The Bible claims to be the “living and active” Word of God. It is not simply a story of people who lived a long time ago and interacted with God. It is our story. We are to find ourselves in the story. We are to not simply read the Bible, but allow it to read us – exposing the motives and true condition of our hearts. Read and consider these two verses:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The historical narrative of Genesis is not merely the biographies of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. It is my story and your story. Every time I read it, God has a fresh message in it for me. In Genesis 44-45. Joseph is going to reveal his identity to his brothers and reconcile with them, but he is going to test their hearts first. I think about this passage on two levels. The first level is simply the story itself. This is the story of a brother who, although he has reached “success” in the eyes of the world, is still deeply wounded and hurt by the actions of his older brothers. Remember, these guys literally sold him into slavery to a random group of slave traders. They had no idea what happened to him after that, and didn’t seem to care. They were able to lie to their father that he had been killed, all the while knowing that they are the ones who, essentially, “killed” him. There is now absolutely no trust between him and his brothers – and for very good reason. Trust has to be rebuilt – and that is going to require that Joseph see that his brothers have repented. There simply can be no reconciliation without repentance. This is a law that God has built into the universe. There can be no true reconciliation until the party who has made the offense shows true repentance – which includes both an expression of true sorrow for the offense, as well as a desire to turn from and not repeat the offense. If that doesn’t happen, then true reconciliation doesn’t take place. We may put a Band-Aid on the situation and simply choose to overlook the offense for the sake of the relationship. But trust hasn’t been repaired and true reconciliation has not occurred.
You can probably predict the second level. God has been deeply offended by your sins and mine. (In fact, that is a huge understatement.) Remember, the Bible teaches that all sin is against God and God alone. We may OFFEND a brother, or a girlfriend, or a son, but our SIN is always against GOD AND GOD ALONE.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:4)
And, there can be no reconciliation with God without repentance, which is not simply being sorry for our sin but turning from our sin.
So, as you read Genesis 44-45, don’t think about it strictly in terms of Joseph as the offended party and his brothers as the offenders. Think about it as God as the offended party and you as the offender. According to the Bible, we have all sold out God for random idols, and we have done this with very little regard for what God thinks about it. We live our lives most of the time as if God doesn’t exist and doesn’t matter, much like the way Joseph’s brothers sold him out and then, callously, went on about their lives as if he no longer existed to them.
Judah’s repentance is seen in his speech in Genesis 44:18-34. This is one of the brothers, who years before had ignored the cries of Joseph, and had callously been indifferent to the heart of his father. And now, he is begging for the privilege of being a slave in his brother’s place. Check this out. The guilty one (Judah) offers himself as a substitute for the innocent one (Benjamin). The Scriptures teach us that there will be another Lion of the tribe of Judah who was innocent, but who would offer himself as a substitute for his guilty brothers. (2 Corinthians 5:21) And that substitute would be accepted and He would live and die in their place that they might experience His glory. In Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross, He completed the work of reconciliation for those who turn from their sins and to Him for their salvation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) Judah’s new heart manifests itself in love to God and love for others. He shows his love of God in not questioning God’s providence. “God, you found me out. I deserve this.” And he shows his love for Benjamin and his love for his father. A changed heart has a different view of God and a different view of others. It is a mark of grace to know that we don’t deserve mercy. Only a wicked man would have attempted to justify himself in this case. But the heart transformed by God is apparent in the words and the actions of Judah.