Category Archives: Bible Characters

Jacob’s Trial of Faith (Part One)

Genesis 43:1-14

Jacob was human like you and me. He had the same basic needs that we have. He had to face the facts of life like we do. Every human who does not partake of food will eventually die. Jacob had to face that fact. Neither formal prayer nor wishful thinking could change the fact. The famine was severe. He and his family must find food, or they would die.

Jacob was also a believer in the living God. He had received the promises of God (Genesis 28:13-15; 35:11-12). We who know the Lord have also received his precious and very great promises (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). Yet like Jacob we are called to live in times and situations that challenge our faith in God’s promises. So, then Jacob is a good example of the trials of faith that we all must endure. Let’s review Jacob’s situation and then see how he acted as he waited for God’s purpose to be accomplished.

Jacob was in a melancholy predicament (43:1-2). Its source was the continuing famine. Even the best of believers want to be delivered from this kind of trial. In God’s mercy, famine has been unknown in our nation. God has blessed us with an abundance of food, and in most places, water. We ought to give thanks and pray for the continuance of this blessing. Most of us think that an unpleasant course of events will never come, and if one does, it will eventually end. “Better days will come.”  But death by starvation is a hideous prospect (Lamentations 4:1-9). God had decreed seven years of famine. There would be no letup, although Jacob could not know that.

The family came to the end of their food supply. Regardless of their thrift and prudence, the famine was victorious over their resources. In God’s providence, we can easily come to the point where our own resources are exhausted. Jacob, as the head of the family, looked to provide for his own. Leadership is not as glamorous as weak minds imagine. Oh, if life is upbeat, the leader can bask in the applause. But in times of trouble, turmoil, and tragedy, everyone blames the leader.

The father and his sons had a serious confrontation (43:3-10). Judah reminded his father of the full nature of their problem. He reminded Jacob of the conditional permission he and his brothers had to return to Egypt (43:3-5). They could only see the governor’s face if Benjamin was with them. (By the way, this illustrates that we can only approach God the Father through His Son.) The other nine sons would not hazard their lives unless Benjamin could go with them. In this way, Jacob had locked himself into a position where he would have to eat his own words (cf. 42:38).

People often do not speak rationally during an emotional discussion. Jacob blamed his sons (43:6) for the apparent loss of another son, Simeon. They attempted to clear themselves of blame (43:7). They might well have gone back and forth on this issue for a long time. People can require outside mediation to break a blame and defense cycle.

Judah offered a solution (43:8-10).

  • He reminded his father of the real issue: life or death.
  • He offered himself as a guarantee for Benjamin’s safety.
  • He warned his father of useless delay.

At this point, we can pause to consider a horrible truth. People do not automatically accept wisdom, especially God’s wisdom. Sin, which rejects God and his authority, will fight even the wisest and most tender plans for change. Many families have desperately tried “interventions” with little success. The one needing help fights wisdom. It is what sin does. Wise counsel is one of God’s means for help. However, grace from the Spirit with the wisdom is the only way of real, lasting change.

Grace and peace, David

Struggles Upon Struggles

Genesis 42:1-38

In every human heart, there is a certain amount of self-interest. Many are completely self-centered and selfish. Their one goal in the world is to please themselves. Even among the redeemed, who have God’s laws written on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10), there is an amount of self-concern. As long as we keep this self-concern within the boundaries of the Bible, there is no problem.

I mention this subject of self-interest, for it is evident in the main characters of this chapter. All are of the same family: Jacob, the sons of Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, and Joseph. All faced the same event of providence, the famine then ravaging the earth. Yet all must face their own set of problems during the famine. In all events of providence, God is working in different people in different ways. We must not think that our difficulties are the only ones in the world.

We read of Jacob and his struggle with grief. After twenty years, he had not dealt with his excessive attachment to Rachel’s sons (42:1-4). His problem was not a lack of ability to give sound advice. He could tell his sons exactly what they ought to do. As the next chapter shows, Jacob’s own advice would return upon his own head. When we are in trouble and need, it is useless to sit around in despair. Yet Jacob still was more concerned with the welfare of Rachel’s son than the well-being of the other sons.

After the trip to Egypt, the apparent loss of Simeon added to his sorrow (42:29-38). Jacob wrongly blamed his sons for this happening. It is too easy to blame others for what is not their fault when we’re overcome by grief. May we learn from Jacob’s mistake and be charitable to others in a similar condition. Jacob incorrectly interpreted his present circumstances. He didn’t have all the facts. False information can multiply grief. Jacob said, “Everything is against me!” No, God was working for his good at that very moment. Jacob’s lack of knowledge hindered him from knowing that. There is a great warning here. Do not judge the Lord because of what is happening in your life. God might be doing good that you are unaware of. We all have everything figured out, don’t we? As someone said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts the most.”

Next, we read of the brothers of Joseph and their struggle with guilt. They encountered an unexpected adversary. Consider this from their viewpoint. It was an unwarranted accusation, “You are spies!” They received an unjust punishment; they were put in jail for three days.

Guilt added to their confusion (42:21-28). The imminent loss of one of their number reminded them how they had treated Joseph years before. He had pleaded for his life to no avail. Now their pleas were falling on deaf ears. They assumed were finally being punished for their sins!

Conscience calls a person to account to the standard of right and wrong the person holds in the inner person of their heart. Afflictions can be beneficial if they awake the sinner’s conscience from sleep. They misinterpreted a good providence in this state of mind. What could be bad in getting their money back? It seems they thought that the governor was looking for another means to accuse them.

Finally, we read of Joseph and his struggle for self-control. The calm, even tenor of Joseph’s life was suddenly upset by the appearance of his brothers. He immediately recognized them, but would not disclose his identity. Why? Well, if you were Joseph, how would you have felt toward them after all the years you had suffered as a slave and a prisoner (cf. Ps 105:18)? He would have had to wrestle with typical human emotions after betrayal and hatred. Godly people can have intense struggles to assert self-control.

However, we should probably see more than this. By waiting to reveal his identity, Joseph would have the opportunity to see if they had repented. As the interview continued, he remembered his dreams (42:8-9). He may well have thought, “Perhaps God has a purpose in all this. I must act cautiously to see what it is.” Was it right for Joseph to act this way? He wasn’t seeking their harm in this course of action, but their good. Compare Christ’s actions (Mark 7:24-30; Luke 24:28-29). Joseph acted for his brothers’ good. He told them that he was a God-fearing man. He returned their money. How could he take money from his own family when they needed food to survive? Joseph is a good example of a man ruling his emotions, even though the struggle to do so was fierce. May the Lord give us grace to imitate his example!

Grace and peace, David

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