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Fall Quarter: Love for One Another
Unit 1: Struggles with Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 20, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: Genesis 42
Key Verse: “Rueben 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!” (Genesis 42:22)
Textual and Experiential Background
Though Joseph could be described as an arrogant teen, his tenure as a slave had definitely humbled him. The gifts of leadership and wise business sense had always dwelled within him. Like many of us when we are young, our greatest gifts are buried beneath layers of self-centeredness and egocentrism. Aging, on the other hand, sharpens the spiritual and emotional gifts Joseph most likely never would have participated in at age 17, but now uses wisely at 37. Before we judge Joseph too harshly, try to imagine our perception of life and our worldview as a teen in contrast to our adult life.
Now, as an adult, is there a specific event that reveals how your worldview has changed since your teen years, and for the better?
The liberating power of truth and bondage of falsehood
Joseph does set a trap for the brothers, but a trap of truth. The brothers claimed a younger brother lived at home with their father. Joseph knew little about his younger brother. Would the younger brother have been treated as harshly as Joseph? Were they even telling the truth to appeal to Joseph’s pity? Nevertheless, they lied to their father concerning Joseph’s fabricated death story, causing their father great pain. Now the brothers could have participated in another lie to escape and buy food to escape the famine. Joseph had to hope his brothers had grown in spiritual maturity in the years following their sale of Joseph and the painful effect on their parents. Their lie hurt the family at home terribly, and yet Joseph’s truth spoken in love would eventually heal the family. The truth would open doors the brothers most likely couldn’t fathom. Remember, Jesus taught, “The truth will set you free.” Truth may sting for a while, but fully liberates later. There are a few stings the brothers have yet to experience, but the love, truth and redemption with which God endowed Joseph would transform them into new men, honest men, as they stood before Joseph.
Notice Joseph’s request to leave a brother behind in Egypt, and Joseph’s new brother brought back with his brothers from Canaan to Egypt would eventually open doors of truth that led to redemption and reconciliation. It is important to note that Joseph is emphatic that “his God,” the God of the Hebrews, has Joseph make this request. Joseph never relinquishes his faith in his God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All glory that will arise from the ensuing events will be attributed to the Hebrew God. Joseph had learned in the most trying circumstances to trust his God, even if he suffered from the lying and injustice of others. Joseph was not lying in the literal sense in pretending he did know his brothers, though he did. He was offering them a lesson in love that could transform them into godly men. Again, sometimes truth must sting a little before its liberating power is experienced.
Joseph’s painful lesson
Whether Joseph believed he would ever see his brothers again is questionable. After all, almost 20 years had passed. But now, the opportunity for revenge stood before him and he could unleash years of personal struggle and pain. However, now he was governor, in charge of selling grain. Joseph’s harsh tone and accusation against them must be placed in the context of love. Instead of revenge, Joseph truly loved his brothers, in spite of the pain they inflicted upon him. Love indeed can cover a multitude of sins. However, Joseph will later shed his tears in private, wanting his brothers to believe they could be in danger during their captivity.
It is fascinating that Joseph accused them of being spies. They had thrown him into a cistern; now he had the power to lock them away. The brothers were beginning to feel the pain Joseph must have felt when sold into bondage. The brothers now spoke the truth. They were not spies and had really journeyed to Egypt to buy food. Yet, Joseph lets them feel the injustice of suffering when it was undeserved; the same pain inflicted upon him at 17.
Joseph knew them as any kind of men but honest. Honest men do not sell their brother as a slave and allow him to disappear for almost 20 years. Every deed and word of the brothers were now beginning to weigh a little heavier in their hearts, especially when they would discover they were speaking to the brother they had painfully harmed.
It is in their attempt to defend themselves that they revealed the existence of a younger brother, Benjamin. Joseph also learned that his father was still alive. Again, it doesn’t mention the mother, which reveals the patriarchal society in which they lived.
Joseph pretended to refuse their defense as another attempt to force a powerful lesson upon them. He accuses them once more to be spies. The lesson? How would they respond if they were innocent, and spoke innocently and still were not believed? Joseph’s words as a teen had ensnared him, though arrogant, but still true. Now, would the words of his brothers ensnare them, whether true or false? Joseph is not wasting this moment to teach his brothers of both his deep unjust pain, and later his deeper, forgiving love.
Sin and Consequence
The brothers are beginning to understand that their sin and its consequences are directly connected. Their captivity, along with leaving behind a brother, are now perceived as the consequences of selling Joseph into slavery. Rueben’s denial is a witness to the intimate connection of sin and consequence by his emphatically reminding the other brothers of his innocence and their guilt. He argued he was the only brother who argued to keep Joseph alive. However, his argument must not haven proven that persuasive because Joseph was sold anyway.
We are not certain of Joseph’s behaviors following his release of the brothers. Was he having a difficult time letting them depart? Joseph has revealed strong emotion toward his brothers. They may have acted cruelly to young Joseph, but mature Joseph in turn loved them. Or, perhaps Joseph wanted them to feel the pain he experienced when imprisoned for an act of which he was innocent.
Joseph had recognized his brothers, most likely from their Canaanite dress and perhaps some of their spoken revelations. But they did not recognize Joseph, for he wore Egyptian dress and was fashioned as an Egyptian dignitary. Therefore, Joseph could be their stern teacher, and his brothers would be his frightened pupils.
