The trip home was not fun. Exhilarated with freedom after three days in an Egyptian prison, the nine remaining sons of Jacob finally loaded their donkeys with the grain they came all this way to get and started home. No more withering gazes from the inquisitor. No more endless questions about their family. No more baseless accusations and impugning of their motives. Everything was beautiful until they remembered that dad waited at home for them and they would have to explain what had happened to him. When they stopped along the way, the nine brothers considered several different approaches to softening the news. Suddenly, everything changed. One brother burst into the tent. “When I opened my sack to feed the animals, my money was all there in the top.”
What are we going to do? Was this a mistake? Perhaps, the horrible man wanted to trap them and would claim they stole the money? A squad of Egyptian soldiers had to be on the way to kill them and bring the money back. The Bible says concisely, “Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’” What was God doing to them? Obviously, whoever put the money in their bags did not do it on their own. It was all God’s fault. This was all wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Although it never occurred to them, it was Joseph’s graciousness that caused this dread
There are some lessons we can learn from these “brothers grim.” First, sin always pays dividends that we do not want to receive. Remember the discussion these men had in Joseph’s presence, not realizing that Joseph understood every word? “Then they said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.’ And Reuben answered them, saying, ‘Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us’” (Genesis 42:21–22). Sin produces consequences of guilt and sorrow. The brothers’ selling of Joseph several years before still haunted them. Reuben tried to justify himself with an “I told you so,” which just made things worse.
The second lesson we can learn from these poor brothers with eyes shaded with the grey glasses of guilt is how useless and foolish “the blame game” is. The blame game did not make the situation better for them. The blame game did not make the problem go away. The blame game did not pave the way for their repentance. In fact, the blame game did nothing but make things worse.
The third lesson we learn is that when we play the blame game, we will ultimately hold God responsible for everything that goes wrong in our lives. “What is this that God has done to us?” It never occurred to them that the money in their bags was the prime minister of Egypt’s gracious act. Instead, it had to come from some devious act of God. Even Adam did this in the Garden of Eden. “It was the woman that You gave me.” When we stop blaming God, we have made a huge step to finding strength and solace in God.
When the brothers finally rode up to the family compound, their only strategy was to tell the truth–not the whole truth, but most of it. “Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying: The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father this day in the land of Canaan.’ Then the man, the lord of the country, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land’” (Genesis 42:30-33). The brothers fabricated a little bit when it came to Simeon. They had just left one brother in Egypt. They neglected to add that he wasn’t a guest in the palace. Simeon was in chains in prison. But why trouble Jacob with this detail? It would be hard enough to convince him to send Benjamin with them.
So far so good, then disaster struck. They unloaded their donkeys and discovered to their terror that the money had not been returned in just one brother’s grain, but in everyone’s bundle. “Then it happened as they emptied their sacks, that surprisingly each man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid.” This had to be a dirty trick. The evil ruler put the money in their sacks to trap them. He would say they stole it. It was God getting even with them for Joseph. An army of Egyptian troops had to be coming to attack them. Surely God is being a big bully and exacting a great penalty for their sin. Jacob was also terrified. Now they could never get grain from Egypt. Now they would lose everything. While they thought all this evil against them, actually Joseph and the LORD were abundantly good to them. Guilt blinds us to the real situation.
Jacob threw a pity party to feel sorry for himself in verse36 because if he didn’t feel sorry for himself no one else would. Have we ever had a pity party? Let us be honest here. I suspect the answer isn’t yes or no. Rather, it is how often. Many of us desire to climb all over Jacob and talk about his lack of faith and his evil example without admitting that many times we find ourselves acting like Jacob did to much less difficult circumstances than he faced. We must realize before we climb all over Jacob’s example that we have never lived where he lived.
“And Jacob their father said to them, ‘You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me’” (Genesis 42:36). When our children were small, I used to assign guilt to one or another of them. I was kidding and they knew it. At least I hope they did. I would say, “Whatever happens today, it is all your fault.” While I would not recommend this kind of parenting, Jacob follows my bad example here in his personal pity party. He tells his remaining sons that it is all their fault. They have taken away Joseph (remember Jacob did not know what had happened to Joseph). The brothers took away Simeon, and now they were trying to take Benjamin, Rachel’s remaining son. Having thoroughly blamed the sons, he then lays the blame on God. God must be the reason that “Everything is against” poor Jacob.
We could very easily climb all over Jacob and wipe our cleats on him. But before we do, it would serve us well to look over Jacob’s shoulder out the window he was looking through. When we examine the evidence, does it appear that Jacob is right? First, it is true that he had come up with a great plan to take care of the needs of his family. The opening verses tell how Joseph rounded up his sons and sent them to Egypt never dreaming that this would be the result. Second, while his plan appeared flawless, in its implementation it all fell apart. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Third, and worst of all, the evil ruler demanded the last remaining son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. As we look over Jacob’s shoulder, the evidence we see is very bleak. Indeed, everything does look terrible.
Do we ever do this? It is really easy, when the bottom falls out of our lives to draw all of our conclusions from the reality that we can see through our little window. Our problem is just like Jacob’s was. We cannot see the whole picture. It is very easy to castigate Jacob as a terrible example forgetting that we know the end of the story and Jacob did not.
What is actually happening? What is really taking place at the same moment that Jacob looks through his window on life and concludes from the evidence that everything is against him? The evil ruler that Jacob fears is really Joseph in disguise. The money and the grain came to Jacob out of Joseph’s compassion, not as a part of some devious plot. Joseph wasn’t dead like Jacob thought he was. In fact, Jacob’s whole family would be saved through Joseph’s work on their behalf. Joseph had no desire to kill Benjamin or to make him his captive. He wanted to make sure that he was all right and his ten devious brothers were telling the truth when they said Benjamin and Jacob were alive and well. The most important thing that Jacob could not see through his window was that God’s eternal plan for the preservation of the line of Christ was going forward. God’s “Plan A” was unfolding right on schedule and it included the difficulty that Jacob was experiencing. In short, everything was going for him and not against him. He just needed to trust God and wait for Him.
What do we learn from all of this? Strengthening ourselves in the LORD our God begins with first recognizing that unlike in the pages of Scripture, we cannot see everything from the window that we look through in our present life. While we fear, we must learn that our fear is almost always irrational. Fear usually involves our taking God and His plan out of our lives and then interpreting the visible evidence in the worse possible light. We catastrophize. Visualizing the worst case scenario in our minds with all of its colors and smells, we predict the worst possible outcome. Then we build our lives on our prophecy instead of God’s Word. We forget that we are terrible seers and the track record of our prophecies is dismal. As a result we are not strengthened in God, we are miserable and inconsolable.
We must remember that the evidence we see through our little window on the world is frequently incomplete and frequently deceiving. We only see the part of the picture available to us. We have to trust God with what God is doing in our lives and in the present world around us. We are not unlike Jacob. We panic and then pray! Instead, we need to follow Paul’s advice for how to live while present in this world and not at home with the Lord Jesus Christ. He told us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 “We walk by faith not by sight.”