Key Goals: (Know) Understand and prepare for God’s surprises. (Feel) Feel prepared for 2017. (Do) Take steps to prepare ourselves for what God will bring our way.
Introduction: Even though we know surprises are coming in 2017, they can still sneak up on us. So how do we prepare? Please turn to Genesis 44. When last we left Joseph and his brothers, a great feast was underway at Joseph’s house in Egypt. For the first time in over 20 years, all 12 brothers were together. So much has happened since the day Joseph wore a colorful coat and was sold into slavery. Joseph is no longer the 17-year-old boy crying for mercy. He is a 40-year-old man, and as the leader of Egypt perhaps the most powerful man in the world at this time.
As we return to the scene, Joseph is still disguised but reunited with all 11 of his brothers, even his full brother Benjamin, the new favorite of his father Jacob. They are enjoying a meal together. Genesis 43:34 says, “They drank and were merry.” (Hebrew: intoxicated. Literally this says they were drunk.) Plenty of food, plenty to drink, much to celebrate. But what about Joseph? He is still disguised and the brothers all think he is dead. They are in for the surprise of their lives! They don’t have a clue what Joseph is up to, and beyond that, they do not realize that God has been orchestrating every detail of their lives to bring them to this moment. They are about to be set free from their guilty consciences, but first it’s going to hurt.
Before we go any further, Happy New Year! It’s 2017 and we have all been celebrating, many spending time with family. As we approach this New Year, let us remember that just like God orchestrated these twelve brothers’ lives, wherever you find yourself this first morning of 2017, God has orchestrated that too. God had a plan for Joseph and his brothers, and he has plan for you. It is going to be easy for us to spot God’s fingerprints in Joseph’s life because we have the whole story. It is tougher for us to see it in our own lives, because God’s plan with us is not done yet. But as we leave this morning, my prayer is that we will each trust that God is faithfully at work, drawing us to him, calling us to follow him, and orchestrating even our toughest times.
Chapter 44: As the banquet ended and it was time for the brothers to go back to Canaan, Joseph had his steward hide a silver cup in the bag belonging to Benjamin. It is a very special silver cup, one that would be easily recognized. The brothers depart, but they do not get far before Joseph sends his steward to stop them and accuse them of stealing the silver cup. Of course, the brothers are innocent and deny the accusation, with the promise that if any man is found with the silver cup, he will die. Unexplainably, the steward found the cup (right where he put it). Look at Genesis 44:11. Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. 12 And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city.
They “tore their clothes.” “Kriah” is a Hebrew word meaning, "tearing." It refers to the act of tearing one’s clothes and it is done to express grief and anger in death. The brothers would not do this unless they believed Benjamin was about to die. If you ever go to a Jewish funeral, the family will do a “Kriah” as a part of the service. As the tear or cut is made, the family recites the following blessing: Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam dayan ha’emet. Blessed are You, Adonai Our God, Ruler of the Universe, the True Judge. Will the brothers abandon Benjamin like they did Joseph? Were they the same men or had they changed?
You decide for yourself. Listen to what happens next and you decide if these men are the same jealous, callous schemers they were 20 years ago: 14 When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there. They fell before him to the ground. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?” 16 And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants.”
There it is. That sentence is what I believe Joseph has been working toward since he first saw his brothers. They know that they have been falsely accused here, but they also know that they have no defense and can only plead for mercy—the one thing they did not give when it was asked of them. In Joseph’s wisdom he knew it was imperative that his brothers feel their need for God and his mercy.
Application: When American parents are asked the number one thing they want for their children, they overwhelmingly respond: happiness. In India, parents want success. In China parents respond: health. While I understand what parents are saying, I doubt any one of us would ever conclude that God’s plan for us or our children is for us to be 100% happy, 100% successful, and 100% healthy. In fact, that might even be dangerous. Several years ago a teenage girl said this in my youth group: “I have a question for you. Why do I need God? I have everything.” This is one of the most honest questions I’ve ever been asked. She was a healthy, beautiful, smart athlete who came from a wealthy family. At 15, she honestly could not figure out why she needed God. Reality check for 2017: tough and painful circumstances may enter your life this year for you to feel your need for God and his mercy.
