October 28, 2018 | God's Providence Reveals His Mercy | Genesis 43:1-34

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Imagine with me for a moment that when you walked into church this morning, one of our greeters said, “Welcome to First Baptist Church, here’s $5.” You’d be surprised. You’d probably say thank you, maybe even ask why the church is passing out money. You’re used to us asking for money, not giving it away, right?

If the greeter told you we were giving $5 to everyone who showed up today, you’d think that was a nice gesture. It’s not going to change your life but it’ll get you one of those KFC $5 lunches. That’s not a bad way to start church.

But now imagine that you walked in and the greeter says, “Welcome to FBC, I just want you to know I paid off your mortgage.” Your reaction would be completely different. If he explained to you that he loves you and wanted you to be out from under the burden of that debt you’d have a completely different reaction than you would over a $5 bill.

You’d ask why? Why did you do something so kind? Why did you spend so much on me and my family? It would rock your world. You wouldn’t be listening to anything I’m saying right now. What you would be experiencing is mercy. One secular definition of mercy is kind and gentle treatment of someone having no right to it.

We struggle to understand mercy. Kindness, gentleness, even forgiveness toward someone who has no right to lay claim to such treatment is not in any way our default mode. We default to in our best to fairness and at our worst to vengeance.

Mercy tints Genesis 42 the same way a colored lightbulb casts everything its light touches in subtly different hue. We have a printer in our bedroom that has a blue light that doesn’t seem all that bright when the lights are on. But if we forget to turn it off it’s like having a little blue sun planted six feet from our bed. It’s still dark, but there’s a soft blue light coloring everything in the room. Mercy does that to the events we are about to read.

God is teaching mercy in His providence through this chapter as He works to fulfill the promises He made to Adam in Genesis 3, and then Abraham in Genesis 12.

A number of scholars have pointed out that 43-45 comprise one unit that reflects some really clear parallels to chapter 42, which we studied last week. Remember, the chapter and verse designations in your Bible were put there later on so that we can reference them easier. Moses didn’t add them as he was writing down this narrative for us. So these three chapters form a parallel to chapter 42. You can see it reflected in the table on the screen and then pick them out as we read together in just a moment.

42:1-4 Jacob’s sons sent to Egypt 43:1-14

42:5 Arrival in Egypt 43:15-25

42:6-16 First audience with Joseph 43:26-34

42:17 Brothers in custody 44:1-13

42:18-24 Second audience with Joseph 44:15-45:15

42:25-28 Departure from Egypt 45:16-24

42:29-38 Sons report to Egypt 45:25-28

Today, we’ll only make it through the first audience with Joseph. While we won’t see the full narrative I do think we’ll see some really complete teaching about what mercy truly is and how it is applied to our lives as God works in human history to show His mercy to His people.

Here’s the truth I want you to leave believing today: God’s providence reveals His mercy and compels us to reflect His image by living mercifully.

There are four truths about mercy that frame this chapter for us and the first of them is this:

Selfishness clouds mercy

Let’s read the first seven verses together—if you don’t have a Bible with you there are some black Bibles in the pew in front of you. This text is on page 38 in those.

Now the famine in the land was severe. 2 When they had used up the grain they had brought back from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little food.”

3 But Judah said to him, “The man specifically warned us: ‘You will not see me again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go, for the man said to us, ‘You will not see me again unless your brother is with you.’”

6 “Why have you caused me so much trouble?” Israel asked. “Why did you tell the man that you had another brother?”

7 They answered, “The man kept asking about us and our family: ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ And we answered him accordingly. How could we know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother here’?”

Moses does something subtle in the beginning of chapter 43. I think he’s drawing us back to chapter 12 here, reminding us of another famine. Genesis 12:10 says:

There was a famine in the land, so Abram went down to Egypt to stay there for a while because the famine in the land was severe.

Genesis 43:1 Now the famine in the land was severe.

In Genesis 12 Abraham ends up in Egypt because of a famine. He doesn’t honor God in the way that he conducts himself there, but God is merciful to him and continues in this covenant relationship with him anyway. He tells him just a few chapters later

“Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. (15:13)

And here in Genesis 43 we have Abraham’s great grandson arguing with his great-great grandsons about how exactly they are going to return to that same country—Egypt—where Abraham sought shelter during a famine.

