Further In and Deeper Down: God’s Fatherly Discipline (Gen. 43:33-45:28)
One of the most joyful yet hardest things in life is parenting. When you get married, in one sense, you have one giant sinner marrying another giant sinner, creating a humungous sinner. Then you decide to have little sinners. And two big sinners who have made themselves into one giant sinner decide to shepherd little sinners. This is hard!
I used to think when Abbie was a baby, “Wow I’m so tired of changing diapers and burping burps and wiping food off my shirt. In just a short while, she will be out of diapers, eating on her own (which we’re still waiting for) and life will get easier. I can’t wait to communicate with her and reason with her and it will be great.” Now she’s five and it’s getting harder. One time she asked for candy or something right at dinner time and I said, “No, it’s time for dinner.” She then storms away saying, “Fine then. I won’t be your daughter anymore.” What do you say to that? What happened to my little baby? And what is going to happen later? And then I can hear her mumbling in the corner, “Dada is the meanest Dada I ever had.” Whoa. I want to correct her, but I keep quiet. “I am the only Dada you ever had!”
Wow. My own daughter is manipulating my emotions! I feel so helpless and maybe that’s exactly where I need to be. I think someone told me early on that there are two things you can do if you are going to be a godly parent. Second, have a godly marriage. First, learn to be fathered by God.
I believe God creates these little sinners and parenting to teach us about Him. He is the perfect Father and children are mini-versions of us. And as a Father and a good and perfect Father, He knows how to grow us up. Joseph and his brothers needed serious growing up if they were going to be responsible and loving family who will one day become a nation that is a blessing to the world and God the Father will parent them through his loving discipline.
We are winding down our series in Genesis and the smaller series called “Further in and deeper down,” on the life of Joseph and his brothers. We are going to hit the climax today. Joseph has been testing these brothers. He does not reveal himself just yet. Today he cannot conceal himself any longer. What was God doing through all this? Joseph tells them in Gen. 45:5-8. Underneath everything he did, they did and what was done to him, God was doing something. What was God doing?
Well, He is setting up His big plan to make Israel into a nation, but underneath it, you see His perfecting love. Remember that Jacob had ruined their lives with favoritism. He was a terrible father in a lot of ways. Then we had Joseph, a very arrogant and self-absorbed individual and then the brothers who were full of hatred, jealous and murderous rage. If God left them in their sin, they would have destroyed everything. But how are they going to change? How are they going to know that it is grace that will change them? How will they see God’s deep love for them? Telling them would not have worked. They have to be shown. How? One lesson to unpack for us today:
I. God uses loving discipline to bring us from awareness of sin to transformation by grace (Gen. 43:33-45:28).
a) The nature of discipline
I will need to set up this message by teaching on God’s discipline. As soon as you hear the word God’s discipline, people freak out. What does that mean? Let’s look at Heb. 12:3-11. The author of Hebrews writes to Jews who have become Christians. They came to know God as their Father through Jesus Christ. Then the hardships came. They lost friends. They lost jobs. Life was tough and they began to think life was easier as an unbeliever.
So the author reminds them that this is all part of God’s training. That’s what the word paideia (discipline–where we get the word pediatrics) or discipline here means.
- God’s discipline means training. It denotes “the upbringing and handling of the child which is growing up to maturity and which thus needs direction, teaching, instruction.” When hard moments come into your life, don’t ignore it or fall into despair. It is part of sanctification.
- It also refers to oversight. It is overseeing the entire life of a child and his/her environment so that the child receives whatever he needs to grow up well and be mature. God is not an absentee father who shows up just to discipline. He is involved every step of the way of our growth. If you don’t believe that we are born sinners, you probably do not have kids. In order for a child to grow into a mature person, you have to bring consequences into his life. If a child lies or is cruel or rebellious and you leave him that way, it becomes magnified as he grows up and possibly prove to be disastrous for the child. Discipline is what parents are called to do, but we fail at.
- But God’s discipline is not retribution. Retribution says if someone does something wrong, you give them what they deserve. This is why I say we fail at this. So often a child hurts you, inconveniences you, frustrates you, insults you, etc. you want to pay them back. You make them cry and or you punish them. But real discipline is not justice. It is not punishment. It is just enough unpleasantness to help the child lovingly change and keep them from turning into an awful and cruel person.
