Ten brothers had journeyed down to Egypt. Famine had overtaken their homeland. They simply needed food. Complications weren’t anticipated; after all, Genesis 41:56-57 informs us that, “The famine was over all the face of the earth…So all countries came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain.” As the brothers approached Joseph, the usual business formalities took place, “Where do you come from?” The brothers replied, “…From the land of Canaan to buy food.” The business formalities were over…Joseph recognized his brothers, however, they did not recognize him.
All the memories must have inundated Joseph’s mind as if they had happened yesterday…the verbal abuse, the taunting, the rejection, the abandonment. Despite Joseph’s current prominent position and the veneration he received from dignitaries around the world, it couldn’t prevent the resurgence of raw feelings from the last interaction he remembered having with his brothers. Seeing his brothers bow before him, as he had dreamt years before (Genesis 37:5-11), must have provoked so many questions:
Did they ever think of him?
Did they regret how they wronged him?
Were his brothers the same or had the years changed their characters for the better?
Was Benjamin now the recipient of their resentment?
Would they protect Benjamin or take advantage of an opportunity to rid of him as well?
Sometimes, our regrets from the past have a way of changing us over the years…for better or for worse. Joseph was curious if the years had changed his brothers. He would put them through a series of tests to examine their characters. Joseph accusedly proclaimed,
“You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land! And they said to him, ‘No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food…Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more’. But Joseph said to them, ‘…In this manner you will be tested: By the life of Pharoah, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother; and you will be kept in prison, that your words may be tested’ …So he put them all together in prison three days. Then Joseph said to them on the third day, ‘Do this and live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be confined to your prison house; but you, go and carry grain for the famine in your houses…And bring your youngest brother to me…’” [Genesis 42:9b-10, 13-20]
Often, actions that are fueled by raw emotion and driven by a desperation to ‘right what’s wrong’, backfire and fail to deliver the desired result. The Bible never indicates that the brothers ever came clean to Jacob about their part in Joseph’s disappearance. However, Jacob never fully recovered from the traumatic loss of his most treasured son. Ridding of Jacob’s favorite son had not won them the opportunity to be cherished by their father. Everyday, the brothers lived with the guilt of their treachery against their brother and father.
“What goes around, comes around” and the term ‘karma’ are commonly used in our society. Both serve as a moral compass of sorts for those who don’t recognize God’s principles as a moral code of conduct; and, as a verbal resignation that somehow, someway, justice will be served at some point in the future. Guilt is a harsh, unforgiving foundation from which to build perceptions. Every obstacle we happen upon becomes a form of retribution…causing us to vividly recall our regrets as they play out in our mind like a movie reel.
The brother’s response to Joseph’s testing them reveals the guilt they were feeling,
“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]
Payback time…or was it? Is that really how God works? God often gets blamed for what we perceive as ‘payback’:
“…And he [Joseph] took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey…But as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey feed at the encampment, he saw the money…So he said to his brothers, ‘My money has been restored, and there it is, in my sack’! Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, ‘What is this that God has done to us’? [Genesis 42:24b-25, 27-28]
Instead of getting angry with their sinful actions towards their brother and coming clean with God and their father, we see they get exasperated with God. Guilt causes us to misconstrue God’s character, falsely perceive life’s circumstances, and eventually grow bitter. Satan loves to play the ‘guilt card’ because it keeps us from doing what God desires us to do with our sin,
“If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” [2 Chronicles 7:14]
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” [Psalm 103:10-12]
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [I John 1:9]
God’s heart is always in restoration mode: forgiving, healing, cleansing…even when He punishes His children, His driving force is restoration:
“…My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for, whom the Lord loves, He chastens…If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for, what son is there whom a father does not chasten?…Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect…For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed…looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble…” [Hebrews 12:5-13, 15]
Guilt causes “hands which hang down” in defeat, “feeble knees”, and unhealed wounds that skew our perceptions of life circumstances and God’s character. God’s desire for Joseph’s brothers would have been for them to confess their sin against Joseph and against Jacob so that they wouldn’t be haunted by it over the years. So that every time a life obstacle presented itself, it wouldn’t be misconstrued as ‘payback time’ or God being angry and unleashing all of Heaven’s fury upon them.
Do you have unconfessed sin and regrets from past decisions that haunt you? Do you struggle with bitterness and anger against God…feeling as if He has punished you enough for your past? God summons you to,
“Come now, and let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow…” [Isaiah 1:18]
He is calling you to Himself…a fresh start…to heal those wounds…to restore the brokenness…to drop the heavy weight of guilt. He calls you to enjoy a fresh perspective on life’s obstacles…as growth opportunities, instead of constant retribution for the past. He calls you to see Him as the loving Father that He is, instead of a harsh, cold, vindictive God.