Jacob’s selfishness is on display here as the situation for his family grows dire. God caused this famine to further His purpose in history—but for Jacob it’s all about him. In verse 6 he says “Why have you cause me so much trouble?”

God was working to bring this family to rescue through reuniting them with Joseph. At the end of the last chapter, Jacob refused to let Benjamin go to Egypt with his brothers at the risk of losing him. We even laughed at Jacob in the last chapter, didn’t we? Remember back in 42:36 when he said Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!” Have you ever been there? Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times when sorrow is the appropriate response to your circumstances. There’s a time to weep. But Jacob’s perspective was all wrong. The entire world is suffering from a famine—rather literally of Biblical proportion—and his response? Whoa is me.

Because Jacob was so self-centered here he was unable to see the mercy that God was laying before his family. Nations were starving. Yet, there was a man in Egypt who had favored his family. He had given them a great deal of very valuable food and let them keep the sliver they planned to use to buy it. He gave them a gift. And it threw Jacob into agony. Why? Because he was too focused on himself and his own plans for his life to see the goodness God was laying before him.

Sometimes, I’m the biggest obstacle to seeing God’s mercy in my own life. You see, when we start thinking about Jacob’s motives here, I think we figure out that really what he wants is to keep his family safe and together. He has already lost a child—the one that he favored over all the others. And he is clinging to Benjamin because he doesn’t want to go through that pain again.

But, ultimately, what is God trying to do here? He’s actually working to reunite this whole family and He’s using this famine as a tool to that end. And God is going to bring about a reunification that Jacob doesn’t even think is possible at this juncture. He thinks Joseph is dead, yet in just a few chapters this entire family will be together in the safety and security of Egypt. Do they deserve that? Well, no, frankly. This family has torn itself apart. Jacob is even berating his sons in the verses we read. Verse 6 — why have you caused me so much trouble? Oh, if he only knew!

But the true source of Jacob’s trouble was himself. It was his own favoritism of Joseph that pushed the brothers’ hatred to the breaking point. And it was his selfishness that blinded him to the mercy of God at work in his family. But God uses the sons with whom Jacob is so frustrated to break through. Let’s read on:

8 Then Judah said to his father Israel, “Send the boy with me. We will be on our way so that we may live and not die—neither we, nor you, nor our dependents. 9 I will be responsible for him. You can hold me personally accountable! If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I will be guilty before you forever. 10 If we had not delayed, we could have come back twice by now.”

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your packs and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balsam and a little honey, aromatic gum and resin, pistachios and almonds. 12 Take twice as much silver with you. Return the silver that was returned to you in the top of your bags. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also, and go back at once to the man. 14 May God Almighty cause the man to be merciful to you so that he will release your other brother and Benjamin to you. As for me, if I am deprived of my sons, then I am deprived.”

We see here that selflessness reveals mercy.

Even though Jacob was in such crisis just a verse earlier, a simple yet selfless statement from Judah snaps his father back to reality.

Judah accomplishes what Reuben failed to do in the last chapter. Look back just a page at what Reuben said in 42:37

37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You can kill my two sons if I don’t bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you.”

What’s different about Judah’s offer here? Instead of offering someone else, Judah offers himself. “I will be responsible for him. You can hold me personally accountable! If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I will be guilty before you forever.”

Judah didn’t put someone else’s life on the line. He put his own life on the line to reassure his father that all would be well. In God’s providence, He’s leading Judah—who was the epitome of selfishness back in chapter 38—to be an instrument of his mercy in the lives of this whole family. Judah put his life on the line to save his family. Reading this with the benefit of God’s complete Word we should notice that there would be another from Judah’s family who put His life on the line as a substitute. Luke 3 traces for us the family tree of one who was the earthly son of another man named Joseph. And if we trace that family tree all the way back to verse 34 (around 50 generations) we will see that Jesus family tree leads us directly to Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.

Judah put his life on the line and his selflessness allowed the mercy of God to be manifest for his whole family. Jesus gave his life so that God’s mercy would be manifest to all the nations of the earth—directly fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. How big a God do you serve?