- God’s discipline is out of love. Only God’s paidea is perfect. We need God’s discipline. No one else can do it perfectly. God’s parental love is a perfecting love. Love is not giving a person whatever they want. It is giving a person what they need, even when they don’t realize or welcome it in the moment. Jerry Bridges says, “We mistakenly look for tokens of God’s love in happiness. We should instead look for them in His faithful and persistent work to conform us to Christ. As Philip Hughes has observed, “Discipline is the mark not of a harsh and heartless father but of a father who is deeply and lovingly concerned for the well-being of his son.”
- God’s discipline is proof of sonship. Some people think you accept Christ, get your “get of hell free” card and God just lets you live your life and you can do whatever you want. That is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is a Father and when you become His child, He trains you as His child.
- God’s discipline is purposeful. So as long as there is selfishness in your heart, blindness, cowardice and fear, God will bring His loving discipline into our lives. He is overseeing it all as our Father. Nothing is random. It is all part of His perfect purpose. The goal is restoration and wholeness. In fact, that is what holiness is: wholeness in every area of our life.
b) The method of discipline
- God enters your life as your Father. Jacob here fails to be a father in this regard. His favoritism poisons this family, including himself. But God steps in and becomes the father they never had. There is a Father to the Fatherless, loved ones. It doesn’t matter what your parents did or didn’t do, when you enter into a relationship with God as your Father, He will be the best Father your heart has always craved for. God turns Joseph from foolish arrogance into wisdom. From a selfish man into a man of compassion and generosity. How? From God’s fatherly discipline in his life. And now He’s doing the same with the brothers.
- God allows the perfect collision of truth and grace. Basically, what God does is bring the external brokenness of the world (tragedy, people betray you, hurt you, financial pain, marital pain, etc.) into a collision with internal brokenness of your soul in such a way that will bring you to Christ. You end up being taught, woken up, strengthened and healed. God, our Father knows the right way, at the right time and in the right amount for this collision to happen and He will make you into someone so usable and great in God’s eyes for His glory. Truth without love and grace is brutality. Love and grace without truth is hypocrisy. We need both.
“This is not to say that every adversity that occurs in our lives is related to some specific sin we have committed. The issue God is dealing with in our lives is not so much what we do, but what we are. All of us tend to underestimate the remaining sinfulness in our hearts. We fail to see the extent of pride, fleshly self-confidence, selfish ambitions, stubbornness, self-justification, lack of love, and distrust of God that He does see. But adversity brings these sinful dispositions to the surface just as the refiner’s fire brings impurities to the surface of the molten gold.”
Watch this collision take place in our story. Back to Genesis 43. Last time we left the brothers at Joseph’s table, lavished with grace when they expected death for their guilt. Joseph shocks them with grace. He serves them the best food. He shows them abundant generosity and grace. But he gives a hint as to who he is, when he makes the brothers sit according to birth order. What are the chances of seating 11 brothers by age without knowing? Ron sent me a text to answer that this week. The answer is one in about 40 million. This is grace.
The brothers are all looking at each other in amazement. How could this Egyptian ruler know? Then they notice that while they got one piece of steak, Benjamin got five. He gets five servings of mashed potatoes. Did he look really skinny or was he a really big dude who looked like he could eat? What is Joseph doing? He’s getting to truth.
This abundance is an overt display of favoritism. Joseph is recreating a context to awaken his brothers’ consciences. Joseph himself had been shown favoritism remember? He had his nice coat, which he displayed for all to see and caused his brothers much anger and resentment leading to them forsaking him. Joseph was singled out for preferential treatment. How will they respond now 22 years later, when the second son of Rachel is displayed preferential treatment? Will it arouse all those feelings of anger, jealousy and hatred? How they respond will reveal what is really inside them. This is truth. God is allowing the perfect collision to happen in His loving discipline.
Joseph has long forgiven them, but in order for true reconciliation to happen, you cannot simply have an awakened conscience, you need a changed heart. It is possible to be aware of the sting of guilt and not do anything about it and never experience the transformation of grace. What is Joseph going to do? He’s going to create a scenario to find out what’s in their hearts.
The next morning, the brothers could not be happier. Our sacks are full of grain. Simeon is returned. We ate with the Governor. Benjamin is not harmed. Daddy Jacob will be happy and be ok after all. There is grace here, but is there truth? Love is not giving us what we want right? It is giving us what we need and what these guilty brothers need is forgiveness of sin and removal of guilt and restoration between themselves and Joseph.
Joseph devises a plan. He once again returns all their money, fills up their sacks as much as they can carry and this time puts his silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers head home. They are not that far out, when Joseph sends his administrative assistant out with a wink and a smile to get them back and gives them instructions.
