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