A Guilty Conscience

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Genesis 42:1-38 | May 8 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
May 8
A Guilty Conscience | Genesis 42:1-38
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Our Father in heaven, as we come to Your Word now we pray that You would give us ears to hear, that the seed of Your Word would not fall on hard soil, but would find root in good soil, it would spring up and bear fruit. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Our Scripture text this morning comes from Genesis 42. You’ll want to have your Bibles open. If you don’t have one, there’s Bibles in the pews. If you don’t have a Bible for yourself, you’re welcome to take that one home with you. Genesis chapter 42, the very first book in the Bible. Genesis chapter 42. As we continue this story with Joseph and his brothers, famine in Egypt, and Joseph’s brothers and Joseph’s father hear of it and devise a plan that they may receive grain from Egypt. Genesis 42.

“When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan.”

“Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.””

“He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in custody for three days.”

“On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them.”

“Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?””

“When they came to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, “The man, the lord of the land, spoke roughly to us and took us to be spies of the land. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we have never been spies. We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’ Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers with me, and take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. Bring your youngest brother to me. Then I shall know that you are not spies but honest men, and I will deliver your brother to you, and you shall trade in the land.’””

“As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. And when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were afraid. And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has come against me.” Then Reuben said to his father, “Kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is the only one left. If harm should happen to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.””

This is not the first time that there has been a famine in the land of Canaan and that’s God’s people have sought relief in Egypt. In chapter 12 there was a famine and Abram and Sarai went down and that’s where he lied about his wife and they ended up God blessing them despite themselves. Went to Egypt, famine in the land.

Similarly in Genesis 26 there’s another famine in Canaan and this time Isaac and Rebekah appear to be on their way down south to Egypt, but God appears there to Isaac and says, “No, don’t go all the way to Egypt. I want you to stay here in the south in Gerar among Abimelech and there I will provide for you.”

So now for the third time, it seems, there’s a famine in the land of Canaan and God’s people thinking where is the nearest major empire, super power, it’s a few days’ journey to the south, let’s go to Egypt that we may find relief. So the 10 brothers go down to Egypt.

We read that they see Joseph, they don’t know who he is, but he can immediately recognize who they are. They bowed down before him. What must Joseph have been thinking after all of these years? We receive word that Joseph, verse 9, remembered the dreams, way back, 20 years ago, he had dreams of his brothers bowing down before him. We don’t know. Had he put those aside? Had he forgotten them? Had he wondered if they would ever come true? Well, now he knows, literally in the flesh, the dreams he dreamed two decades ago are at his feet.

They don’t recognize Joseph. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t. The last they saw him he was a 17-year-old young man. We read that in chapter 37. Now he’s at least 20 years older, because we read in chapter 41 that he came into Pharaoh’s service at 30 years old and we’ve had seven years of prosperity and now we’re into the seven years of famine, so 7 plus the 13 years is 20. At least two decades later. He’s not the teenager they knew. Joseph now has an Egyptian name, an Egyptian wife. He speaks the Egyptian language. Very shrewdly he’s working through an interpreter. They don’t know that he can understand them. He wears Egyptian clothes. He probably sports the clean-shaven Egyptian look, we can tell from the various artifacts that remain from this period. The men of Canaan would have had bears and those, especially in high position in Egypt, would have been clean-shaven. Here he is, serving in the court of the Egyptian king. Why would they think for all the world that this man could be their brother?

Joseph accuses them of being spies. This was not unheard of, if you think about the geography of Egypt and where Canaan is, it’s up to the northeast and that was often a spot of vulnerability, where the Egyptians feared that spies would come in. And when you have 10 grown men come before you, you do wonder, well, what is this? This is some sort of espionage ring. That’s why they emphasize to him, “We are all sons of one man.” Now, they have different mothers, but we’re sons of one man, we’re all brothers. We’ve got the same father. We’re a family, we’re not a spy ring.

So Joseph sets up this elaborate scheme to test them. Look at verse 15: “By this you shall be tested.” Now he tells them he’s testing them, but he doesn’t tell them all the ways that he’s testing them. He gives them a test, but in his mind, he’s also wanting to see his younger brother of the same mother, Benjamin, and he wants to test to see what kind of people they are.