Joseph’s dream fulfilled
It would have proved almost impossible for Joseph not to remember his dream of his brothers bowing before him in homage. However, this moment in the story makes us wonder if Joseph found any satisfaction in the fulfillment of his dream. Joseph was now about 37 years old. He has had plenty of time to consider his own arrogance and attitude while a teen with his brothers. Some may believe Joseph enjoyed watching his dream coming true. But Joseph’s tears, later shed and truly genuine, make it difficult for me to believe this was a proud moment for Joseph.
Some might understand Joseph’s repeated accusation that his brothers were spies as an opportunity to make them squirm. In other words, Joseph could enjoy a little revenge. Others believe he is continuing to test the character of his brothers. Are they still hard-hearted men who just need food and would lie to get it? Or maybe they were spies. The latter I find difficult to believe, for few Canaanites would have taken great risk in spying on mighty Egypt, one of the most powerful empires in the world at the time. It is also difficult to believe he is enjoying making his brothers squirm a little more for their sin. Joseph’s tender heart, revealed clearly later in the story through his hidden tears, would not appear to enjoy such torment. Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe Joseph was enjoying watching his dream come true. This adult Joseph seems a far more compassionate man than the young, arrogant 17-year-old.
Discuss which motive of Joseph is consistent with the entire narrative.
It appears to me he enjoyed seeing his brothers again, even when they had deeply hurt him. Also, he wanted to learn more of life back at home with his father and Benjamin. I personally don’t believe he was ready to let them go. After all, when would he see them again, and would he ever experience seeing his family from Canaan if his brothers simply rode away? His mother Rachel and new brother Benjamin he had yet to meet. Again, discuss the reasons you believe Joseph kept his brothers in Egypt for an extended period. Our narrative leaves many questions unanswered except for the power of love over revenge.
The lesson of the exchange
In this segment of the narrative it appears Joseph wants his brothers to realize the pain they had inflicted on their father through convincing him he was dead. Was Joseph saying, “You threw the youngest in prison for your own gain. Now, one of you return to Canaan and bring the youngest to this foreign land, and for the second time return and tell your father what you’ve done with his youngest. “If you lie as you did about me, I will prove you wrong and can keep you in jail. This is the moment when the truth about what happened to Joseph will be revealed. Facing the sin of one’s own heart is one of the great pains of human nature. The brothers could now be forced to face their sin against Joseph and reveal that sin to their father when requesting to take Benjamin with them to Egypt, the second loss of a young son. How will the one chosen to go home explain to Jacob that his other brothers are in prison in Egypt and yet he must take Benjamin with him to Egypt? The brother who returned to Jacob could tell the truth, which would not please, or even make sense to Jacob. He may be forced to reveal to Jacob the wrong done to Joseph. Neither explanation would sound plausible or please Jacob. The time in Egypt with Joseph was far from peaceful. If Joseph believed the brothers lied about having a younger brother it could lead them to pay a penalty for lying and being a spy. The penalty could cost them their lives the price for espionage. Again, this is truth-telling time!
Joseph’s change of mind and the brothers’ belief Joseph is dead at their hands
Joseph delayed sending the one brother back to Jacob to retrieve Benjamin. Nine brothers would now return to Jacob rather than the one. Are the nine returning to drive home the fact that all brothers played a role in Joseph’s captivity? However, a stern warning was placed upon the conditions of failing to bring Benjamin to Egypt. They would be executed. The brothers have now become aware that Joseph planned to punish them for the death of Joseph. The constant changing of Joseph’s mind, and the harsh manner with which he addressed them led them to enact a Near Eastern belief: one will eventually pay for their sins against another. They were convinced it was their sin against Joseph (before whom they had been standing and who had placed the requirements upon them) that was leading to Joseph’s “cat and mouse” game with them. They believed this game would eventually result in their death or permanent imprisonment. In verse 22 we can hear this belief in Reuben’s defense: “I told you not to sin against the boy. Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” Undoubtedly, Reuben believed they should listen to him as the first born. The narrative reveals that Joseph did not know of Reuben’s attempt to save Joseph’s life. It also reveals that Reuben believed the others had killed Joseph as he alone fought for his life. Now, the brothers believe they will all pay for the blood of Joseph on their hands, even Reuben.
Joseph had been speaking Egyptian through an interpreter, but he clearly understood the conversations of his brothers. He had wondered if his brothers still hated him as much as when they sold him into slavery. The words of regret expressed by his brothers, and definitely Reuben, so deeply touched Joseph he turned away to weep and hide his tears. Even though their sorrow might be related to regret, it still showed some sorrow. Joseph’s love for them was still touching and revealed in his tears.
Joseph initially intended to bind Reuben until he listened to the account of Reuben’s attempt to save him. Therefore, he bound Simeon, the second oldest son instead.
Grace responds to pain
Joseph had the power to set the price for the grain. His heart was so moved he allowed his brothers to leave with their purchased grain. However, as a special act of grace he had the price they paid hidden in the bags of grain; thus, the brothers paid nothing for the grain. Joseph gave them the grain at no cost. What an act of grace considering their history! Only a heart of true grace would weep and allow the brothers who hurt him for forcing him to live 20 years from home to leave without paying.
Almighty God, in our humanity we often wound and hurt one another. It is easy for us to enact revenge. Teach us the beauty of grace, especially to those who hurt us deeply. Teach us to especially forgive and love our family members who may have wounded us deeply. Teach us that time has no limit on grace and love. It is never too late to love and forgive. This we pray in the name of Jesus who forgave all regardless of the pain inflicted and the selfish hearts that showed little care. In the name of Christ, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at email@example.com.