June 3, 2010 David Balzer

Genesis 42-50: Longing for home

Jake and Bernie are in England. I saw some photos during the week of their anniversary trip to Venice. It looked beautiful. And they looked like they were having a great time. At the moment they’re busy saving for the European summer – I guess they’ll be doing lots of travelling. It all sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

But Bernie’s ALSO told us about how TOUGH working in the school is. And Jake’s already changed jobs because his FIRST one was terrible. They were ripping him off.

It seems like people can go one of two ways when they do the working holiday thing. They can absolutely LOVE it, and stay for TWO years, or perhaps even stay for GOOD. Or else they can be MISERABLE. They’re lonely, cold and broke. They’re LONGING FOR HOME. And they’re back in three months.

And Jake and Bernie have had a few of BOTH sorts of experiences. I wonder whether they’re homesick. Whether they miss Australia or not. Some of the OTHER photos showed them in an Australia-themed pub on Australia Day. Perhaps they ARE homesick. Jake was in a blue singlet, and he was drinking Fosters. I’ll have to give him a hard time about that when he gets back.

You can take the Aussie out of Australia. But you can’t take Australia out of the Aussie.

And it’s a similar sort of situation we’ve got here in these final chapters of Genesis. You can take God’s man out of God’s land, but the question that needs answering is/ can you take GOD’S PLACE OUT OF GOD’S MAN?

Jacob and his family are down in Egypt, surviving the famine. Life is good, they’re being spoilt rotten. But it’s not HOME. And it’s not where God’s promised their future lies.

So, which way are they going to go? Settle down, and forget about their REAL home? Get wrapped up in the pleasures of Egypt? Look to EGYPT as the answer to all their problems and hopes. Or look to the Promised Land. And keep remembering God’s covenant. To long for home. And to long for a homecoming?

And that’s where these chapters have something to teach US. Because WE live as strangers here in THIS world. Like Aussies in England. Sometimes with PLENTY/, sometimes in frustration and bitterness.

But longing to GO HOME. Hoping for the NEW heavens and earth that God’s promised. Longing for an inheritance. Hoping and trusting for all God’s promises. For the end of pain and crying and hurt.

That’s the BIG picture of these chapters.

(pause) But on the HUMAN scale, we see a wonderful story. A fitting way to finish the book of Genesis.

The rectification of 10 brothers (42-44:13)

We pick it up in Ch 42. Joseph, you’ll remember, is in charge of the famine-relief program in Egypt. He’s the saviour God’s raised-up to look after the Egyptians.

But not just Egypt, back in Canaan, where Jacob and the rest of his family are living, the famine’s just as bad. And when Jacob hears there’s grain in Egypt, he sends his ten oldest sons off there to buy it.

But he keeps Benjamin, the youngest, at home. Because he’s the NEW favourite now that Joseph’s gone. And he won’t risk HIM.

And when the brothers arrive in Egypt (v6), they meet up with Joseph and bow down to him. Just like Joseph’s dream all those years ago. Joseph knows who they are/ the moment he sees them, even though at least 20 years have passed. But they don’t recognise him.

What will Jacob do? He COULD respond with vengeance and retaliation. That’s the sort of thing Simeon and Levi would have done. They’re at his mercy. But instead he opts for a little RECTIFICATION. He wants to put them to the TEST. To see if they’ve learned anything over the years. Learned from their mistakes. Before he lets on who he is.

First up, v9, he accuses them of being SPIES. And refuses to believe them until they bring BENJAMIN down from Canaan to prove their story. One of them must stay in prison in Egypt, while the rest go home and fetch the youngest. Just like Joseph himself had suffered.

And at this point the brothers start to realise their past is coming back to haunt them. Their consciences are being pricked. Look at v21.

21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.” 22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.”

All that time. And they hadn’t forgotten. Which is often the way with your conscience. It won’t leave you alone. No matter HOW long it’s been.

And Joseph’s listening in, marking them on this TEST OF CONSCIENCE. And he’s overcome with emotion. He turns away and weeps. Not for the last time.

Then, perhaps because Reuben was the one who’d stood up for him all those years ago, Jacob has the SECOND-oldest, Simeon, bound, and led off to prison. And the rest return to Canaan, with their sacks full of grain.

But when poor old Jacob finds out what’s happened, he’s distraught. V36.

You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

At which point Reuben pipes up with a very noble offer – unless you’re one of his sons.

“You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”

But Jacob won’t be convinced.

