When there has been tension or a breakdown in relationships, those first few steps towards restoring that relationship are never easy. It can often feel awkward and difficult. However, if we cannot overcome the barriers that exist and make tentative steps towards reconciliation we have not proved ourselves to be as Christlike as we might have first thought ourselves to be. These verses are a bit long for a blog but they do set the scene.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Joseph wondered if he would ever see his brothers again. His new life had caused him to forget his previous life (Genesis 41:51). Now our story takes a turn, it’s not a coincidental turn but part of God’s sovereign plan.
Jacob and his family are feeling the effects of the famine in Canaan, so Jacob sends his sons in search of grain to Egypt. (42:1-3) as we read this we can be governed by knowing the end of the story. If you read this not knowing the end of the story then you will begin to feel the emotion and tension of broken relationships. Jacob has behaved to type by not sending his now new favourite son on the journey (vs 4). So again we see the age old problem of not learning about our own weaknesses.
The ten brothers arrived in Egypt, and bowed before Joseph thus fulfilling the dream that Joseph had twenty years earlier (vs 5-6). It must have been deeply moving for Joseph when he recognised them (vs7). How should he treat them? When we have been hurt one of our potentially natural instincts is for revenge or pay back. Joseph had the power to throw his brothers into prison or even to have them executed. His hurt, if it had not been released many years before, could have grown and distorted his perception. He could have gloated or hated them but he did none of these things.
Joseph treated his brothers with restraint. He was measured, he was not in a rush to reveal who he was but he does however, speak roughly to them (vs 7). You can sense the tension, it’s hard and difficult, but what was he feeling on the inside? He is going to choose to move this in the right direction. His brothers do not recognise him, they had assumed he was dead (vs 8). He looked different, dressed in Egyptian clothes, even speaking to them through an interpreter and he had an Egyptian name. Despite everything, Joseph knew God had a purpose for his brothers. This is so important in that when we are hurt we still see that God has a plan and a purpose for the life of the one or ones who have hurt us.
Joseph knew that his accusation of his brothers being spies was false and wrong (vs 9). For those interested the phrase used, “the nakedness of the land” at first glance this seems to be a reference to the fact that his brothers are spies looking for Egypt’s weak points and yet it is a subtle play on words inferring and suggestive of the time when his brothers stripped him of his cloak and placed him, semi naked in a cistern. It was a carrot dangled to cause his brothers to bite in that it partly revealed who he was but they didn’t see it. He wanted them to recognise him. It showed his true heart.
They deny they are spies and begin to tell their story, they have come for food (vs 10). It’s odd as they say that there are twelve brothers and yet it’s twenty years since they got rid of Joseph. Do they still have him on their minds? Is there regret? Guilt from previous sin can be a powerful emotion. The prophet Isaiah addresses this issue for us.
And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:7
The reason you and I struggle to enjoy God is because we can live in constant fear that He doesn’t enjoy us. How could He when our guilt and shame remains? Why do we experience this fear? It is because we don’t understand or embrace and enjoy the fact that God has forgiven all our sins! The reason we are so hesitant to draw near to God and bring our prayerful requests to him is that we live in fear that he’s angry with us. Why shouldn’t he be when our guilt and shame remain? So why do we experience this hesitation? Again, it is because we don’t understand or embrace, and enjoy the fact that God has forgiven us all our sins!
I remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Hebrews 10:17
Going back to the story the brothers mention Joseph and Benjamin (vs 12-14) but Benjamin is not with them so Joseph threatened them with imprisonment for three days until Benjamin was brought to him. He then made some suggestions which would test their attitude towards one another (vs 19 – 20). How would they feel if one of them suffered whilst the others were released? It was poignant and meant to stir memories regarding what they had done to him. He wanted them to recall and think of the impact of their previous ways and choices. Would they be glad to leave Benjamin in prison whilst they escaped? Would they have learnt the lesson or would history repeat itself?
Eventually they admitted their guilt. They admitted their lack of compassion. They admitted they had been wrong. Now a change can occur.
Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” Genesis 42:21
There had been a loss of years, many years.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. Joel 2:25
The immediate meaning of this promise is clear. God’s people had suffered the complete destruction of their entire harvest through swarms of locusts that marched like an insect army through the fields, destroying the crops, multiplying their number as they went. This wonderful promise for those people meant that years of abundant harvests would follow the years of desolation brought about by the locusts.
What do “lost years” look like for Joseph, for his brothers, for us? Lost years (or locust years) are years that you can’t get back. Take heart! There is hope, because God can restore to you your lost, locust years.