Why? He’s going to find an excuse to arrest Benjamin and isolate him from the rest of brothers. This will put their brothers in a position of choosing between Benjamin, the favored one, or their own well-being. Last time when Joseph was in that position, they said, “We will not have this dreamer ruling over us!” They sold him off to slavery. They chose their own well-being over another. How will they choose now? Is it just an awakening of their conscience or a change of heart? A perfect collision of truth and grace.
The steward accuses the brothers of being ungrateful thieves. And the accusation is that they have stolen the divination cup of Joseph’s. Divination in Egypt was generally only accessible to people of high status. Not much is known concerning the most popular techniques. From Mesopotamia we are familiar with a couple of techniques that use liquids. [One] [is] by observing the shapes that oil makes when poured into water…or [one] gains information from the ripples or reflections in the water itself. The brothers would not be surprised that a high official uses such methods.
The brothers use three arguments to deny the charges. First is denial. Second is by appealing to earlier behavior. If we were willing to bring back money from last time, why would we be so foolish to steal this time? And thirdly by oath. They are so confident that no one could have committed this crime, they are willing to bring death upon the guilty person and sell themselves into slavery. But the steward says, “No. I’m changing the terms. Give me the guilty one. Rest of you go home.” Why? Wouldn’t 11 slaves be better than 1? Joseph wants to single out Benjamin.
Then the moment of truth. The steward opens up Benjamin’s bag and there is the cup. No words come out of the brothers’ mouths. They tore their clothes. This is a sign of grief and despair. Remember when Joseph was thrown into the well? They tore up his robe and had lunch. Later Jacob tore his clothes in grief. Now another brother is being sold into slavery and they all tear up their own robes. These brothers have changed. They have compassion, after all. But look at what happens after this. They all return back to the city! What’s so amazing about that? Well, they had other options. They could have killed the steward and went home. They killed an entire city one time. They are 11, he is 1. Or they could have said, “See you Benjamin. Sorry Dad, Benjamin blew it big time. It wasn’t our fault.”
But instead, we see the very first sign of a pulling together of a fractured family to become one nation under God. They are all going back together (hopefully they had a change of clothes in hand). They yet again fall before him (this is getting to be quite a habit!) and Joseph says essentially, “Did you think you could get away with stealing my cup? You know I am a master of divination and would have found you out, one way or the other.”
Judah steps up again. He’s broken: “God has uncovered our guilt.” What guilt? Of stealing the cup? No, they knew they didn’t do it. He’s confessing the guilt of what they did to Joseph 22 years ago (Gen. 42:21-22). This is the first right theology of justice. Though God doesn’t pay at the end of every day, in the end God pays. Somehow, somewhere, some day, wrongs would have to be paid for and justice would have been served. In Judah’s mind, that day was today. Truth. Sin must be paid. That time had come. It’s a confession.
Notice the punishment he thinks of: we are all guilty. All of us. Why? This time, we will not leave any man behind. We are brothers. We are one family. Then Joseph gives them one last chance to repeat their crime. One last opportunity to escape at Joseph’s expense. He says, “No, no. That doesn’t make sense. I want only one to pay and that’s Benjamin.” Will they leave him behind?
One commentator looks at Joseph’s method and says though it is strange and upon first look it looks like vengeance, nothing can be further from the truth. Joseph’s alternating between “sun and frost” finally opened them up before God.  I once took a glass right out of the dishwasher, right when it was done and poured ice cold coke into it. The glass cut into two pieces. I’m sure there is physics behind that. If something goes from really hot to really cold, it breaks.
Joseph’s life was like that too wasn’t it? His was a roller coaster ride of going up and going down and going up and going down. The collision of truth and love is convicting them and humbling them, while at the same time encouraging them. Joseph was broken that way and now his brothers as well. They have woken up and they have changed. Truth has hit them like a Mack truck. But given a chance to repeat their crime, they do it right this time.
I think God does the same method with us. Have you ever felt like stuff you thought you grew out of years ago often comes back? Same situations over and over again? God recreates the context. Remember when Peter had denied Jesus and then went fishing? John 21. He shows up for Peter in John 21. There he recreates the context of Peter’s calling. Another miraculous catch after a night of failure, which had nothing to do with them. Peter the first time asked Jesus to leave because he was a sinner (Luke 5), but Jesus stayed. Now Jesus had more reason to leave Peter, but stays on the shore for Peter. He does more than stay with Peter. He is more committed to Peter than Peter is to Him. Then Peter realizes it’s the Lord, jumps into the ocean and swims ashore. What does he find? A charcoal fire. The last time he saw that was when he had denied Jesus (John 18:18). Jesus recreating it. Why? To throw it in Peter’s face? No. To bring up the sin to heal it. Then three times he asks if Peter loved him. Three times Peter had denied him. He recreated the context and gave him a chance to respond differently. And he does.
