Many classic books and films explore the way in which unresolved guilt can eat away at a person’s soul. Think of Lady Macbeth, endlessly scrubbing her hands to try to remove the scarlet stain of her sin of murdering the old king. Peace is not easy to find in this broken and fallen world, since we are all both sinners and sinned against, victims and victimizers. That means we all constantly have to deal with the bitter effects of other people’s sins against us and with our own guilt over our sins against others.
‘For many of us, this reality is a low-grade background hum in the ambience of our existence,’ writes one commentator. Yet from time to time it breaks into the foreground of our thinking when we commit a public sin or when we are sinned against in a dramatic way. Duguid then writes,
“In those seasons of life, the question of how to deal with our own sin and how to respond to the sins of others against us becomes the big issue with which we have to deal. The answer in these moments of crisis, however, is no different from the answer that we need to apply to our hearts daily in order to deal with the constant, painful throb of everyday, ordinary, dysfunctional life. We all need a substitute who is willing and able to pay the price of our sin and bear the estrangement that it has brought into our lives, and we need a God who is willing and able to bring profound and glorious good out of the most wretched and terrible experiences of our lives. This passage of Genesis points us to that wonderful good news.”
Genesis 44 opens with another test. But it is not a new test. Joseph is about to give the brothers an opportunity to pass a test that they had failed earlier. The next day at dawn the eleven brothers, united again, started the long journey home, no doubt massively relieved at the success of their mission. However, they had not gone far when, at Joseph’s order, his steward overtook them and accused them of stealing the valuable goblet. They were stunned and pointed out that they had returned all the money found in their sacks after the first visit, so why should they steal anything?
Impulsively, they propose that whoever was found with goblet should die, and the rest should become slaves. More appropriately, the steward, acting for Joseph, proposed something more appropriate. The one who is found with the goblet shall become a slave. The search commenced with the eldest and ended with the discovery of the goblet in Benjamin’s sack.
What would they do now? The choice was momentous. Would they leave Benjamin, as they had left Joseph years before, and go home without him? They had an opportunity here to be rid not only of Joseph but of Benjamin and to put an end to their father’s hated policy of favoritism. Or had they gone so far in their repentance for what they had done to Joseph that they would stick with Benjamin, come what may?
Robert Sacks gets it exactly right when he says: “Joseph has now decided to put his brothers to the final test. He will place them in a position where they will be strongly tempted to treat Benjamin as they had treated him. The point of Joseph’s trial is that repentance is only complete when one knows that if he were placed in the same position he would not act in the way he had acted before.”
The brothers make their great decision that, come what may, they would not abandon Benjamin as they had Joseph long before. The words, ‘they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city’(44:13), are incredibly restrained, and understated. In their minds, this was the end of their lives, the end of their clan. This was the end of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In a very real sense, they are taking an emotional walk in Joseph’s shoes, even if it is only temporary.
Joseph then faced them for the second time with the crucial choice: ‘Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father’ (44:17). There would be no collective punishment. Only the guilty Benjamin would stay.
This was crunch time. The band of brothers was once more free to go. Would they? Would they, under pressure, abandon Benjamin to slavery, just as once they had abandoned Joseph to slavery? The past was rising up to face them.
Judah then steps up and embarks on one of the greatest and most moving speeches in all literature (44:18-34). It is the longest speech in the book of Genesis. In it he proves his worthiness to be the leader of the tribe; in it he shows a superior ability to move hearts and minds as he pleads with the governor of Egypt for the life of his brother. Judah wanted the governor to see the narrative through Jacob’s eyes.
At the conclusion of his speech, the test was over. Real repentance had been reached and therefore genuine forgiveness could be offered.
I hope you can join us this Lord’s Day as we walk through one of the greatest and most moving speeches in all literature. Within this story’s momentous ending we will come to see the greater story of God’s plan of redemption for his people from all eternity. Don’t miss this.
For His Glory,