In Jeremiah 6:27, we have this same word where we read “I have made you a tester of metals among my people that you may know and test their ways.” The same word in Psalm 66:10: “God tests His people as silver is tried.”

So think about how someone would test a piece of metal to see if it is made of impurities and alloys or if it’s real, authentic gold and silver. That’s what he’s doing. He’s testing their purity. The Hebrew word “bachan” means to determine the worth, or the value, of something or someone.

Now he tells them that, you have the test, you’re going to go and you’re going to come back and you’re going to bring your younger brother and then I’ll know that you’re truthful in what you say. But he has a deeper test. He wants to see what kind of men his brothers have become. Are these the same men that left him for dead and sold him into slavery 20 years ago, or are they something different?

So as they recount, verse 13, their family, perhaps it jogs their memory. “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is with our father,” that’s Benjamin, “and one is no more.”

Joseph might be shrewdly leading them to explain their family, so now they have to verbalize it, “Yes, we had a brother and he’s no more.” Notice the ambiguity of the language. They can’t quite bring themselves to say what happened to this brother, whether he’s dead. They presume, probably, that he is, or he’s long gone, sold into some sort of bondage as the Ishmaelite traders went by. He’s no more.

They don’t go into details. They don’t to implicate themselves. They just leave it at the level of vagaries. We all do this when we have something in our past we don’t want to talk about. It’s that famous, Orwellian phrase, “Mistakes were made.” Well, yes, that’s one way to summarize what they did. Or “none of us are perfect.” “So we had a brother and he’s no more. Just let’s not ask any more questions about it.”

And if that doesn’t jog their memory about what they did to Joseph, maybe three days in prison will have some effect. Now after three days, Joseph, whether he has a change of heart or this was his plan all along, originally it was, “You go to prison, one man goes back and gets your youngest brother,” now after three days he says, “Well, let’s flip that. Just one of you stays in prison and the rest of you can go back.”

Perhaps it is as a result of having three days in custody, three days in a pit akin to Joseph being put in that pit all those years ago, that they begin to think to themselves, “What have we done?”

You see what Joseph says in verse 18: “On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God.” Now, he has already made this oath “as Pharaoh lives,” that’s typical to swear by your king, and especially the Egyptians thought that he was a God. Now, Joseph doesn’t have to believe that, but he gives the familiar oath, “As long as Pharaoh lives.” But now he says something more. He says, and I think he likely says it in a way that draws attention to his words, “For I fear God.” Implicitly he’s asking them the question, “Do you?” You’ve been in prison now for three days, you have an opportunity to prove yourself as I test you, as I sift to see your worth and your character. I fear God, and what joseph knows about his brothers all these years ago is that they did not show much fear of God. Will they now?

It may seem that Joseph is being harsh, and we read here that he spoke roughly to them. You can read, some of the commentators think that Joseph was wrestling against himself and he had a spirit of vindictiveness and then his compassion and his mercy wins out. Others think that he’s very deliberately working a redemptive strategy. It could be either, though I tend to think that Joseph knows what he’s doing, and he speaks roughly with them for a reason, because he wants the tables to be turned. He wants the situation to be flipped, that they might experience a little bit of what he experienced. Not to say, “Well, I suffered and therefore you suffer,” but that their consciences might be aroused.

Think of how their situations have turned. The oppressors, his brothers, are now the oppressed. The ones who put joseph in prison are now themselves put in prison. The ones who deceived their father, “Ah, he was torn by wild animals,” those ones are now deceived by their brother. The one accused of spying, the brothers, are actually being spied over by Joseph. They don’t know that he knows them, he can hear them. The ones who sold their brother into slavery now are in servitude. The tables have turned.

Can you see what this chapter is about? Yes, it’s about providence. That’s one of the wonderful things and one of the challenging things about preaching through the story of Joseph over many weeks is you could make it, “Here’s 10 sermons about providence,” because that’s how the whole story fits together. God is working out His will.

So, yes, it’s about providence. It’s also about family. It’s also about eventually forgiveness. It’s about God’s promises coming true. But the spiritual heart of this passage is about the awakening of the conscience, the awakening of the conscience.

