Confronting the Past

“Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.” Gen 42:15

The road to reconciliation has parallel paths. The path to reconciliation for those who have been injured by others is forgiveness, wholeness or inner healing, fruitfulness, and then reconciliation. For those who have caused a rift there must be repentance, recognition, restitution, and then reconciliation.

It is the natural tendency of the rift makers to want to skip recognition and restitution and go straight from repentance to restitution. It is painful to internalize and confront the effect our sin has upon others. It is painful enough to confront the guilt in our heart caused by our sin. Many feel that dealing with guilt is all that is required. This might be true if reconciliation to God is all that is needed. But to be reconciled to others that we have wronged requires that we validate their suffering. Without this validation complete reconciliation will not be possible.

Joseph traveled the path to reconciliation and waited at the threshold of restored fellowship for his brothers to catch up. The dream God gave to Joseph when he was seventeen years old was about the healing of a generational division in his family. This rift had to be healed for the family of Father Abraham to fulfill its God-given task and to be a blessing to all other families. Joseph traveled the path of forgiveness, wholeness, fruitfulness, and now stood at threshold of reconciliation. The rest of his family must also travel the path before them to reach the place where their relationship could be restored.

While individuals within the family might find a position of fruitfulness, it is impossible for God’s family as a whole to fulfill our call as long as we maintain conflicts with one another. We must be willing to confront the thinking and attitudes that cause conflicts if we will ever achieve the position of blessing God wants us to step into. Your relationship with others and in particular others in God’s family will either enable or hinder the fulfillment of your calling. As painful as it might be, complete reconciliation to those we have wronged includes confronting the causes at the heart of our conflicts. It is not enough to poke with a stick the nastiness that causes division; we must grab it by the lapels and look it in the eyes.

Joseph Knew and Remembered

“And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them, Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.” Gen 42:8-9

When ten of Joseph’s brothers bowed down before him in Egypt, Joseph’s life had come full circle. Joseph knew where he was, but he was not certain where his brothers stood. Joseph understood that he stood at the threshold of reconciliation, but he realized that perhaps his brothers and his father were not where they needed to be for this to happen. This is why Joseph did not reveal himself to his brothers immediately.

Joseph remembered his dream and perhaps for the first time he understood the true meaning of the dream God gave him twenty years before. The dream was not simply that the rest of his family would acknowledge Joseph’s superiority. The dream God gave a seventeen-year-old lad had to do with God creating an opportunity for the healing of a three-generation schism in his family. For this to happen, jealousy and favoritism must bow down to fruitfulness. Division must give way to unity. Man’s will must bow before the will of God.

Joseph knew that the fulfilling of his dream required more than ten of his brothers physically bowing before him in a foreign land. He recognized that reconciliation and healing was God’s plan for his family. Joseph also knew that he stood at the threshold of reconciliation but he was uncertain where the rest of his family was positioned.

When Joseph saw his brothers bowing before him, he recognized that the root cause of division in the family still existed. How did he know? By counting. Joseph counted ten Hebrews prostate before him. Where was the other? Where was his full brother, Benjamin? Of course! Joseph’s father would not allow the only remaining son of the woman he truly loved out of his sight. And thus, the ugly favoritism that began this epic exile for Joseph still existed in his family. Jacob, as well as all Joseph’s brothers must confront the sin that caused division in the family.

How could Joseph help his family confront the issue that brought division? Benjamin must come to Egypt to ransom one of the other brothers. And so, through an interpreter, Joseph drew out of his brothers the current family situation. Joseph accused them of being spies as a cover for his scheme.

“And he said unto them, Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come. And they said, Thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not. And Joseph said unto them, That is it that I spake unto you, saying, Ye are spies: Hereby ye shall be proved: By the life of Pharaoh ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither.” Gen 42:12-15

A three-day stay in the federal hotel reinforced Joseph’s plan.

“Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharaoh surely ye are spies. And he put them all together into ward three days.” Gen 42:16-17

Joseph knew that forcing Jacob to release Benjamin to come to Egypt would be a tremendous struggle for his father. Yet a visit from Benjamin would be the ransom required to free one of the brothers.

“And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God: If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses: But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die. And they did so.” Gen 42:18-20

By doing this, Joseph was forcing the entire family to confront the favoritism that caused this division in the first place.

The Ghosts of the Past

“And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” Gen 42:21

The brothers had been haunted for twenty years by guilt over how they had treated young Joseph. They said these things to each other. Each one of the brothers individually lived with and dealt with his own stake in the shared sin of hating young Joseph. No doubt, every calamity in life they confronted, the ghost of past sin haunted them and whispered in their ear. Every tragedy in life would be blamed on their past. This is how guilt works.

The guilt of unrepented sin haunts the sinner. “We are verily guilty concerning our brother …” (Gen 42:21). The old blues standard expressed the guilt of unrepented sin – “I Must Have Done Somebody Wrong.” Every misfortune the sinner encounters is seen through the glass of past sins. Guilt haunts the sinner like a ghost that cannot be shut out. And guilt takes one back in time to relive the past over and over again. The ghost of Christmas past will not leave us in peace in our bedchamber until he has drug us back to experience our mistakes over and over again.