That’s what his loving discipline does for us. He will continue to allow the same situation over and over again. He wants you to see our sin, the root of it, the horror of it and then collide it with His amazing grace. I’m this bad, but are you this good? And being transformed by grace, we make different choices. Wiser choices. More God-honoring choices.
Judah says, “Well, if it’s only one person you want, let me suggest an alternative.” In the longest speech in Genesis in 44:18-34, he steps up. Judah was the ringleader of the betrayal of Joseph. He was the most coldhearted one. He was the one who suggested to sell Joseph off into slavery (Gen. 37:27). But his speech is all about his father. He mentions him 14x. The speech is made up of three parts: 1) the past as it relates to their father 2) their future as it relates to their father 3) the present as it relates to their father. The gist is this: if we don’t bring Benjamin back, our father will die.
This is coming from a man who years before, he could care less, bringing Joseph’s coat to his father saying without any problem that he was killed by an animal. He saw what his sin has done to his father and the guilt finally, through Joseph himself, brings him to confession and repentance. He repents. How do we know that? Because when repentance is real, it is obvious. Why do we resent God’s discipline? Because we don’t think we are that bad. The sins that most destroy us are the things we cannot see. John Sanderson says, “If we only knew how bad we are, we would welcome chastening because this is God’s way of getting rid of sin and its habits. But chastening is resented because we cannot believe that we have done anything worthy of it.” Finally Judah sees. He knows he is guilty.
Look at Gen. 44:33. “Now therefore, please let your servant (me) remain instead of the boy as a servant instead of the boy.” What was the cause of Judah’s anger 22 years before? “You love Joseph more than me.” As a result, he sells Joseph into slavery and he emotionally destroys his father. Now two decades later, it is instant replay. The issue is the same: “Our dad loves Benjamin more than me.” Only now, the favoritism is not the cause for hatred, it becomes the basis of mercy. Judah so feels for his father, he begs to sacrifice himself for a brother who is more loved than himself. He realizes that love is complicated. This is who my father is. I am not going to fight it anymore and I cannot hurt him anymore.
He is not who he once was. The brothers also are not who they once was. Judah’s changed! I think Tamar started that journey and this whole “frost and sun” scenario—collision of truth and grace now makes him into an amazing person. Judah offers himself as a sacrifice as a substitute for his brother for the sake of his father.
c) The transformation by grace
How is Joseph going to respond? Too little too late? Throw them all in jail? Kill Judah? Make them into slaves? No, truth and grace. He himself was transformed by grace so he could be a dispenser of grace. Joseph, in Gen. 45:1, is overcome with emotion and explodes into tears.
What happened to Joseph that brought him to the brink of this explosion? “Then” in Gen. 45:1. It was Judah’s heart wrenching speech that revealed love that he had never seen in his brothers and genuine repentance. Joseph sends everyone else away? Why? Well, first of all, for privacy. This was not business, but very personal. Second of all, it was for protection of the brothers. If the crime of the brothers of the governor of Egypt was publicly exposed, there is no telling what the Egyptians would do to people who hurt their beloved Zapanath-Panea. And really if Joseph wanted to execute vengeance, he just had to share the story publicly one time and before you know it, “Brothers? What brothers?”
Joseph has no desire to expose or to humiliate or malign these brothers. Love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). His only concern is for their well-being and their reputation. Finally, the mask comes off in Gen. 45:3. I am Joseph! In Hebrew. It’s been 22 years. Is my father (first time he says ‘my’) really ok? Is he well? He wants more details. He knows his father is living, but wants more intimate details.
The brothers are doomed. They cannot answer. The text says they were “dismayed,” meaning paralyzing fear like a soldier who steps for the first time on the field. “Wait, what? Did he just speak to us in Hebrew?” (No interpreter this time). There is rapid heaving in their chests and trauma in their eyes. All the dots are connecting in their minds. Oh wait! the traders were going to Egypt weren’t they? Is this is Joseph he must have absolute power? And we are standing right before him? Joseph says, “I am Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” Besides the brothers, only one other person could have known this: Joseph himself.
Joseph should have then said, “Now get on your knees. Time to pay up. I have been waiting and salivating 20 some years for this!” Instead he says, “Draw near. Come close to me.” It wasn’t appropriate to get too close to a royal person. You would always keep yourself at a distance if you were in front of someone important. Does this not remind you of one greater than Joseph? We stand before Him found out. Exposed. Discovered. Completely condemned in our sin deserving death at His hands, but instead He says, “Come all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Come and have unimpeded fellowship!