It was a seemingly simple proposition from Judah but it had implications that ring for eternity and it also causes his father to do an about face. He was staunchly against sending his sons back with Benjamin but when Judah steps up and lays his life on the line, he relents.

He says take the absolute best from the land and twice as much money as you did last time. Remember, Joseph had their silver slipped back in their sacks when he sent them away. There was still fear here that they’d be branded as thieves. So he sends them with the gifts and money and with Benjamin and then he prays. Notice what he prays for, look at verse 14 again: May God Almighty cause the man to be merciful to you so that he will release your other brother and Benjamin to you. As for me, if I am deprived of my sons, then I am deprived.”

What does he pray for? Mercy! The very thing God has been altering the course of nations to show this family is finally what Jacob prays for! And who did he pray to? The Hebrew there is El Shaddai. God Almighty. That’s an important name for God in the Old Testament. We see it used in the narratives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and it’s used as a reminder of God’s power to Moses. It’s the fuel for our understanding of God’s characteristic omnipotence—meaning that God is all powerful. Referring to God as almighty means that He has all the power necessary to do anything and everything He wants to do. Jacob is recognizing that truth about God here.

And in the process he has gone from selfish to selfless. “If I am deprived, I am deprived.” He has given up on his own agenda. Selflessness has caused God’s mercy to come into view. And in the next section we’ll learn that

Submission magnifies mercy

Let’s read on in verse

15 The men took this gift, double the amount of silver, and Benjamin. They immediately went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to his steward, “Take the men to my house. Slaughter an animal and prepare it, for they will eat with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph had said and brought them to Joseph’s house.

18 But the men were afraid because they were taken to Joseph’s house. They said, “We have been brought here because of the silver that was returned in our bags the first time. They intend to overpower us, seize us, make us slaves, and take our donkeys.” 19 So they approached Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the doorway of the house.

20 They said, “My lord, we really did come down here the first time only to buy food. 21 When we came to the place where we lodged for the night and opened our bags of grain, each one’s silver was at the top of his bag! It was the full amount of our silver, and we have brought it back with us. 22 We have brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in the bags.” 23 Then the steward said, “May you be well. Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your bags. I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

Verse 15 tells us they return to Egypt with haste. Joseph sees that all his brothers are gathered and orders a feast prepared. Instead of being ordered to the place where all the other foreigners were going to barter for food, the brothers are taken to Joseph’s personal residence.

This caused them fear. They begin horriblizing. I’m not sure that’s a word. . .but it’s one I use sometimes. When you think about the worst possible things that could happen. You know, when your check engine light comes on so you can pretty much assume that your car will be dead within a few days. They think about the worst-case scenario . . although they have different priorities than I do—in verse 18 they worry that they’ll be overpowered. That’s bad. Then seized. That’s worse. Then enslaved. Ok, things are looking dark. And they may even take our donkeys. That’s crossing a line!

Perhaps it’s not a progression of fears. But either way, they were extremely uneasy. They approach the steward and immediately begin to plead their case. They openly and honestly lay out all the details of what happened. They seem to be truthful here, even though they paint themselves as the victims.

But verse 23 reveals to us one of the most astonishing truths in this whole chapter. Let’s see it again:

Then the steward said, “May you be well. Don’t be afraid. Your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your bags. I received your silver.

There’s a lot to unpack here. He puts them at ease with a very specific word. The Hebrew word is Shalom. It’s used all over the Old Testament. It’s used in Psalm 85 to speak of the Lord’s favor toward His people.

Faithful love and truth will join together;

righteousness and peace (shalom) will embrace. (85:10)

The steward instructs the brothers to be peaceful, not fearful. This man, who had worshipped the gods of Egypt and now was either converted by Joseph or knew him well enough to know how he spoke of the one true God, told these sons of Israel that their God must have had mercy on them!

There is nothing for them to fear on this day. God’s mercy has gone before them. Their willingness to submit, to go into this potentially dangerous land on behalf of their father and their family has served to magnify God’s mercy in their lives so much that even this outsider gives God glory. Submission magnifies mercy.