“My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”

And so, Simeon stays stuck in jail. For who knows how long. Until all the food’s gone, and the matter comes to a head. Into Ch 43, where Jacob says, Go back to Egypt and buy us a little more food. He’s put it off for as long as he can, but now he knows what’s coming. V3, Judah says, We can’t go back unless we take Benjamin.

And then he gives a personal guarantee for Benjamin’s safety. V8.

“Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. 9 I MYSELF WILL GUARANTEE HIS SAFETY; you can hold me PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I WILL BEAR THE BLAME before you all my life.

Another noble gesture. And a recognition of how much his father loves his favourite son. And poor old heart-broken Jacob reluctantly agrees. V14, May God almighty grant you mercy, and bring Simeon and Benjamin back safely.

Which God’s going to do.

The brothers make it back to Egypt, where Joseph’s servant brings them into Joseph’s house, and lets them wash up for lunch.

V26, Joseph comes home and they all bow down again. Joseph asks how Dad is, and then sees Benjamin , v29

his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

For what STILL won’t be the last time in this story.

And when he comes back, he’s dried his eyes. It’s time for lunch. And Joseph’s got ANOTHER test for them. A test of JEALOUSY. He seats them all according to age. Which astonishes the brothers. And then when the food’s served, Benjamin, way down the end of the table, gets five times as much.

Is there still any JEALOUSY on the part of the brothers? Any chance they’ll do to Benjamin what they did to Joseph all those years ago? I can imagine a few puzzled looks between the older brothers. Perhaps even from poor little Benjamin. Struggling to finish his huge lunch.

The trap’s been set. Now’s the time to SPRING it. Into Ch 44, their sacks are filled with grain again. But in Benjamin’s sack, Joseph has his silver cup hidden.

And when the brothers are chased down, and pulled over, not far from the city. They’re SURE they’ve done nothing wrong. V9

9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”

A foolish promise, but luckily, not one Joseph’s going to keep them to. The servant’s only interested in the guilty one.

10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; THE REST OF YOU WILL BE FREE FROM BLAME.”

Another part of the test. Will they abandon Benjamin, like they did Joseph?

The bags are searched, starting with the oldest, and finishing with the youngest. Finally, the cup’s found in Benjamin’s sack. But look at their reaction. They pass Joseph’s test. V13.

13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they ALL loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.

Perhaps there’s hope yet!

The reformation of 10 brothers (44:14-34)

And when they get back to Joseph, he gives them ANOTHER chance to abandon Benjamin. V17.

Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”

But it seems like they’ve learned their lesson. Because Judah speaks on behalf of the brothers. He explains the whole situation again, and that Jacob will DIE if he loses ANOTHER son. V27.

27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’

And he concludes by offering HIMSELF in place of Benjamin. V33.

33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father.”

The reunion of 12 brothers (45)

At last they’re thinking of OTHERS. And the rectification and the reformation of the brothers is complete. Now it’s time for the REUNION. For Joseph, witnessing a sacrifice like that is enough to REALLY set him off this time. (The start of Ch 45).

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

And then he reveals himself to his brothers. The brother they all thought was dead IS ALIVE. And they can’t believe it. And they’re terrified. But Joseph reassures them. It’s a wonderful perspective on everything that’s happened. V4. Look carefully at what he says.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, BECAUSE IT WAS TO SAVE LIVES THAT GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping.

And here it is in a nut-shell. Read v7 and 8 aloud with me.

7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.

The brothers blamed themselves. Yet God used their jealousy and evil to save many people. To preserve THEM as a remnant. To fulfil his promises.

The rescue of 12 tribes (46-47)

Which Joseph then goes on to organise. The RESCUE of 12 tribes. He sends the brothers back to Canaan, to fetch Jacob, and all their family and possessions. And bring them to Egypt. Where there’ll be plenty of food for everyone.

Which is what Chapters 46 and 47 describe. But we’ll jump over those today.

Other than to mention the meeting Jacob has with Pharaoh. In 47:9. And Jacob sums up his life. I don’t think he’s complaining. He’s just stating a fact. Pharaoh asks him how old he is, and Jacob replies

“The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.”

Few and difficult. That’s how Jacob summarises it. 130 might seem a pretty good innings to us. But according to his fathers, he’s a spring chicken. And they’ve been TOUGH. Mostly due to Jacob’s own trickery and deceipt.

FEW AND DIFFICULT. Compare that with how Isaac’s life is described.

