believe in karma and not the gospel. As R.C. Sproul says, “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered for it.” Christ was the only good person where bad things happened to Him. The best got the worst. The good got the bad. The Son became a slave.
Tchividjian says, “Christianity affirms that Jesus severed the link between suffering and deserving once for all on Calvary. God put the ledgers away and settled the accounts. The good news of the gospel is NOT that good people get good stuff. It’s not that life is cyclical and that “what comes around goes around.” Rather, it’s that the bad get the best, the worst inherit the wealth, and the slave becomes a son (Rom. 5:8). Because the truth is, that it’s just misery to try to keep count of what God is no longer counting. Your entries keep disappearing.”
So does your guilt make you anxious today? Do you feel like bad stuff is going to happen to you because of your sins? Guilt will always magnify those anxieties. Another reason to confess it, repent and believe in the gospel once again! Here is the good news for us guilty sinners today
IV. Grace has a way to trump all of our guilt (vv.23-34).
The steward, who these men thought was a pagan Egyptian, points them to God. Doesn’t it stink when an unbeliever rebukes you? Well, actually he might have been brought to God through Joseph’s evangelism. He uses the Hebrew word, “Shalom.” Settle down fellas. Vertical perspective. God has given you guilty, scheming, unloving brothers treasure.
Simeon is returned. They get to keep their money. They get their feet washed, their donkeys fed and get invited to a feast (vv.23-24). Notice they prepare their gifts to impress Joseph in v.25. Joseph arrives and they fall down. Joseph must have smiled. Dream come true. 11 brothers, but where is the rest of the family? He asks about Jacob, one of the missing pieces from the dream in Gen. 37. And they bow down again. This is getting to be quite a habit. How is Joseph going to react?
He finally sees his full brother, Benjamin: “God be gracious to you!” Joseph is a dispenser of grace because he himself was transformed by grace. He himself has received much grace. And we see he is full of compassion and again excuses himself to weep. He must have had a lot of emotions that erupted like a volcano. The well, the abandonment, the assault all came back. The 13 years in prison. But God never let him go.
What will he do to these brothers who have caused him so much pain? These brothers are all shaking in their sandals. Where did Joseph go? He is going to come back with bags and put them all over their heads, bind them up and execute them? Where is he? So Joseph washes his face and comes back out.
First words out of his lips, “Serve the food.” Guilt-ridden brothers don’t get a beating or an execution, but a banquet? Out of all the things they expected by being invited to the governor’s house, they never imagined they would eat an amazing meal. They get steak and baked potatoes and incredible chicken curry, fried fish and fish head and cow stomach and pizza (whatever is amazing meal to you). Notice in v.34 that Joseph even gives portions from his own table. What abundant generosity! What abundant grace!
This is funny. The last time they all ate together was when Joseph was crying for help in the well and they pretended not to hear him and the brothers ate together (Gen. 37:25). Joseph is eating with them, still taking his role as the governor. But he’s not done yet to draw these men out. He has still to see if these brothers have truly changed or not. It’s one thing to be relieved and quite something else to be forgiven and reconciled.  So he hints at his identity by placing them according to their ages and shows favoritism to Benjamin. What is this guy doing? We will look at that next time.
But notice here that Joseph mentions nothing of their gifts. He lavishes them with grace, putting them in a place where they see that they can never repay. Their anxieties are quieted by grace. The fears are silenced by grace. Peace, abundance, freedom and generosity lavished upon such undeserving people. Joseph simply overwhelms them with abundant grace. Swindoll adds, “Within a brief span of time, they found themselves treated kindly, sitting around a banquet table loaded with food, and, of all things, relaxing in the joyful presence of royalty. What relief! Better than that, what grace! They were the recipients of favor they hadn’t earned and kindness they didn’t deserve. And they were overloaded with an abundance of provisions they could never repay.”
This Joseph looks very familiar to us. We have a greater and better Joseph, loved ones. 2,000 years ago our Lord Jesus came to us, but we rejected Him. We were guilty children, deserving of the worst, but God’s beloved Son who deserved the best, got the worst. Through his death on the cross, we have not just been forgiven and shown mercy, but we have experienced grace.
Today, like Joseph’s guilty brothers, do you feel the distance from your greater brother? Has guilt magnified your anxieties? Have you been beating yourself up to prove your lovability? Do you fear the worst from God? Too late. Jesus took your worst and offers you His best. Look at Christ at the cross, bearing the sins we committed, forgiving us in the process. The One who was rejected is the same One who works so hard to get us reunited with Him.
Leave your meager gifts behind. The only thing you need to receive grace is need. Instead of being blamed, we are forgiven. Instead of feeling guilty, we are freed. And instead of experiencing punishment, which we certainly deserve, we are seated at His table and served more than we can ever take in.
Do not try to desperately plead your case. Jesus is your defense. Let us not try to fend off His anger by bargaining with Him, thinking our hard work and sincere efforts will pay Him back for all those evil past deeds we’re guilty of. No to our astonishment, He never even considered our attempts important enough to mention. What we had in mind was earning just enough to silence our guilt, but what He had in mind was overwhelming us with such an abundance we’d realize we can never, ever repay. Listen to Isaiah:
Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you,
And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
How blessed are all those who long for Him.
Do you long for Him? I’ve got great news! In an even greater way— greater than you could ever imagine—He longs to be gracious to you. He is offering you all the things you hunger for. The table is loaded, and He is smiling, waiting for you to sit down and enjoy the feast He prepared with you in mind. Have a seat—grace is being served.
Today as we go to the table once again, I invite you to Him. If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior for your sins, today I invite you to Him. Confess your sin to Him. He is more ready to forgive you than you are to ask for forgiveness! Believe that Jesus Christ has paid for your sins, removed your guilt far away and receive Him as Lord of your life. You will be saved.
This table is for believers. Come and drink deeply of His love for you. Come guilty as we are to the Fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins. And plunge yourself beneath that flood and let Him wash your guilty stains. Have a seat at His table set for you.
Taken from http://www.gracechurchwi.org/new-sermonseries/Dealing%20With%20Feelings/Cancel%20Your%20Guilt%20Trip.html accessed 28 November 2012.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be Authentic. “Be” Commentary Series (115). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.
Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (1025). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
Durso, E. “Don’t try to pay for your own sins,” posted 16 Sept 2011 http://ericdurso.com/2011/09/16/dont-try-to-pay-for-your-sins/ accessed 30 November 2012.
Ortlund, D. “Psychological self-flagellation,” http://dogmadoxa.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post.html?m=1 accessed 29 November 2012.
Durso, E. Ibid.
Swindoll, C. R. (1998). Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness. Nashville: Thomas
Swindoll, C. Ibid
Tchividjian, T. “You Believe in Karma,” posted 19 July 2012 http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2012/07/19/the-gospel-is-unfair/?comments#comments accessed 20 November 2012.
Tchividjian, T. Ibid.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be Authentic. “Be” Commentary Series (118). Colorado Springs,
CO: Chariot Victor Pub.
Adapted from Swindoll, C.
Adapted from Swindoll, C. Ibid.