A little historical interlude for you. You may have heard of the period in the 18th century called The Great Awakening. Learned about that in history. In the 1740’s a series of religious revival swept across not only North America and not only the British Isles, but really the whole transatlantic world. This was happening throughout Europe, a period of great religious fervor. And arguably, no revival left more of an impression on Scotland, which is the home of Presbyterians, during the 18th century than one at a small village called Cambuslang. It’s called the Cambuslang Wark, work. Spread to little neighboring villages, ___, ___, ___. Several other parishes surrounding Glasgow.

George Whitefield, of course he was Anglican, from England, traveled to the United States many times, also traveled to Scotland. He came there in June of 1742. There was already a revival underway. The local Presbyterian minister in Cambuslang, a man by the name of William M’Culloch had been preaching on regeneration for over a year. So you say, “Why can’t these pastors just move on?” Well, he did for over a year one thing – regeneration.

And there was an unusual blessing. He reported that during a three-month period 300 souls had been awakened, 200 converted. You see, they made a distinction. Awakened and converted. Converted all the way to Christ, awakened is aroused in their conscience, aware of their sinfulness.

M’Culloch then invited George Whitefield, the great evangelist, who had been in Scotland the previous year, to come back for another preaching tour. The evangelist joined with the other Presbyterian ministers in the area and they led a July 11 communion service. At this time in Presbyterianism in Scotland they typically had only two communion services a year – they have one in July and usually one in February, and when they did, they would usually have many neighboring villages come together and it was really a big religious festival. We would think of as a tent meeting, or a big conference, and they would come, and they would celebrate and the climax of the event would be the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Well, they came for a July 11 communion service and if you think that church services can be long, this meeting lasted 14 hours. That’s when you know there’s a revival afoot. As many as 30,000 people were in attendance, dwarfing the normal population of the parish and equaling almost twice the population of Glasgow. They had a second unprecedented communion Sunday on August 15, a month later, and the attendance swelled to as many as 50,000. So this is more than the largest city, twice as big, three times as large as the largest city in the whole area. 50,000 people.

As the revival activity went on in 1742, the pastor, M’Culloch, began collecting narrative accounts of those who had been awakened. Recently, they were put together in a critical edition, that’s an expensive kind of scholarly book, but it’s really fascinating reading. It’s 109 personal accounts of those who were awakened during the revival.

And here’s what’s striking about these accounts. Many times when we think about someone giving their testimony, something we do in evangelical churches, “What’s your testimony? How did you come to know Jesus?” The testimony. We often think of stories of people who say, “Well, I was in drugs and alcohol or partying or sexual promiscuity, and then I found Jesus and I’m a totally different person.” Praise God for those testimonies.

But these were not those sort of testimonies. These were the testimonies of run-of-the-mill Presbyterians. Normal, quote/unquote, looking church people. You read these 109 accounts and many of them begin by saying things like, “I attended sabbath services my whole life. My parents taught me the importance of prayer. I memorized the entire Shorter Catechism. I did not have any outward egregious sins, but inside I was full of dead men’s bones and I did not really know the power of the Gospel.” That’s why this awakening in particular perhaps is so instructive for people like us.

Here’s an example. This was an unmarried man, 20 years old, here’s what he said: “I was exhorted by my parents to mind religion, to read my Bible, to attend public services, to pray to God. And when I was under their inspection, I kept up a form of religion. But alas, I have to lament, that I did not follow my parents’ good advices but was led away by frothy and light company.” Children, with your frothy company. “Which proved a great snare to me, and I never took my serious thought about religion to within this 12 month.”

Oh, how many times that testimony could be told over. My parents had me read the Bible, I had to memorize the Catechism, I had to go to church, and I looked like I was a Christian, but I really wasn’t. Is that anyone here?

He then talks about the awakening at Cambuslang and going to see what was happening and he said he was going because it was a big deal and he had no expectations, he was not going to be one of these awakened sinners. But it ended up that he was.

But it wasn’t just the young. A man of 50 years old said he was brought up in the church, but he was given to secret sins. He said at Cambuslang, “I found a strange stirring in my heart and got such a sight and deep sense of the evil of my sins, both of heart and life, that I could have found in my heart to have torn myself to pieces.” A man of 50 years old.