Gen 35:28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years.

Old and FULL of years. Or listen to the summation of Abraham’s life.

7 Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.

An old man. And full of years. Yet Jacob’s years are FEW AND DIFFICULT.

Longing to go home (48-50)

Which makes it that much easier for him to long to go home. Which is what we see in Chapters 48-50.

Things are great in Egypt. Life is easy. Food is plentiful. And it would be easy for Jacob’s family to just settle down, and become Egyptians.

But that’s not where God’s future lies. Where his PROMISE lies. This family is the family of the PROMISE. And the promised land is Canaan. And Jacob wants to make sure his sons REMEMBER it. Especially Joseph, who’s temptation to become Egyptian would be stronger than the rest.

So, at the end of Ch 47,as Jacob’s life draws to an end, he summons Joseph, and makes him promise to bury him with his fathers. Back in Canaan. Which Joseph promises.

And then, into 48, with Jacob on his deathbed, Joseph is summoned again. This time with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And reminds them all of God’s promise. V3.

“God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’

And then he takes his two grandsons, and declares them to be under God’s blessings too. Every much a part of his family as Joseph and his brothers.

5 “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

And then he proceeds to give them a blessing. Along with one for each of the other brothers. Some of the words of prophecy are GOOD. Others show that God delivers JUDGMENT against those of the brothers who sinned.

But the focus of them all/ is that their future lies in the PROMISED LAND. And not in Egypt.

And then, at the end of 49, Jacob dies. He draws his feet up into his bed, breathes his last, and is gathered to his people.

And after Joseph’s finishing weeping, AGAIN, his father’s embalmed, taken back to Canaan, and buried. With all the pomp and ceremony of Egypt.

And it seems like Joseph remembers his father’s words. Because, as Genesis draws to a close, and Joseph’s OWN LIFE draws to a close, he makes the same request his Dad had done. Ch 50 v24.

“I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” 26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

He died as the second most powerful man in Egypt. With all the riches and power and honour anyone could dream of. But in spite of all of that. He died with his eyes on a much GREATER prize. He died with his hope on the promise of God. To make his family into a great nation. And to bring them back to the promised land. Even though he never saw it.

What about us?

Which is where it all gets relevant for us. Because Jacob and Joseph are at opposite ends of life. One, whose years were few and difficult. Whose temptation was to lose hope. To despair. To doubt that God would ever come good. Because he was yet to see much fruit.

And then there was Joseph, who had EVERYTHING. His temptation was to be distracted by all the shiny things around him. And to forget where his treasure and his future REALLY lay.

And it’s the same with us.

Perhaps your life’s been like Jacob’s. Full of difficulty and frustration. And the promises of God seem like they’re an ETERNITY away. And you’re tempted to give up.

It’s hard to see all things working for good, when all you want to do is sit down, have a good cry and give up. Let someone else deal with all the rubbish. It’s hard to show integrity and honesty at work when everyone else treats you like a piece of garbage. It’s hard to keep serving in that ministry or job or role, when there’s no fruit to see, no one notices and no one appreciates you.

But perhaps, on the other hand, your life’s more like Joseph’s. In general, things are going FINE. You may not be the RICHEST or the most SUCCESSFUL, but you’re doing FINE.

You’re hoping for a big promotion. Or a new boat. Or an overseas holiday. Or a hot girlfriend or boyfriend. Or a top marks at school or uni.

When you SHOULD be hoping for heaven. Longing for God’s reward. Putting his kingdom and his righteousness FIRST. Have you lost sight of the riches of God’s promises because you’re gaze is taken with THIS WORLD’S riches.

Leave Egypt behind. And keep your eyes on the prize of God’s promised land. Because you DON’T belong here.

Like Jake and Bernie in England, your basic orientation is from somewhere else. And that’s where your hope needs to be.

So whether you’re JACOB, and you need ENCOURAGEMENT. Or JOSEPH, and you need a wake-up call. Look to God’s promises. And long for home.

The book of James recognises the two extremes and their dangers. And shows us the RIGHT attitude. James 1:9

9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Both ends of the spectrum need to be viewed from the position of ETERNITY. The way GOD sees them. That’s the way to keep our hope in God’s sure and certain promises.

And look at how James sums up. James 1:12

12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test , HE WILL RECEIVE THE CROWN OF LIFE THAT GOD HAS PROMISED TO THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.

Long for home. Keep your eyes fixed on God’s promises. They’re worth it.

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