Few of us have been guilty of attempting to kill someone we hate, or of selling them into slavery. But the guilt of hatred will nonetheless poison your spirit and haunt your conscience. It will invade your thoughts when you encounter hardship or tragedy. Don’t let the ghost of Christmas past rob you of the blessing of peaceful rest. Don’t let the past poison your present and steal your future. Ask for forgiveness today. If your sin has damaged another, and most sins do, acknowledge that to them and validate that their hurts are genuine. Pledge to God and to others to avoid the thinking and behavior that created the division.

The brothers understood that their hatred had caused Joseph to suffer.

“And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.” Gen 42:21

At the time, they turned a deaf ear to the cries of Joseph. They could not deliver themselves from the guilt and regret that were their constant companions since that day. Joseph’s prison can never be compared with the prison of guilt. Joseph was released from his prison seven years ago, but his brothers lived in the constant torment of guilt. Reuben, the eldest brother, lived in regret for actions he did not take.

“And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.” Gen 42:22

Reuben lived in regret that he did not do enough to protect the young boy. He could have done more, but he did not. The should haves, would haves, could haves, are no consolation when you think back. The fact that you did not do all that you could to have prevented a tragedy will be a constant torment.

The builder who constructed the aqueduct system that provides water to the greater Los Angeles region was warned of danger. Part of the project in 1924 included the St. Francis dam, that impounded several million cubit feet of water in a canyon. The water saturated the hills and the dam began to leak. The very day before the tragic failure, general manager and chief engineer, William Mulholland was summoned to view the dam. He said the obvious leaks were normal. The next day, March 12, 1928 at 11:57 p.m., the dam collapsed drowning 431 people in their homes. Mulholland lived the rest of his days in seclusion and regret for what he did not do to protect lives. What you could’ve and should’ve done can haunt you the rest of your life.

Joseph Wept

“And they knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter. And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and returned to them again, and communed with them, and took from them Simeon, and bound him before their eyes.” Gen 42:23-24

Joseph saw that the guilty brothers were drawing near to reconciliation. He longed to reveal himself and take them into his arms. But this was a journey the entire family needed to make, including Jacob. Also, there was one thing lacking in their journey – restoration.

The brothers had demonstrated repentance and recognition. Repentance concerns the acknowledging of guilt. Recognition concerns understanding that our actions have caused anguish and hurt to others. But they must yet demonstrate a change by attempting to do the right thing. You can never “make it up” for the damage caused by your sin, but you must demonstrate a change by trying to do the right thing.

Joseph understood that what he was demanding would stretch the entire family to the limit. Yet words were not enough; he wanted proof of a change in the brothers.

“But bring your youngest brother unto me; so shall your words be verified, and ye shall not die.” Gen 42:20

Joseph said that this is how they could be proven – “Hereby ye shall be proved …” Gen 42:15

Many people expect others to evaluate them based on their intentions. But others can only see their actions. Only God sees your intentions. The rest of us simply must go by what you do. When it comes to reconciliation, words are no substitute for actions. If you say you are sorry, don’t just tell me, show me. There can be no meaningful reconciliation unless you are willing to demonstrate repentance.

Filled Bags and Heavy Hearts

“Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way: and thus did he unto them. And they laded their asses with the corn, and departed thence.” Gen 42:25-26

Ten brothers came to Egypt to buy corn, but God brought them to Egypt to do a work in their lives. You never know when God is going to break into your life. These men were burdened with guilt and regret over something that happened twenty years ago. Now was the time for them to confront the ghosts of the past and be reconciled to a brother they thought was dead. You never know when God is going to break into your life.

Ten brothers left from Canaan with empty bags and empty bellies. Nine brothers returned with heavy bags and heavy hearts. They came to purchase food, but they were now involved in something that money could never buy. Reconciliation to others and restoration to God’s perfect plan is priceless!

Nine brothers returned to a father who must now face the same ghosts of the past that haunted him for twenty years also. Would Jacob and his sons be restored to favor and find their position in God’s plan for their family? The answer would depend on their willingness to be reconciled to a brother and son they thought was dead. To be reconciled they must confront the sin that caused their family to become divided in the first place.

Restoration to God’s plan and reconciliation to your brother will not come cheaply and the price is not contained in your moneybag. The price is a willingness to confront and deal with the past. You will deal with your sin openly or you will be haunted by the specter of guilt and regret for a lifetime.

Summary:

We must be willing to confront the thinking and attitudes that cause conflicts if we will ever achieve the position of blessing God wants us to step into. Your relationship with others and in particular others in God’s family will either enable or hinder the fulfillment of your calling. As painful as it might be, complete reconciliation to those we have wronged includes confronting the causes at the heart of our conflicts.

Since others cannot see our hearts, an open demonstration of contrition and change is often needed for reconciliation to be complete. This is where tension builds in the story of Joseph’s life because this is often the deciding factor in the art of reconciliation.

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