This is amazing! Joseph is consumed to relieve their burden and guilt. He wants to remove suffering caused by their own sin. God actually sent me ahead for a greater purpose to save lives. Joseph has forgiven them. When we forgive, we give up the right to hurt someone back. Forgiveness means giving up the right to seek repayment from the one who harmed you. But he goes further. He wants to bring them all back to Egypt and save their lives and give them the best part of the land. It is grace. Truth: You sold me into Egypt. Grace: I forgive you and give you the best when you deserve the worst.
He himself has been transformed by grace to be a dispenser of grace. He has overcome resentment. How? He has absorbed the pain caused by his brothers as coming from God’s fatherly loving and disciplining hand for a providential purpose he did not understand until now. Notice the repetition of God. No mention of Potiphar’s wife, brothers, etc. but God, God, God! He has embraced the bigness of God more than the bigness of his hurt and the bigness of his adversities. That is when you know grace has transformed you through God’s discipline.
In C. S. Lewis’s children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, a young heroine named Lucy meets a majestic lion named Aslan in the enchanted land of Narnia. Making a return visit a year later, the children discover that everything has changed radically, and they quickly become lost. But after a series of dreadful events, Lucy finally spots Aslan in a forest clearing, rushes to him, throws her arms around his neck, and buries her face in his mane. He touches her nose with his tongue. She gazed up into the large wise face.
“Welcome child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That’s because you’re older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I’m not. But each year you grow, you’ll find me bigger.”
Joseph has saved his family from famine, but God had even more in mind. God was going to grow a nation in Egypt and bring them back to the land promised them and make them a blessing to the nations, eventually bringing the Messiah through them. No Joseph He is not simply saving your family from famine, but making the way to save the world from a greater tragedy, of hell. God does not punish these brothers as their sins deserve. God does not punish Joseph has his sins deserve. He lovingly disciplines them. Where is justice in this story? Why can he do that?
In fact, centuries later, God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ came to the world. He came from the tribe of Judah and we will worship Him one day as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5). He was the apple of God’s eye. He was an obedient Son. He had His Father’s love. In fact, God said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” But this Son, a greater Judah, was not just willing to offer His life as a substitutionary sacrifice to reconcile his family, but He lost His life that reconciled us to the Father. Jesus, on the cross, was punished as He took the penalty we deserve. God’s beloved son became an orphan, abandoned and forsaken so we can be adopted and loved into God’s family. In His suffering, He lost His Father’s love, so that in your suffering, you can have your Father’s love. Did God just throw away justice in this story? No, He didn’t throw it away, He threw it into Jesus’ heart. So no, you can never be punished for your sin believer. Jesus was punished, so you get loving discipline, just enough unpleasantness to wake you up, because true pain and ultimate adversity for our sin was placed on God’s Son.
The other day, the girls were playing in their room. Jenny was at work. I was taking care of them all day. It was close to their bedtime. All of a sudden, Abbie comes running saying, “Annabelle is coloring the carpet with nail polish!” I ran over and I see her with green nail polish and coloring the carpet. I was livid. I screamed at her and disciplined her in anger. Actually it wasn’t discipline. It was retribution. You have inconvenienced me and now I will make you cry. I calmed down and had to change her diaper. She was still in tears, but had reduced to sniffles and she kept looking at me. It was almost she could read in my face that I felt like a horrible father. She then looks at me and through her sniffles says, “I love you Dada.” It was really a moment of grace. I think for her, though I caused her much pain, I was still the only person that could comfort her and reassure her.
You know, they say that we don’t raise our children, but they help you grow up. Later I was thinking, “Lord, when I sense your loving discipline in my life, help me to be quicker to say, ‘I love you.’ Because though you allowed this in my life, there is no one else I have to help me than you. When I cannot trace your hand, help me trust your heart.”
So the writer of Hebrews says just because you go under God’s discipline, you don’t’ grow. You have to embrace it and you have to embrace Him. Surrender and trust His heart, when you cannot trace His hand.
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Thoughts in this section taken from Tim Keller’s sermon, “Discipline,” preached June 22, 2003 http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&Product_ID=18142 accessed 6 November 2012.
Bridges, J. (1988). Trusting God (150). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.
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Walton, J. H. (2001). Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary (681). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (565). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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As quoted in http://www.thegracetabernacle.org/quotes/God-Discipline.htm accessed 8 December 2012.