Earlier this month, at a pastor’s retreat at Olmsted Manor, our district superintendent walked through chapters 39 – 45 of Genesis. We followed Joseph, as a slave, as he was promoted and then betrayed in Potiphar’s house, then was taken to prison where he was again promoted, but then forgotten, and eventually remembered and promoted again to “chief of staff” over Pharaoh’s kingdom.
By chapter 42, Joseph’s brothers, who had originally betrayed him and sold him into slavery, show up in Egypt trying to find grain to buy in the midst of the great famine. Because of Joseph’s new position, they have to come to him to try and buy food. He of course recognizes them, but they have no idea that he is the one they now once so badly mistreated.
Now, I don’t know if he was just trying to jerk their chains a bit or if it was again God helping to orchestrate a few lessons for the brothers on empathy and perhaps conviction, but chapters 42, 43, and 44, are an account of Joseph’s brothers experiencing what it is to be unfairly accused, unjustly detained, and contemplating the pain of grief their father had to experience at Joseph’s loss so many years ago. And now, they find that this unknown Egyptian leader may actually force them to grieve their father again at the loss of another son, Benjamin, as he is accused of villainy and now must stay in Egypt as a slave.
In verses 33-34 of chapter 44, Judah, who had been the one to hatch the idea of selling Joseph as a slave (Genesis 37:26-27), unknowingly pleads with Joseph that he be allowed to take Benjamin’s place.
“Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy return with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”
Officially at least, everything in chapter 44 is aimed at punishment of Benjamin, and by extension, the other ten brothers. But in that moment of confession and penitence, Judah offers himself up for a younger brother, and for his father’s sake, and breaks the power of intended punishment. Punishment, at its best, is to teach a lesson. Judah and the other culpable brothers have shown that they have remorse for their past and have indeed learned their lesson. Our sin(s) do have an impact on our lives, even when others seemingly don’t know about our sin. (Scripture never tells us if they ever fessed up to their father about how Joseph happened to end up in Egypt.)
A couple things jumped out at me this time. First, my choices, sinful or not, WILL have consequences. There are no victimless sins. Ever. Judah and his brothers faced the consequences of their sin in Egypt, even if only for a short time. But Joseph spent years in the midst of the consequences of their sinful choice. Jacob, their father, spent some 13 or more years needlessly grieving the loss of his son, because of their sin. And they faced over a decade of living with his grief and daily being reminded that they were the cause of all that grief. And I’m sure, based on their later penitent conversation, that they spent that time racked with guilt that they had no way of easing.
Paul, in First Corinthians 5, says that those of us who are Christians, are called to a “ministry of reconciliation.” As you read more of the New Testament you come to understand that while Paul is immediately talking about reconciling people with God, there’s also a ministry of helping to reconcile people with people as a way of drawing ourselves closer together and closer to God.
It hit me that if I, as a Christian, really want to become closer to God, then I have a responsibility to do the best I can in being reconciled with the rest of God’s people around me.
That’s essentially what Jesus was teaching in Matthew 5:21-26. He starts by talking about anger with someone else and then talks about the moment we leave them and head towards God. In his day, it was making a sacrifice or presenting a gift in the Temple, but in our day it might be that we go to church, or Bible study, or try to pray. If we truly want to draw closer to God, then that reconciliation thing has to happen… as much as we can. Jesus actually said:
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
And of course, “brother” and “sister” aren’t referring to genealogically related individuals alone.
Is there anything in your past keeping you from drawing even closer to God? Is there anyone who has suffered because of you or your sin? Have you tried to make things right with them? If not, that’s your next right thing to do!