I have good news for some of you in this room today. If you’ll look underneath your seat you’ll find. . . .nothing. That’s not the good news I have for you. This isn’t Oprah, I just wanted to make sure that you’re with me before I share this good news. Because at first, I fear it won’t sound like good news. In fact, when I share it with you you may think I’m crazy. You may think I’m wrong. You may even get offended by it. I didn’t even want to share it, but the more I studied Genesis 44 the more I became convinced that this is the truth of the text. This is the reason that God, through the human author Moses, told this story in the way that he did and has preserved it for us for generations.
Are you ready for the news? Here it is: The good news for some of us in this room is that God is against you. I think that through the text we are about to read I can explain how that’s true, but with that being said I’m pretty sure that none of us in here this morning came hoping to hear that message. And I could stand up here and tell you what I think you want to hear. I could say things like; focus on being a blessing and God will make sure you’re always blessed; God loves you just the way you are and doesn’t want to change anything about you; or God wants us to prosper financially. Where are my hunters at? I could tell you that if you just increase your tithe a little bit that deer that you’ve been tracking, you know the one, he’d finally come close enough for you to get a clear shot. I could tell you all those things and that would be a lot more enjoyable for me than to tell you that if you’re here and you have unconfessed sin that God just might be working against you.
That’s the truth that will lead Judah to conclude in verse 16 of chapter 44 that “God has exposed the iniquity of him and his brothers. He concludes at the end of an extremely tumultuous time in their lives when they feared starvation, imprisonment, and even death—that it was God who was at work to expose their guilt. Let’s read the whole chapter to see how Judah arrives at that conclusion, what it leads him to do, and what it all means for those of us in this room.
We’ll start with verses 1-12:
44 Joseph commanded his steward, “Fill the men’s bags with as much food as they can carry, and put each one’s silver at the top of his bag. 2 Put my cup, the silver one, at the top of the youngest one’s bag, along with the silver for his grain.” So he did as Joseph told him.
3 At morning light, the men were sent off with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone very far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Get up. Pursue the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Isn’t this the cup that my master drinks from and uses for divination? What you have done is wrong!’”
6 When he overtook them, he said these words to them. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord say these things? Your servants could not possibly do such a thing. 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found at the top of our bags. How could we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If it is found with one of us, your servants, he must die, and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”
10 The steward replied, “What you have said is right, but only the one who is found to have it will be my slave, and the rest of you will be blameless.”
11 So each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 The steward searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
God Pursues Sinners
In these opening verses we see how God pursues sinners. God works through Joseph and his steward to facilitate a plan that will not only bring this family together but cause the brothers to finally face the sins they committed all the way back in Genesis 37.
I want to answer an objection that I think some of you may have to what we have been talking about so far. You may be thinking, now wait a minute. God Himself isn’t really orchestrating all this. If you’ve been with us the past few weeks you can see how Joseph has been putting his brothers through the ringer a little bit—and with good reason.
When we started this study we saw how Jacob’s favoritism and perhaps Joseph’s arrogance drove his brothers to have such a deep jealousy and hatred for him that they couldn’t even speak to him. One day, when they caught him all alone they stripped him, beat him, and threw him in a pit. They would have killed him, had Judah not suggested they sell him into slavery. They did so back in chapter 37 and they took Joseph’s distinctive robe, dipped in into the blood of a goat and sent it back to their father. Verse 33 records his response:
33 His father recognized it. “It is my son’s robe,” he said. “A vicious animal has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces!” (leave on screen)
Since that moment Joseph has gone through some extreme ups and downs. He was first sold to a man named Potiphar who was a high-ranking official in Pharaoh’s government. Joseph did well as a servant in his house and was placed in charge of everything until he was accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. God was with him in prison, though, and revealed to him the dreams of a pair of important political prisoners—who after a number of years remembered his gift and recommended to Pharaoh that he seek him out when Pharaoh had dreams he couldn’t interpret. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams as a prediction of epic famine and Pharaoh placed him in charge of preparing the nation for the famine and then distributing the food.
It was in this role that Joseph’s brothers come before him to buy food and that sets up the past several weeks of our study here in the book of Genesis.
The doubt I fear some of us may have is that God really is the one driving all these events. I mean, Joseph is having a little fun at the expense of these brothers who so greatly betrayed him, right?