The brothers are distraught. 16“Behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” 17 But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father.” Joseph seemingly lets 10 of the brothers off the hook, only Benjamin must stay. 20 years ago the brothers would have seen that as a great deal.
(NLT) 18Then Judah stepped forward and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant say just one word to you. Please, do not be angry with me, even though you are as powerful as Pharaoh himself. 19 “My lord, previously you asked us, your servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we responded, ‘Yes, my lord, we have a father who is an old man, and his youngest son is a child of his old age. His full brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him very much.’
21 “And you said to us, ‘Bring him here so I can see him with my own eyes.’ 22 But we said to you, ‘My lord, the boy cannot leave his father, for his father would die.’ 23 But you told us, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes with you, you will never see my face again.’ 24 “So we returned to your servant, our father, and told him what you had said.
25 Later, when he said, ‘Go back again and buy us more food,’ 26 we replied, ‘We can’t go unless you let our youngest brother goes with us. We’ll never get to see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 “Then my father said to us, ‘As you know, my wife had two sons, 28 and one of them went away and never returned. Doubtless he was torn to pieces by some wild animal. I have never seen him since. 29 Now if you take his brother away from me, and any harm comes to him, you will send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave.’
30 “And now, my lord, I cannot go back to my father without the boy. Our father’s life is bound up in the boy’s life. 31 If he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die. We, your servants, will indeed be responsible for sending that grieving, white-haired man to his grave.
32 My lord, I guaranteed to my father that I would take care of the boy. I told him, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame forever.’ 33 “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead (tahat) of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!”
Do you see what Judah is trying to do here? He is asking Joseph to allow him to be a “substitutionary atonement” for his brother. In fact, the Hebrew word used in this verse is the same word used in Genesis 22:13. Just as Abraham was going to sacrifice his son, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead (tahat) of his son. This “tahat,” this “instead of” is exactly what Jesus Christ offers to you and me. His death on the cross is in place of our death. We place our faith in Jesus as our “tahat!” His death pays our debt and we go free. 1 Peter 3:18 says For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.
This is love! The Bible tells us in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. What a difference! Remember Jacob was showing the same favoritism to Benjamin that he had showed to Joseph. Jacob had not changed, but the brothers had! Where did the jealousy go? Where is the hatred for Benjamin? It is gone and it is replaced with sacrificial love. It is in this context that Joseph finally reveals who he is. It is so rich that I just have to read it. Genesis 45:1–3.
Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
“Dismayed” is one way to describe how they felt, shocked is another—how about dumbfounded and frightened? You could add confused, astonished and speechless. The Hebrew word is often translated as “terrified.” They immediately had a flashback to 22 years ago. (Next week we are going to explore Joseph’s five powerful statements—understood in context they are life changing.)
Let me end with some appeals for 2017:
1. Surprises are coming in 2017. Get ready! God is orchestrating them even now. You must prepare yourself. Are you ready mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? In 1 Cor. 9:27, Paul talked about training himself in godliness. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
2. Embrace the hard. It comes from a God who loves you. Some of your surprises will be difficult. Do not let them discourage you; use them to open up your eyes so you can see your need for a loving and merciful God. Turn to him; draw close to him. Listen to James as he addresses how we face hardship. (James 4:8-10) Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
3. Replace the hatred. Your change, your sacrifices of love can open up the possibility for reconciliation in ways you could ever expect. Judah had no idea when he replaced his hatred, jealousy, and betrayal with love and sacrifice that he would reconcile with his long lost brother, but it happened. Begin a new chapter in 2017. Let the hatred go, let the hurt go, turn the page. Our God is the kind of God who goes to great lengths to orchestrate surprise reconciliations.
© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.
 “What Indian Parents Want Most for Their Children” Aditi Malhortra The Wall Street Journal Aug. 13, 2015.
 All other passages are quoted in the ESV.