Let Us Learn from the Struggles of Jacob's Family
Dear Father in heaven, as I enter into Your presence to worship this day, fill my heart with a deep desire to grow in my understanding of Your Word. Grant me ever increasing confidence and joy as I hear Your promises regarding my salvation. Move me to increased spiritual faithfulness as I seek to serve You in my life each day. I ask these things in the name of Jesus, Your Son and my Savior. Amen.
Solomon urges us to put our trust and confidence not in ourselves, but rather in our God who will both direct and bless us!
God’s wisdom is pure and peaceable, gentle and forgiving. Let us ask God for such wisdom and the strength to carry it out in our daily lives!
Jesus shows us how to overcome the temptations of Satan. He does so by using God’s Word to both confront and dismiss Satan.
Text: Genesis 50:15-21
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.”’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
In Christ Jesus, whose presence in our homes brings immeasurable blessing to our families, dear fellow redeemed:
Our families can be one of our greatest sources of joy in life. On the other hand our families can also be one of our greatest sources of sorrow in life. Interestingly the reasons for both the joy and the sorrow are the same. Our families are usually the people to whom we are closest, for we know them and they know us better than anyone else. In addition, we naturally love them and expect to be loved by them more than anyone else. When our families function well and follow the will of the Lord our expectations of such joy are met. We experience the blessings of that close support and love we all desire. When our families, however, fail to follow the will of the Lord and are consequently dysfunctional, then our expectations are not met. In fact, because the members of our families are so close to us, they can hurt us even more than others. Because we expect to receive love from them but do not, the inevitable result is tremendous disappointment and sorrow.
We know from the Genesis account, including our text, that Jacob’s family was highly dysfunctional. Their lives were littered with great sins against each other and, consequently, those lives were filled with sorrow. When Jacob arrived in Egypt and was introduced to the Pharaoh by Joseph he commented: “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Gen. 47:9). Our Word of Truth for today states: “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) What could the Lord possibly want us to learn from such a mess? Actually, negative examples can be very instructive. Therefore LET US LEARN FROM THE STRUGGLES OF JACOB’S FAMILY, first of all, to avoid sin and, secondly, to embrace forgiveness!
Our account begins with the death of Jacob at the age of one hundred forty-seven years. Jacob and his family had arrived in Egypt seventeen years earlier upon the insistence of Joseph, who was second in command of all of Egypt. Twenty-two years before that Joseph’s ten older brothers had sold him to some Midianite traders, because they were jealous of him and had come to hate him. The brothers had reconciled when they were reunited. They had been living and thriving under Joseph’s protection in the land of Goshen, but now upon Jacob’s death, sin once again reared its ugly head. The old guilt, the old shame, the old fears…all came back to haunt the hearts and minds of Joseph’s brothers. They met privately and told each other, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” They then sent messengers to Joseph, saying: “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.”’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.”
My dear friends, there are many reasons why God in His Word urges us to “flee” sin (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:22) and to separate ourselves from and avoid those who would lead us into sin (cf. Rom. 16:17; 2 Cor. 6:17). Satan uses sin to attempt to destroy our lives and the lives of others!
We can certainly see that sin hurts the lives of those who are sinned against as we consider Jacob’s family. The sins of Joseph’s brothers had certainly hurt Joseph. He had been dragged through the deserts in desperation and fear, sold into slavery in Egypt, and was later imprisoned for something he had not done—all because of his brothers' jealousy and hatred. But that was not where it ended. Satan does not want sin to affect only single individuals. Satan wants sins to infect and so affect everyone. Consequently, his goal is to have sins breed further sin. In order to cover up their treachery Jacob’s ten older sons lied to their father, claiming that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. In this way sin built an unbridgeable barrier between these boys and their father, for now they could never come clean without confessing to everything. Their father was devastated, quite frankly, and was never the same again. He may well have felt responsible for his son’s death, for he had sent him out alone to check on his brothers. Jacob lived his life in sorrow, constantly afraid that something might happen to Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin.