But I think I can prove to you just from the text that God is pulling the big picture strings in this whole narrative. Remember, at the end of the last chapter the brothers feasted with Joseph and became drunk. Chapter 44 begins with Joseph conspiring together with his steward to frame his brothers for theft. Then he wakes and sends them off at sunrise. The picture in my mind here is 10 hungover men stumbling out of bed and heading back toward home with an extreme sense of relief. Remember, they had feared they would be imprisoned or even killed. They worried that Benjamin would be taken captive, but none of those bad things happened. Until, that is, Joseph springs this plot. But Joseph’s words reveal something to us about who is really acting to put these events in motion. He said to his steward in verse 4b: Get up. Pursue the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? 5 Isn’t this the cup that my master drinks from and uses for divination? What you have done is wrong!’
You’ll notice on the screen that two things are underlined there. In the original Hebrew, Joseph used the same word in verse 4 that his father had used back in chapter 37, where the CSB translates it vicious. He’s going to accuse them of repaying the good he had done them with evil—which in reality they had already done over 20 years earlier. The second underlined phrase, what you have done is wrong, was also uttered by his father just in the last chapter. The CSB renders it a little differently but in 43:6 Israel says:
6 “Why have you caused me so much trouble?” Israel asked.
Why have you caused me so much trouble and what you have done is wrong are the exact same phrases in Hebrew…and this phrase is only used three times in the entire Old Testament. The word literally means to be evil. And in the big picture, that’s what God is dealing with here. He’s dealing with the evil that is residing in the hearts of the brothers.
This is not about Joseph’s revenge, it’s about God’s reconciliation. We won’t see a full reconciliation in this chapter, but it’s coming.
But we do see that God pursues the brothers so that they will recognize and repent of their sin. Jospeh sends out the physical pursuit, but for the last several chapters God has been at work to spiritually pursue these men who are carrying the guilt of some pretty extreme sin.
Joseph’s steward catches up to these men quickly and makes the accusation that he already knows to be true because he’s the one who slipped Joseph’s cup into Benjamin’s sack. The brothers, though, are indignant. They say, we brought back the silver found at the top of our bags last time. Why would we steal from you now?
There’s another theme introduced in verse 8. The word for ‘found’ shows up eight times in this chapter. I think Moses is showing us here that what is really being found here is more than just silverware.
The brothers have confidence in verse 9. If it’s found with one of us, you can kill the one who stole it and the rest of us will become your slaves. But the steward, already knowing his plan, tells them only the one who is found guilty will be enslaved. The rest can go.
So they lower their sacks and the search begins. Moses tells us he began with Reuben and found nothing. Then he moved on. Simeon, Levi, Judah, and Dan were searched. They were all found to be telling the truth. None of them had stolen anything. The steward moved on to Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun. I imagine that with every cleared search that the brothers became a little more puffed up. See, we told you we didn’t take anything. And the steward arrives at Benjamin. The last brother to be searched and he goes through the same process of opening the grain sack, rather deliberately, and there he finds Joseph’s personal cup.
Let’s read on to see the reaction this brings about starting in verse 13
13 Then they tore their clothes, and each one loaded his donkey and returned to the city.
14 When Judah and his brothers reached Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell to the ground before him. 15 “What is this you have done?” Joseph said to them. “Didn’t you know that a man like me could uncover the truth by divination?”
16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “How can we plead? How can we justify ourselves? God has exposed (found) your servants’ iniquity. We are now my lord’s slaves—both we and the one in whose possession the cup was found.”
17 Then Joseph said, “I swear that I will not do this. The man in whose possession the cup was found will be my slave. The rest of you can go in peace to your father.”
These verses show us the second truth about what happens when God is against us: God Exposes Sinners to Bring About Confession
Did you notice that the brothers don’t even argue their innocence? They immediately began mourning, just as they would if someone in their family had died. They didn’t plead their innocence. Did they do anything wrong? Well? Maybe not in this chapter. But I think what we see here is that they are coming to grips with the reality of their evil actions.
They immediately rush back to Joseph and throw themselves before him, but not to plead their innocence. Verse 16 reveals to us so much about what God is really doing here. Judah says “God has exposed your servants’ iniquity.” That would literally read God has found—it’s the same word in the original language—your servants’ guilt.”
The brothers didn’t commit this specific crime, but they have finally recognized that God himself has exposed their evil past. That’s why it’s good news today if God is working against you. Because if you have unconfessed sin, if you’re committing a habitual sin that you have not repented of, when God acts in your life to break you (Rocky IV?)—when He places circumstances in your life that cause you to see your own sin, mourn your own sin, and confess your own sin—that’s good news.