Finally, we’ll see here that fellowship celebrates mercy. Let’s finish the chapter:

24 The steward brought the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet, and got feed for their donkeys. 25 Since the men had heard that they were going to eat a meal there, they prepared their gift for Joseph’s arrival at noon. 26 When Joseph came home, they brought him the gift they had carried into the house, and they bowed to the ground before him.

27 He asked if they were well, and he said, “How is your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?”

28 They answered, “Your servant our father is well. He is still alive.” And they knelt low and paid homage to him.

29 When he looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother that you told me about?” Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Joseph hurried out because he was overcome with emotion for his brother, and he was about to weep. He went into an inner room and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. Regaining his composure, he said, “Serve the meal.”

32 They served him by himself, his brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who were eating with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, since that is detestable to them. 33 They were seated before him in order by age, from the firstborn to the youngest. The men looked at each other in astonishment. 34 Portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, and Benjamin’s portion was five times larger than any of theirs. They drank and became drunk with Joseph.

Joseph was harsh with his brothers in chapter 42. There is no harsh treatment to be found in what we just read. The steward extended customary hospitality to them and they were prepared a meal. Immediately after Joseph shows up, he asks about their aging father—no doubt wanting to know his condition after all these years. Their reply? It’s shalom again. He’s at peace. He is well—though he’ll be much better soon, when God’s mercy reunites this family.

Then he notices Benjamin, his full brother. The only other son of his late mother and he’s so overcome with emotion that he has to excuse himself. Literally the wording tells us his compassion grew hot. The same word is used both for a mother’s compassion toward her child (1 Kings 3:26) and of God for His people (Hos. 11:8). Joseph deeply loves Benjamin—and really all his brothers as we’ll come to find out later.

Joseph composes himself, returns, and then they have a feast. Their fellowship celebrates both the mercy that Joseph is extending to them in this moment and it foreshadows the reunion that is to come. But it also shows us the envy and jealousy that was present in this family has started to fall away.

If we remember back to what got us into this mess in the first place, it was the envy and jealousy of the brothers over the favored status of the youngest. Now, we see Joseph lavishing Benjamin in the presence of the others yet their is no hint of jealousy.

Finally, after decades of dysfunction we are seeing God’s mercy manifest in this family’s actions. It’s a huge change and concrete evidence of God’s hand at work, because this kind of change doesn’t happen without God being involved.

God’s has—in His mercy—acted on a global scale to reunite this family. How big is God’s mercy? Charles Spurgeon captured it well when he said:

There is nothing little in God; his mercy is like himself–it is infinite. You cannot measure it. His mercy is so great that it forgives great sins to great sinners, after great lengths of time, and then gives great favours and great privileges, and raises us up to great enjoyments in the great heaven of the great God. It is undeserved mercy, as indeed all true mercy must be, for deserved mercy is only a misnomer for justice. There was no right on the sinner’s part to the kind consideration of the Most High; had the rebel been doomed at once to eternal fire he would have richly merited the doom, and if delivered from wrath, sovereign love alone has found a cause, for there was none in the sinner himself. It is rich mercy.

What should we take away from this text? God’s providence reveals His mercy.

We need to acknowledge that our selfishness clouds God’s mercy and makes it difficult for us to see His plan. To combat selfishness, we must empty ourselves. Remember, selflessness reveals mercy.

In our selflessness we will be willing to submit to whatever circumstances God puts in front of us. And in our submission we magnify the mercy of God.

And our fellowship together will magnify the mercy of God in our lives. As we grow toward Him together, we see His mercy more clearly through one another.

All of us who belong to Christ have been forgiven more than we could ever imagine. We’ll never know the fullness of God’s mercy on this side of eternity because it’s beyond our comprehension. But we can know today that we’ve been forgiven more than we could ever repay. And thank God, He doesn’t ask us to. David Mathis wrote:

Our God is not simply sovereign, wonderful as it is to celebrate. And he is not only a God of uncompromising justice, thankful as we are that he is. He is the mercy-having God who invites us to look not only at his awesome authority and sovereign strength, but to set our eyes on his mercy and see into his very heart.

Mercy is a window into the heart of the Creator. We glorify Him when we recognize that mercy. El Shaddai show us His mercy today. Let’s pray.