Summary: Does God mess with us, to help us grow? Joseph did not immediately reveal his identity to his brothers, and they grew through their struggles. Sometimes God refines his people through trials and hard choices.
WHEN GOD MESSES WITH YOU: Genesis 42-44
I never served in the military, so I never experienced boot camp. From what I hear, boot camp is stressful, by design. The physical and mental demands on new recruits are intended to force them to confront their weaknesses, build their character, and learn new ways of dealing with life. Everyone, especially the sergeant in charge of the recruits, is messing with them, to force them to grow stronger and better.
Does God mess with people?
When Moses led the people out of Egypt they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Why did God have them do that? Moses said,
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Much later, when God’s people sinned, and God allowed them to be taken into exile in Babylon, Jeremiah said,
Jeremiah 9:7 “Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?’”
In the New Testament,
Hebrews 12:7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”
In his providence, God sometimes allows us to be stressed, so that we can confront our weaknesses or failures, and grow. God messes with us, in a good way.
We are going to be reading a rather long story today, about how God messed with Joseph and his brothers. As we read, we want to relate their story to our life story.
Like them, we might recognize that we have been formed (and perhaps deformed) by our past. We might look back at our immaturity, and wish we could do some things differently. There may be relationships that blew up, because we blew our chance. There may be sins, forgiven, but leaving toxic fallout behind. There may be people and places we want to forget, with scars and guilt and hurts we can’t forget. There may be weaknesses we learned to accept, but dislike. These things may be recent, or long ago, but their impact endures.
Every once in a while, something happens that forces us to confront the rough edges in our lives. How we deal with them determines whether we grow or remain stuck. How we deal with them also impacts others: our family, our church family, and all of the people we deal with.
As we read story from Genesis 42-44, we will focus on two brothers: Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob’s 12 sons, and Judah, the fourth son. Both had flaws in character, shown by glaring mistakes:
Reuben was engaged in a power struggle with his father and brothers, and he did a despicable thing. Genesis 35:22 “While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father's concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.”
Judah, as told in Genesis 38, left the family to take a pagan wife, and after refusing to fulfill family responsibilities, slept with his daughter-in law, Tamar, who was posing as a shrine prostitute.
Two sons of Jacob. In today’s story, one finds redemption, while the other flounders in a sea of good intentions.
The background is this: Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, and they sold him as a slave. Joseph struggled for 13 years in Egypt, but after he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams of a coming drought and famine, he became the second in command to Pharaoh. After seven years of accumulating food for the years of famine, Joseph had control over massive amounts of grain.
Read Genesis 42:1-17. That was a cruel thing to do his brothers, don’t you think? Yet God used it to mess with Joseph and his brothers and their father Jacob.
Can you relate to what God was doing? Have you ever been forced to spend time with people who remind you of awkward or painful events in your past? Joseph’s scars were being ripped open, and Joseph wasn’t dealing with it too well. Yet God was not done with Joseph or his brothers. The scars needed to be exposed, so that healing could come.
Read Genesis 42:18-22. It has been over 20 years since the brothers sent Joseph into slavery, but it is still on their conscience. By a strange twist of God’s providence, they are now forced to deal with their guilt. Is God punishing them, or is God helping them to get past the mistakes of their past?