“And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another. And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of theirs. And they drank, and were merry with him.” Gen 43:33-34
By now it should be understood that what Joseph was doing to his brothers and to his father was a test. He desired to be reconciled, yet could he use his position and their failure to recognize him to his advantage?
“And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him. And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them …” Gen 42:8-9
The moment the ten brothers first bowed before Joseph and he remembered the dreams God had given him twenty years earlier, Joseph understood what God was doing. God would use this situation to bring reconciliation and healing in the family. God would try the brothers and Jacob, to see if they were willing to release the old way of thinking and behaving. Joseph had to release his right to be hurt before God could bring inner healing to his spirit. The entire family must release its legacy of envy, jealousy, and competition for God to heal the schism that plagued three generations.
Much of the questions needing answers had already been supplied to Joseph. The brothers felt godly sorrow for the past treatment of Joseph. They had confronted the suffering their actions had brought upon Joseph. And though they did not know that the ruler of Egypt was their brother, they were willing to do something to make restitution for their wrongs. Jacob had also confronted the family custom of showing favoritism. Jacob released Benjamin to regain Simeon and to supply food for the clan.
The final questions that needed to be answered were: 1) Could the brothers overcome the demon of jealousy and rejoice when others were honored? 2) Could the brothers come to the aid of a brother in need? Rejoicing in a brother’s blessing and responding to his need are the true tests of brotherhood.
A Time of Famine
“And the famine was sore in the land. And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food.” Gen 43:1-2
A God-ordained famine will not end until God has accomplished His purpose in allowing it to come. It is quite human to do whatever necessary to escape famine, yet as men attempt this they only play into the plan of God. Providence is not an arbitrary set of circumstances and destiny that none can escape. Providence is simply the working of a sovereign God to confront men with His purpose for their lives.
The seven-year famine was as much a part of God’s plan as the seven years of plenty. We acknowledge the hand of God in our years of plenty, while we curse the elements in our times of famine. It is often God’s design to funnel man’s activity to a narrow place were men must confront the consequences of their actions. What men do in this time of narrowness and limited options will determine much not only in this life, but also in eternity.
God does His best work when no one is watching. Concealed under the shroud of secrecy and away from the gaze of men, the hand of God is at work. One of the tools the Lord uses to conceal His work is the passage of time. Men often lack the patience to observe God’s work in their lives over the years, but only realize what He has done in their quite times of reflection later. Even so, it is the tiniest fraction of God’s work that we realize in our best moments.
“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” Prov 25:2
Just as God used a time of famine as a tool to bring reconciliation to the family of Jacob, God uses our calamities today to reconcile brothers. When brothers are reconciled to each other, they may then also be reconciled to God’s purpose for their lives. When brothers are alienated from each other, God’s purpose cannot be fulfilled. God’s desire is to use His people as a vehicle of blessing to others. This purpose cannot be fulfilled if believing brothers remain fractured and at odds with each other. God’s family cannot be a blessing to others until we are able to bless each other.
Could it be that the direction we see our world traveling is part of God’s process to foster unity among believers? It is times like ours that should cause families to relearn the lessons of community and shared burdens. These days should cause the family of God to refocus on things of eternal import instead of maintaining the spirit of competition and one-upmanship. A dearth of spirituality and godliness will result in famine in other areas. Let us accept each unfortunate circumstance as a call of the Almighty to renew the ties that unite and the bonds that strengthen.
A time of famine is God’s call:
- To examine our relationship with Him.
- To examine our relationship with His family.
- To examine our position in His Plan.
- And finally, to examine our place in the world.
Israel Overcomes Favoritism
“And their father Israel said unto them, If it must be so now, do this; take of the best fruits in the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, nuts, and almonds:” Gen 43:11
Genesis chapter 43 is one of the few places where Jacob is called by his new name of Israel. His regenerate name is used three times in this chapter. It is significant to me that this chapter is also the place where Jacob is forced to confront his own contribution to the family schism. Jacob practiced the parental sin of favoritism. This created jealousy and promoted competition among the sons of Jacob.
Jacob was forced to release the favored son, Benjamin, and allow his remaining sons to go down into Egypt. This took both time and persuasion from the other sons. But beyond the time and persuasion, the true facilitator was famine and God’s sovereign working behind the scene. Jacob did not realize it, but God’s sovereignty and Joseph’s wisdom placed him in a position where he must confront and overcome his favoritism of Benjamin. This dark experience in the Hebrew clan and the generational curse of familial division that began with Abraham was recognized and corrected later in the Mosaic Law.
“If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.” Deut. 21:15-17
This passage in no way endorses polygamy, but rather recognizes it and seeks to address some of the evils of plural marriages. The underlying principle is that fathers must treat their children equally.
