Many years ago I went through a period of time when God was clearly dealing with me. It was painful, hard and frankly not nice. I knew God was speaking but the process of sanctification was not easy because I was having to deal with things about me that I did not want to deal with. I was not sleeping, it felt like I could not escape and God was revealing things to me about myself that I did not want to hear. I don’t believe I am alone in describing one of the ways God works to make us more like his son, necessary as it may be, but that feeling of being exposed and vulnerable does make for a far more real prayer life.
Jacob and his sons are being refined in the fire by God. The brothers return to Egypt with double the money and with Benjamin (Genesis 43:15). Joseph is delighted to see his younger brother and it is a sign that his brothers had learnt lessons from the past. It was also a sign that Jacob was trusting God. Joseph invited them to his ‘place’ for a meal but the brothers were nervous.
And the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, which was replaced in our sacks the first time, that we are brought in, so that he may assault us and fall upon us to make us servants and seize our donkeys.” Genesis 43:18
When God is working in our lives and all is stripped away we can easily feel that everything is working against us rather than for our good. How wrong they were, how wrong we can be. Joseph was wanting to bless and yet the brothers thinking was distorted and they read the complete opposite.
Their position and posture was to defend themselves and they tried to give good logical explanations as to why the money had been found in their sacks. They felt they must justify their actions but Joseph puts them at ease.
He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. Genesis 43:23
Again a prophecy is fulfilled as the brothers bow to Joseph (vs 26). Yet, despite this, he does not gloat or enjoy what God is doing. When someone is going through the refiner’s fire we can sometimes feel a wrong sense of, “they deserved that.” Not so with Joseph, he expressed care and concern for his brothers and for his father (vs 27). Although his brothers had treated him badly in the past he would choose to not be like that, he would not be vindictive.
Joseph gave the brothers a clue as to who he was by the seating arrangements at the meal (vs 33). He did not, and would not, treat them as their sins deserved. A lesson I need to learn and a wonderful description of how Christ has treated us.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:10-12
Just for a moment look at how Joseph could have reacted. Consider for a moment how we “deal” with others. We can keep fresh in our minds their injustices toward us. We can nurture the memory of their faults and failings. We can never let them forget what they did and we often make sure others know about it as well! We may seek any, and every opportunity, often secretly and surreptitiously, to make them pay for their transgressions. We hold it in our hearts and over their heads and persuade ourselves that it’s only fair that they be treated this way.
Now consider again this description of God in his “dealings” with us. “He does NOT deal with us according to our sins.” Our sins do NOT constitute the rule or standard or plumb line according to which God makes his decisions on how to treat us. He does not recall or bring to the fore or publicly announce our history of sin before he formulates his plan for our life or before responding to something we’ve just said or done.
Better still is the second statement in verse 10, that God does NOT “repay us according to our iniquities.” It’s certainly not because our iniquities do not deserve repayment. They are deep, there are many and they are horrible and are deserving of the most severe, indeed, eternal judgment. But those who “fear him” (vs11) need never fear that he will exact payment or demand suffering or insist, according to the strictness of his law and unyielding holiness, that we endure the consequences of violating His will and ways.
In fact, so far is it from the realm of possibility that we might ever be dealt with “according to our sins” or repaid “according to our iniquities” that David compares it (in Psalm 103), to the distance between earth and the highest heavens and the distance between east and west, which is unmeasurable.
Why does God not deal with us according to our sins? Why does he not repay us according to our iniquities? On what grounds does he take such a generous and marvellous action? Does he simply wave the wand of mercy and dismiss our guilt? Does he merely shrug off our rebellion and unbelief and hostility as if they were nothing and of no consequence? Does he ignore his standard of holiness when he forgives us? Does he pretend that justice matters little or that love trumps righteousness?
No, no, no, no. The reason why God does not deal with us according to our sins is because he has dealt with Jesus in accordance with what they require! More than that, the payment for those sins has been fully and finally accepted. It is finished!
There is our example.