Monday, 3 February 2014

"When God Brings You to Your Knees" (Genesis 42:1-38)

Sermon preached by the Revd Phill Ball at St Martin's Church in Walsall, on Sunday 2nd February 2014.

Over time God can break our independent and rebellious spirit to draw us close to Him.

God uses broken things: broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, and broken bread to give strength.

In Genesis 42, God is going to break Joseph’s brothers by awakening their sleeping consciences, this is a broken family.

They were a hard bunch. Years before, under the leadership of Simeon and Levi, they had deceived a village, slaughtered all the men, and taken the women and children captive in retaliation. Reuben, the oldest, had slept with his father’s concubine. Judah had two sons so wicked that the Lord took their lives. He himself had a fling with his daughter-in-law, Tamar. All of the brothers, except Benjamin, had sold Joseph into slavery and then crushed their father’s heart by deceiving him into thinking that his son was dead.

Now it’s 22 years later. In the process of this story, their sleeping consciences awake. Their story shows us how God uses severity and grace to awaken our consciences and bring us to repentance.

The seven years of famine that Joseph predicted are now in full force (see 41:54-57). The famine has spread throughout the entire known world (41:57), including Joseph’s family in Canaan. Therefore, (in 42:1-2) Moses writes, “Now Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt, and Jacob said to his sons, ‘Why are you staring at one another?’ He said, ‘Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down there and buy some for us from that place, so that we may live and not die.’”

For a while Jacob’s family was probably able to live on what they had in reserve. But the weather is not changing and the supplies are almost depleted. The situation is becoming serious. Jacob hears that there is grain in Egypt, so he starts talking it up with his sons. But every time he brings up the subject, none of his sons will look him in the eye. They just stare at one another. Reuben looks at Simeon, Simeon glances at Judah, and Judah’s eyes dart over to Levi. Jacob is getting frustrated. In a crisis situation his sons don’t seem to be doing anything.

Why don’t Jacob’s sons want to go to Egypt? For one thing, the trip to Egypt was long (250-300 miles) and dangerous, and a round trip could consume six weeks’ of time. Even after arriving in Egypt, the brothers couldn’t be certain of a friendly reception. As “foreigners” from Canaan, they would be very vulnerable and could even be arrested and enslaved. If that happened there would be no one to take care of their families and their aged father. Furthermore, the word “Egypt” went off like a bomb in their guilty consciences. The brothers could hear again the clink of the silver coins they received from the traders as they sold their brother into slavery.

They could see him begging for his life as he was being dragged off. They remembered the terrible expression of horror on his face. When a trip to Egypt was mentioned, they dreaded the possibility of passing by a gang of slaves and perhaps seeing the hollow eyes of their brother. For 22 years these brothers had tried to silence their nagging consciences. But when God applied the pressure of famine, coupled with the word “Egypt,” the sleeping giants stirred. For these ten brothers, time didn’t erase their guilty consciences.

You can brush your sin, or mistakes if you prefer, under the rug and hope that enough years will take care of it, but one day, perhaps years later, God will apply some sort of pressure in your life and your conscience will stir. Maybe it will be a single word, spoken inadvertently by someone. Like in our story   one word “Egypt!” .

Its Far better to keep short accounts and deal with your mistakes now than later. Sin and mistakes compounds with some serious interest! Better to pay up as quickly as possible.

After their father’s prodding, Joseph’s ten brothers “went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he said, ‘I am afraid that harm may befall him’” (42:3-4). It’s evident that Jacob is a man controlled not only by blatant favouritism but also by fear.

He had already lost his favourite wife. Then he lost his favourite son. Here he is determined to prevent the loss of Benjamin who is his final link to Rebekah. Interestingly, it appears that over the years, since the death of his eleventh son, Joseph, Jacob apparently has grown suspicious of his ten older sons regarding either the manner in which Joseph “died” or the relationship that the older sons have with Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest son. This suspicion manifests itself in 42:4, which records that Jacob does not send Benjamin with his brothers into Egypt to buy food for the family because he (Jacob) is “afraid that harm might befall him.” Of what is Jacob afraid? His own sons?

For years, Jacob and the boys lived life without having to think about God. Life went on as normal.

They got up, did their work, came home, and the next day started all over again. They were content in their routine. Their needs were met; life went on as it always had. But with this famine God gets their attention. It is easy to avoid God when we feel self-sufficient. It is easy to feel that you have no need of God’s touch when everything is running smoothly. These men were comfortable in their denial and their deceptions. As long as the status quo remained they would never change. So God provokes a crisis. This crisis would either harden them further or wake them up.

Are you going through a tough time? Is life a struggle right now? Could it be that God is trying to get your attention? Could it be that He is trying to awaken you out of your spiritual slumber? Is it possible that God loves you so much and that He wants you to be His with such intensity that He will stop at nothing to turn your heart to Him? and put your own hearts in order?

We now move from the home front to the brothers appearing before Joseph in Egypt. Moses writes, “Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground” (42:6). Back in 37:5-7, Joseph had two dreams and predicted that one day his entire family would bow before him. And here the prediction begins to come to pass.  What God says will ultimately come to pass and whatever God says in His Word, you can trust it. He is faithful to His promises (2 Cor 1:20). Today, if you are growing wearing and impatient, know that God will fulfil His Word to you. (But in his and your time this has taken 22 years remember.)

In 42:7ff, we come to the moment of truth: How would Joseph respond? He had had at least 20 years to consider what he would do if and when this moment presented itself. And now, here it was! You see the greatest test of Joseph’s life occurred not when he was laid low by injustice, but when he was given unlimited power over his wicked brothers. Would he use his God-given power to seek revenge against them? Or would he use it for the purpose of saving the nation Israel from famine? Ng As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” How are you using the authority God has given you? We all have some position of authority that God has entrusted to us (e.g., parent, disciple, supervisor, minister, Christian). Are you using your authority for selfish ends or for the glory of God?

All we have to do is admit our wrong doings, say we are sorry to God, and accept his forgiveness, we don’t have to wait 22 years for an opportunity. But, and here’s the biggie, its not enough to be repentant like the brothers, you have to forgive those who have sinned against you as well, as Joseph does.

I repeat forgive not forget just like Joseph, doesn’t forget, the consequences still remain, but it’s the here and now and the future that God puts right in our lives, its for all of us to put our past in order, like Joseph and his brothers, with and through God. Pray regularly, ask for forgiveness often, and even if it takes 22 years like in the story, forgive. Forgiveness and forgiving is in the Lords prayer every time we pray it. Amen.

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