Unequal treatment among brothers causes:
- Envy – Resentment of how another is treated or endowed.
- Jealousy – The fear of displacement by another who is seen as better endowed.
- Competition – Contesting for affection, position, blessings, etc.
When God set about to break this spirit and heal the division in the clan, He chose to use Joseph. Joseph had escaped the envy, jealousy, and competition that cursed his family. He was rather the object of those feelings by his brothers. God brought Joseph out of prison and to the palace because Joseph displayed a different spirit. Joseph set himself upon ministering to others in Potiphar’s house and in prison. Joseph’s spirit allowed God to develop Joseph’s gifts and create a blessed position for him.
The spirit of envy, jealousy, and competition is all about fighting for position. But God wants to develop the gifts He places in us to create our own position.
“A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” Prov 18:16
God does not need to displace anyone to place you in a blessed position as you minister to others. God has a place of blessing and ministry for you that is all your own and will not steal thunder from Mr. Anyone!
In a very un-Jacob like moment, Jacob released his favored son and prepared the brothers for a return trip to Egypt. This required him to overcome his favoritism toward the remaining child of Rachel. He did this for the good of the family during a time of famine. He could not do this at any other time. God limits men’s options to force them to confront their shortcomings.
The Final Test
“And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son. And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.” Gen 43:29-30
The brothers returned to Egypt with Benjamin in tow and bowed before Joseph again. Joseph told his servants to send these Hebrews to his home and prepare a meal. When Joseph came home and saw Benjamin his brother, he was overcome with emotion. For the second time, Joseph dismissed himself and wept in his chamber. After washing his face and regaining composure, he returned to the brothers. A meal had been prepared and all the guests seated.
“And they set on for him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians, which did eat with him, by themselves: because the Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” Gen 43:32
The Egyptian custom was to not dine with strangers from other nations. The Hebrew brothers were seated separately. The folly of racial or cultural prejudice is demonstrated in the dining scene presented in Genesis 43. Two dining areas are occupied for fear that the Hebrews will make the Egyptians unclean. Yet seated at the head of the Egyptian group is none other than a Hebrew named Joseph. This is quite often the case with these types of cultural taboos. They are based on prejudices that are seldom recognized for the hollow charade that they really are. People who feel like they are too good to break bread with another class of people often fail to recognize that people are essentially the same. Hey, you might be surprised who is sitting at the head of your segregated table!
The brothers are seated according to birth order.
“And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth: and the men marvelled one at another.” Gen 43:33
Their host arranged the seating and the brothers recognized immediately that each was seated according to age. How did this man know the brother’s ages and birth order? They marveled one to another.
What Joseph was creating was a graphic demonstration of favoritism. Seating the brothers according to birth order caused all eleven to realize that what happened next was no mistake.
“And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of theirs.” Gen 43:34
The little guy on the end received five times as much food as the other older brothers. The youngest brother was given the royal treatment. Hadn’t this been what caused envy, jealousy, and competition among the brothers to begin with? How would the ten older brothers react to this unequal treatment today?
“And they drank, and were merry with him.” Gen 43:34
The first true test of brotherhood is simply this:
- Can you rejoice when your brother is blessed in a way that appears to be out of sequence?
- Must all of God’s blessings flow down the line according to man’s “pecking order”?
- If God blesses my brother in a way that appears to me to be out of order and unfair, can I rejoice and be merry with him?
The true test of brotherhood is in desiring the best for my brothers and rejoicing in their blessing, even when my own blessing has not arrived. Brotherhood is how the spirit of envy and jealousy is defeated. When families pull together, a blessing of one becomes a blessing enjoyed by all. We compete against self and the enemy; we should not compete against our brothers.
The final test of brotherhood comes on the way home. When the brothers departed from the dinner table and started home, would the spirit of brotherhood prevail in adversity? It is one thing to rejoice with your brother when he is blessed, it is another to stick up for him when he is in a jam. Joseph saw the brothers rejoice when the favored one was blessed, but would they stick up for him when he was wrongly accused? The true test of brotherhood is being able to rejoice when my brother is blessed and coming to his aid when he needs help.
“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Prov 17:17
Brotherhood involves putting the family before self. Brotherhood rejoices when a brother is blessed. Brotherhood comes beside a brother in need.
This is what the Holy Spirit, the Comforter does in our life. Doing the work of God means allowing the Holy Ghost to minister to others through us. After all, it is the Spirit of the Father in us that makes us brothers. Jesus talked about the Comforter or the Holy Ghost that would fill believers. The Greek word that is translated “Comforter” is “parakleetos” and means literally “one who comes along side.” When we come along side and comfort our brothers, we are doing the work of God.
Reconciliation and healing come to a family when brothers behave as brothers. A friend’s love is unconditional, and a brother is born for times of adversity.