One more. A woman of 18 years old talks of hearing George Whitefield preach in Glasgow and then at Cambuslang, and she said, “When he said, ‘Flee to Christ, flee for your life lest ye be consumed,’ these words came with great power to my heart.”

Those are just 3 of the 109 accounts just like that, a small sample of the lives that were affected in that revival. It was a time of profound awakening. Not so much that people were learning things they did not know, they were all steeped in the best of Presbyterianism, but they felt these old truths in a new way. It was a time of light, of sight, of eyes opened, of conviction of sin, of a realization that I’ve looked like a Christian and I’ve gone to church and I know the right things and I can dress up on Sunday and I’m full of dead men’s bones. They needed to be awakened.

If you look at our text in Genesis 42, it really centers on one particular word. It’s the word “kenim.” You see it there in verse 11, “We are all sons of one man, we are kenim,” translated “honest” men. Forthright men.

Two times at the end of the story as they retell the story to Jacob, they say again, “We told him we were honest men.” Kenim. You see it again in verse 19. Joseph says to them, “If you are honest men.”

But then comes quickly the unraveling of their pretense. Look at verse 21: “Then they said to one another, “In truth,” so they just got done saying we’re truthful people, we’re honest men, forthright, and in a manner of speaking they were accurate. They weren’t spies, that was right. But they’d given themselves too much credit as they puffed them up and say, “We are kenim. We are honest men, truth-tellers, good people, all of us here.” Three days in prison jogs their memory. In truth, we’re guilty, “We are guilty concerning our brother.”

And did you notice in verse 21 we get a little bit more of the story that we didn’t get back in chapter 37. Now for the first time we learn, it was bad enough that they threw Joseph into the bottom of the cistern and then sold him off to the Ishmaelites, but here we read that it wasn’t as if Joseph was just quietly at the bottom of the pit accepting his fate. No, he begged them: “We saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us.” Their own flesh and blood, their brother is looking up at them from the bottom of the pit, saying “Don’t do this to me. Don’t leave me here. Don’t let me die. Don’t send me away. I’m your own brother.” And they didn’t listen.

These were not honest men. And now all these years later they recognize their sins have found them out.

It sure seems as if they have lived all of these 20 years, and perhaps there’s someone here in the same position, they’ve lived all of these 20 years never really at peace with what they did. Seems to quickly come back again. How many times were they traveling and did somebody ask, “Well, tell us about your family.” “Well, there were 12 brothers, and one is no more.”

They had lived with their own deception for 20 years. Perhaps they had convinced themselves, they had told themselves over and over again, “You know what? We didn’t have a choice.” Or, “You know what? Nothing good will come if we tell Jacob now. We, it happened too long ago. We just have to live with it. What’s done is done.” They convinced themselves, and now their eyes are opening, at least part way.

In truth, they say, we’re not that honest, are we, brothers? We’re guilty. And every one of you, 10 of us, we know what we did. His blood cries out and here we are, no doubt God’s hand upon us, our sins have found us out.

And the chapter ends unresolved. Joseph allows one brother to stay behind in prison as collateral for the brother that they promise to bring back. Reuben, you remember was the firstborn. It would make sense that Reuben would be the one. He’s the firstborn, he’s the leader, he’s the patriarch here of the brothers, that he would go in the pit, but he doesn’t. Maybe Joseph remembers, well, “Reuben actually stood up for me, advocated for me.” So he doesn’t put Reuben in the pit. Maybe it’s because Simeon was the next oldest. Maybe it’s because Simeon was a man of violence, he with Levi slaughtered the Shechemites. Maybe it was Joseph’s reckoning that Simeon was the second son of Levi and he was, or second son of Leah and he was a good collateral for the second son of Rachel, Benjamin. For whatever the reason, Simeon is put in prison.

You come to the end of the story in verse 36 and you can almost picture Jacob literally pulling the gray hairs out of his head. He says, “What are you doing to me? Where’s Joseph?” “He’s gone.” “Where’s Simeon?” “Here’s not here either.” “And now you want to take Benjamin, my beloved Benjamin, the son of my old age, the son of my favorite wife, Benjamin? No, my sons, this is a comedy of errors. I can’t stand to be parted with yet another son. You’ve lost two. I’m not going to lose a third.”

