Genesis, chapters 42-43; Psalm 5; Luke, chapter 17
Genesis 42:25-28 (NLT):
Joseph then ordered his servants to fill the men’s sacks with grain, but he also gave secret instructions to return each brother’s payment at the top of his sack. He also gave them supplies for their journey home. So the brothers loaded their donkeys with the grain and headed for home. But when they stopped for the night and one of them opened his sack to get grain for his donkey, he found his money in the top of his sack. “Look!” he exclaimed to his brothers. “My money has been returned; it’s here in my sack!” Then their hearts sank. Trembling, they said to each other, “What has God done to us?”
I’ve written about Joseph on a number of occasions over the last five years. His story is familiar: Jacob’s favorite son, he was hated by his brothers. Finally, they sold him as a slave and told Jacob that he had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph was taken to Egypt, and thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Finally, he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams; Pharaoh not only released him from prison, but he also made Joseph second in command of the whole country.
Meanwhile, a famine struck, and Jacob and his family needed food. He sent his ten older sons to Egypt to get grain, and kept Benjamin – the youngest – home with him. Benjamin was not only the youngest; he was Joseph’s only full brother. Joseph and Benjamin were the two sons born to Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. (The topic of “favorite wife” would take up an entire reflection on its own!) Because Rachel had died giving birth to Benjamin, he was Jacob’s last link to Rachel – so he refused to let Benjamin leave.
When the brothers got to Egypt, they met Joseph – but they did not recognize him. He knew them immediately, however, and accused them of being spies. Ultimately, they told him that they had a father and a younger brother still at home – and one brother “who is no longer with us” (42:13). He then told them that he would keep one of them – Simeon – in prison, and the rest could go home and get their younger brother to prove that they weren’t spies.
What Has God Done to Us?
The passage I’ve set forth above tells what happened when they were traveling home. When one of them opened his sack of grain, he found his money! What’s interesting is their reaction to this. I think most people would have one of two reactions. They would either (1) assume that a mistake had been made, and go back to fix it; or (2) assume that this was their lucky day, and keep the money and head for home. Joseph’s brothers did neither. Their reaction is what really caught my attention: Trembling, they said to each other, “What has God done to us?”
“What has God done to us?” Why would they assume that God had done this? And if God had done it, why would they assume that it was bad? Didn’t they trust God? They had undoubtedly heard the stories of God’s faithfulness to their family, starting with Abraham, then proceeding to Isaac and then their father, Jacob. Last week we read how Jacob had encountered God at Bethel on his way to Paddan-Aram, and how God had promised to bless him. Surely Jacob had shared that story with his sons!
“What has God done to us?” That question is borne out of guilt, out of the memory of what they had done to Joseph. When Joseph had accused them of being spies and had kept Simeon in prison, they had said to themselves: “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago” (42:21). That guilt and fear prompted them to assume that this latest occurrence – the money in the sack of grain – was just another way that God was punishing them for what they had done. Thankfully, by the end of the story, they come to recognize what Joseph understood already: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (see Genesis 50:19).
This passage reminds us that guilt can continue to torture us for years if we don’t deal with what we have done. We understand that the first step is to confess our sin to God, and ask for his forgiveness. Then, we need to do whatever God directs us to do to deal with our sin. At times, there may be nothing to be done; other times, we may need to make some sort of restitution. We may be required to go to someone else and apologize. The important point is that whatever God tells us to do, we need to do it.
What a difference between the brothers and Joseph! In all the years that he was serving in Egypt – whether in Potiphar’s house, in prison, or in Pharaoh’s court – he never once said, “What has God done to me?” But his brothers were so overwhelmed by guilt that they assumed that even something that looked good was bad!
When we walk in God’s ways, we can trust – as Joseph did – that God is at work in whatever happens. When we try to go our own way, though, we will come to the point where we are suspicious of everything. I certainly don’t want to spend my life doubting all the blessings that God gives me! The real question is not, “What has God done to me?” The real question is, “What has God done for me?”
Father, thank you for reminding us today that you are at work for our good in every circumstance. Help us to be like Joseph, and to trust that you are at work even when we don’t understand. Help us not to become like his brothers, suspicious even of the good that you do because of our own disobedience and guilt. If there is something that we need to address in our lives, show us – and tell us what to do. Help us to live in the joy of your presence and your blessings each day! Amen.