Sin’s greatest victims, however, are often those seduced into sinning in the first place. Jacob’s sons had to live with their lie as they watched their father decline in age. The guilt they felt for their treachery was experienced daily. The Psalmist David would later write: “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (Ps. 32:3-4). How the bones of these boys groaned and what a spiritual drought they endured! Twenty-one years later when confronted by difficulty in securing grain from Joseph in Egypt, the first thing that came to mind was their sin. They said to each other: “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us” (Gen. 42:21). It was still fresh in their minds. They apparently had reoccurring nightmares of the scene they had witnessed—the anguishing cries for help by their brother. Beyond that this sin divided these partners in crime and stressed their personal relationships. Reuben responded to his brothers’ observation by reminding them, “Did I not speak to you saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen,” and then observing, “therefore behold, his blood in now required of us” (Gen. 42:22). Reuben’s words demonstrate the most deadly aspect of unrepentant sin. Such sin separates people from God. The brothers fail to know and receive God's forgiving love. Joseph’s brothers lived their lives believing that God was now punishing them. They did not know God as Savior, but only as Judge, and they knew they were guilty and deserving of their Judge’s condemnation.
Almost twenty years later now upon their father’s death, their sins came back to haunt them. Yes, they reconciled with their brother seventeen years before, but now they were plagued by doubts. What if Joseph had only pardoned them because of their father’s presence? What if he still harbored ill-feelings after all these years and was just waiting for an opportunity to eke out his revenge? My dear friends—LET US LEARN FROM THE STRUGGLES OF JACOB’S FAMILY! Yes, let us learn, first of all, to avoid sin because its effects are absolutely devastating upon our families and ourselves!
Let us likewise learn to embrace forgiveness! We are told when Joseph learned of his brothers' fears that he wept in sorrow. When his brothers came and offered to become his slaves, Joseph told them: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” He then comforted them, spoke kindly to them, and promised to continue to provide for their needs and the needs of their children.
My dear friends—behold the power of forgiveness! It is the power of God Himself, for its strength proceeds from the merciful kindness and grace of God and moves His children to respond to the sins of others in “God-like” fashion. Later in the history of God’s people, when the children of Israel refused to enter the promised land because they did not trust God enough to help them overcome the strong people who lived there, we are told that God was determined to strike them down and create a new nation “greater and mightier than they” from Moses and his descendants (cf. Num. 14:12). Moses countered God at that time with this prayer: “I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Num. 14:17-18a). God’s power, Moses declares, is not found in a demonstration of His judgment, but rather His power is best and most clearly revealed by His loving forgiveness.
Joseph understood this. He knew that God was his Savior. He knew that God had forgiven him his youthful sins of pride and boastfulness. He knew that God had forgiven him for those times when perhaps he doubted God’s presence and providential care and complained about his circumstances while a slave and a prisoner. Having been forgiven Joseph was ready to forgive, because God had given him great insight into his situation. He had come to know that while his brothers had sinned against him with malintent, God was great enough to use even that sin to bring about great good and the salvation of Jacob’s family. Consequently, Joseph forgave his brothers, even as God forgave him—a lesson the apostle Paul teaches when he urges us to “bear with one another, and forgive one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do!” (Col. 3:13 – literal translation from original Greek).
My dear friends, a forgiving heart sets a person free. It is anger and a desire for vengeance that enslaves. It is not to deprive us of any supposed right or pleasure that God urges us to give up thoughts of vengeance, but rather to protect us from great harm. Paul writes: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17-21)
Joseph understood that God’s love and providential care are much more powerful than the hatred and jealousy of men. Consequently, he freely and frankly forgave his brothers. It hurt him to think that they thought he would seek vengeance. The fact that Joseph once again forgave his brothers by reassuring them of his good will, finally, brought peace to their hearts—thirty-nine years after they had committed their sin.
My dear friends—LET US LEARN FROM THE STRUGGLES OF JACOB’S FAMILY! Sin is destructive of our family relationships. Let us strive to avoid it! But should sin arise, and it will because even as believers we have our sinful flesh and are in need of daily repentance, let us strive to embrace forgiveness! God’s forgiveness, based upon the atoning work of Christ, truly frees us to know and trust the plans of God. Our forgiveness of those who have sinned against us frees them from the guilt and fear that Satan would use to bind their hearts and minds. May God preserve us all body and soul unto His heavenly kingdom! Amen.