What all did He do in the lives of these 11 brothers? He brought about this famine, He elevated Joseph to a position of power in the one nation that had food left, He softened Jacob’s heart to allow them take Benjamin back to Egypt, and He led Joseph to plant this cup in Benjamin’s sack all in His providence as He was working to expose these men as sinners to bring about this confession that He was the one against whom they’d sinned and with whom they needed reconciliation.
Every sin is an affront to a Holy God. Look at what King David writes in Psalm 51:
For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you—you alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in your sight.
So you are right when you pass sentence;
you are blameless when you judge.
5 Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;
I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
Against you—you alone—I have sinned. Now, Psalm 51 is David’s psalm of repentance after he was confronted by Nathan in the wake of his affair with Bathsheeba. Not only had he committed adultery, but he had acted to cover up his sin and essentially had Bathsheeba’s husband put to death. It seems like he sinned against a whole bunch of people doesn’t it? So how can Psalm 51:4 be true? How is David’s sin against God alone? Well, I turn to longtime pastor and author John Piper to help with this answer. He wrote back in 2008:
(T)he thing that makes it sin is its vertical dimension. It is disobeying God's law. It is denying that he satisfies your soul . . . It is sin in that it is an assault on God's authority and his right to tell you what to do. What makes sin sin is its Godwardness. That's why the world doesn't understand how serious hell is, because they don't understand how serious sin is. And they don't understand how serious sin is because the only way the world thinks about sin is in terms of "You hurt me and I hurt you, and that shouldn't be." And that's true: we shouldn't hurt each other. But they don't even bring God into the picture, and that's where sin becomes sin.
The biggest problem in the lives of Joseph’s brothers is that they had committed a sin not merely against Joseph but against the Creator of the universe Himself. And they had not yet fully confessed or repented of that sin. It had been buried for over 20 years. They had never dealt with this sin and it was ruining them. God was working against their plan and purpose because all they wanted was to go back home together. But God thwarted their plan so that He could break them, so that He could expose their sin so that, ultimately, they would be reconciled both to their brother and to Himself.
Let’s read the rest of the chapter to find out what happens next:
18 But Judah approached him and said, “My lord, please let your servant speak personally to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 and we answered my lord, ‘We have an elderly father and a younger brother, the child of his old age. The boy’s brother is dead. He is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him to me so that I can see him.’ 22 But we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father. If he were to leave, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘If your younger brother does not come down with you, you will not see me again.’
24 “This is what happened when we went back to your servant my father: We reported to him the words of my lord. 25 But our father said, ‘Go again, and buy us a little food.’ 26 We told him, ‘We cannot go down unless our younger brother goes with us. If our younger brother isn’t with us, we cannot see the man.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One is gone from me—I said he must have been torn to pieces—and I have never seen him again. 29 If you also take this one from me and anything happens to him, you will bring my gray hairs down to Sheol in sorrow.’
30 “So if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us—his life is wrapped up with the boy’s life— 31 when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die. Then your servants will have brought the gray hairs of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. 32 Your servant became accountable to my father for the boy, saying, ‘If I do not return him to you, I will always bear the guilt for sinning against you, my father.’ 33 Now please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave, in place of the boy. Let him go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father without the boy? I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm (find) my father.”
Our third and final main point we see from this section is that sinners respond with repentance and that repentance ultimately leads to reconciliation—though to see that in full you’ll have to come back next week.
But before we dive into that we just need to note the extremely remarkable character change that has taken place in Judah’s life during our study. In chapter 37 it was on his suggestion that the brothers sell Joseph into slaver. In chapter 38 we see his greed through the neglect of his daughter-in-law Tamar, who he then sleeps with, though he doesn’t know it’s her, and then when he finds out she’s pregnant his first impulse is to have her put to death. Last week we saw him put his relationship with his father, his honor—a very important thing in this culture—on the line so that Jacob would allow Benjamin to come with him. And today, in chapter 44 he literally offers up his own life to redeem Benjamin’s.
Judah recounts the interaction he had with his father, telling Joseph that Jacob would surely be overtaken with grief if the brothers showed up without Benjamin and asks Joseph to allow him to become a slave in Benjamin’s place.
Judah, here, recognized the impact his sin has on those he loves. That phrase at the end of verse 34: I could not bear to see the grief that would overwhelm my father. The word for grief there is evil again. . . the same one we looked at earlier. And overwhelm is the last instance of the word that was translated earlier as found. Literally, Judah says he couldn’t bear to see his own evil find his father because he knows his father can’t bear it.