And we are left with the question – will they return? After all, they have all the money. Now they’re freaking out about this because they realize, “What happened? How did we get our money? We paid for this? Now it does look like we’re spies. Somehow we got the money back in our sack. Now it looks like we stole grain from Egypt, we are the spies, and as soon as they find out, they’re going to come and hunt us down.” That’s why they’re fearful.

So they have motivation to just stay in Canaan. They’ve got their dad who doesn’t want to send Benjamin with them. They got the money. They got the grain. Do they really need to go back and get Simeon?

That’s the test, isn’t it? Will they come back for their brother? Joseph knows, and we know, that there was another time 20 years ago where they were all too willing to take the money and leave the brother. Have they changed? Will they pass the test? Will their character prove to be anything but wood, hay, and stubble? Would they wake up to the sins that they had committed these 20 years ago? Will they be awakened in their conscience?

The story is unresolved, but if you know the story, they do come back. There is a reunion. There is a happy ending. But here we’re left with the question – What will they do now that they see their sin?

And that’s the question to leave you with. Is there something in your past? Now there’s something in all of our pasts. This sermon isn’t about making you feel bad for everything wrong you’ve ever done, but it is to bring to light if there is something that has been hidden in the darkness. Something in your past that you wish no one would ever know and you’ve been convincing yourself you had reason to do it, there’s no reason to confess, and now…

Or maybe it’s something right now in the present, very real, and you’re living a double life that no one else knows about. You look and tell everyone that you’re an honest man, you’re an honest woman, but you know in truth you’re guilty.

Maybe it’s not the past, maybe it’s the present, maybe it’s the future, meaning you’re considering, you’re thinking about taking a step with an elicit relationship, you’re thinking about the person that you want to be when you go off to college and you want to be really different than this person that is sitting here in church. Or maybe it’s a divorce that you know you have no biblical reasons to pursue, but you’ve convinced yourself to do it. You’re thinking of something in the future.

Are you in a complicated mess because of your sin? Sin that has never been dealt with. Sin that has never really been confessed. Sin that has never been sought forgiveness. Is it possible you’ve deceived yourself, perhaps for many years convinced yourself that what you did was no big deal? Maybe you have been too quick to believe yourself. Maybe people have been trying to show you your sin, like Joseph is here trying to show them their sin, but you have refused to hear it, you’ve refused to see it, and you get angry anytime someone else wants to bring it to your attention.

It would be a great pity, and an eternal danger, if you were to come to church this Sunday, let alone Sunday after Sunday with your Sunday best, maybe even as a member of the church, a baptized member of the church, looking for all the world like you’re a good Christian, and your conscience has never been awakened. You’ve never had the experience of knowing you are actually, not just theoretically, a sinner in need of a Savior.

So, friends, here’s the challenging news and the good news from 1 John – If we walk in the light, that’s what God’s Word does, that’s what hopefully good preaching does, it’s light, and men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. You want to find darkness. You want to go and hide out where these things cannot be seen. You want to push them down. You don’t want them in the light. But if you walk in the light, as He is in the light, because God is all light, and we have fellowship with one another, now that’s an interesting phrase right in the middle there. You wouldn’t think you need that part of the sentence, but it’s there for a reason, because so often when people want to walk, when they have sins, they think, “I need to run away from the body of Christ. I need to run away from the church. I need to run away from the fellowship. Too much shame, too much baggage, I’ll go.”

No, if you walk in the light as He is in the light and we have fellowship with one another, it’s not a call to go be a hermit, it’s a call to walk in the light with one another, then the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

You don’t have to walk in the darkness. You don’t have to live with the sting of conscience. You don’t have to be simply awakened, you can be converted. Not just awakened to the terrors of the law, but knowing the good news of the Gospel. Not just aware that you are polluted as a sinner, but enjoying the forgiveness and the cleanness that comes only from Christ. That is the good news of the Gospel. He leads us to see our sin, to walk in the light as He is in the light, and then to be cleansed and enjoy Him forever.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, help us, help any of us here listening to this, within the sound of my voice, who are saying to ourselves even now, “We’re honest men, we’re honest men,” when in truth we are guilty. To know by Your severe mercy our own sin and then by the Gospel to run to You, flee to the cross, and find forgiveness. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.