Judah’s sin had finally broken him. And it caused him to truly repent. Notice, repentance is different than confession. Confession is recognizing sin, repentance is is turning away from sin.
Judah’s situation here really mirrors his situation in Genesis 37. He’s been sent out by his father, finds himself in a spot where his half-brother, the son of Rachel, his father’s favorite is in peril, and has the opportunity to return to his father, lie, and save his own life. That’s exactly what he did in chapter 37. But here, Judah does the opposite. He offers himself as a substitute slave for his half-brother. That’s what repentance looks like.
You may think that repentance is just for unbelievers. That’s the thing you do when you accept Christ, right? You confess your sins, repent of them, and pray for God’s grace to help you be free of sin. That’s correct. But you don’t do that once and walk away. That should become a regular part of your walk with Christ on this side of salvation. Why? Because it’s how we receive the grace Christ earned for us on the cross.
Tim Keller helpfully draws a distinction between religious repentance and gospel repentance. “In religion we are sorry for sin only because of its consequences for us. Sin will bring us punishment – and we want to avoid that, so we repent. . . Thus in religion, repentance is self-centered; the gospel makes it God-centered. In religion we are mainly sorry for the consequences of sin, but in the gospel we are sorry for the sin itself. In the gospel, however, we know that Jesus suffered for our sin. We do not have to make ourselves suffer to merit God’s forgiveness. We simply receive the forgiveness earned by Christ. God forgives us because he is “just” (1 John 1:9). That is a remarkable statement. It would be unjust of God to ever deny us forgiveness, because Jesus earned our acceptance!
In religion we try to earn our forgiveness with our repentance. In the gospel we simply receive it.”
When God works to reveal our sin, when His Spirit drives us to confession, then repentance is the natural outcome. Judah’s heart has been changed in this text. He not only acts in the opposite way, but he also offers himself in the place of the one who is the object of Joseph’s wrath.
There is no trying to justify the sin of the brothers in chapter 44. There is no pleading their innocence. Their own their sin, confess it, and repent. If God is working against you today, it’s so that you, too, will own your sin, confess it, and repent. No excuses. Just grace.
Everything God was doing in the brothers’ lives since we revisited them a few chapters ago has been leading to this moment. God has been testing them and here, with Judah as their leader, they pass with flying colors. And it’s not because of any heroic action, it’s simply because they confess and repent.
We get the payoff in the next chapter. Finally, these siblings are reconciled. But really, the picture is incomplete. Because we’ll see before the end of the story that there is still some fear, still the potential for some judgment rolling around in the back of their minds. That’s because the reconciliation between Jacob’s sons in imperfect. It’s only a shadow of the perfect reconciliation that is to come when one of Judah’s descendants, who the world would know as a man named Jesus of Nazareth, made himself the substitute servant so that we could live. God freely offered up His son to bring about our justification and to open the door on our repentance. So today we can repent and know that we’ll be heard.
Is God working against you today? Is He actively trying to bring about confession and repentance in your life? If He is, know that all the hardship you’ve gone through is worth it. We know that because Romans 8:28 tells us:
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
What’s that purpose? If we read on we find out:
29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
If we belong to God he is conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. And verse 30 tells us He’s going to be successful. As that takes place, what do we find out? Well, when it seems God is against us—it’s really because he’s for us. Doesn’t that make sense?
How many of you had a hard time getting kids to eat things that are good for them? Our problem is we think we grew out of that. Sure, we eat peas now but we still cry over the hard things we go through even though someone much smarter than us is spoon-feeding those hard things to us.
501 years ago this week, a young and relatively unknown German monk and university professor was enraged. His anger was stoked because the church had abandoned traditional Biblical teaching for something that was more appealing in the eyes of men. So he composed a list of 95 theses, or objections to the church’s current teachings, onto the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. A copy of this document fell into the hands of a printer, who saw that they were distributed through all of Germany in a manner of a few weeks and young Martin Luther became one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity almost overnight.
The very first of the theses stated that “our Lord and Master Jesus Christ . . . willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
I think that’s a true statement. We will continue to fight sin in our lives so long as we are on this side of eternity. So, here’s my question to you: when is the last time you have truly repented?
I invite you today to come, confess, repent, and experience the goodness of God’s grace and mercy.
Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
24 I say, “The Lord is my portion,
therefore I will put my hope in him.”